It’s that post-Christmas, post-New Year time when I find myself with a pile of books and that snow-ridden setting that allows me a little time to read. There’s just that little bit more time to allow books to be strewn abo
ut my floor, ripe for the picking and switching when I get to the end of a chapter in one. Right now, I’m reading a bunch of books that have some common themes, although I did not seek these themes out on purpose.
To start, I am reading All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. I have an idea for a non-fiction book that studies the narratives available to women of the 21st Century, and so, Traister’s book immediately appealed to me when I saw it on the shelf. I’ve been making my way through it, delightedly, and here’s why: this book is part memoir and part historical and social narrative. I love the mix of the two. But, I’ll be honest, I may have, at least once in my reading, skipped past a chapter on the history and gone directly to the author’s narrative account of her own life. I just eat that stuff up.
Interestingly, Traister notes that she started research for the book right before she married her husband. I love the idea that she decided to write about single life just as she embarked upon married life; the two lifestyles seem decidedly
contingent upon each other, as her book reveals.
Contrary to what the title may indicate, this is not a book advocating only single life. Or married life. Or any one lifestyle. What the book does do is study the ways that single life for women has evolved and the ways it has transformed marriage and society in general. Traister looks at the ways that marriage age has risen and she also studies the various aspects of single life that help women to enter marriage more fully self-realized and with a broader system of career and friendships that become a part of that marriage. She also examines the elements that make single life a viable and sometimes preferable choice for women. Her task is not to advocate one lifestyle but to point out the revolutionary way that such choice has changed women’s lives in love, career and sense of self. I’m not done with the book–indeed, I tried to slow down my reading of it because I was racing through. I’ll let you know what further gems I find!
Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own is another title that would probably scare away some readers. As I was telling a friend recently, the book is brilliant, and the title is the author’s attempt to re-frame that word or to understand it in historical context while re-examining its true meaning in our present time. I am loving this book. And not because I want to be a spinster. I love this book for the way that Bolick interweaves her own personal memoir of love and career and independence alongside of her close study of selected female literary figures from New York City’s recent past. Some of these writers she profiles include Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Yes, this is a book for literature majors, as we appreciate the close study of these women’s writing exploits against the backdrop of early 20th century NYC. But, the book has great appeal beyond that because of the way Bolick writes with such candor about her own search for self understanding, satisfaction with love and career success.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, her book takes her on a journey of investigating her own mother’s experiences with writing, career and marriage. Some of the moments of connection she finds with her mother’s younger self are surprising and poignant. And, as I read, I now have several new female writers to read–women who came to New York and forged, often revolutionary, lifestyles where they wrote and loved and lived in the city, going against the expectations of their families to settle down early and raise children.
As with Traister’s book above, this book is not an advocate for any one life. Most of the women in the book do go on to marry, and Bolick paints sensitive and insightful portraits of the ways their relationships and marriages fed their writing lives or vice versa. I’m close to done with this book but am also drawing it out. Bolick provides an ample appendix of additional related titles, no doubt brought about by her research, to ensure that readers continue their pleasure in exploring her topic!