In Which Spinster By Kate Bolick Comes Along At Just the Right Time

In her early twenties, Kate Bolick started writing in her journal about her “spinster wish,” which she describes as “shorthand for the extravagant pleasures of simply being alone.” Despite a string of serious monogamous relationships with wonderful men, she found herself happiest when alone, waking up to stretch across a blissfully empty bed and spending Saturday afternoons reading and napping. Now, two decades later, she remains single by choice, enjoying both the romance of dating and the liberty of having her own space. In Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Bolick describes her personal journey and the way five “awakeners” helped her on her way: social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, novelist Edith Wharton, columnist Neith Boyce, poet Edna Millay, and essayist Maeve Brennan.

Part memoir, part literary biography, and part cultural history, Spinster is a thought-provoking exploration of marriage and singledom. In addition to telling her own story, she mines the lives of her awakeners, drawing inspiration from the ways they bucked tradition and delving into the cultural context surrounding them.

As an unmarried woman in her early twenties who is in a serious relationship but also revels in mornings spent alone, I had a particular and very personal interest in this book. I have been working through my own thoughts about marriage and the shape I want my life to take, and it was fascinating to read a memoir from the perspective of a woman who has rejected the institution in favor of a more solitary life. (And her life is not all passionate affairs and sun-drenched weekends spent in solitude; Bolick admits that being single also means she doesn’t have the emotional support coupled people enjoy.) Of course, the choice between being married and being single is a false binary in modern times, as Bolick acknowledges. What it really comes down to is embracing the freedom to live life on your own terms.

“I grant that a wholesale reclamation of the word spinster is a tall order. My aim is more modest: to offer it up as shorthand for holding on to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you’re single or coupled.”

I absolutely loved this book. It’s funny and beautifully written, and Bolick has some really smart, thought-provoking things to say about choosing the life that is right for you. As for me, I think this means cherishing both my afternoons spent reading alone and the man who fills my evenings with warmth and laughter.

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22 thoughts on “In Which Spinster By Kate Bolick Comes Along At Just the Right Time

  1. This book looks really interesting! I love books that challenge our modern perception of things, especially something that can be quite controversial, like relationships. Our society seems to be so focused on romantic relationships that it is refreshing to hear from someone who doesn’t resolutely believe in that way of life. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • She opens the book by discussing how “Whom to marry, and when will it happen” define the existence of every woman — but not every man. I thought this was a really interesting, thoughtful book about doing what is right for you, regardless of convention.

  2. I quite like the quotation you picked – I’m glad Bolick acknowledges that you can seize your “spinsterhood” in a variety of ways besides choosing to live solo.

    I’m right there with you on enjoying my coupledom but similarly relishing my moments of solitude. I certainly agree that the balance can be a struggle, but it’s a great lesson in reflecting upon your own needs and then asserting them – a important skill in so many areas of life.

    Glad you enjoyed!

  3. This sounds great. I love that we are reclaiming the ability to determine our own lives instead of being boxed in by antiquated terms and expectations.

  4. Fabulous review, Leah! I’m reading this right now and I don’t think I could have so eloquently expressed my thoughts on it like you have here!

  5. It’s always great to find a book that you connect with so well! I felt much the same about Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed. This one was a little too drawn out in the memoir sections for me, but I did like when she dug into the individual writers.

  6. This sounds fascinating. I’m in a relationship and I’m constantly feeling guilty for wanting some alone time, so I suspect this will be quiet an enlightening read. Brilliant review, Leah!

  7. I really really enjoyed this book. I loved that the message wasn’t even really arguing for singledom vs. coupledom, but for the strength to choose what you really want (instead of what you think society thinks you should want). That’s so, so important!

  8. I’ve been considering this one. I’ve made different choices in my life–the ones that were once expected of women (and still are in some circles)–but it would be very interesting to read about someone who has forged a different path. Great review!

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