Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories
Aside from the fact that I have two wonderful roommates (one being my male partner) and a massive dog-like cat, I don’t have sleepovers much anymore. I’m a night owl who likes to take walks after midnight and eat in bed, but aside from my usual default companions, the closest thing to a sleepover I’ve had this year was reading Katha Pollitt’s feminist confessions about editing paperback porn, Googling an ex, and ignoring fashion and beauty standards after turning forty. As an admirer of those who confess, I love demolishing formal social boundaries. I want to know the details of our lives, and I want to hear about the ultimately shared experiences of being a woman. I kept Pollitt’s essays in my bag or by my bedside all week as I meditated on her prose. Every chapter before bed felt like a revelation from a close friend, and I was hooked on our truth telling.
Because I found this easy read so genuinely delightful, I’m amazed at some of the bad press it received. I think—and Pollitt said as much herself in an October 2007 interview with the Guardian—that the negative reviews of her book are a decidedly bizarre form of literary gossip instead of legitimate analysis it deserves. Why are critics dissecting a writer’s political views—not to mention her literary aptitude—based upon her complicated feelings about post-partum ennui, oral sex, and her father’s cremains? Don’t people already know that Katha Pollitt is a feminist much like the rest of us are or hope to be: confident albeit sometimes confused in a destabilizing postmodernity, anxious about love while happily independent, set free but forever bound by motherhood? Separating Pollitt’s politically savvy Nation column and personal writing is certainly possible, but why bother? Does anyone even attempt to separate private lives and public personas anymore?
More to the point, with a gifted writer like Pollitt, there is simply no need to thin-slice. You don’t have to know a thing about the history of American social justice to enjoy anecdotes about the miscellany people try to hock on the streets of New York and leftist study groups. This collection can be taken as pure entertainment or distinctively thought-provoking sentiments from someone who has weathered uniquely female storms. Using vivid descriptions of her last forty-plus years of entrenchment in the feminist/political spectrum, you recall that our writer is a poet as well as a fiery columnist. If you’re lucky, you also remember that feminism is complicated, and that memoirs about living through it matter.