Rebecca Traister’s new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, investigates singlehood in a intriguing manner; delving into pop culture, the women’s rights movement, substantial data, and thoughtful personal reflections. While discussing America’s first single-girl sitcom, That Girl and quoting Charlotte Brontë, Traister reminds us that she was once single, too.
Unlike her mother’s generation, the author’s marital status (or rather, lack of one) didn’t define her livelihood. Before Traister tied the knot, her existence was filled with enriching friendships and professional milestones, along with the fascinating blunders that come with solitary life. For Traister and so many others, this statistic is accurate: “Today, only twenty percent of Americans are wed by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960.”
Traister’s wit and remarkably candid perspective will leave the reader engrossed; noting stellar examples of empowered independent women throughout history. Heroines fill the pages, from civil rights activist Dorothy Height to world-famous aviator Amelia Earhart. Each figure’s quest for independence, which spans over centuries, recognizes how unwed women have an enormous influence on popular culture, political outcomes and policy debates. Traister’s first book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, is about women and the 2008 presidential election. Given Hillary Clinton’s second run for office, All the Single Ladies feels purposeful and perfectly timed. I found myself quoting Susan B. Anthony’s speech “The Homes of Single Women” and revisiting the “bestie” podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, hosted by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow.
Each page was an affirmation of living your best life… well, single. Whether you love Beyoncé, whose 2009 song inspired the book title, or fangirl over female activists, you’ll enjoy the author’s ability to fully explore the lives of single women — never married, divorced, widowed, straight or gay — and the visceral impact that they have on our society.
Traister shares her impressive reading list with Design*Sponge, along with three books every young woman should read. —Glory
What are you currently reading?
The Hundred Year Walk, an incredible story of one man’s escape from the Armenian genocide, written by his granddaughter, Dawn MacKeen, who intersperses her own very moving story of discovering his path as an adult. I am just starting it, but it’s gorgeous and I’ve never read anything like it, in part because — embarrassingly enough — I’ve never really read anything about the Armenian genocide. Also on my nightstand is a book I’m dying to read, Until There is Justice: The Life of Anna Arnold Hedgeman, by Jennifer Scanlon.
Describe yourself as a reader.
Obsessive and weird about never putting down a book until I’ve finished with it. Even if I hate it, even if I want to throw it across the room, I still make myself keep reading. I wish I could break this habit, because I waste a lot of time finishing books I don’t really want to be finishing, but I can’t. I just forced myself through a recent, widely acclaimed novel that I just didn’t like. In fact, I loathed it. I think it is probably an extremely finely crafted work of fiction, but let’s just say there was no chemistry between it and me. And man, I forced myself to read every page, cursing all the way. One of the only books I’ve ever left unfinished is totally bizarre: The Secret History, which everyone loves and I loved, too! I read it, like most people, obsessively, unable to put it down. But then I got, I swear, probably 15 pages from the end and I just put it down and never picked it back up again. I have no idea why.
What specific genres do you enjoy reading?
Fiction. Especially lengthy fiction. Give me a saga that spans generations and I’m in. Really, I love nothing more than a novel that pulls me in until there is no pleasure I crave more than another few minutes with the book.
Name a book that influenced you as a child.
There are zillions. But two novels I read just on the cusp of adolescence that I feel really influenced the reader and person that I grew up to be: The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. They were probably both too old for me, but they pulled me after them — toward politics and fiction and the stories of women.
Name three books every young woman should read.
1. Their Eyes Were Watching God — one the first novels I was assigned for school that I got absolutely lost in, and that made me realize the degree to which fiction could bring history to life.
2. Crazy Salad — a collection of essays by Nora Ephron from when she was a journalist covering the women’s movement in the 1970s, and one of the most approachable chronicles of that remarkable time in mid-20th century America.
3. Middlemarch — no greater novel, I don’t think.
Who’s your favorite fictional heroine?
Why did you decide to write All the Single Ladies?
I wrote it because I wanted to be part of correcting the record when it comes to how we view women who are living outside of, or in advance of marriage. For too long, adulthood for women has been kicked off by and defined by — and limited by — their marriages to men. But women aren’t living like that anymore, and I wanted to write a book that fills out what independent female adulthood could look like — the good parts and bad parts, the robust, vibrant, perplexing realities of women’s lives that now, for really one of the first times, can be lived without husbands on whom to depend economically and sexually, or who define you. It’s a tribute to women — complex, fascinating women whose lives are very much their own, and not any the less for it.
As you researched All the Single Ladies, which subjects did you identify with the most?
Certainly with all the parts about female friendship throughout the ages. Also I strongly identified with both contemporary and historic stories of women who found passion and fulfillment and excitement in their work — either from the actual work itself, or simply from the fact that work for wages brought them a degree of autonomy, of independence.
What book to you find yourself recommending to friends?
Oh, it always depends on what’s in my head and what I’ve read recently. I just read Hanya Yanigahara’s A Little Life and really thought it was remarkable. Maria Venegas’s Memoir Bulletproof Vest; Lily King’s Euphoria. Oh! Ayelet Waldman’s novel Love & Treasure, which I loved. I recommend The House of Mirth to everyone because it’s great. I never stop recommending Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a strange, stylized, addictive novel I read 10 years ago and still recall rushing home from a party to read. And then there are the books that have taught me so much: Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: A History; Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns; Katha Pollitt’s Pro; Paula Giddings’ When and Where I Enter; The Essential Ellen Willis.
How do you decide what book to read next?
I have a stack so high, and it’s whatever’s next on the stack. It’s not chronological, because I get interrupted so often for things I have to read for work, so the next two on my stack is one I’m way late to, Paper Love by Sarah Wildman — which is about her search for the woman her grandfather left behind after the Holocaust — and one that I’m not yet irredeemably late to, Mary Elizabeth Williams’s A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles, about her experience with cancer and immunotherapy. Also I am dying to read Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night. And Sari Wilson’s Girl Through Glass.
You can follow Rebecca Traister on Twitter
All the Single Ladies is a captivating and deeply researched must-read. Visit your local bookstore or grab your copy here!
Reading Spaces is a new column written by Glory Edim, where we peek into author bookshelves and personalities.
Photography by Eliza Brown