Feature

Barbara Holland, 1933–2010

The writer who celebrated her vices

Barbara Holland thought the American obsession with health and fitness was taking the fun out of life. “I’m in favor of a little more sociability, a little more merriment, maybe even a little more singing and dancing,” she told an interviewer after the publication of her 15th and final book, The Joy of Drinking, published just before Mother’s Day, 2007. “I was kind of hoping,” she said, “people would buy it for their mothers.”

Holland, who died this week of lung cancer at age 77, had a knack for making indulgence and excess look reasonable. Her essays, which “sang the simple pleasures of drinking martinis, cursing, and eating fatty foods,” struck a chord with readers, said The New York Times. Her fans kept an earlier book, Endangered Pleasures—a witty paean to a wide range of bad habits—in print for more than 15 years. But she was more than an advocate for vice. Her subjects ranged from her unhappy childhood in a Washington, D.C., suburb to her own “unsparingly” described abortion to the foibles of American presidents.

Holland “discovered her love for writing at an early age,” said the Loudon, Va., Times. As a teenager, she twice won National Scholastic poetry competitions, and once she graduated from high school, she wrote magazine articles to supplement her income as an advertising copywriter. Married and divorced three times, she wrote often in praise of solitude and self-sufficiency, pointedly rejecting Virginia Woolf’s claim that talented women required an allowance along with a quiet room in order to thrive. “No, Mrs. Woolf,” she wrote. “A job, Mrs. Woolf.”

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