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Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate…
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Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own (2015)

by Kate Bolick

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Kate Bolick’s “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own”, while not without flaws in presentation and focus, was generally a pleasure to read. Her tone is engaging and her material reflective in a productive manner, although it is difficult to gauge what her true intentions were. Having never married, Bolick is navigating the territory of being forty and single in an age where women are still most valued for their ability to produce children. While Bolick eludes that she has overcome the insecurity and indecisiveness she has faced throughout much of her adult life, she remains plagued by an abject fear that matrimony is some sort of trap that will unexpectedly seize her if she does not remain vigil. “Spinster” is a meandering but appealing literary approach to one woman’s endeavor to make sense of her rather fraught journey as she struggles to understand the self and reconcile this with the idea of the woman she would like to be.

The primary flaw in Bolick’s book is her inability to find a true focus to her writing. While marketed as an empowered personal exploration of the culture of female singlehood, “Spinster” is essentially a memoir winding through Bolick’s long string of romances, hinting at the question of whether she is truly a spinster or just terrified of commitment. Readers looking for inspiration in the way of leading a confident single life will likely be disappointed by Bolick’s perpetual confusion over always wanting to be both single and in a relationship. Additionally, her depictions of married women, whether with or without children, as haggard, despondent shells of their former and likely superior single selves are particularly obnoxious. Bolick’s own bewilderment over whether or not she meets some imagined list of requirements for spinsterhood and what this means for her exuberant love life may leave some readers, of both the single and married variety, with a bitter taste in their mouths.

Despite a few misgivings, however, Bolick’s reflections upon the female writers which have guided her in her creative pursuits are rich and by far the most meaningful portion of her memoir. While the lives of her “awakeners”, as Bolick eruditely refers to these women, all precede her own life, they exist as a series of literary muses and social mentors who carry great significance in her own growth as a woman and writer. Bolick’s memoir follows a disjointed timeline which chronicles her gradual discovery of and developing intimacy with each of these muses and their parallels to her own personal and professional development. “Spinster” features delightful cameos by essayist Maeve Brennan, columnist Neith Boyce, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, novelist Edith Wharton, and social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Woven into Bolick’s personal account is vital social commentary on a woman’s place in the world, past and present, public and private. Her narrative acts as an introduction to the significant yet unacknowledged and misrepresented history of radical spinsters throughout American culture who have demanded and exerted control over their own bodies and their own spaces.

In the end, the need to voice justification for life choices considered “other” by the majority remains imperative, although Bolick’s memoir is likely not what proudly self-proclaimed spinsters are looking for. While this well-written and affecting memoir would have been decidedly more enjoyable with a clearer purpose and less gossipy tales of her own dating blunders, Bolick’s stunning writing, compelling cultural anecdotes, and gentle foray into the history of American women’s writing and bachelorhood still succeeds. Despite its flaws, “Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own” is a valuable work for readers who appreciate evocative writing and female visionaries, both those who have shaped our present and those who continue to shape our future.
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  GennaC | May 9, 2017 |
Kate Bolick can write well and she is intelligent. There are many literary references, and an outline of five great women who have inspired her in her life including three of my favourite female authors: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and two people I learned about for the first time: Neith Boyce and Maeve Brennan. What bothered me was how much of a memoir/autobiography it was. It read like a Carrie Bradshaw rant about herself. I kept thinking that maybe if I cared more about who this author was then this memoir and reading journey would have been more inspiring. I also wanted this book to be what it promised: a book covering the history and cultural analysis of the spinster. I wanted to know about perception, barriers, how to break them...I wanted to feel inspired. There were several parts when she was discussing biographies of authors that I did feel somewhat inspired, but then it would slowly vanish in the background as Bolick started talking about her life again....the men she dates, the things she does on a daily basis. Lastly, and perhaps this is somewhat shallow but it REALLY bothered me, was that she writes many times about how ugly she was, and how "not like other girls" she was in terms of looks and how she was not desirable. Just google her...or flip the book over. She literally looks like a model for any beauty product. She's white, tall, thin, beautiful hair......it honestly felt like she was mocking the reader and was fishing for compliments. So if you expect the book to be about what it means to be a spinster, or a social history of it, you will NOT find it here. This book is exclusively about Kate Bolick and 5 authors who were women and who inspired her, and then she tells you why in her life particularly these women were important. ( )
  AndreeaMarin | Mar 4, 2017 |
I actually really, rather genuinely enjoyed this book!

Kate Bolick finds and talks about great female writers that became her mentors: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Maeve Brennan and Edith Wharton. I loved hearing about them all, and I also really enjoyed how Bolick was able to weave in some historical, sociological stuff without making it feel forced - she took all of these authors and made them three-dimensional.

The one thing I will say is that this book is not perfect. Often, Bolick can feel a little too white, a little too upper-middle class. A little too privileged. But she challenges her privilege regularly - something that I truly appreciate. And she's aware of it to a point where she refuses to compare a white woman's experience and a black woman's experience of a certain time period, which I was so grateful for.

I learnt a lot, and I feel like it was a really valuable book for me to read. I liked hearing her pick apart how she felt about marriage, being single, being alone, working as a writer, how to make it work, dating, her expectations and society's expectations.

It spoke to me on many levels because I am a young, newly-married woman, wanting to be a writer and constantly scrutinising my own life. But it is no way girly or overtly feminine - she is critical, she is sharp, she is witty. Bolick is honest and her voice is quite compassionate.

I've recommended it to a few of my friends, and now I recommend it to you. ( )
  lydia1879 | Aug 31, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is on my to be read again and again list. Pick any chapter and there is something that expands your thoughts on single women in a better light then usually portrayed. It's encouraging to note the independent woman from the past as an influence to building today's standards. That the adversity I feel today is a lighter load because of the women before me. ( )
1 vote TanyaTomato | Jul 27, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book which I received as part of the Early Reviewers program. The strongest parts were the sections of memoir where Bolick shares her experiences. She's strikingly forthright about her reactions and her feelings and at time it felt like having a conversation with a friend. The strategy of linking her experiences to examinations of the lives of five women from the past whose writing and experiences have inspired her is a good one although I didn't come away with a vivid impression of any of them. ( )
  literarysarah | Jun 25, 2016 |
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Epigraph
You have won rooms of your own in the house hitherto exclusively owned by men.  You are able, though not without great labour and effort, to pay rent.  You are earning your five hundred pounds a year.  But this freedom is only a beginning; the room is your own, but is still bare.  It has to be furnished; it has to be decorated; it has to be shared.  How are you going to furnish it, how are you going to decorate it?  With whom are you going to share it, and upon what terms?  These, I think are questions of the utmost importance and interest.  For the first time in history you are able to ask them; for the first time you are able to decide for yourselves what the answers should be. --Virginia Woolf, "Professions for Women," 1931
This is our little while.  This is our chance. --Susan Glaspell, The People, 1917
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To my father, my brother, and the memory of my mother
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Whom to marry, and when will it happen--these two questions define every woman's existence, regardless of where she raised or what religion she does or doesn't practice.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385347138, Hardcover)

A bold, original, moving book that will inspire fanatical devotion and ignite debate.

“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: journalist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social reformer 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 a new kind of unreservedly inquisitive work of memoir and broader cultural exploration that asks us to acknowledge the opportunities that exist within ourselves to live authentically. Bolick offers readers a way back into their 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:06 -0400)

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