Friday, 15 June 2018

Party of One - Book Review

I don't read all that many books on singleness, to be honest. I've always been pretty picky about them. I had to read a lot prior to writing one, for research, and there weren't many I loved. It's one of the main reasons why I wrote Single Minded, because there wasn't a book which said exactly what I wanted to read.

Party of One also doesn't say *exactly* what I wanted to read (but it's ok because I've already written a book that does!!). It is, however, really rather good.

Party of One is written by Joy Beth Smith, who's an American journalist. You can tell that, to be honest, because it's a really well written book, which keeps you turning the pages, and often has you laughing out loud. I also highlighted and underlined loads of it too, which is a sure sign of a book that I've really enjoyed (with apologies to all book purists - but if anyone did that to my book, I'd take it as a real compliment!)

Joy begins by describing how, for 15 years, she wrote a monthly letter to her future husband. (This is one of quite a number of points in the book where as a British reader there's a fairly major culture clash. I don't know anyone in the UK who's done this, and it's a reminder of how different both the church and the singleness scenes are in the UK and the US.) Anyway, one day she realises this is not a helpful strategy, and burns all of the letters. She says that she realised that "God has promised me many, many things: joy, intimacy with him, comfort, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and eternal life, to name just a few. But I'll never find the promise of a husband, of a beautiful, fulfilling marriage, tucked away in the back of James or even alluded to in Psalms."

This was the first paragraph in the book that I highlighted, and I was already hooked. It's so easy to believe marriage is somehow our 'right', something that we are owed, or deserve, but this is not the case.

Joy is brilliant at describing some of the difficulties that arise when 'helpful' friends try to intervene (and she oh-so-accurately points out how quickly people forget, having got married, what it's like to be single). She describes how people's constant attempts to 'pair off' all single people can lead to us feeling as if we're an embarrassment to have around - that instead of cheering us on in our singleness they just want to help us out of this unfortunate season.

One of the highlights of the book is the many in-depth conversations she has had with a great many single women. She travelled for these conversations, arranging round-table chats which led to a great deal of rich material, and she quotes the other women generously and at length. There is much wisdom shared from those chats.

There's just an awful lot of really helpful, clear truth in this book. She says that "God giving you a husband does not prove his goodness - marriage isn't even inherently good. But God is good, always. He is good in your singleness."

I cheered along as Joy lamented the waste which can so easily occur when single people live their life on hold, or treat their singleness like a waiting room - she uses the analogy of "an elevator ride" and declares this to be "a waste." "The problem with viewing singleness as a season is that we relegate our time here to something to be endured, not celebrated." YES!

Joy challenges the church's expectation of marriage in a way which is clear and timely without being grumpy (one might even suggest that the church is 'marriage obsessed' - that would make a good title for a chapter...) She challenges the common viewpoint that for single people life hasn't quite started yet, and says, with great perception, that "we've limited ourselves in what we choose to hono(u)r in the church."

She isn't afraid to tackle the big issues and the tough questions. She talks about loneliness, she talks about masturbation, she talks about childlessness, she talks about identity and self worth. I love her language of sexuality as something to be "stewarded" (rather than suppressed or avoided). I love how she tackles the 'gift' question.

There is a chapter called 'Don't spend your singleness preparing for marriage' (and I died a little inside at the 'spatula story') but nonetheless for me the book still felt like it was hoping for and heading for marriage. Perhaps it simply reflects where I am on my own journey (and perhaps this very thing would make it more appealing to some people) but I felt it might be of more interest to those still very much hoping and longing for marriage than for those who have embraced singleness for life. In the same vein I think it would be more for those who are 'never married but hoping to be' than for those who, for whatever reason, are 'single again'.

Overall I really would recommend this book (and believe me when I say that hardly ever happens with singleness books!) If you're reading it in the UK be prepared to do a bit of cross-cultural translation, and if you're not a young-ish 'single and hoping to be married' woman (I'm not sure how helpful guys would find it) be aware that it won't all resonate with you.

The thing I liked most (apart from how often it made me laugh out loud) was how much the whole book pointed to Jesus, and to living a holy live within and throughout our singleness. You can't ask for more than that.

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