Making A Life of One's Own

Book - 2015
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A New York Times Book Review  Notable Book

"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#65533; 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.

Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, ©2015.
ISBN: 9780385347136
Characteristics: xvi, 308 pages :,illustrations, portraits ;,25 cm.


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Feb 02, 2018

Kate Bolick’s book, Spinster, is a coming of age memoir about a white, privileged young woman born in 1972 who has yet to lead a particularly remarkable or interesting life distinct from the times she lives in, seeking permission to be creative. Overall, there is a disconnect between title and content. The book is slow to develop and I patiently waited for the “spinster” parts to arrive. By the time any discussion does arrive, the book is almost over and the topic not discussed in any depth; flat and superficial observations are given instead, often missing any valid point. The historical passages focusing on 19th and 20th c. women writers/editors/essayists/journalists including her mother are far more interesting than her life narrative. Her reasons for connecting with these women are not based on any maritable/unmaritable state. It’s hard and scary to put your creative acts out in public: to her credit Bolick can write with a fresh and breezy style to describe the things she knows well (geographical locations, friends and family) plus there is the occasional pithy “sound bite”. In contrast, her writing is hilarious in parts because of her naiveté with being alone, seeking independence, or understanding the inherent conditions of being unmarried - odd observations for a review on a memoir of someone claiming to be a spinster. On the whole, this is a “more fluff than stuff” book. Skip it and instead, read the biographies of truly interesting women deserving to know, or other, more fully reasoned and explored writings within the women’s studies genre, including on "spinsters".

Sep 20, 2016

I recommended the purchase of this book based on reviews. I'd draw your attention to the first review on this page, I think this gives an interesting and balanced view of the book. I have to say I found her writing about the 5 women who she studied more interesting than what she had to say about her self. There was something unsatisfactory about the writing and I am not sure what it is. I wondered if it was cultural - that self absorption that comes through in this book that really put me off the writer. I think in the end I would agree with the short comment made in an earlier review here 'get a dog'.

FindingJane Sep 01, 2016

The pleasures of living alone. The simple, quiet gratification of curling up in bed, on a sofa or a kitchen chair with a book and a cup of tea. The joy of heading out to the shops, the bookstores, the movies, theater, clubs, parks whenever you want, without having to ask someone’s permission or phone to let anyone know where you’re going or when you’ll be back.

Because a woman’s life for many centuries was circumscribed by the expectation that she would marry and have children, such freedom was rarely hers—before or after marriage. In ages gone by when marriages were arranged, getting attached to a man was demanded and child-bearing was expected. Practically the only women exempt from such demands were whores, nuns and priestesses. Even today, when women get together, one of the main topics of conversation will be who’s married, who’s dating, who’s getting married and who broke up with whom.

Ms. Bolick explores what it means for a woman to pursue singledom, to reject consciously the roles that society places on women. In her life-long search for who she was as a person alone—not a daughter, girlfriend or sex partner—she took as inspiration and tutors women of bygone ages. Some of the names she quotes are familiar to most modern readers. Others are tantalizing strangers.

Ms. Bolick is an educated woman and her erudition is on display as she dissects, elucidates and explores the backgrounds of these five women and the many that impacted their lives or were influenced by them. Her writing captivates as she struggles to sort out what made these women so determined to be single and how well or poorly they succeeded.

These long-dead women hold surprises. They may have been single but they were hardly celibate. A few of them had affairs with men and women and bravely faced scandal as they did so. Others were wealthy ladies to their fingertips; others barely escaped their hardscrabble origins. All had something to offer Ms. Bolick and she wants us to know that they have something to offer us, too.

These ladies battled social structure, politics and even the laws to gain equal rights for their sex. They were writers, journalists and even poets but they all played a larger life in the worlds around them.

“Spinster” is a grand yet easily accessible exploration of what it takes to be a woman. Ms. Bolick isn’t so arrogant as to pretend all of her questions have been answered or that this book is an instruction manual for all the young girls who are searching to define themselves. But it’s a primer as well as a haunting glimpse into bygone ages and the single women who boldly strove to be something more than wives and mothers.

Jul 16, 2016

Ultimately unsatisfying in the end, but a really good read nonetheless. I couldn't help thinking that this woman needs to get a dog!

Mar 11, 2016

Thought provoking

Feb 16, 2016

I expected something else, but I enjoyed the book nevertheless. It's written in beautiful, poetic language so this is not an easy read, but that's what I enjoyed about it. Some great education for the feminist in me too. I can see why there are reviews on both sides. I would recommend it, if you are looking for something thoughtful.

Jan 23, 2016

What a boring, tiresome book! I gave up after about 50 pages, but even those were a waste of time. The author is really full of herself. This was not at all what I expected.

Dec 04, 2015

I dragged through the first half of this book, but it picked up in the second half and entices me to finish. Nutshell: Challenges of remaining a single women through recent history. I most appreciated an introduction to several women writers with whom I was relatively unfamiliar. From a "books about books (or writers)" perspective, this was a reasonable time investment.

Sep 16, 2015

The pace of this book was too slow for me. The author is thoughtful. I feel like we could connect if we had been talking in person, casually over tea or something. But in writing, the author did not spark my interest.

Chapel_Hill_KatieJ Sep 10, 2015

This was a very disappointing book. The premise was promising, yet the book lacked any type of focus. Bolick starts off discussing society’s pressure on women to get married. Then the book just becomes a catalog of Bolick’s different, long-term relationships, and how she sometimes wished to be alone. The writing is meandering and the author lacks any type of self-awareness. She tries to tie her story into those of other “spinster” writers, yet inexplicably picked five writers who had been married. This book is a memoir about a writer who was inspired by other writers, but it didn’t have anything meaningful to say about being single or society.

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