Thursday, August 15, 2013

"The Single Woman" by Mandy Hale

 [ Rachel's Note from 2 Hours After Publication of Post ---: first off, the lovely Lori Smith was kind enough to remind me what I had set out to say but had forgotten to:   authors have little say in their covers and I should have stressed that the cover itself is not the author's responsibility.

Secondly, this is a gift book.  I was not under that impression when I encountered it on amazon nor when I conversed with the author on twitter yesterday.  Nonetheless, the content itself and the words are what are post potent with me as a reader ---regardless of its packaging and my thoughts on some of the quotes and ideas have not changed having learned that this is a giftbook.  But, there you go! if you want a giftbook, there's another upsell ;) ]

When I first saw  The Single Woman on amazon the across-the-board  five star reviews made me wary. You see, five stars for a Christian-published book is not unheard of. We love writing positive book reviews and yet the topic is so sensitive ---- anything less than five stars might have indicated that it strayed from other books of its ilk: might have reflected a kind of dissonance indicative of a wander from the norm....   Might have made it jump out as a book to end the string of books written by Single Christian women that didn't seem to resonate with me at all. Negative reviews can often mean that someone who didn't like the book was passionate enough about their dislike to log in and outline how it chafed with them.

I even used it to spark a discussion on Facebook and on twitter in which the author immediately and passionately engaged.  That intrigued me even more so I bought it.   The chapters are so flittingly short I didn't find it hard to breeze through.  There are quotes from  Hale's twitter account and guides and tabbed lists ornamented with heart bullets. It is not so much an exploration of the fabulousness of single life as a good reminder guide on how to enjoy life.  It does marginalize itself in ways by painting women of a certain ilk into a corner.  If this scenario is one that tickles you: "...not having to shave my legs if I don't want to and blasting Girl Power tunes and singing into the broom handle while I'm cleaning my house" then you are in good company.   I always felt like a bit of an outsider on the Christian singles front and, unfortunately, this book made me feel even more so because, personally, I had trouble relating to Hale's experience at all.

Let me begin by pointing out some strengths to the book.  First, Hale is right in her belief that single women (and men), heck! people in general--- need to be told that they have value beyond their marital status, social status or appearance.  Let this ring again and again.

Secondly, I do not doubt the sincerity of the author's intentions to fill a gap she expresses she found missing in modern culture ( unfortunately, she falls into the trap of aligning acutely with it; but more on that later ); but her sincerity and her platform prove that this is a message that has been well-received.

Finally, you cannot go wrong with owning your independence. Lines like this "The real fairytale is designing a life so amazing that you don't want to be rescued from it" really resonated with me. 

My biggest complaint is that there is nothing in it that differs from the other Christian books I have read targeted at single women. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is one I respect in the faith based community. Hale's Christian worldview is minimally present, couched in a few paraphrases of 1 Corinthians in one chapter and random mentions of God and scripture; but fails to speak at all to the sometimes-felt and experienced constrictions of the Church culture for a single person. Certainly she mentions the stigma against singleness equaling depravity; but I was so hoping that her voice would speak out  from experience.  To add, and no fault of her own, Hale speaks for women who have had several serious relationships and dates -- an experience that  several  Christian woman of my acquaintance will not find easy to relate to. Speaking to the difference between "Mr. Now" and " Mr. Right Now" will, again, be foreign to several women who subscribe to Evangelical beliefs of courting and staying equally yoked. The Christian worldview, here, seems drenched in the Worldy worldview ( the capital W as pronounced as it is in one of my dad's emphatic Sunday sermons)

Hale is full of good-sense tidbits which speak more to being happy as a person than to being a single woman. To add, these tidbits were solidly entrenched into a narrative I just didn't relate to.  "Sassy stilettos"?  Oreo binge fests while watching "Friends re-runs"? It is  safe to say that although I am the demographic for this book it is not marketed to me. 

 I feel this book will cater to the woman who enjoys a good Chickflick montage of pink-trussled memories fading mutely in cascading pensive melody. But.... I  realized, yet again, how few relatable books there are out there for strong-minded, independent and intellectual Christian women who want someone who champions equality, who understands the confusion of having relationships of this matter evade them, who digs deeper into the manifestation of the Single Stigma within the context of the Church and who uses the Christian worldview to prod more deeply into scripture and experience.

While she encourages us to laugh "in the  face of the stigmas and stereotypes", they are, unfortunately, alive and well here. How can one celebrate singlehood as an independent and inspired female if one is presented with a  book with a packaging that caters to societal  standards of womanhood: a stiletto heel, pink, sparkles, hearts, manicures, frilly phrases and gorging on ice cream? While Hale excels at reiterating the brilliance of independence; she rescinds this forward thinking with quotes like this which, to me, were a disturbing balance: "We pay our own bills, file our own taxes, change our own oil  (or cruise on down  to Jiffy Lube on Ladies' Day for a half-price oil change" This chaffing of independence and equality coupled with a "Ladies' day" immediately segregating the sexes and conjuring images of sexualized and objectified women showing up for a discount based on gender alone was an odd juxtaposition for me.

