Not Becoming My Mother

Bestselling author Ruth Reichl examined her mother’s life, giving voice to the universal unarticulated truth that we are grateful not to be our mothers. In Not Becoming My Mother, Ruth Reichl embarked on an openhearted investigation of her mother’s life, piecing together the journey of a woman she came to realize she never really knew. Looking to her mother’s letters and diaries, Reichl confronted the painful transition her mother made from a hopeful young woman to an increasingly unhappy older one and realized the tremendous sacrifices she made to make sure her daughter’s life would not be as disappointing as her own.

Growing up in Cleveland, Miriam Brudno dreamed of becoming a doctor, like her father. But when she announced this, her parents said, “You’re no beauty, and it’s too bad you’re such an intellectual. But if you become a doctor, no man will ever marry you.” Instead, at twenty, Miriam opened a bookstore, a profession everyone agreed was suitably ladylike. She corresponded with authors all over the world, including philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, political figures such as Max Eastman, and novelists such as Christopher Marlowe. It was the happiest time of her life.

Nearly thirty when she finally married, she fulfilled expectations, settled down, left her bookstore behind, and started a family. But conformity came at a tremendous cost. With labor-saving devices to aid in household chores, there was simply not enough to do to fill the days. Miriam—and most of her friends—were smart, educated women who were often bored, miserable, and silently rebellious.

On what would have been Miriam’s one hundredth birthday Reichl opened up her mother’s diaries for the first time and encountered a whole new woman. This was a person she had never known. In this intimate study Reichl comes to understand the lessons of rebellion, independence, and self-acceptance that her mother—though unable to guide herself—succeeded in teaching her daughter.


 

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