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Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty: The Memoir of a Romantic Feminist Hardcover – April 19, 2016
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"The story makes feminism something that is relatable as opposed to just something that was part of our history ... Alida Brill brilliantly shows us that in this book." —Amy Synoracki, San Francisco Book Review
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In her new book, Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty: The Memoir of a Romantic Feminist, Brill again provides an honest recounting, this time probing the pushes and pulls of a woman trying to compose a meaningful life in the age of the second wave of feminism. “Throughout time women have told their stories in ways both hidden and open,” writes Brill. In this absorbing part memoir, part history, Brill, with wit and self-reflection, lays bare her journey.
Born in 1949, she begins, “I grew up a regular girl in a regular Southern California suburb. My adolescence and then my adulthood were interrupted by chronic illness, which gave me an understanding of fairness and unfairness, and from there, feminism.” As a child she was quite taken with the beautiful actress Grace Kelly. Brill writes the Princess a letter (Brill is only seven years old at the time!) and remarkably, receives a reply. Later, Brill fantasizes about being a princess herself and living a happily-ever-after life. And, as Brill acknowledges, she is stuck with this fantasy for decades.
Brill’s mother, as expected, and Betty Friedan, as unexpected, influenced her early years. Friedan was a beacon for Brill’s mother, who, like many women of her day, lacked education and opportunity. About her mother, she writes, “Until Friedan’s book became my mother’s bible, she was too insecure to express her own feelings about women and work…. My mother especially identified with Friedan as another miserable housewife with a fine mind…. She fantasized they might have been friends (as Brill was to become) under other circumstances. Friedan could have been channelling my mother when she wrote: A baked potato is not as big as the world, and vacuuming the living room - with or without makeup – is not work that takes enough thought or energy to challenge any woman’s full capacity.” Throughout Dear Princess Grace, Dear Betty, Brill includes passages from Friedan’s monumental book, The Feminine Mystique. Brill eventually meets Betty who becomes at times her second mother and other times her confidante and friend.
Being a young girl in the 1950s, it is not surprising that Brill played with Barbie. However, consider the twist she gives this decidedly un-feminist toy. “Barbie became my surrogate woman, a subversive undercover agent. I imagined her living an exciting life…. Sometimes she was a doctor, sometimes an actress, a writer, or a fashion designer…. What mattered to me was that Barbie got up, got dressed, went to work, and had led a full life outside the home.” Is this the Barbie you knew?
In the book, Brill shares her stories about loves found and lost and why and how she is able to persevere. I appreciated her wisdom about getting through divorce, quoting from the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, “Keep ahead of all parting, as if it were behind you, as the winter just now passed…only by wintering through it can the heart survive.” Does being both a romantic and a feminist seem like a contradiction? I encourage you to read the book and get to know Alida Brill! I applaud Brill for her honesty and willingness to share her vulnerabilities. She eases the way for the rest of us (men, too) to tell our own stories and accept ourselves as the mysteriously complex human beings we are.
Alida Brill's memoir is, quite simply, brilliant. Deeply personal and politically astute, it manages to be both fascinating and insightful. It will be illuminating for both men and women.
Brill is a superb writer. We have previously read (and loved) both Nobody's Business and Dancing At the River's Edge. She writes a clear narrative, always keeping the reader engaged. At times, this book is a "page turner" - you don't want to put it down. In chronicling her life's journey as a "romantic feminist," Brill gives us insight into her personal journey from suburban Lakewood, California to a life as an author in contemporary New York. From a little girl's starry eyed idealization of Princess Grace to a mature woman's close friendship with Betty Freidan, one of the central figures in the rise of 20th century feminism, Brill shares with us her evolution and development as a person and feminist.
The book is both entertaining and enlightening, and we strongly recommend it.
Brill writes of her relationships and marriages, her career as it changes with those relationships, and of meeting and befriending Betty Friedan. She becomes one of Friedan's closest friends and pays tribute to her honestly and lovingly.
Finally, she calls for romantic feminism, for love based on equality and patience--sage advice from a woman who has lived to tell the tale.