New Nonfiction (with commentary): 13 July 2015
Yet another reason not to judge other people's self-help reading.

Spinster, by Kate Bolick: Interesting, but depressing in the end?

Now, I don't at all mean that Kate Bolick's new book Spinster* is depressing in the end because Bolick currently remains a "spinster." I'll explain in a minute.

Bolick's a writer and journalist (and contributing editor at The Atlantic) who mixes memoir and literary criticism in this book about the experience of forging a life as a single woman. In addition to exploring her own romantic past (which is anything but dull; Bolick is not a "spinster" who dislikes being with anyone), she also explores her relationships (for lack of a better word) with several women writers who she calls her "awakeners": Maeve Brennan, Neith Boyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Of course not all those women were unmarried. But Bolick does a sound job of looking at how their independence informed their writing, and how their relationships (with everyone; not just their spouses) informed their independence. In fact, although I am a somewhat lazy reader (often preferring the personal, or memoir, accounts, to literary criticism of any kind) I found that her narrative didn't really hit its swing until she focused less on her youth and love affairs and more on her "awakeners" and their writing.

I'm doing a terrible job writing this review. I know it, and as I told Mr. CR the other day, I find it so much harder to write reviews than I used to. Of course this is due partially to the fact that when I started this blog I was married but did not have children. Before we had kids I worked outside of the home, and I have always freelanced, so I am no stranger to having my attention pulled in many directions. But something about trying to keep up with the house, the marriage, the kids, the freelancing, and the reading and having semi-coherent thoughts is really wearing me down lately. And although I love and am so thankful for my life, I can't say there won't always be a part of me that wonders how life would have been if I'd concentrated on enjoying being single, found a nice tiny apartment with hardwood floors, and always stuck with a kitty as my live-in companion.

So I was a bit of a sucker for this book, I'll admit it. I didn't love it, but I found it thoughtful and well-written, and I appreciated reading anyone's take on the subject. I think it would make a good book group title, to be honest with you. Here's how it starts:

"Whom to marry, and when will it happen--these two questions define every woman's existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn't practice. She may grow up to love women instead of men, or to decide she simply doesn't believe in marriage. No matter. These dual contingencies govern her until they're answered, even if the answers are nobody and never.

Men have their own problems; this isn't one of them." (pp. 1-2.)

So why did I finish the book depressed? Well, it was a good read. But near the end of the book Bolick posits:

"The question now is something else entirely: Are women people yet? By which I mean: Are we finally ready for a young woman to set out on the long road of her life as a human being who inhabits but isn't limited by her gender?...Until the answer is an undeniable yes, a girl actually can't grow up like a boy, free to consider the long scope of her life as her own distinct self." (p. 293.)

And that's the part that bothers me. Why must being independent always look or sound more like being...a man? I find that depressing.

Also: this is a small complaint, but I don't care for the cover. You? I think it is a photo of the author, and it's actually kind of an arresting cover, but I don't like her looking down and away.

*This has nothing to do with the review, but I really need to start a better book journal or make a note on my reading spreadsheet about how I find books. The problem is that books come out, they get a lot of press, I put them on hold at the library, they come in for me about two months later, and by then I've forgotten where I first heard about them or what I heard. Anyway. That is not really that important. But that definitely happened with this book. I know I read an article about it somewhere that made me want to read it, but I can't remember which article it was.