The supremely intelligent, delightfully poetic, wickedly honest, and potentially paradigm-shifting book by Kate Bolick stands to become the manifesto of a generation. We shouted some questions to Bolick as her rising star floated past our office window.
1. How should we describe your book to friends?
I think of Spinster as the transcription of a conversation I’ve been having in my head for more than a decade with a series of women from the early 1900s (my “awakeners”), whose own books (and the books written about them) showed me possibilities beyond the marriage-and-baby path. It’s my way of placing the contemporary “debate” about marriage within its long historical context, and creating a more intimate way of thinking and talking about these changes.
2. Who should read it?
Everyone! No but really. The book is organized around the subject of “singlehood,” but it’s about many other things as well—the power of reading; the importance and reach of history; the many and complicated ways we go about finding and making the lives we want; what it means to be alone (and, arguably, all of us are spending more time alone now than ever before, between the rising age of marriage, the ubiquity of divorce, and our increasingly longer lifespans). My hope is that readers will engage with me the way I engaged with my awakeners, and create a more informed conversation with themselves than they might otherwise, be they male or female, single or married.
3. You talk a lot about your literary influences. Did popular culture also feed in to this project? Or in to you, and who you became?
I am so comically out of touch with pop culture I might as well have grown up as one of the late-Victorian women I write about. That said, the germ of this book sprung from a circa 2000 frustration that pop culture was offering very limited examples of how to be a single woman.
4. How do we raise the next generation with different/more open expectations?
Attitudes are changing already. There have always been happily single women, but they’ve been pushed to the margins, or sidelined as oddities—eccentric aunts, larger-than-life heroines—and not regarded as real examples to genuinely guide one’s ship by (unless, that is, one wants to be an eccentric aunt, which is undeniably a fantastic way to live). Now that there are more unmarried women than ever before, the next generation is growing up with more positive and diverse examples. It doesn’t hurt that even Disney is changing its narratives, with movies like Frozen and Brave that show an alternative to happily-ever-after weddings.
5. What books are on your nightstand right now?
Now that I’ve finally crawled out of what a fellow writer friend and I call “the book hole,” I’ve turned to the Elena Ferrante novels, which are rightly celebrated, and am midway through Simone de Beauvoir’s biography, which keeps surprising me every other page.
6. If you could recommend only one book (besides your own) to a young person of 2015, what would it be?
Depending on the reading level: my all-time favorite children’s book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Megan Marshall’s excellent new biography of Margaret Fuller, godmother to us all.