Earlier this week, I went to McNally Jackson to hear J. Courtney Sullivan discuss her best-selling novel, Commencement. The book follows four best friends who meet at Smith College (represent!) and meets up with them five years post-graduation. Understandably, there's a been a buzz among my Smith pals (three of whom came along to the reading) about Sullivan's book; I read it ASAP.While in many ways it reads like any other work of chick lit, there are few things I really enjoyed. For starters, it is really fun to read about Smith from someone who actually gets Smith. Charlotte from Sex and the City allegedly went to Smith, but the fact that she claims to have been in a soriety shows someone did not do their research. There's also an upcoming Hallmark TV movie called Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith, which I can already tell needs some fact-checking too. But Sullivan includes lots of great, quirky and 100% true details. The kinds of things that people who didn't go to Smith don't quite believe. Yes, we had tea served to us every Friday afternoon. Yes, we changed the constitution to be gender neutral even though it's a women's college. And without sounding too cheesy, I think that my friendships from Smith are like none other. I too had a tight knit posse of four BFF's, and in many ways Sullivan captures exactly how I feel about my Fab Four. I am curious to hear from some non-Smithies who have read the book, and find out if these traditions and eccentricities that are so close to my heart are interesting to them, or merely colorful details.
Secondly, Sullivan and her characters are not afraid to call themselves feminists. I think the book does an excellent job of showing the different and changing faces of feminism-- not something you'll find in Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries. Gloria Steinem thinks so too. She said, "Commencement makes clear that the feminist revolution is just beginning.” That's about the biggest compliment one newly-famous Smithie can get, from one of the most well-known and respected Smithies there is.
I'll admit when the book came out I was a bit skeptical. Once upon a time Aria and I had grand plans of writing a collection of short stories about Smith. We only got as far as coming up with pseudonyms for the professors (for example, president of the college Lucille Lourde), so I was curious to see the woman who had actually succeeded in exposing the unique Smith world to the masses. As I learned at the reading, it turns out that J. Courtney Sullivan is a delight. She is down-to-earth, well-spoken, warm, friendly and super smart. But then again, she did go to Smith.