IN REVIEW: 10 BOOKS THAT YOU NEED ON YOUR BOOKSHELF (PT.4)

books

After a short reading rut, I am happy to report that I am now back to reading most days and I have fallen back in love with escaping into a book. We recently bought a house and that process is ridiculously stressful. I’ve been very thankful to have some books to hide inside as we battled the many hurdles to get into our lovely new home and not least, when I felt overwhelmed by being surrounded by boxes. I’m sure I’ll post something about our new house soon but today I wanted to share the 4th instalment of books that you need on your bookshelf. To keep up with what I am currently reading, check out my StoryGraph account.

One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake
My Mum is very good at book recommendations and she recommended me this read. If you are a fan of France, cycling or food then you will probably enjoy this book! Felicity sets off on an epic adventure to taste as many culinary delights as she can whilst also ranking all of the croissants she eats along the way. France is often romanticised and I liked that Felicity gave a really honest account of her experiences. It made me laugh and it also made me very hungry.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

This is a multigenerational novel about a Chicago couple and their four adult daughters. Be warned: this is a loooong book but I found myself totally immersed in the lives of the Sorensons. I thought the portrayal of the relationships between the sisters was particularly good. The story is told in flashbacks, as well as present day, chapters alternating. We witness the story unravelling, how the characters got to the point that they are now for each character as an individual and also for the family unit. I was surprised to see that this is a bit of a Marmite book, some love it and some hate it but I for one, loved it.

Us Three by Ruth Jones

I picked up a copy of this book in the supermarket whilst away for a long weekend weekend and having finished The Most Fun We Ever Had. I took it to the beach with me and gobbled up over 100 pages in a sitting. This story has a lot of heart and I loved joining the friendship of Catrin, Judith and Lana for a while. Spanning decades, we see how these three women negotiate life, love, divorce, betrayal and the changing face of friendship. I preferred the first half to the second but overall it was a warm fuzzy read and perfect for a holiday!

Careless by Kirsty Capes

This was one of those books where I totally believed in the narrative voice. As a debut novel by an author in her 20’s it is particularly impressive. At first, wasn’t sure if I would relate to a YA book about teenage pregnancy, but the wonderful writing style and character development made it a real page turner. It is almost like a more grown up version of a Jaqueline Wilson book and that is said with the greatest admiration for Queen Jaq. As well as enjoying reading this book, I also listened to some chapters via Audible and was pleased that the narrator was exactly as I imagined. I see this book winning lots of awards.

Home Stretch by Graham Norton

Set in Ireland, Home Stretch explores the aftermath of a tragedy on a small-town and how secrets can be carried through the generations. I thought this book was really powerful and I read it quickly. I am so impressed by how well Graham writes and I am only annoyed that I didn’t pick up one of his novels sooner. Although there is tragedy and heartache, the book also carries great hope and I felt satisfied with the conclusion. I love a book that really takes me somewhere else and the setting for Home Stretch did exactly that.

The Course of Love by Alan Bordain

Through a Scottish couple, Rabih and Kirsten, de Botton dissects love and marriage. Part fiction and part guide, I thought this book was really insightful. I felt at the end of this that I hadn’t read a novel but more a case study on what couples need to consider once the honey moon period of their relationship has ended. It was unlike any book I have really read before and after each chapter I needed time to digest. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that was written but that didn’t take away from the enjoyment of reading it.

100 Years of Lenni and Margot

This book made me very happy. I absolutely love cross generational friendships and this book is a total celebration of exactly that. This novel really is sprinkled with magic as it tells a story of friendship and love that develops between the vibrant, full of life 17 year old Lenni Pettersson and 83 year old Margot Macrae. This book had meaning and it made me want to squeeze as much out of life as I possibly can and grateful for the wonderful friendship with my very own Margot. I can totally seeing this being made into a film and I’ll be first in line to watch it!

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Having loved Homegoing, I was eager to pick up a copy of Yaa Gyasi’s latest novel. Firstly, I didn’t think it was as good but I still think it is well worth on your bookshelf. Not least because the cover is absolutely stunning. Transcendent Kingdom is a moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants dealing with depression and addiction and grief but is a novel about love, hope, religion and science. This is a character driven story which is clearly extremely personal to the author. It packs a punch.

