Late Summer Book Club: four new books for adults

Late Summer Book Club: four new books for adults

Matrescence: On the Metamorphosis of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood

By Lucy Jones, Allen Lane

Matrescence is an important work. We first meet Lucy Jones on her knees in a forest, looking for slime moulds with her hand lens. She explains that they change, as did she. She was delighted to discover the word ‘matrescence’, which validated her sense that becoming a mother was a process of total change.

The change began in pregnancy when she suffered severe nausea. She quickly discovered that the usual ideas about pregnancy and then motherhood were nowhere near her own experiences. She endured an exhausting five-day labour, and found breastfeeding hard going. (I am a La Leche League leader, and I wonder whether she had been inadequately prepared. She mentions trying to get her nipple into her baby’s mouth, when it’s simpler to support the breast and let the baby gape and attach herself.)

Extreme exhaustion continued to be Jones’ postnatal experience. She read that she was supposed to “fit herself around [the baby’s] needs”. This seems to be the message that haunts and exhausts so many mothers. But it may inspire readers to find Jones seeking “ authentic way, beyond the martyred maternal ideal”. And she succeeds: “I am learning to reject what society expects of me and define what ‘mother’ means on my own terms.”

Jones is an experienced writer, so her work is engaging and sensitive. She is critical of many assumptions about mothers, and our societal failure to support them. JUNO readers will appreciate her detailed descriptions of nature and how she links motherhood to the natural world. She has also experimented with shapes of print on some pages to indicate different feelings.

Jones hopes Matrescence will “begin new conversations”. It’s down to those of us who have read Matrescence to make sure that we do. NS 


Why Grandmothers Matter

By Naomi Stadlen, Pinter & Martin

This beautifully reflective book is a wonderful addition to the Why It Matters series. Naomi Stadlen, an existential psychotherapist, mother, grandmother and author of What Mothers Do, ruminates, in her unique, gentle style, on what it means to be a grandmother. She looks at becoming a grandmother, the roles of grandmothers, the web of relationships between grandmothers and all members of the family (including the “other grandmother”) and how grandmothers are perceived, and how this has changed across the years. She also reflects on aging and dying, but how we mustn’t discount the future a grandmother still has.

If old people needing care are seen as a nuisance, how can grandmothers matter? Stadlen answers this so carefully, reflecting on all the different ways grandmothers add to society – from practical help to quiet wisdom gained from life experience. Grandmothers can have more time – to think, to listen – and this can be appreciated. Stadlen explores how getting older can bring opportunities and maybe it would help if we tried to feel less negative about it. I also found the section on becoming a grandmother very interesting because it’s something we have no control over whatsoever, and we might be surprised by our range of emotions.

What I love about Stadlen’s writing is her gentle, reflective pace. She draws in other voices and makes us think profoundly without us really noticing. As a mother of three children, I may one day be a grandmother, and this book has helped me think about that in a positive way, to feel excited about what that might mean and bring to my life, rather than dreading getting older and life passing by. Through this book, Stadlen celebrates the power and beauty of age and what it means to share that with our families. SF


Thanks for Sharing: How I Gave Up Buying and Embraced Swapping, Borrowing and Renting

By Eleanor Tucker, Aurum

In this book – part memoir, part guidebook – Eleanor Tucker invites us into her family’s experience of the highs and lows of the sharing economy over the course of a year. Peer-to-peer sharing won’t be a new concept to everyone. We all have at least some sense of how it works today, thanks the Airbnb, though, as Tucker explains in the book, the prevalence of landlords on the platform renting out second homes has moved the model a long way from the original idea of offering someone your spare bed for the night. But I had no idea how wide-ranging sharing had become. Tucker borrows someone’s car when hers is in the garage, a tent when her family goes on holiday, she rents clothes, and furniture for their new house, and she develops an unexpectedly warm relationship with a dog called Marley whom she walks from time to time. She also gets quite into food sharing, and experiments with skill swapping. All this is arranged through apps.

Sharing is, of course, an age-old practice. The book highlights today’s obsession with possession and shows us how positive letting go of this can be. The benefits she discusses are really interesting – environmental and societal. Crudely, sharing stuff and pooling our resources is far more sustainable than us each owning the same thing we use only some of the time. We consume less, as fewer things need to be manufactured, and we feel more connected to each other. In addition, there is money to be saved, or made.

I found the book illuminating. It helps to dispel reservations we might have about giving it a go. Different ideas will appeal to different people, but I feel sure many readers will feel compelled to try some of them out for themselves. Thanks for Sharing really made me feel lighter about the possibilities of how we might function better as a society. AE


Walk the Wheel: Tales of the Turning Seasons

By Keli Tomlin, illustrated by Michelle Shore

This is a beautiful collection of stories shaped around the Wheel of the Year. There is a story for each pagan festival – Imbolc, Spring Equinox, Beltane, Midsummer, Lammas, Autumn Equinox, Samhain and Midwinter – and each one resonates with the magic and atmosphere of the different seasonal celebrations. The collection presents a world deeply connected to nature and a sense of wonder, reminding us of our kinship with the Earth. The writing invokes the rich history of folklore, and there is a strong feeling that these stories are for sharing, to be told around the campfire or read to children at bedtime, bringing us together in understanding and celebration of key markers in the year.

While the stories draw heavily on the past, they feel contemporary and relevant. Tomlin plays with the identity of her characters – their gender and humanness – defying stereotypes. And in her author’s note, Tomlin addresses the dissonance between the Wheel of the Year and the reality of the seasons in a world in climate crisis. Tomlin suggests that the more we connect to the stories, the more we can fully ally ourselves with the planet. The Wheel of the Year offers “a slower, steadier, cyclical path” that pays attention to “the signs and signals given to us by the land”. The stories tap into this rhythm and encourage us to align ourselves with the world around us.

Farmer and the Wheat is the story for Lammas, the festival of the first harvest, celebrated on 1 August, when the Late Summer issue of JUNO is published. As Farmer comes to cut the wheat with their sickle, the wheat cries out, urging them to stop. Farmer’s apprentice calls her grandmother, and with her help, the wheat and Farmer come to an understanding of the cycle of living and dying. Farmer agrees that gratitude must be shown for taking what is given. They share beer with the wheat before the harvest begins, and Farmer gives the first cut of the field back to the Earth in order that the cycle will turn again. AE


Reviews by Alice Ellerby, Saffia Farr and Naomi Stadlen

First published in issue 85 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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