My Life on the Road
By Gloria Steinem
304 pp. $28
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Reviewed by Hillary Rea
nolead ends Gloria Steinem is 81. Her seventh book, My Life on the Road, is part memoir, part political meditation with the authority of gospel truth. Forget Howard Zinn - this is Gloria Steinem's History of the United States.
Life is divided into seven hefty chapters, each devoted to a single topic - campus organizing, government mishaps, gender and ethnic inequality. That's a signal this book won't be a chronology. Steinem blends familial anecdotes with career stories and sifts it all together into a text you could imagine as a speech from behind a lectern. (She still travels the world as a public speaker and will give a keynote speech Nov. 19 at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women.)
Steinem spent her childhood constantly moving around, making her a witness to her father's life that was far from sedentary. "He was a sailor, not a sailmaker," she writes. "He wouldn't stay behind in a port of an oasis, supplying ships or caravans as they passed by. He was always moving on." Instead of running away from her father's lifestyle, Steinem stumbles into a traveling life as an organizer, and embraces the road.
For a book that celebrates movement, journey, and an open highway, Life gets into a number of traffic jams. Many stories drift and land at rest stops where she lets political or cultural byroads lead her far from a relatable personal tale. Instead, there's a lecture, important to hear, but often that lecture loses sight of the narrative.
Steinem does acknowledge the surreality of a life as a traveler - an entire chapter is devoted to "Surrealism in Everyday Life." Her out-of-order timeline can be effective (although disheartening) because often you are compelled to see this era in terms of others with similar political problems.
Travel has enabled Steinem to do good work, and the book is a cry for more traveling organizers to continue the work when she no longer can. She is a key figure in these progressive movements, so it's OK for her to lecture here and there; she's earned the right. The reader should accept My Life on the Road not as a life chronicle but as a pathway among milestones, the greater journey of her political accomplishments.
Hillary Rea is a comedian and storyteller. She is producer and host of "Tell Me a Story," a bimonthly event at Shot Tower Coffee at Sixth and Christian Streets.