To add, she advocates gender stereotypes and labels by straddling the domestic and a single woman's lack thereof....  "She’s not afraid to change her mind…but petrified to change a tire. She makes her own decisions…but can’t make toast without burning it. Her idea of a three course meal is a Lean Cuisine. There are shoes in her cupboard where flour and sugar are supposed to be. She is the Single Woman. She's me and she's you"
I cannot change a tire and I do burn toast; but I think this has little to with the gender or marital status. A friend aptly pointed out that this is in the same camp as those books which speak to the limitations of men when it comes to parenthood. The Single experience is not universal.

At the core, I came away realizing that her point is that women are fabulous:  but this book is not necessarily targeted FOR single women as her title and promotion suggests.  Instead, it is a good reminder for anyone who needs a boost. Most unfortunately, the book falls into the traps of branding and stereotypes: perpetuating the "chick" mentality we see in shows like Sex and the City ( oddly enough, a cultural phenomenon ostracizing much of a Christian audience who are uncomfortable with its subject matter). All of the branding in the book---she mentions retailers by name---Nordstrom and Target, for example--- heightened my opinion that this book, again, establishes further our societal tendency to label.  Labels are not what we need. 

 There is always a need for women to hear they are fabulous: but an authorial voice resplendent with tales of James Dean look-a-like boyfriends, splurges on frappucinos and great almost-engagements in jewelry stores will not strike a chord with several of the  Single Christian women who read this blog.  Be  fabulous because God loves you, Be fabulous because Jesus has got your back, Be fabulous because you are living for an ordained purpose whether or not you said the included affirmations or have the "sassy stilettos" Hale refers to.  It's okay not to align with this archetypes painted in this book;  this modern conceptualization of fabulous canvassed on this book's cover in the airy pink font and heel. The modern conceptualization of fabulous and single is mirrored here contains a few price tags, brand names, and some wisdom.

I read this book under the impression ( however wrong I might have been ) that due to its publication by Thomas Nelson and from its back cover copy, that it was written specifically toward the Christian single woman experience.  As such, my review of the book is greatly informed by that. There are several optimistic life-lessons for all of us here: single or non. Male or Female.   As always, what I found to be lacking in the book might be what you are LOOKING for in a book so check it out for yourself. 

                                                               * * * 

So what would I like to see in a book on single women published for the Christian marketplace?  I told @hopefulleigh and Kaye Dacus the following in conversations this morning

1.) A book ensconced in a Christian worldview 
2.) Exploring how purity and abstinence inform the dating scene
3.) The differentiators ( which are many) between being a single Christian woman and being a single woman
4.) Biblical backup

Please check out Kaye's series on Being Single in the Church  -- like me, you will applaud the candor.  I also appreciate Leigh Kramer's blog which touches on the same subject and Lori Smith has done magnificent work culminating in a rumination of her single experience in The Single Truth and   A Walk with Austen


Leigh Kramer said...

Great thoughts! It's hard to paint a comprehensive picture of singleness because there are so many differences and different kinds of singleness. I definitely want to hear more voices- men and women- on the topic and sharing their stories. Thanks for the shout out, too. I meant to mention A Walk With Austen to you as a positive example but was blanking on the name. I haven't read her other book. But I will be checking out Kaye's series.

Anonymous said...

You're just going to have to write the book you desire yourself, that's all. ;)

Unknown said...

I think this is the longest review of a gift book ever. ;)

Lori Smith said...

Thanks so much for the shout-out, Rachel. (And Leigh! Glad to meet you, Leigh!) After doing lots of writing and thinking about singles stuff, I stopped reading singles books because I was kind of just done with the topic, know what I mean? Not that I don't think about it in my day-to-day life, but I don't want to spend much extra energy on it.

Have you read Connally Gilliam's Revelations of a Single Woman? I haven't read it yet (for reasons above) but Connally is fabulous and sharp and I'm sure her book is the same and I'm betting it would be a better fit for you.

A couple notes for you -- if this is a gift book, it was probably meant to be light and airy and fun rather than a serious exploration, so don't be too hard on it for that. And also, unfortunately authors often have little say in their book covers. (Those pink roses on The Single Truth? I hated them. Beautifully done, but not the message I wanted to send.) So the author may not have chosen all the pink frilliness (although it sounds like it fits with what's inside).

And YES, I agree, maybe you are supposed to write the book you are looking for??? (I mean, inbetween your fulltime job and novels and blogging and fabulous social life). I would read your book!

Anonymous said...

Who are you to say that this is not Mandy's ordained purpose? Since you have it all figured out, maybe you should write a book and see how many 5 star reviews you get.

Rachel said...

@anonymous: i don't remember saying that it wasn't Mandy's ordained purpose. but, if you gleaned that from the post i am sorry. it is not my place to say who is /isn't inspired --- but what i CAN say is that the book didn't work for me. the author's intentions are something i cannot and will not comment on. as mentioned, i found them sincere.