Gail Collins illuminates the ageless power of women

Nina Subin

In her new social history, “No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History,” New York Times columnist Gail Collins explores how the ever-changing concept of age has affected women, for better or worse, from colonial times on. Collins was the paper’s first female editorial page editor and currently writes a twice-weekly column. She speaks at 6 p.m. Thursday, October 17, at the Brattle Theatre. Tickets for that event, sponsored by the Harvard Book Store, are $6 or $32 with a book. She also speaks at 2 p.m. Friday, October 18, at the American Ancestors and New England Historic Genealogical Society at 99-101 Newbury St. Tickets are $32 and include a book.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

COLLINS: I just started “History of the Rain” by the Irish novelist Niall Williams. The first chapter is engrossing. Before that I read “The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg,” by Eleanor Randolph, a friend of mine. I love books about how cities run.


BOOKS: What are some of your favorite books about cities?

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COLLINS: When I was first in New York working, I still lived in Connecticut so I would be on the train every weekend. I read “The Power Broker” by Robert A. Caro on those trips. I had never read anything like that. I’ve scooped up everything he’s written since.

BOOKS: Do you like to read about American presidents?

COLLINS: Yes. Michael Beschloss is my mentor in all things presidential. When his last book, “Presidents of War,” came out we appeared at a library together. We were the only two people who could spend an hour talking about how much we hated President James Polk. I also love Sarah Vowell. Her “The Assassination Vacation” knocked me out. She went to the sites of the assassinated presidents.

BOOKS: What did you read for research for your own book that you would recommend?


COLLINS: Lois Banner’s “In Full Flower: Aging Women, Power and Sexuality” and Janann Sherman’s “No Place for a Woman,” a biography of Margaret Chase Smith.

BOOKS: Did you read novels while you were working on your book?

COLLINS: I wish I had. In my youth I always read novels, never nonfiction. I read Charles Dickens like a maniac. I have this love of “Nicholas Nickleby” that isn’t rational. If I had to go with one though it would be “Bleak House.” It so resonates.

BOOKS: Do you look for humor in your reading?

COLLINS: No, but one of my favorite people to read forever was Nora Ephron. Oh my god, I never realized how much I hated blow drying my hair until I read “I Feel Bad About my Neck.” She started a book club that I was amazingly allowed to join. The first book we read was Doris Lessings’s “The Golden Notebook,” which we had all loved as young women. Then we hated it. What the hell?


BOOKS: What else do you like to read?

‘In my youth I always read novels, never nonfiction.’

COLLINS: I have so many friends who write books that I spend a lot of time reading those. I’ve also been reading “Murder Off the Page,” by Con Lehane, another friend of mine. He writes murder mysteries related to the 42nd Street Library. We went to college together at Marquette University in the ’60s. We invited Allen Ginsberg to read his poetry and then the administration told us we couldn’t have him. I spent my senior year marching around for freedom of speech, and it was the best time of my life.

BOOKS: Did joining the Times editorial page inspire any reading?

COLLINS: Howell Raines, who was the executive editor then, gave me a bunch of books by southern authors, but I can’t remember the names. He wrote a book about fly-fishing, “Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis,” which I enjoyed but that would be the only book I would ever read about fly-fishing.

BOOKS: Has the Trump presidency inspired any reading?

COLLINS: I read “Trump: The Art of the Deal” back in the day. On my wall I have copy of a column I wrote about Donald Trump in 1992. He sent me a copy of the column with my photo and wrote on it “The face of the pig. No wonder you are so angry. I would be to.” He misspelled “too.” He used a Sharpie. It’s exactly the Donald Trump we have come to know.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at