Women who live unconventional lives and the books that depict them
March 16, 2008 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Women loners, recluses, survivalists, they lived alone and liked it that way. Which books details their lives?

I've read Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille which was great now I'm looking to get deeper into the phenomenon of women survivalists who lived rough but wonderfully free, created, swung with the seasons, accrued knowledge and wisdom and wrote about their experiences. Who are they and what books should I be reading about them?
posted by watercarrier to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
this is the only book amazon has about Cougar Annie...
posted by klanawa at 9:54 AM on March 16, 2008

You might try Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Your question suggests you're not looking for fiction, but you might also be interested in Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 10:07 AM on March 16, 2008

Best answer: A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece - not quite survivalist, but a story of a solo woman who was up teaching in Alaska back during the time when it was not a state and there was some serious Americanization nonsense going on. I liked it especially because it has photos, it's mostly just a diary, and Jane Jacobs has some great commentary about the whole metastory.
posted by jessamyn at 10:33 AM on March 16, 2008

Epicurean Simplicity by Stephanie Mills was written in 2003 so it is not as old as the other books you are talking about. The book does relate the story of a woman who lives alone by herself in the country talking about her experiences. A bit expensive at $29 so mefimail me if you want me to mail it to you.
posted by aetg at 10:52 AM on March 16, 2008

Best answer: i wholeheartedly recommend Woman of the Boundary Waters, by Justine Kerfoot.

i also read Rootbeer Lady, which i don't remember (not a good sign).

Betsy and Saganaga may be along the same lines, but i've not read it.

all available for your perusal here.
posted by RedEmma at 10:53 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All great suggestions. Thanks. Jessamyn - on Amazon, while looking for The Story of Hannah Breece - came across other interesting suggestions of true stories about women in the out country, alone and thriving that make for some fascinating reading.
posted by watercarrier at 11:00 AM on March 16, 2008

Hannah Hauxwell springs to mind. Her books are available on Amazon.
posted by essexjan at 11:01 AM on March 16, 2008

Response by poster: RedEmma and aetg - whooee good suggestions too! Definitely going to check those out as well.
posted by watercarrier at 11:02 AM on March 16, 2008

Party of One: A Loner's Manifesto might appeal to you.

Also Starting Out in the Afternoon

Also look up Susanna Moodie's writings on Gutenberg: her Roughing It In The Bush is a Canadian classic, and she wrote a few others on similar topics.
posted by zadcat at 11:11 AM on March 16, 2008

Should've linked: Susanna Moodie.
posted by zadcat at 11:12 AM on March 16, 2008

Response by poster: zadcat - Roughing it in the Bush is online - complete methinks!
posted by watercarrier at 11:16 AM on March 16, 2008

Oh yes – and Ani Tenzin Palmo is interesting: she's an Englishwoman who spent years in a cave in the Himalayas doing a strict Buddhist retreat. She writes about it in Reflections on a Mountain Lake. She was also written about in Cave in the Snowby Vicki Mackenzie, but I found that book kind of flimsy with a tendency to try to be sensationalistic.
posted by zadcat at 11:18 AM on March 16, 2008

Well, it's a children's book but I think it may be just what you're looking for. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney.
posted by lunit at 11:58 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gaining Ground by Joan Barfoot is just what you describe - fiction though
posted by runincircles at 12:14 PM on March 16, 2008

Best answer: Alexandra David-Neel traveled and studied alone in Asia, including Tibet, in the early 20th century. The wikipedia article references several biographies. And she even has an "official web site" (which I didn't know before).
posted by anadem at 12:17 PM on March 16, 2008

Though I've never read it, I've received numerous recommendations for Going Alone: Women's Adventures in the Wild, by Susan Fox Rogers. I don't know if I would necessarily refer to Rogers as a "survivalist," per se, but it might prove to be an interesting read.
posted by numinous at 12:19 PM on March 16, 2008

Spirited Waters by Jennifer Hahn - she solo kayaked the inside passage. Similar to Annie Dillard.
posted by enaira at 1:41 PM on March 16, 2008

Beryl Markham's book West With the Night talks about the her life as an African Bush Pilot in the 1930s and her historic east to west solo flight across the Atlantic. And it's one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read in my life.
posted by DarthDuckie at 4:04 PM on March 16, 2008

She's not a roughing-it survivalist, so it's not exactly what you want, but May Sarton wrote the wonderful Journal of a Solitude in celebration of, well, solitude.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:08 PM on March 16, 2008

I was looking for a link about Isabella Eberhardt, who traveled as a Muslim male in the late 19th century, when I found this link from the Boise Public Library listing her and a number of Victorian adventuresses.
posted by Scram at 4:23 PM on March 16, 2008

Doc Susie is one I like about one of the first women doctor's in Colorado back in the day.
posted by internet!Hannah at 6:51 PM on March 16, 2008

Not precisely what you describe, but Sue Hubbell's A Country Year and A Book of Bees are wonderfully written, and I love her observations of nature.

She wasn't exactly roughing it (but lived by herself in a cabin in the Ozarks, doing her own repairs, felling trees, tending hives, and definitely gaining wisdom from the life and the seasons) and living alone wasn't her choice (her marriage fell apart, but she certainly seemed to love her solitary life once she fell into its rhythms), but the books have many of the qualities you describe.
posted by kristi at 7:22 PM on March 16, 2008

Best answer: This woman lives in the wilds of BC.

Chris Czajkowski


Here's her website which has maps to give you a sense of her isolation:

posted by Gooberoo at 7:22 PM on March 16, 2008

Robyn Davidson's book Tracks (about walking alone across Australia with 4 camels) is an inspiration to me. Remembering how Davidson completed her journey, by herself, in sometimes unpleasant circumstances has helped me soldier on independently at various points in my life.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:01 PM on March 16, 2008

Susanna Moodie wrote wonderful accounts of her time in the bush but she did NOT enjoy that time. She did not swing with the seasons. She had a terrible time, made worse by post-partum depression, isolation, lack of birth control, a husband who ran off with the army, etc.

Her sister, Catherine Parr Traill, lived a few miles away, under similar circumstances, but thrived. She wrote The Backwoods of Canada, among other things.

If you don't mind that Moodie had a miserable time, you'll probably be intrigued by works by both sisters.
posted by acoutu at 8:54 PM on March 16, 2008

Oooo, I looooove this genre! Nthing Moodie and Traill, after reading their very accessible books you should read Charlotte Grey's biography Sisters in the Wilderness.

Ida Blackjack, an urban Inuit woman that was left alone on a barren tundra island for two years caring for a dying explorer is another facinating read.
posted by saucysault at 2:28 AM on March 17, 2008

Response by poster: You guys rock. Thanks so much for these phenomenal suggestions which I'm going to look into. I couldn't fav all off you but consider this ((((((((Thank you so much)))))))) a really big thanks to everyone who replied.
posted by watercarrier at 1:32 PM on March 18, 2008

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