On Our Shelves Now
New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • A sharply observed memoir of motherhood and the self, and a love letter to Maine, by a writer Eula Biss calls “witty, sly, critical, inventive” and whose mind Leslie Jamison calls “electric.”
“An absolute stunner: frank, funny, self-aware, constantly surprising.”—George Saunders
That night, in his bed, I spread my son’s palm wide and tried to read it. If the hand was a map that led to a future person, was there any changing the destination?
One summer Heidi Julavits sees her son silhouetted by the sun and notices he is at the threshold of what she calls “the end times of childhood.” When did this happen, she asks herself. Who is my son becoming—and what qualifies me to be his guide?
The next four years feel like uncharted waters. Rape allegations rock the university campus where Julavits teaches, unleashing questions of justice and accountability, as well as education and prevention. She begins to wonder how to prepare her son to be the best possible citizen of the world he’s about to enter. And what she must learn about herself to responsibly steer him.
Looking back to her childhood in Maine, where she and her family often navigated the tricky coastline in a small boat, relying on a decades-old nautical guide, Julavits takes us on an intellectual navigation of the self. Throughout, she intertwines her internal analysis with a wide-ranging exploration of what it means to raise a child in a time full of contradictions and moral complexity. Using the past and present as points of orientation, Directions to Myself examines the messy minutiae of family life alongside knottier questions of politics and gender. Through it all, Julavits discovers the beauty and the peril of telling stories as a way to locate ourselves and help others find us.
Intimate, rigorous, and refreshingly unsentimental, Directions to Myself cements Julavits’s reputation as one of the most shrewdly innovative nonfiction writers at work today.
About the Author
Heidi Julavits is the author of The Folded Clock: A Diary and four novels, including the PEN Award-winning The Vanishers. She is an associate professor at Columbia University and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in New York City and Maine.
“Julavits’s writing is a life raft: elegant without sentimentality. . . . Directions to Myself is less a memoir of parenting and more a memoir of developing personhood.”—The New York Times
“An achingly rendered experience of parenthood. Rather than simply passing, time escapes from us, along with our children. And it makes its wounds along the way.”—The Washington Post
“All parents worry about what the world might do to their children. Julavits worries about what her child might do to the world. Directions to Myself is at its best when Julavits, as her title suggests, considers how she might grow alongside her child.”—The New Yorker
“An open airing of the worries and fears of a woman in the 21st century, an ode to books and streams and rocks and artifacts and to family. But it might be, above all, about nature, human and otherwise.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“A journey to self-discovery.”—WBUR Boston
“Julavits’ fans will enjoy the insights into her life, child-rearing, and finding direction for one’s self and one’s family.”—Booklist
“Directions to Myself sees Julavits studying what she calls ‘the end times of childhood.’ She writes about her son’s upbringing as well as her own to find answers about motherhood, family life, and growing up.”—The Millions
“A memoir about navigation in every sense . . . Julavits writes with sparkling insight and stunning clarity.”—Bustle
“An absolute stunner: frank, funny, self-aware, constantly surprising . . . one of the most insightful representations I’ve read of what it feels like to be alive these days . . .”—George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo
“Directions to Myself is the product of an awe-inspiring mind, whose “inner Maine,” captured here, was a place I did not want to leave. The writing is a miracle of precision and spirit, and Heidi Julavits is as darkly funny as John Cheever, my other favorite Yankee subversive.”—Rachel Kushner, author of The Mars Room
“Inside these pages is a sanctuary of unwordable grief, exactly because of its proximity to our purpose and joy, our mothering, our try, our children. We have tried our best. Now, to the world they go.”—Dede Gardner, Oscar winning producer of 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight
“Honest, blazing, and generous, Directions to Myself manages to be an essay about everything by focusing intently on the basic human need of giving care to other people. Truly astounding.”—Catherine Lacey, author of Biography of X
“A touching meditation on time, motherhood, and memory . . . Affecting reflections on life’s transitions.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In this self-aware book, issues of politics and gender thread together with the daily ins and outs of family life.”—TIME