This book is part memoir, part meandering travelogue through alternative sexuality in 21st century America. The book starts as Witt turns 30 and, newly single, moves to San Francisco—the hotbed of alternative sexual culture in the U.S. today. In San Francisco she focuses her work as a journalist on writing about novel forms of sexual expression cropping up in the Internet age, and the new communities that embrace them. Witt visits polyamorous communities, a BDSM porn company, devotees of a practice called “orgasmic meditation”, and women who earn a living livestreaming their autoerotic acts, as well as other pioneers pushing the boundaries of human sexual expression. She also chronicles her own attempts to find love and lust through the brave new world of online dating. Witt’s forays into all of these strange landscapes remind us of just how radically technological advances and evolving social mores are re-writing the rules of nearly all social interactions today, perhaps most prominently those involving our biologically hard-wired drives to find sex and companionship.
In her first book, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear . . . and Why (Melville House, $25.99), the immensely talented young feminist writer, Sady Doyle, explores the phenomenon of women celebrities who rise to fame only to be derailed by a public “trainwreck.” Doyle, a staff writer at In These Times who founded the blog “Tiger Beatdown,” suggests that this is the predictable outcome for women who dare to deviate from conventional rules of female behavior. While her focus is on contemporary figures such as Whitney Houston, Miley Cyrus, and most of all Britney Spears, she traces the historical lineage of the trainwreck phenomenon back to Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Brontë, Sylvia Plath, and Billie Holiday. The explosion of new media has only exacerbated the problem in recent times, making it easier to humiliate women public figures and harder for them to regain their footing. Political trainwrecks get brief attention from Doyle, but her ideas certainly reverberate in the aftermath of the 2016 campaign.
Rebecca Traister’s new book was one of the most anticipated works of non-fiction in 2016, and for good reason. Described by writer Anne Lamott as “the most brilliant voice on feminism in this country,” Traister had already produced a searing examination of sexism and gender stereotyping in the 2008 presidential campaign (Big Girls Don’t Cry) before turning her attention to the experience of unmarried women throughout American history. All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (Simon & Schuster, $27; paper, $17) is a masterful exploration of how unmarried women are redefining notions of love, attachment, and marriage, and in the process are gaining unprecedented political, social, and economic power. Traister intersperses her own personal (and often very funny) experiences into the larger historical context, making for a fascinating book that has serious implications for American politics now and in the future.