Gloria Steinem is a modern day hero. Organising, writing, thinking, listening, she was at the forefront of feminism in America for decades, and remains active, sharp, clever. Her life is one of travel, and this book is a collection of stories from those adventures. It is a wonderful kind of memoir, the gathering of tales reading almost like a scrapbook, not chronological but thematically grouped. Steinem is humble but learned, motivated and funny. The woman is amazing, and the life she has lived on the road is just astounding: the book seems just a satisfying taste of a full and rich experience.
The memoir journeys along, loosely grouped and deeply felt. It is dedicated to the Doctor who, in 1957 provided an abortion to Steinem, telling her that she must do what she wants to do with her life. She opens the memoir proper with her childhood, largely shaped by her father’s itinerancy, and moves on to chapters around larger lessons, things she loves: talking circles and how to listen; why she doesn’t drive, and the wisdom of taxi drivers and flight attendants; the beauty of the campus; politics and organising; and the surrealism of everyday life. It is one great big trip through the memorable stories of her life.
Steinem herself acknowledges that starting out her story with her father’s is not what is expected. But there is an inherited restlessness they share, a yearning for the road. Her mother’s untetheredness, a struggle with movement, also plays a role. Deliberately not wanting to choose either or be caught in the binary that smothered her mother, Steinem finds herself hitting the road just like her father.
It is probably unnecessary to say, but Steinem is a natural writer, gatherer, listener, storyteller. Therefore her memoir follows in this great tradition and is a delight to indulge in. She is straight-shooter, sharp and on point. It’s a bloody celebration reading her write about her life; gathering memories, and opening up our own road too. Steinem herself says her goal is to make possible this way of life to others: to have a home to come back to but not to feel tethered to its hearth.
It is clear in this diary of restlessness, this gift of travelling, that Steinem’s life of the road has been made both beautiful and possible by her open mind, a yes, a seizing of an opportunity. She gives so much, and actively opens up a space for others to give too. Her memoir is a celebration, grounded but full of humour and lightness. Through telling the stories of other people she has listened to on the road, she incidentally tells her own story.