I just learned about The Book Inscription Project: “We collect personal messages written in ink (or pen or marker or crayon or grape jelly) inside books. Pictures count. So do poems. So do notes on paper found in a book. The more heartfelt the better.”
I think the project is a wonderful idea, maybe because I have a favorite inscription of my own. When I first started collecting books about single life, I learned about a 1936 book by Marjorie Hillis called Live Alone and Like It. I would have forked over the money for a new copy but at the time, there were only used copies available.
When the beaten-up copy arrived, with its orange hardcover and yellowed pages coming unglued from the spine, I found a hand-written note on the inside.
With spelling and punctuation preserved, here it is:
February 2nd 1937
Happy Birthday Berenice,
I found this book so amusing that I tho’t you might like a copy – Now that I’m fulfilling the first part of the title I tho’t I’d see how to “like it” –
Anyway, its fun –
I wrote about the book in a blog post five years ago. Because I was not yet writing for Psych Central at the time, I hope you will not mind if I now share with Single-at-Heart readers some of my thoughts about the book and a few of my favorite excerpts.
Live Alone and Like It Has Attitude
When people unfamiliar with Singled Out ask me what it is about, I like to say that it is a myth-busting, consciousness-raising, totally unapologetic take on singlehood. What I also think to myself, but don’t say, is “and you’ve never seen anything like it.”
Well, with regard to author “attitude,” I now have to say that I HAVE seen something like Singled Out, and it was published 77 years ago.
Marjorie Hillis (the author) was born in 1889. When she wrote Live Alone and Like It, she was an editor at Vogue. Tired of women who whined about being single, she decided to share her own decidedly uncomplaining perspective. The book was an instant success, passed around from friend to friend and from generation to generation. Finally, in 2005, a contemporary publisher decided to print some new copies.
Here, for your entertainment and enlightenment, is a baker’s dozen of my favorite quips from a book published in the same year as Gone with the Wind, a year when gas cost 10-cents a gallon.
From the chapter, “Solitary Refinement”:
1. “This business of making your own life may sound dreary – especially if you have a dated mind.”
2. About the attitude of a single woman who traveled the world: “There is an element of defiance in this attitude, but when you start to live alone, defiance is not a bad quality to have. There will be moments when you need it, especially if you’ve been someone’s petted darling in the past. But you will soon find that independence, more truthfully than virtue, is its own reward.”
3. About Miss S., a teacher in the NY public schools: “In spite of living by one of the most underpaid professions in the world, Miss S. has been to Europe three times and to Mexico once, and three years ago she paid for the care of a tubercular pupil. She feels very sorry for her friends in Maine whose lives are limited to husbands and a trip to Portland.”
From the chapter, “Who Do You Think You Are?”:
4. Addressing single women who live on their own and are delighted with their lives, the author warns them not to expect anyone else to share their joy. “As a matter of fact,” she says, “your friends (to say nothing of your family) would find it a lot simpler if you’d acquired a husband instead of a desire to Live Your Own Life.”
From the chapter, “When a Lady Needs a Friend”:
5. If other people invite you to dinner, reciprocate. “The old-fashioned notion that single women are objects of social charity was killed in the War.”
From the chapter, “Setting for a Solo Act”:
6. “Never let the curtains go in your bedroom because ‘no one sees them.'”
7. “One of the great advantages of your way of living is that you can be alone when you want to. Lots of people never discover what a pleasure this can be.”
From the chapter, “Pleasures of a Single Bed”:
8. “It’s probably true that most people have more fun in bed than anywhere else, and we are not being vulgar. Even going to bed alone can be alluring. There are many times, in fact, when it’s by far the most alluring way to go.”
From the chapter, “Will You or Won’t You?”:
9. The question is about sex and affairs. Here’s Hillis’s answer:
“Hold a little mental investigation of the case – and then do exactly as you please.”
10. And more about sex: “Whether or not a woman has had her Moments, if she has a grain of common sense she keeps it to herself, since, if she has, most people would be shocked, and if she hasn’t, the rest would be superior.”
From the chapter, “The Great Uniter”:
11. “There is probably nothing that gives as much pleasure as food, not excepting love.”
From the chapter on money and saving, titled, “You’d Better Skip This One”:
12. “Don’t worry if your scheme doesn’t fit any of the books that tell you what proportion of your income should go for what. After all, that’s your business and not the author’s.”
From the chapter, “A Lady and Her Liquor”:
13. The best “advice” in this chapter? Recipes for highballs, martinis, old-fashioneds, and manhattans.