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Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own Hardcover – April 21, 2015
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“What’s surprising about Spinster is how, in its charmingly digressive style, the book sets forth a clear vision not just for single women, but for all women: to disregard the reigning views of how women should live, to know their own hearts and to carve out a little space for their dreams.” —New York Times Book Review
“Awakened and inspired by the lives of five historical women, Bolick revels in her own singledom in this blazingly smart memoir, which argues that “spinster” should be a coveted destination, not a dirty word. Her eloquent, provocative story illustrates how charting a unique course can make any life truly singular.” —People
“Bolick weaves memoir, feminist theory, and biographies of five forgone writers into a riveting, essential text. Bolick’s voice crackles with wit, sharp criticism, and breathtaking metaphors as she makes an enticing case for spinsterhood.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Bolick’s rich chronicle makes Spinster one of the most important works of feminist cultural history of the last 20 years...Let this remarkable memoir stand as an important political reckoning for women's trajectories, and a moving personal effort toward that greater vision.” —National Post
“Bolick’s evocation of the untethered state is often beautiful, her metaphors precise and lyrical in the manner of her heroines. More important, she does not flinch from describing just how alone alone can feel...Bolick is adept at spotting the unexamined confusions and curious silences that have arisen in the wake of an incomplete sexual revolution—and that bedevil those of us who are living outside of our culture’s sturdiest institutions.” —Elle
“A pleasing, intelligent book. Bolick’s minibiographies of her five awakeners are captivating, and she is great company on the page–perhaps she will prove to be an awakener for a new generation.”—TIME
“Often lyrical...a personal story of the pleasures and challenges of being a woman at a time of changing rules and seemingly endless possibilities.” —The Economist
“Bolick’s intimate exploration of spinsterhood celebrates the courage of defining for oneself what it means to be happy.” —Newsday
“Bolick's cri de coeur dispels the 'conundrum' of the willfully single female.” —O Magazine
“In Spinster, a sharp-witted paean to the single life, Kate Bolick explains why she has consciously opted out of coupling.” —Harper's Bazaar
“Provocative...A uniquely American quest for a life without regrets - and without a partner.” —Associated Press
“Stemming from Bolick’s fantastic Atlantic cover story, “All the Single Ladies,” Spinster expands on that initial work, in a beautiful piece of cultural history that should prove inspiring and thought-provoking for women of all ages. Bolick takes us deep into her own story as a single woman, and explores the lives of her “awakeners” — women like Maeve Brennan and Edna St. Vincent Millay, who served as models and warnings of the rich life that could be made, free from the constraints of a traditional marriage.” —Flavorwire
“Something to celebrate…[Spinster offers] models for women’s lives distinct from the demands of the domestic realm.” —The Week
“In this beautifully articulated memoir-cultural/historical examination mashup, Bolick shares both her own reasons for remaining unmarried, as well as sharing examples of great spinsters throughout history (such as Edna St. Vincent Millay and Charlotte Perkins Gilman), absolving the term’s negative connotations in the process…Bolick’s newest is an inspirational treatise that will help define a nascent generation of women who choose to live happily independently.” —Bustle
“While the stereotypes of spinsters are mostly unflattering—cue the cat lady, the bag lady and Grey Gardens—Bolick’s Spinster offers a corrective through nuanced portraits of women who love and are loved, and who choose to place their work and their friends at the center of their lives. Engaging and informative, Spinster offers a decidedly non-“Sex and the City” portrait of the challenges and opportunities of single life.” —Bookpage
“Kate Bolick brings a bracing feminist consciousness to bear on the lives of five unconventional women of the past and on her own young life in the twenty-first century. She writes about the dilemmas of love and work—then and now—with rare perspicacity and poignancy.” —Janet Malcolm, author of The Journalist and the Murderer
“Spinster is a triumph, a provocative and moving exploration of what it means for a woman to chart her own course.” —Malcolm Gladwell, author of David and Goliath
“Kate Bolick’s Spinster will take your breath away. Writing with a bold vision and in incandescent prose, Bolick gives us a user’s guide to going solo — and a gorgeous work of cultural criticism.” —Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution and bestselling author of Quiet