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Oh man, this book made me want to run! This is an epic adventure story that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, the author sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong. The characters in this book are brilliant and I love how differently they approached long runs! It made me think a lot about why and how I run and the benefits of those questions has meant my relationship with running continues to be something I do because I want to and not because I think I should do. Even if you aren’t a runner, I think you’d enjoy this book.

Malibu rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I looooove this author. Daisy Jones & the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo are two of my favourite books and Malibu Rising didn’t disappoint. I’ll be honest with you, I still have 40 pages to read but I am so sure of this being a great book it is being included here. The stories follows 4 siblings who are the children of a famous singer who each year hold a massive party in their mansion. There are two interwoven plot lines, the day of the party, we the reader, are taken through hour by hour leading up to the annual event. The second story line is the history that motivates the characters, how they got to where they were in life before the party starts. The book gives a great portrayal of the lives of the rich and elite but doesn’t shy away from the fact that no matter how ‘sorted’ you are, life is messy. I will happily read anything Taylor Jenkins Reid writes.




40 things I feel proud of

stuff
  1. I co-owned a successful business for 6 years

    2. I bought a house

    3. I embraced my sexuality (and met my soul mate)

    4. I can do the alphabet in sign language

    5. I have a job which I genuinely, really enjoy and that I’m good at

    6. I am open about my mental health

    8. I can sing in tune

    9. I make a great cup of tea

    10. I’m good with money

    11. I’m a kind friend

    12. I’ve made it through all of my worst days

    13. I got the highest mark in the class for my year 4 project on the Victorian era

    14. I can touch type

    15. I can find the peanut butter in a supermarket in under 20 seconds

    16. I can run a half marathon distance

    17. I make my friends and family laugh

    18. I read a lot of books

    19. I support small and local businesses

    20. I’ve done a lot of personal growth & healing

    21. I am always up for a swim in the sea or a river

    22. I can carry heavy bags of shopping

    23. I call out/in people who make inappropriate comments or do inappropriate things

    24. I have a VERY healthy Monstera plant

    25. I survived a global pandemic

    26. I know the boundaries that I need (even if I struggle to always upheld them)

    27. I don’t have the Facebook apps on my phone

    28. I’ve never had a floordrobe

    29. I give good hugs

    30. I understand the importance of naps

    31. I’m extremely organised

    32. I once trekked across the Great Wall of China and raised lots of money for charity

    33. I will no longer succumb to peer pressure when it comes to a reptile house or pet shop. I’m not going in

    34. I’m great at finding discount codes

    35. I am a evangelistic supporter of the library

    36. I bought a bike in lockdown #1 and now feel confident to cycle to work and back every day

    37. I can semi-competently perform ‘One Day More’ as a one-woman-show

    38. I can do a handstand in the swimming pool

    39. I did an ultra marathon (didn’t I mention it? ;-))

    40. I like myself


40 things I feel guilty about

stuff

Inspired by the wonderful Elizabeth’s days online list of the 40 things she feels guilty about, I thought I’d share my own.

