Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Friends on the Shelf

March 12th, 2017
Calling All Authors

Apparently, there are a lot more books out there written by men than women. The owner of a bookstore in Cleveland was so incensed by the gender divide  that she turned around all the books in her shop written by men. Here’s the article and above is the evidence, a virtual white-out.

Funny,  because if you came to my house, a lot of the books on the shelves are written by women.  Especially now, as I have been de-cluttering. I am moving house and spring cleaning big-time.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying  by Marie Kondo is my declutter bible. With each item I own, particularly books since I seem to collect them like dog hairs, I ask myself

Does this item spark joy? If not, chuck it.  The books below did not pass Kondo’s test.


These books did …


Several of the survivors are written by women  that I connect with, that I might want to reread one day, that comforted me at a point in my life, old friends. (Yes, I admit Eat Pray Love survived the test – but not all three copies).

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area,  Anne Lamott’s autographical take on life always strikes a chord with me, and not just because I too grew up in the Bay Area. Whether it’s Bird by Bird, Instructions on Writing and Life or what’s currently on my bed table,  Small Victories, Lamott’s stories always resonate.


She  can write about anything, literally anything, with clarity, wisdom and a lot of humour. Some excerpts;

I’ve spent my whole life trying to get over having had Nikki for a mother, and I have to say that from day one,  it was much easier to have a dead mother than the old living one, the impossible one.”

When visiting prisoners in San Quentin,  Lamott says,

Those we saw and spent time with seemed to be sliding by, relatively seamless and calm. They’re mostly older; you sense that their testosterone levels are down. I like that in a prisoner.

And finally on dating …

 Some people my age – extreme middle age – train for marathons, or paddle down the Amazon, or skydive, or adopt. They publish for the first time.

Me? I may have done the most heroic thing of all. I went on match.com for a year.

Lamott explains what she is  looking for in a mate …

What I missed was checking in all day with my person, daydreaming about him, and watching TV together at night. There, I’ve said it: I wanted someone to text all day and watch TV with.

Another writer I have always admired is the late Nora Ephron. She used sharp wit and warmth to get her message across.


She was always funny …

 In my sex fantasy, nobody ever loves me for my mind.

and smart. She wrote about what mattered-  love and heart ache and moving on were her bread and butter.

And then the dreams break into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice: you can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream.

Author Christa D’Souza reminds me  of Ephron. She mines her life for stories whether it’s in her search for the perfect waist, her year as a teetotal or the insults of menopause from mood swings to a less than perfect waist. In her new book, The Hot Topic, the confessional D’Souza compares menopause to death and taxes.


(It’s)  something that will happen to everyone.  Everyone, that is, except me. Sure, I was getting hot flushes and felt anxious and kept putting my keys in the fridge and couldn’t sleep, but what did that have to do with anything? It’s amazing how dim smart women can be about this – I’d honestly kidded myself that I would carry on menstruating until I died.”

Last week I went to listen to D’ Souza at Grace Belgravia, a women’s club in London that hosts regular #gracetalks about serious health issues to members and nonmembers.


Also there was the feisty TV presenter Mariella Frostrup …


The room was packed with women, all curious to hear D’Souza, Frostrup and a leading London gynaecologist discuss the taboo topic of menopause. The women, many of whom I recognised, were all about my age. We’d had children at about the same time, we’d seen each other in the playground or at various children’s parties over the years.

Now we are embarking on a new phase of life, a phase without children at home or the prospect of creating any. What does that do to one’s carefully engineered sense of self as a mother, as a woman? How do we handle this change that is so much more than menopause? As per usual, I’ll be relying on some good books, like D’Souza’s, to get a handle on what it’s all about.

March, 2017