Summary and book reviews of Spinster by Kate Bolick

Spinster

Making a Life of One's Own

by Kate Bolick

Spinster by Kate Bolick
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2016, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

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: 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.

1
There, Thought Unbraids Itself

Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman's existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn't practice. She may grow up to love women instead of men, or to decide she simply doesn't believe in marriage. No matter. These dual contingencies govern her until they're answered, even if the answers are nobody and never.

Men have their own problems; this isn't one of them.

Initially the question of whom to marry presents itself as playacting, a child pulling a Snow White dress from a costume box and warbling the lyrics of "Someday My Prince Will Come" to her imaginary audience of soft-bottomed dwarfs. Beauty, she's gleaned, is her power and lure, a handsome groom her just reward.

Next she deduces that a flammable polyester gown with tulle underskirts does not an actual princess make, and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder—which is to say, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Spinster opens with the following statement: "Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman's existence." Do you find this to be true in your own life? If so, how have you navigated these expectations?

  2. On the pressure to marry, Bolick believes, "Men have their own problems; this isn't one of them." Do you agree? Why or why not?

  3. Edith Wharton coined the term awakeners, "to describe the books and thinkers who'd guided her intellectual studies." One of Bolick's goals is to inspire women and men to find their own awakeners. In your own life, who would your awakeners be?

  4. Bolick writes, "The single woman has always been ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Spinster. Join the discussion! You can see the full discussion here.

Are there solitary activities that you love? Are they necessary to your happiness?
I need solitude. Quiet. Books. Sexual intimacy with my husband of 40+ years. The knowledge of my daughter's safety, independence. Conversations with my son who left this realm more than 20 years ago. Continued curiosity. Not all solitary, ... - cb

Bolick's relationship with R creates a crossroad in her life. Have you ever had to make a similar choice? If you were in this position, what would you do?
No. - suzanner

Consider Bolick's five awakeners. Which of these women inspired you most and why?
I enjoyed reading about these five women. They were the substance of the book. I have always admired Edith Wharton's writing. Lacking a big familiarity with Edna St. Vincent Millay's poetry, this book has steered me into reading her works with ... - suzanner

Do you think individuals can grow to reach their full potential while in a relationship? Is romantic solitude necessary for personal growth?
To grow individually inside a relationship? Often a slower, though possible, process. In the mother/spouse role, I gave to much to realize I was being stunted by that giving. Needed balance. As I make my way down the "other side of the hill, I find... - cb

Each of Bolick's awakeners marry at some point in their lives, yet Bolick maintains that they are spinsters. Ultimately, what do you think makes someone a spinster?
I am a widow of a decade-plus. I married late, 37, and never thought of myself as a spinster. As an unmarried woman in my 30s I was starting to think my wedding ship had sailed, but never thought of myself as single by choice. I'd have married if ... - Pepper

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

"Whom to marry, and when will it happen — these two questions define every woman's existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn't practice...men have their own problems; this isn't one of them." This provocative pronouncement is how Kate Bolick opens her combination memoir/women's studies book Spinster, which is in large part an attempt to imagine what might happen if women were to refuse to define themselves in terms of those two questions — in short to imagine a different narrative for the shape of their lives. Bolick, in her early forties as the book comes to a close, doesn't know what the future holds for her personally, but she has come a long way toward understanding what it might take for women to begin to write their own stories on their own terms.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

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Media Reviews

Elle

Bolick’s evocation of the untethered state is often beautiful, her metaphors precise and lyrical in the manner of her heroines.

New York Times Book Review

What’s surprising about Spinster is how, in its charmingly digressive style, the book sets forth a clear vision not just for single women, but for all women: to disregard the reigning views of how women should live, to know their own hearts and to carve out a little space for their dreams.

Harper's Bazaar

In Spinster, a sharp-witted paean to the single life, Kate Bolick explains why she has consciously opted out of coupling.

Library Journal

A good choice for public libraries with a significant single patron base, readers interested in feminism, and academic women's studies collections.

Booklist

Smartly written, intimate, and heartfelt . . . A brilliant and timely narrative for twenty-first-century bluestockings, and book groups shall rejoice from all the wonders it has to offer.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bolick's intense and moving combination of personal, historical, and cultural narratives will inspire readers - especially women - to think about what they want their own lives to be, and how close they are to their goals.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A sexy, eloquent, well-written and -researched study/memoir.

Author Blurb Janet Malcolm, author of The Journalist and the Murderer
Kate Bolick brings a bracing feminist consciousness to bear on the lives of five unconventional women of the past and on her own young life in the twenty-first century. She writes about the dilemmas of love and work - then and now - with rare perspicacity and poignancy.

Author Blurb Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch
In Spinster, her wise and subtle memoir, Kate Bolick explores that freighted term - and the often-maligned woman to whom it is attached - and deftly, persuasively reclaims it.

Author Blurb Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed
What happens when you don't get married? Setting out to answer this question, Kate Bolick has written a moving, insightful, and important inquiry into how women's lives are narrated ... Ambitious in the best way, Spinster made me think differently about everything from novelistic plot to the meaning of furniture.

Reader Reviews

A Reader

Spinster
Unfortunately, I was turned off to this book after reading the first sentence, "Whom to marry and when will it happen - these two questions define every woman's existence." While I enjoyed reading about Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan,...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay In Spinster, Kate Bolick leans on the examples of women who have come before her, as a source of solace and encouragement for her own life choice to remain single. She found herself looking to the examples of five "awakeners," all talented women whose creativity and professional success were independent of their marital status.

One of these five "awakeners" is the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, a writer who was famous in her lifetime (1892-1950), perhaps almost as much for her sexual freedom and openness about sexuality as she was for her acclaimed sonnets. Millay was born in Maine, raised by a single mother, and attended Vassar College after winning a scholarship for her poem "Renascence." While at Vassar, she became romantically ...

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