“In Spinster, her wise and subtle memoir, Kate Bolick explores that freighted term—and the often-maligned woman to whom it is attached—and deftly, persuasively reclaims it. In telling the stories of her literary ‘awakeners’—five vividly-conjured women who escaped the conventional ties of marriage and family—and in elegantly weaving cultural history into her own personal progress to maturity, Bolick shows by argument and example that the single life is not a predicament to be escaped, but a distinctive, demanding, rewarding form of freedom. I wish I could give this book to my thirty-year-old self; she would have taken heart and inspiration from Bolick’s bold and intelligent self-examination—not necessarily to follow her path, but to be tenderly reminded of this simple but easily neglected truth: that there is another way to want to be.” —Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch
“What happens when you don't get married? Setting out to answer this question, Kate Bolick has written a moving, insightful, and important inquiry into how women's lives are narrated—not just in poems, novels, biographies, and memoirs, but also in our own heads, every day, as we make the constant stream of decisions that constitute a human life. Ambitious in the best way, Spinster made me think differently about everything from novelistic plot to the meaning of furniture.”—Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed
“Kate Bolick has written a heart-stirringly wonderful book—a diary, a history lesson, and a meditation on what it really means to be an independent woman at this moment in America. A fiercely smart young writer, so very much of her time that any urban single woman of "marriagable" age will instantly relate to her (and those of us who used to be that woman will, as well) —decides to attack the idea that marriage must be a female goal. She takes us on her journey from her New England girlhood through an advancing literary and media career, with and without boyfriends, in Boston and then, most heart-stirringly, in New York. She intersperses each vulnerably lived but precisely analyzed step with the inspiration she has searched out, with touching passion, from magnificently singular role models from the late 19th and early 20th century. She calls these heroines her ‘awakeners,’ But by the end of Spinster it is we who have been awakened by Bolick’s insistence on an examined life—a glowingly examined life—and the reminder that this ruminative self-honesty, this peace-making with oneself, is not only what we must nourish but also what can save us.” —Sheila Weller, author of The News Sorority and Girls Like Us
“Women of the world, listen here: Drop whatever you’re doing and read Kate Bolick’s marvelous meditation on what it means to be female at the dawn of the 21st century. Part self-investigation, part social history, this utterly singular book reminded me, in its warmth and wit, of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love and Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, but ultimately Bolick’s restless, razor-like intelligence calls to mind none other than Betty Friedan. And like The Feminine Mystique, Spinster will make you re-think your entire life, if not radically change it.” —Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year and A Fortunate Age
“Today, women throughout the world have embarked on an unprecedented experiment in solo living, and no one has chronicled the experience with the candor, insight, and intelligence of Kate Bolick. Spinster is part memoir, part social history, part adventure story, all riveting. No matter whether we're married or single, it invites us to think seriously about how we want to live.” —Eric Klinenberg, author of Going Solo
“[A] powerful memoir…Bolick’s intense and moving combination of personal, historical, and cultural narratives will inspire readers—especially women—to think about what they want their own lives to be, and how close they are to their goals.” —Publishers Weekly [starred]
“Refreshingly bold and incisive… As Bolick traces her evolution into a woman unapologetic for her choices and unafraid of her own personal freedom, she also reclaims the derogatory word ‘spinster’ for all females, married or not… A sexy, eloquent, well-written study/memoir.” –Kirkus Reviews [starred]
“Smartly written, intimate, and heartfelt, Spinster challenges readers to reconsider what a successful life feels like for women and gifts them with a wondrous group of historic figures to immerse themselves in. A brilliant and timely narrative for twenty-first-century bluestockings, and book groups shall rejoice from all the wonders it has to offer.” –Booklist
“Author Kate Bolick of The Atlantic writes an assured and engaging volume on the subject of spinsterhood, and in doing so reclaims the word and makes it entirely her own. Whether you’re a woman, or you simply know some, this is an enlightening read about breaking free of conventional wisdom of love and marriage. Bolick is a feminist hero in the making.”–Bookish
“Bolick's message for readers is a celebration of the delights, challenges and opportunities of remaining single.” –Shelf Awareness
About the Author
Kate Bolick is a contributing editor to The Atlantic. She was previously the executive editor of Domino magazine. She lives in New York.
