By Kate Bolick
Available now from Crown Publishing (Penguin Random House)
I'm finding it hard to review SPINSTER: MAKING A LIFE OF ONE'S OWN. Kate Bolick is a gifted writer. She weaves together biography and sociology and history in a compelling blend. I certainly learned things about her five "awakeners" - Maeve Breenan, Neith Boyce, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and Charlotte Perkins Gilmore that I never knew.
Much of the book is devoted to biography of those five women, discussing how their writing and their unique, vivid lives inspired Bolick and helped her through tough times in her personal and professional life. Those chapters are absolutely fascinating, both for the literary criticism and the glimpses of feminist history through the past century or so.
However, they don't actually have much to do with spinsterhood, no matter how Bolick tries to spin it. All five women were married at some point in their life. They led unconventional lives and made art, both worth celebrating in their own way, but that does not make them unmarried women. Bolick has good taste in personal heroes, but that doesn't make them on topic.
I do like that Bolick acknowledges both the benefits and disadvantages of single life. You might get to decorate your apartment entirely as you like (and pick out the one with all the details you want), but you've got to pay for it on one income. It doesn't mean never dating. (Although for a book about life on one's own, Bolick writes a great deal about her many long-term relationships. She might not be married, but she's rarely single, and often seems like she doesn't know how to be.) She also acknowledges one of SPINSTER's weaknesses - that it can't even begin to approach the way that being permanently single is different for white women than black women, or for other women with less privileges.
SPINSTER is a wonderful story of Bolick's life and of the ways women have struggled to have their own independent, sufficient lives even within the bonds of matrimony and motherhood. It is not really about single women, as it promises, but it is a fascinating look at the changing ideals of femininity. I've also made a list of some new books and collected columns that I must read. I liked the book, but it definitely isn't the book I was sold on based on the covers.