1. I closed my business

2. Every time I get a missed call from an unknown number

3. Every time I get a letter that looks official

4. The fact I quit a sailing course my grandma paid for (aged 12) after day 1

5. I don’t know how to drive

6. I haven’t recovered from my eating disorder

7. I am rubbish at general knowledge quizzes

8. I didn’t pass my grade 5 music theory test

9. Not seeing my grandparents enough when they were alive

10. I don’t have a skincare routine

11. Every time I don’t answer an email, text or Whatsapp immediately

12. I don’t journal

13. I don’t keep up with current affairs

14. Feeling jealous of other’s successes

15. I’ve never read Lord of the Rings (or seen the films)

16. Not feeling enough gratitude for what I have

17. Not recycling every thing I could recycle

18. Letting my house plants meet their maker

19. I don’t drink enough water

20. I hate yoga

21. I can’t do a burpee

22. I can’t do a forward roll

23. I’ve never watched Friends

24. I spend too long on Instagram

25. I didn’t do well enough in my A-levels

26. Every time that I stand up for myself

27. I don’t know how to play chess

28. I gave up learning French

29. I don’t read enough non-fiction

30. I can’t shuffle a deck of cards

31. I don’t message my brother and sister enough

32. Every time I prioritise my mental health

33. Taking annual leave

34. Whenever I say ‘no’ to a social invite

35. I haven’t travelled enough

36. I don’t like coffee

37. The time I used the wrong key when locking up a pal’s house and I had to call (and pay for) a very expensive locksmith to sort it out whilst relentlessly messaging her when she was already having a stressful day

38. I talk too fast

39. Any time I have to make an important decision

40. I’m both too much and not enough

I’m tired

books, running

I’m tired and so I know I need to rest but my fitness watch makes it hard for me to do that. I got my fancy Garmin watch to help with my running training a couple of years ago. At first, I only wore it when I went out to run. Then I wore it when I went out to run or for a bike ride. Then I wore it when I went out to run or for a bike ride or for a walk. Then I wore it all the time. There are a few reasons that my smart watch became permanently glued to my wrist.

1) Strava

Runners love Strava. Since joining a running club, Strava became the best the place to hang out. You can give your pals kudos for their running efforts, design routes and get involved with challenges. OR you can become obsessed with what everyone else is doing & desperate to gain digital badges at the detriment of your mental and physical health. I think Strava can be a wonderful and supportive tool for lots of people but it can also be a slippery slope for those who have struggled with a disorded relationship to exercise in the past (or indeed, lead to it). Being a completionist, I loved signing myself up for the monthly fitness challenges but would often force myself to get in the extra mileage even when my body really wasn’t feeling it.

2) Steps

I saw someone jumping on the spot the other day to before heading back into the office after their lunch break and no-one found it odd when they called out ‘Just a few more until I hit my steps’. Everyone knew what she was talking about, a large majority had probably done similar. But guess what the 10,000 steps a day mantra ties back to? Capitalism. Yep, it was actually a marketing ploy from the 1964 Toykyo Olympics – A company began selling a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps and “kei” meaning meter. It was hugely successful and the number seems to have stuck. You can read more about it here. Needing to walk 10,000 steps a day isn’t true. If I’m tired af and my feet hurt, I don’t need to walk 10,000 steps. I need to lie down.

3) Knowing the time

I like to know the time. I am borderline obsessive about being early for every social occasion (being on time is being late etc) and having a wrist watch made me think I’d use my smart phone less – often when I look at my phone for the time, I end up doing 17 different things and then forgetting what I went on it for the first place but in reality a standard wrist watch would be just FINE rather than one that flashes an angry red and tells me to Move! when I’ve sat down for 5 minutes. Even if I’ve just run a marathon.

Yesterday I tried not wearing my smart watch for a day. I’d had the idea of taking it off for the whole of June but I wanted to give myself a trial day so that I could change my mind if I missed it. It turns out that not wearing a smart watch feels good. We went for a walk and for a swim and I had no idea of the stats which meant I was able to tune into my body. When swimming, I stopped after every couple of laps to float in the water or to chat to someone else also cruising in the slow lane rather than stressing out that my watch wasn’t logging the right meters. At times last year when wild swimming I became agitated that my watch couldn’t connect and therefore the world of Strava wouldn’t know what I was doing yet I was kidding myself that I had the whole intuitive exercise thing down.

Recently, I read Born to run and it really got me thinking about how and why I run. I have come to acknowledge that there is no way for me to be an intuitive exerciser whilst I have a smart watch. If I’m honest, this is something that I have known to be true for a while but have been reluctant to face up to. My relationship with food has become tricky recently too and I think taking the pressure and numbers away from movement whilst taking the pressure and numbers away from food will only be a good thing. Maybe one day I will be able to have a healthy relationship with my smart watch for but now, it has been placed into the drawer of things that don’t have a home and we’ll see how I feel about it in a little while. I have no idea how my relationship with movement will evolve over the next few weeks, maybe I’ll want to run a lot, maybe I won’t want to run at all but I’m going to let my body be my guide, every step of the way.