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Now, as far as to whether this book actually delivered? I'd have to give it 3 stars (and that is a bit generous). I found her point somewhat elusive. I'd be reading and thinking, "Yeah, yeah . . . okay, I get it," and a paragraph later or at the end of the page I'd have lost the thread. Or maybe I didn't lose the thread-- maybe I was looking for something more subtle or something more significant and it's not there. Maybe the point the point of the book really IS as simple as it seems: that marriage has historically been the focal point of women's lives to the detriment of their individual development. Well, huh.
I am a female in her late 40s who does not have much patience for what I consider the unrealistic self-indulgent soft intellectualism that runs amok in a lot of women's studies programs. I also don't have much tolerance for the relentless pursuit of 'Me,' to the exclusion of all else -- something this book has in big doses. Sentences like those on the jacket " Spinster . . . . asks us to acknowledge the opportunities that exist within ourselves to live authentically" really set up my hackles. Just what the hell does that mean, anyhow? This is the kind of teeth-grinding hipster jargon that really makes me lose respect for an author. A good writer should do better than falling back on such pablum and there are frequent instances of it throughout the book. When I read she'd been an editor at a fashion magazine that kind of writing made sense. The book jacket mentions her affiliation with The Atlantic (Monthly) a magazine I had a subscription to for over 15 years. I guess that led me to expect something a bit different.
All that aside, I did enjoy reading about the author's 'journey,' which is basically comprised of lots and lots of relationships and short affairs, but without the traditional mantle of marriage along the way. This is not a woman who spends much time alone. By the end of the book I lost a bit of respect for her as she seemed to view every intimate relationship from the vantage point of what SHE could get out of it. I began to get the feeling that she equated remaining a spinster with making her own needs and herself the center of her existence. This seems a bit different from women who remained a spinster to avoid becoming breeding units or chattel. If what she is saying is that the feminist movement has made it possible to act as selfishly as men that isn't exactly a news flash. Sorry, but I think either gender acting like their needs trump those of their intimates have some issues.
It seems like dubious logic to compare her situation with women who lived in such a different time -- before there was birth control, the right to vote, and when women were a category of chattel to name a few. My point is that there are completely different reasons to remain unmarried now as opposed to 100 years ago. I found it a bit apples to oranges.
I thought it was head-scratchingly entertaining that none of the 5 historical figures the author holds up as a spinster is actually a spinster: all 5 women were married. She seems to think that if they had unsuccessful marriages or obtained divorces that that somehow catapulted them back into the spinster category. Sorry, that doesn't work for me. I looked in 5 separate dictionaries and they all defined a spinster as an unmarried woman. The author picked these women because they were personal heroes and that is fine. But they aren't spinsters and that seems a tad on the disingenuous side for a book with that title.
Ah, well. I did enjoy the book and it certain got me thinking. It's not a difficult book to read and I can see it becoming a book club staple.
"The single woman is nearly always considered an anomaly, an aberration from the social order," Bolick goes on to write. This too may have been true in the past, but recent statistics now indicate that the living situation of a married couple with children no longer comprise the majority of households and indeed is becoming an anomaly – although there are still some parts of the country in which a single woman is likely to feel very much alone and out of place.
Despite the many criticisms I have of SPINSTER: MAKING A LIFE OF ONE'S OWN, and although it is not at all what the book title led me to expect, I enjoyed reading it. What did I expect? A book about being an unmarried single woman for life (by choice or default) and dealing with advantages and disadvantages of not having a partner and intimate relationship central to one's life. Author Bolick only lightly touches on the above subject, whereas most of the book is a memoir about her hectic dating life (admittedly, she's usually super-social and doesn't allow herself much alone time) and above all, an explorations of the lives of five female writers of the past who inspired her.
