Are you that person whose To-Be-Read pile exists on every table in the house? Do you miss sitting at the cafe and scoping out what books everyone is reading? Is this Reductress meme about you? Are you here for a good time, not a long time?
Welcome to Speed Reader, a rogue missive from your bookish friends at Omoi. Every month or so we'll feature a book from the shop that we read, thought about, and want you to read and think about. Part book club, part recommendation algorithm, except we're not stealing your data and no one is laying in wait to mansplain at you. Let's get started.
Just in time for Mother's Day, this month's Speed Reader is all about Jessamine Chan's bestselling The School for Good Mothers. Let's dive in.
"The School for Good Mothers" tells the story of Frida, who is not a good mother—at least according to the state. When Frida leaves her 18-month-old alone in the house, she's reported by a neighbor and her child is taken away by Child Protective Services. Never mind that it was just meant to be a quick errand to grab a coffee and pick up some papers from work. Frida is sent to a reform school with other "bad mothers" who the state has deemed neglectful, abusive, or selfish, and who must now be re-educated.
Through it all they are monitored, tested, scanned, and evaluated to prove their worthiness as mothers. As the Washington Post says in their review, "The school teaches mothering as if it’s just another aspect of capitalist work culture, an optimizable skill to be perfected, complete with its own jargon." To get her daughter back Frida will have to defy state bureaucrats, condescending child services officials, and her ex-husband who is given Frida's daughter by the state without so much as a second thought.
It's easy to see why Chan's debut was an instant bestseller: besides the fast pace and its familiar setting (the story is set in Philadelphia, where Chan herself lives), this story has an addictive, almost compulsive quality. Everyone on the staff was reading this dang book once it hit the shelves!
Books about motherhood feel timely, but "The School for Good Mothers" feels tailor-made for the digital age. There's never been so much information about how to be "a good mom" before, and so much pressure to get it right.
Rewarding as it can be, the concept of motherhood, as it's been used to promote the post-WWII nuclear family model, can just as quickly be dissected to reveal its inherent inequalities. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially mothers and caretakers, who took on larger burdens of care where the state or partners would not. In Chan's inevitable dystopia, surveillance and conformity are required, but supporting women by giving them autonomy over their own families, is ignored. The abiding rule seems to be mistrust, fear, and control.
This fast-paced read pairs perfectly with an espresso martini or adaptogenic carbonated beverage of choice. Bonus points if you Venmo the new mom in your friend circle a couple bucks for some stress-free takeout.
What to Read Next
If you're interested in the trials (daresay scam?) of modern motherhood, the New York Times' series The Primal Scream is an investigation on parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic, examining the unique stressors put on mothers and caretakers during times of national crisis.
If you're intrigued by surveilled worlds that seem years in the future and yet eerily like our own, we recommend watching Severance, where employees at the mysterious Lumon company undergo a surgical procedure that splits their consciousness into two: their work selves and their real selves. It's the perfect work/life balance...until they start investigating what it is they actually do at the office.
For a lighter take on our digital dystopia, pick up The Arc, a novel about a highly secretive, super-sophisticated matchmaking app that promises to find "the one" no matter what. A smart, high concept love story that asks: is it possible to optimize our most intimate relationships?
Till Next Time
Thanks for reading along! Check back next month for our next read and remember: we're all trying to do the best with what we have!