17 April 2015

Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick

Summary from Goodreads:
“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

This unprecedented demographic shift, Bolick explains, is the logical outcome of hundreds of years of change that has neither been fully understood, nor appreciated. Spinster introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. By animating their unconventional ideas and choices, Bolick shows us that contemporary debates about settling down, and having it all, are timeless—the crucible upon which all thoughtful women have tried for centuries to forge a good life.

Intellectually substantial and deeply personal, Spinster is both an unreservedly inquisitive memoir and a broader cultural exploration that asks us to acknowledge the opportunities within ourselves to live authentically. Bolick offers us a way back into our own lives—a chance to see those splendid years when we were young and unencumbered, or middle-aged and finally left to our own devices, for what they really are: unbounded and our own to savor.

As a single woman approaching middle-age, there are two things you can do: loathe your single state or work to accept the single life you have. I opt for the second. Loathing one's self because one lacks a socially acceptable relationship construct takes too much time. I have things to do. Yes, it sucks that there's no one to come home to at night (cats do not count) but there's a bit of pride that it's all mine, from the weedy yard to the dripping sink to the bed I do not have to share.

Kate Bolick has been coupled and uncoupled, but never married.  As her friends married and had children, she wondered why she wasn't doing the same.  She had a great life - she was an editor with Domino magazine at one point - and loved it.  She loved her apartment.  So....was she normal?  Bolick began to notice a pattern in her reading: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton and others were women who held good jobs and houses and social lives independent of a marital bond.  She explores the lives and intersecting themes of these women and her own life in Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own.

I thought this was a very interesting, thoughtful look at women's lives in the last 100-150 years through the lens of Bolick's five female predecessors.  And, yes, several of them married later in life or were married early then divorced/widowed, but the major point is that their most productive periods - and possibly happiest periods - coincided with periods of their lives when they were single.  I liked the balance between personal memoir and group biography.  A definite recommend.

Dear FTC: I received a digital advance copy from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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