Book Review + Giveaway | Spinster by Kate Bolick

Spinster Kate Bolick Book Review Cover One More Page

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the book.]

When you think of the word “spinster,” what comes to mind? In modern language, “spinster” often conjures images of sad women who live alone with perhaps one or more cats. Generally, “spinster” evokes the thought that these women have been unable to find partners. But what about those who willingly choose to be alone? Why is “spinster” associated with “failure?” Why are single men allowed to be called “bachelors.” while single women are labeled “cat ladies?” In Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, Kate Bolick attempts to reclaim the term, spinning it into an empowering expression that celebrates female independence and self-reliance.

The book is divided into 10 chapters, in which Bolick shares her personal experience with having the “spinster wish” to be alone and self-sufficient. She also shares her research on her five “awakeners,” Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton, who proved to her that women can dare to make a life of their own.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As someone who is currently in a relationship, I went into the book a little nervous that Bolick would be pro-singledom and anti-coupledom. Luckily, that couldn’t have been farther than the truth. Bolick is not arguing for one relationship status or the other; what she really wants is to move past the idea that women are meant to be wives or nothing, and help society realize that women can fully rely on themselves, whether they’re in a relationship or not. It’s an encouraging yet realistic text, written from a place of personal experience and research. Bolick doesn’t claim that being a spinster is always easy, but she does make it clear how rewarding it can be.

Bolick’s five “awakeners” are all female writers, spanning mulitple generations. As such, this book does contain quite a bit of literary biography, which greatly appealed to me as a self-proclaimed literature nerd. This is a non-fiction book that reads like a story, making it perfect for a new-to-nonfiction reader like myself.

Whether you’re coupled or single, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own is an enlightening read that hopes to take the power back from the patriarchy and urge women to pursue their dreams and passions, whether that means being married or not. There are options for women outside of marriage, and Spinster works to remind us all of that while being respectful of everyone’s choices.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to meet Kate Bolick in Toronto and, thanks to Random House Canada, I have a signed copy of this thought-provoking book to give away to one Canadian reader!

**CLICK HERE TO ENTER GIVEAWAY**

CONTEST RULES:
1. No purchase necessary.
2. Open to residents of Canada only.
3. If a winner is picked and their Twitter account only has giveaway entries, I will choose again (unless I can tell by their other accounts that they will actually read the book). I want the winner to genuinely enjoy these books!
4. Have fun and good luck!

Have you read Spinster? What does the term “spinster” mean to you? Would you consider yourself a “spinster sister?”

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Celebrating International Women’s Day 2015

International Womens Day 2015 Books

Happy International Women’s Day! Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements while advocating gender equality. I think days like these are so wonderful because while we have made great progress when it comes to gender equality, there is still so much to be done. (And I’m still in shock when people tell me that gender inequality doesn’t exist…)

So, in honour of International Women’s Day today, I’ve chosen some of my recent favourite reads to celebrate! These in some way or another have touched me and inspired me. I realize as I’m typing this now that I should have included Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, so let’s pretend that her book is pictured.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The first thing I loved about this book was its packaging. It’s so small and compact that it would be perfect as a small gift (and it totally should be given away as gifts). I also love that it’s so cheerful and bold with its colour choice. It really demands attention, and for a rightful reason. On to the content: this is actually an adapted essay by Adichie, who originally presented it as a TEDx talk. Adichie shares personal anecdotes and defines what feminism means to her. She doesn’t shame anyone for not recognizing gender issues; she merely explains (very eloquently) how they exist and why we should be paying more attention. One of my favourite passages:

“The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” (pg 34.)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

There is a reason why The Handmaid’s Tale is hailed as a classic. This haunting dystopian novel shows us a world where there is no freedom – even those in the ruling class are required to follow strictly defined roles. Handmaids are chosen to be reproductive machines, while Wives are simply housewife figureheads. Commanders are supposed to have relationships with their Wives but mere relations with the Handmaids. This is a society that is so constricted by their prescribed gender norms that hardly anyone is happy. If you haven’t read this yet, I’d strongly recommend it.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

