My Year So Far – In Books

I don’t use Goodreads, but I do try to keep track of what I’m reading on Instagram. As we’re now more than halfway through 2016, I’ve looked back on my year so far in books.

1. Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín

Having read The Heather Blazing at university, I sought out Nora Webster and Brooklyn. I finally read Brooklyn at the start of the year and loved it. Saoirse Ronan is excellent in the film, too.

2. The Actual One, Isy Suttie

Isy’s romantic anecdotes helped me to keep the January blues at bay. My favourite chapter, ‘Isy discovers that making lists doesn’t solve anything’, details her criteria for a partner. The list includes ‘is kind’ and ‘doesn’t want to move to the countryside (racists and agas)’.

3. Rising Strong, Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s research into fear, failure, vulnerability and courage is a must read (see my list of favourite quotations for some key excerpts). My friend Rachel lent it to me and the margins are now filled with our combined notes. In an effort to carry on our Sisterhood of the Travelling Book, it’s now with another friend.

4. Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig

Matt Haig’s personal story of anxiety and depression gained well-deserved acclaim in early 2016. I deal with anxiety (ranging from ‘barely noticeable’ to panic attacks), so I’m pleased that this book is helping to tackle the stigma around mental health issues. This passage is particularly great:

‘You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.’

5. Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

I finished this when I visited Amsterdam in April. It covers similar themes to Rising Strong, but focuses more closely on embracing vulnerability at home, work and in our communities. If I ever become a parent, I’ll be sure to reread this.

6. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

I had the idea for this blog whilst reading Big Magic. In the book, Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for Eat Pray Love, discusses creativity, failure and making space for fear. She has this to say on living fully:

‘A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.’

7. The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan

My copy of this book is happily worn from having been passed between many of my friends. I’m especially evangelical about ‘Against the Grain’, an essay on growing up with coeliac disease. Reading it for the first time as a student struggling with symptoms, it made me cry. The best line? ‘There were new things to worry about: how to play beer pong without beer, how not to French-kiss a boy after his late-night pizza’. ‘Even Artichokes Have Doubts’ is also excellent, providing commentary on the pressure for students to pursue prestige, rather than happiness or social impact, after graduation.

8. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin

I bought this with the last of my Euros in Amsterdam airport, having already listened to a few episodes of Gretchen’s podcast. The book is packed with tips for setting goals and fostering good habits, like being tolerant of others and making time for play.

9. Essays in Love, Alain de Botton

I picked this up in a secondhand bookshop in Brighton when I visited friends there in April. It’s a short read that brings together philosophy and the realities of love.

10. Modernism: The Lure of Heresy, Peter Gay

I reread this – still littered with post-its from German art history exam revision – when I was deciding whether or not to take up my place on an MA in September. Theoretical but accessible, it follows the rise of modernism across art, literature, theatre, music, architecture and design. If you’re interested in cultural theory and history, I recommend it.

11. Girl Up, Laura Bates

I first read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman at 17 and Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism at 20, but I wish this had existed when I was at school. Part feminist manifesto, part manual, Girl Up speaks honestly about gender discrimination and the pressures placed on teenage girls and young women in the modern world.

12. Make Good Art, Neil Gaiman

My Dad bought this book – a commencement address set in beautiful typography – for me at the British Library when we went to see an exhibition on the Georgians in 2014. I’ve revisited it a few times a year since then. The key message: ‘If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that’. Yes, there will be difficulties and practicalities to consider, but when ‘[t]hings go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health, and in all the other ways that life can go wrong’, keep creating.

13. Gut, Giulia Enders

This took me back to (and beyond) GCSE Biology. It’s an interesting look at the gut’s relationship to the rest of the body, particularly the brain.

14. Animal, Sara Pascoe

I spent two days binge-reading this, laughing and nodding in agreement. Sara writes brilliantly on body image, periods, children, love, sex and consent, drawing on personal experience, feminism and neuroscience. Chapters include ‘Falling into Love’, ‘Bums, Boobs and Clever Old Fat’ and ‘Blood and Babies’. Fun fact: cellulite is just a physical sign that oestrogen is interacting properly with your (very necessary) fat cells.

15. Becoming, Laura Jane Williams

I binge-read this, too. Laura’s writing feels like a long conversation with a good friend who isn’t afraid to share her flaws. Here’s a lovely passage (also included in my list of favourite quotations): ‘Continue, with full speed ahead, to be wonderful, to be you, to live, because your one? They need you to have stories. To be in full colour, already, without them, so that they can spot you in the otherwise black and white crowd’.

16. The Personal MBA, Josh Kaufman

I dipped in and out of this between December and July. It’s useful, with some good insights on strategy, finance, working with others and managing energy, but it’s not one for a lazy day on the beach.

17. Lean Out, Dawn Foster

I read Lean In in 2014 and, although I appreciated the advice on advocating for your own abilities and saying yes to opportunities, Sheryl Sandberg’s experience felt distant from my own. Lean Out confronts this, critiquing corporate feminism. Foster makes the case for direct action, asserting that we need to challenge the systems currently limiting the circumstances of women beyond the 1%.

18. So Sad Today, Melissa Broder

In this collection, Melissa Broder of @sosadtoday fame writes about her experience of relationships, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction and technology. Essays include ‘One Text is Too Many and a Thousand Are Never Enough’, ‘Google Hangout with my Higher Self’ and ‘Under the Anxiety is Sadness but Who Would Go Under There’. This would be a bad stocking filler for your grandma.

19. A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, Ruby Wax

Before reading this, I mainly knew Ruby Wax from seeing her on Comic Relief Does Fame Academy when I was nine. Since then, she’s continued working in comedy, dealt with depressive episodes and studied mindfulness at Oxford. Having built mindful habits into my life, it was interesting to learn more about the science behind them and the origins of stress.

My current reading pile:

1. Effective Media Relations for Charities, Becky Slack

2. Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux

3. The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald

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