The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

In the 1970s, during feminism's second wave...

 - Monday, July 08, 2013
In the 1970s, during feminism's second wave, Alix Kates Shulman, one of the leaders of the movement, wrote a novel called Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen. I remember reading this at the time and thinking it was great. It was very successful, both in the US and here. Recently, I was staying in a place with a very good library, in which I spent many happy hours browsing. Looking through the biographies, I came across a memoir by Shulman called Drinking the Rain, which I hadn't seen before. Of course I proceeded to read it, and loved it so much I had to buy a copy for myself—a nice US paperback. The memoir tells of how Shulman, disenchanted with her busy New York life, decides to move to an island off the coast of Maine. She had just turned fifty, and felt that she needed a complete life change. She and her husband owned a shack on the island where they sometimes had summer holidays. It was very basic, with very few home comforts. It was also isolated, with only a sort of corner store a long walk away, which sometime had fresh food but not always. The way Shulman became more or less self-sufficient, learning to identify edible plants with the help of a guide book, collecting mussels from the rocks, and generally learning to rely on her survival instincts to maintain her life on the island is very interesting and, to me, inspiring. Living on her own in a shack, without plumbing or electricity, meant for her, a new independence, an opportunity to grow in self-reliance and make her life more meaningful. This is a book which captured my imagination and I am sure I will read it again when I am in the mood to leave my very ordinary life for something more inspiring and challenging.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cakes is another memoir written by a woman. When I picked this up to read, I thought it would be a light-hearted, fun book to fill in a few hours, but on getting into it, I found it to be was a lot more than that. The author, Anna Qindlen, has written 6 novels, a lot of nonfiction (her columns for Newsweek and the New York Times have been published in collected editions), and a couple of books for children. I have read some of her novels, which I enjoyed, although the story lines were not the happiest. In Lots of Candles Quindlen, who left her journalist career as a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the New York Times to become a full-time novelist, looks back on her life, from her childhood to her later years. She looks at girlfriends, marriage, parenting and growing older. Also how to cope when the children leave home, and how to find a new role when reaching retirement—the things that most of us have to face sometime. This is really a very different book to Drinking the Water. Two very different women, with very different life styles, yet they have things in common, simply by being women, mothers, and writers.
Of course, I can't leave my column without a mention of the new Martin Walker—the latest in his Bruno Chief of Police series. I love these book and always look forward to the next instalment. In this latest, The Resistance Man, Bruno as usual has plenty to worry about. A large amount of rare old bank notes have been found, there have been a series of burglaries in the neighbourhood, and it looks like his two female friends, Pamela and Isabelle, will be in St Denis at the same time. Then there is the likelihood of a political scandal coming to light, and suddenly Bruno finds himself in the middle of it all. The stolen goods are antiques and there seems to be a connection with the UK and a former head of Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee, now living in Bruno's area. As usual, there is all the wonderful food and wine of the district to indulge in, and of course, his new puppy, Balzac. The very useful acknowledgement at the back of the book tells you of the historical origins of the idea for the story, and also tells you all about the food and wine of the region of Perigord. Lovely stuff.