The best memoirs by mothers writing shamelessly about motherhood

Why am I passionate about this?

Motherhood blindsided me. I was 37 and living my childhood career dream as a foreign correspondent when I serendipitously smelled the head of a friend’s newborn. Next thing I knew, I was up all night singing old Beatles' songs to a baby who needed to eat every half hour. Amazed by the power of rudimentary biology to reshape my conscious experience, I couldn’t help but start writing about it, first in essays and then in two shameless motherhood books of my own: The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes You Smarter (heavily inspired by Sarah Hrdy) and Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention (about sharing an ADHD diagnosis with my son). 


I wrote...

Mothers And Murderers: A True Story Of Love, Lies, Obsession ... and Second Chances

By Katherine Ellison,

Book cover of Mothers And Murderers: A True Story Of Love, Lies, Obsession ... and Second Chances

What is my book about?

This remarkable memoir by a Pulitzer Prize- and Polk Award-winning journalist takes readers on a wild, tragicomic ride from the criminal courtrooms of California’s Silicon Valley to the Himalayan mountains of Pakistan to the deserts of Ethiopia. In delightful, insightful prose, Katherine Ellison reflects on her mistakes and her triumphs as she reveals the stories of how her career almost ended before it began, how she nearly missed marrying the love of her life, and how she unwittingly got drawn into a bizarre murder case.

Rich in drama and self-reflection, replete with unique characters—including two bumbling hitmen, a rodeo-riding prosecutor, a flamboyant Beverly Hills defense attorney, and a charismatic stay-at-home mother-of-three who is keeping outrageous secrets—Mothers and Murderers is a memoir to make you laugh, cry, and think.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year

Katherine Ellison Why did I love this book?

I read Operating Instructions during my own first son’s first year and so appreciated how deliciously and memorably shameless and taboo-smashing it was in describing everything from how Lamott’s friends kept reminding her about the “tiny poo” she left on the table during labor to the Radio KFKD constantly playing in her head to the appearance of an uncircumcised penis (if I recall correctly, something like a squirrel trapped in a garden hose?). Her fierceness, hilarity, and compassion helped me through one of the craziest times of my life.

By Anne Lamott,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Operating Instructions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the journal of the birth of Anne Lamott's son Sam, and their first year together. Coping with being a recovering alcoholic and a single mother, Anne had to face the fact that her best friend since childhood was dying of cancer.


Book cover of Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-life Parenthood

Katherine Ellison Why did I love this book?

What mother remembering her own labor wouldn’t be grateful to Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s essay, “What My Mother Never Told Me, or How I Was Blindsided by Childbirth and Survived,” for her shameless revelations about the most terrifying and grubby aspects of a safe, normal vaginal delivery. It’s just one of the brilliant and necessary essays in a book that kept me company through the hardest and funniest parts of being a mom.

By Daphne Marneffe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mothers Who Think as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the editors of the cutting-edge online magazine Salon come provocative essays that take an unflinching look at
the gritty truths and unreserved pleasures of contemporary motherhood.

Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood, which grew out of Salon's popular daily department of the same name, comprises nearly forty essays by writers grappling with the new and compelling ideas that motherhood has dangled before them. Elevating the discussion of motherhood above the level of tantrum control and potty training, this collection covers an unparalleled range of topics, from the impossibility of loving your children equally to raising a son without…


Book cover of Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World

Katherine Ellison Why did I love this book?

Beginning in 1970, with “Up the Sandbox,” Roiphe was part of the first wave of shameless motherly truth-tellers. There are few more truer sentences than her acknowledgment that “feminism, despite its vast accomplishments, has not cured me of motherhood” in this poignant and prescient book about the impossible expectations that continue to bedevil working mothers.

By Anne Richardson Roiphe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fruitful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author of the best-selling novel Up the Sandbox offers a critical account of the feminist stance on marriage and motherhood, arguing for renewed support for the needs of working women trying to bring up children. 40,000 first printing. Tour.