This is an upcoming title from Random House but I loved it so much that I thought I’d give it a shout out here. The story follows Anna, an American expatriate living in Switzerland with her banker husband and three children. As the novel’s title suggests, Anna is a housewife. She is completely dependent on her husband and his family. She doesn’t know how to drive, and thus relies on trains or someone to drive her when she needs to go anywhere; she has limited grasp on German (and even more limited handle on Schwiizerdutsch), requiring her husband to help her with paperwork; she doesn’t even own a bank account. That she is a housewife almost defines her, except for her secret life away from her family. I highly enjoyed getting to know Anna – not as a housewife but as a deep, complex person – and I can’t wait to chat about it more when it officially comes out.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Moving away from fiction, I wanted to feature two memoirs that I have loved recently, the first one being Not That Kind of Girl. It is no secret that I admire Dunham. She is not afraid to be different – in fact, she flaunts it – and she continues the trend of letting us in on her thoughts and feelings in her memoir. She doesn’t claim to know everything, yet she offers sound advice from time to time. Something that has stuck with me:

“Here’s who it’s not okay to share a bed with: Anyone who makes you feel like you’re invading their space. Anyone who tells you that they “just can’t be alone right now.” Anyone who doesn’t make you feel like sharing a bed is the coziest and most sensual activity they could possibly be undertaking. Now, look over at the person beside you. Do they meet these criteria? If not, remove them or remove yourself. You’re better off alone.” (pg. 20.)

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Like Dunham, Amy Poehler is another public figure I adore. I love that she is so committed to promoting rising female talent (Broad City, Upright Citizens Brigade, Smart Girls at the Party, anyone?). The fact that she has such a strong friendship with another female – Tina Fey – just makes me so happy. To me, Poehler exemplifies the fact that you don’t have to step over everyone’s toes to get to the top. Why not do it together and show that successful women are not exceptions to a rule? There were so many wonderful bits in Yes Please that I shared my favourites in this post. The “currency” tip is my absolute favourite.

So there you have it! If you’re looking for something new and inspiring to read this International Women’s Day, I hope my list proves to be as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.

Are you reading any female-centered literature this International Women’s Day? Do you have any book recommendations for me? (I need to find my copy of bell hooks’ Feminism: From Margin to Center…)

Book Review | The Handmaid’s Tale

I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book until now.

The Handmaid’s Tale is on numerous high school and university reading lists and I can absolutely see why. Set in the near future where everyone is divided into specialized categories (Handmaid, Martha, Guardian, Commander, Commander’s Wife, etc), we see a totalitarian society where everyone is oppressed in their own way. The story is narrated by Offred, a Handmaid, and follows her journey in transitioning to this new reality. As a Handmaid she only has one purpose – to breed. Her meals are designed to increase her chances of conception, she is only allowed out of the house during her morning walk, and she is required to wear the Handmaids’ uniform. Simple privileges like choosing an outfit or reading are no longer available to her. What has happened to her family from her previous life? Is there any way out of this way of living? Is there hope?

I devoured this book. I seriously could not put it down. The society that Atwood creates is terrifying in that it doesn’t seem altogether removed from reality. Due to Atwood’s brilliance (or my pessimism towards our society), it feels like our world really could suddenly become Offred’s world. I have heard other readers argue that they had a hard time believing the sudden transition between regimes but I had no troubles suspending this disbelief. Offred’s narration has a sad, reminiscent tone and I was more appalled than skeptical. As the book progressed, I became more and more immersed in Offred’s story. I found myself becoming paranoid with her. Who can she really trust in a world like this, when trusting the wrong person means torture and death? I couldn’t help but root for her to escape and so the book kept me on the edge of my seat till the very last page.

Beside the fact that The Handmaid’s Tale is an incredibly well-written, suspenseful book, I love it even more because it invites its readers to think. Though I appreciate the steps we have taken so far regarding women’s rights, the book made me wonder how much progress we really have made. There is so much more to be done. The distinction between “freedom to” and “freedom from” is raised in the book and while I have a new-found appreciation for my freedom to read, I am left wondering about our various “freedom froms”. There are still so many problematic discussions about birth control and rape. There is the thought that granting women’s rights means diminishing men’s rights. These thoughts are all brought to the forefront in The Handmaid’s Tale and really solidifies its stance as a cautionary, dystopic work of fiction.

I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the book so I’ll end my review here, but I would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read it to do so. The impact of the book left me so disturbed that I couldn’t even pick up another book to read the next day. It’s one of the best dystopian books I have ever read.

Verdict: Highly recommended
Read if: You like dystopian fiction, suspense, thought-provoking reads