Emma's Reviews > Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories

Learning to Drive by Katha Pollitt
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's review
Feb 22, 2008

really liked it
Recommended for: people who like personal essays, people wrestling with feminism's legacy (and future)
Read in February, 2008

This was one of those swallow-it-whole, binge-read sort of books. It clocks in at just 200 pages and I finished over the course of two nights of reading.

For the most part, I loved it. Her prose just sort of rocks. She's hilarious. And insightful. And so brutally honest.

I guess she got a lot of criticism for being so brutally honest, but that's the real strength of this book. There are so many tell-alls these days, but usually they lack any sort of analysis to give it any sort of coherence. Or the analysis is trite and ends up falling into the same tropes as "Amazing Grace": I once was lost, but now I'm found, etc.

Her analysis is a little more nuanced: I once was lost, maybe I'm still lost, I might get lost again, I'm sure there are other women like me who are lost but isn't it interesting that a lot of us get lost in the same way and we've tried a lot of things and some of them have worked but saying we're found is just a little too premature?

And it's kind of interesting hearing someone with just about razor-sharp analytical skills take on her own life in her writing. Also, I saw her in person and totally wish she were my mom. Seriously.

Which comes to my only criticism. There are some "mom" moments that kind of irked me, irrationally. It's the narcissism of minor differences. She was so dead-on about so many things, that when I felt her slip up, it was so much more excruciating than it would have been with other writers.

She has this essay on all the things that are getting worse as time goes on: like neighborhoods becoming yuppified or polar bears' habitat becoming endangered. Which is fine, but then she'll throw out this line about how girls like looking slutty on facebook (she did this in person) or how classical music is dying and rap is taking over, even though it lacks creativity.

Despite my love for hip hop and calling girls on facebook sluts sounds like nails on chalkboard, I wouldn't have taken it so personally, if it didn't seem like a classically 2nd wave mistake.

Come on, Katha. Our generation might be doomed, but it isn't so bad, is it?

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