These writers are: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charlotte Perkins Gibbons, Maeve Brennan, Neith Boyce, and Edith Wharton. Given they are the focus of a book entitled SPINSTER, it is odd and incongruous that none of these were spinsters in the sense of never-married women. All were married for at least parts of their lives, and some (Millay in particular) had active sexual lives.
Instead of focusing on the traditional and most accepted meaning of the word "spinster" , Bolick uses the definition found in the Black's Law Dictionary – a single woman or a woman who is separated from her husband, or whose marriage was dissolved by death or divorce. Perhaps without intending to be derogatory, Bolick by omission does in a way slight women who never chose to marry or make an intimate relationship the center of their lives since she gives little attention to their concerns or lifestyles.
In addition, because of her sharing about her own active sexual life and coupledom AND on the lives of once-married writers who lived in a society before birth control (and the late 20th century sexual revolution and feminist rebirth), Bolick manages to avoid focusing on her own subtitle: Making A Life of One's Own – at least according to 21st century reality.
I was, however, drawn into the book from the start because like Bolick, my favorite book in childhood was ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, my favorite poet for decades was Millay, and one of my favorite novelists has been Edith Wharton. But my identification stopped there. As other reviewers have pointed out, Kate Bolick lives a privileged lifestyle – with financial security provided by her parents, the freedom to pursue her own creative work without the risk of being destitute, and an upscale active dating life. This is not the lifestyle of the average "spinster" today.
Yet Bolick's breezy conversational style and personal sharing contributes to the readability of her book, and her brief biographies and discussions of five writers are likely to introduce the reader to female writers with whom they have not been familiar, such as Gibbons, Brennan and Boyce. Despite having written my high school English thesis on Millay, I didn't even know how notorious and scandalous Millay's lifestyle was!
Initially Bolick briefly traces the evolution of the word "spinster" – the word refers to an unmarried girl or young woman who spun thread for a living – since the Renaissance when it was an honorable term. Not until colonial America and British influence in New England did "spinster" become synonymous with "old maid" and disparaging in meaning. Spinsters were unmarried women over the age of 23 (probably most who wished to marry but were not considered desirable). Unfortunately, for many centuries, such spinsters were suspect – and too often condemned as witches.
Personally, I wish that Bolick had focused more on the lifestyles and challenges of never-married women today or at least 21st century uncoupled women - women of different races, income levels, and cultures (not only ethnically, but with respect to the region of the country in which they live – being single in Cambridge, Massachusetts is an entirely different experience than being single in a small Midwestern town or a traditional Southern city).
As a never-married woman in my mid60s who led "Becoming Your Own Heroine" workshops for single women for many years, I believe that a book titled SPINSTER: Making a Life of One's Own would be more meaningful to readers if it addressed the real experiences and issues of concern to unmarried women today, such as:
a) How can you cope with the reality of being surrounded by couples and families with children?
b) If you live in a region of the country in which singlehood is an anomaly, how do you create for yourself some kind of belonging?
c) How do you deal with holidays, vacations and periods of illness – times in which couples and families tend to rely upon each other?
d) How can you meet your emotional needs for closeness and your needs for touch (and sex) when you don't have a primary partner? Or how can you cope with those needs being unmet?
e) How does your singlehood impact your ability to make and relate to friendships?
f) What are the advantages and disadvantages of friendships being your primary relationships, and how can you avoid having undue emotional expectations of friends, particularly those who are coupled?
g) How do you cope with the greater financial costs of singlehood and perhaps living alone – no shared mortgages and utility bills, additional costs for single rooms when traveling etc.
h) How can you best prepare for the likelihood or reality of living alone without family during your senior years, and perhaps with declining health?
i) How can you reframe your "spinsterhood" in a manner which helps you to feel proud rather than apologetic for your lifestyle, and able to stand upright and contented around those who might judge or pity you – or even envy you?
Bolick barely touches on most of the above issues, and completely ignores many of them (especially ageing and dealing with poor health as a single woman). But clearly, because she did not intend to write a book of this nature, she could have chosen a title and subtitle more relevant to her subject matter.
If you don't expect a self-help book, and if you allow SPINSTER to be what it is, you are likely, at least to have a pleasant and somewhat informative reading experience. I rate it 3.5 stars.