Book cover of Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species

Katherine Ellison Why did I love this book?

Hrdy, a genius, is a renowned anthropologist and lyrical, powerful writer who, in this scholarly (150 pages of notes!) but compulsively readable book, tells us a lot of things we’ve never really wanted to acknowledge about motherly ambivalence throughout the animal world and certainly including humans. She is particularly wry and revealing about the biochemistry of motherhood, and how pregnancy, labor, and delivery all alter a mother’s brain.

By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Mother Nature as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mother Nature is the big new popular science book for the end of the millennium. It starts from the standpoint of Darwinist evolutionary theory, but turns it on its head. It is the first such major book by a women, qho ia professor of SocioBiology at the University of California, trained in Anthropology and an expert on Primates in particular. She's also one of the few women members fo the US Academy of Sciences. It's not for nothing that Nature is known as Mother Nature. Evolution is controlled, Hrdy demonstrates, not by the male of species, but by the female…


Book cover of The Golden Ticket: A Life in College Admissions Essays

Katherine Ellison Why did I love this book?

This book, forthcoming from She Writes Press in 2023, is by a first-time author and mother of three who has for years counseled college applicants in Palo Alto, California, ground zero for educational anxiety. Smith combines beautiful writing, a wry comic sensibility, and indomitable courage in this all-too-timely timely book, which I was lucky to read pre-publication. She weaves together descriptions of the outlandish lengths to which some families will go to get their kids into the Ivies with scenes from her own backstage struggles to keep her children out of psychiatric hospitals. I’ve admired Smith’s incisive, delightfully shameless essays for years and couldn’t wait for her to publish this memoir, which deserves the widest possible readership.

By Irena Smith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Golden Ticket as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Palo Alto, California, is an epicenter of seismic levels of teen stress and extravagant parental expectations. As a college counselor, Irena Smith works with some of the most high-achieving and tightly wound students in the world. Here, in the shadow of Stanford University, admission to a top college is the greatest expectation and the ultimate prize. Irena's own expectations as a mother, however, are strikingly different: after her oldest son is diagnosed with autism at age two, she and her husband put him through a behavioral intervention program as rigorous as any SAT boot camp in a quest to help…


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Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

Book cover of Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

Sam Baldwin Author Of For Fukui’s Sake: Two years In Rural Japan

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Author Snow lover Fish out of water Traveller

Sam's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house, but what was meant as a pitstop becomes life-changing when he decides to stay. Along the way, he meets a colourful cross-section of Slovene society: from dormouse hunters, moonshine makers, beekeepers, and bitcoin miners, to a man who swam the Amazon, and a hilltop matriarch who teaches him the meaning of being 'priden'.

Struggling with Slovene, a language with grammar so complex it can cause brain damage, and battling bureaucracy, he explores the culture and characters of this underappreciated ex-Yugoslav republic, its wild beauty, and its wild animals.

A love letter to Slovenia, this rare, adventurous account follows a foreigner trying to build a new life — and rebuild an old house — in a young country still finding its own place in the world.

Dormice & Moonshine: Falling for Slovenia

By Sam Baldwin,

What is this book about?

'Charming, funny, insightful, and moving. The perfect book for any Slovenophile' - Noah Charney, BBC presenter

'A rollicking and very affectionate tour' - Steve Fallon, author of Lonely Planet Slovenia

'Delivers discovery and adventure...captivating!' - Bartosz Stefaniak, editor, 3 Seas Europe

When two brothers discover a 300-year-old sausage-curing cabin on the side of a Slovenian mountain, it's love at first sight. But 300-year-old cabins come with 300 problems.

Dormice & Moonshine is the true story of an Englishman seduced by Slovenia. In the wake of a breakup, he seeks temporary refuge in his hinterland house but what was meant as…


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10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about evolution, the United Kingdom, and motherhood.

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