In a reading rut

books

I have something to confess. Despite storming through a frankly ridiculous amount of books at the start of the year I have hit a brick wall. I’ve been in a phase where books I have picked up just haven’t captured my attention. Some, I have tried to persevere with, only to abandon them half way through. I used to hate doing this because I thought I had ‘wasted my time’ but really, reading should be something we do for joy and not something we feel pressured to do. Sometimes I can completely lose myself in a book and finish it in a day, other times, I’ll pick up my book and only read a couple of pages and then leave it for a week until I almost sit on it and am reminded of it’s existence and then pick it up again. To try and help things along, I went to the local charity shop to pick up some easy read fictions. Despite having a to-read pile that could potentially now be large enough to start my own private library, I wanted to have that excitement of browsing and just choosing something because I fancy reading it and not because it has been recommended or is currently Waterstones’ #1 book of the week.

The two books I did pick up from the charity shop – Nina is not OK and Oh dear Silvia have done well to get me back into my reading groove. Safe to say that Nina is not OK was not a fluffy fiction and was in fact harrowing and hard to read at times but still, I was gripped. I am about half way through the latter and to be honest, at the start I thought I had found another dud. However, I decided to give it a few more chapters of chance and I’m glad I did because now I am enjoying it. I’ve also decided to re-shuffle my to-read pile and give myself a variety of books to choose from. Here is what I am planning to read next:



‘Through one couple’s story, De Botton explores infatuation, commitment, tenderness and infidelity in an unapologetically realistic way that expands the very idea of the nature of love itself’.



‘Both a fascinating narrative about a tribe of phenomenal runners and a penetrating enquiry into the nature of running. This is an unforgettable read’.



‘A raw, effervescent debut novel about the power of language and speaking your own truth. Written entirely in verse, the book follows the trials and tribulations of Xiomara, a teenager growing up in a tough Harlem neighbourhood, and her creative release in the world of slam poetry’.



‘A luminous new novel which explores the uncharted implications of AI to human relationships and the abiding question of what it means to love.’.

With most things in life, as soon as pressure is applied to it.. it just isn’t fun anymore and I definitely need to remember this when it comes to reading and trying to read X amount of books a year because genuinely.. who cares? I would love to know your approach to hitting a brick wall with something you love. I think for me it’s about giving it space. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

2021 gigs

stuff

I absolutely love going to see live music and it is one of the things I have missed the most through the pandemic. I miss:

– Elbowing through to get to the bar to order an overpriced pint that then gets knocked all over me whilst trying to navigate my way back to my pals

– Pretending to know the lyrics whilst I sing along when I definitely don’t know the words to their B side track on their first album but my god, I’m a trier

– Trying to make eye contact with the leader singer and then convincing myself that they were singing to me and me only

– Waiting for a song I don’t know (which is beyond the realms of me trying to sing along to) and making a mad dash to the toilet only to realise by the time I’ve reached the front of the queue that they’ve moved onto my all time favourite tune and having to rush back to the dance floor in time for the chorus.. whilst still being desperate for a wee

– Getting annoyed at people on their phones and passive aggressively sighing when I spot it happening near me

– Being tall enough to always see what’s happening regardless of where I am in the room because I’m so tall

– People behind me tutting and passive aggressively sighing because I’m so tall

Now that there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel I have allowed myself to get excited about being at gigs again and have started buying tickets to see some of my favourite artists. If you aren’t using it already, I would highly recommend the songkick app where you can follow singers/bands and be alerted when gig tickets are going to go on sale. It also recommends similar artists that you might enjoy and you can keep all of your gig plans in one place.

The one thing I think that Bristol is missing is a big arena sized music venue but at the same time I feel really lucky to have so many smaller more intimate gig spaces across the city. Over the years I have seen Ed Sheeran perform in the back of the pub, Ibeyi do a gig by candlelight to an audience of 30 and Young Fathers singing in a record shop. The other brilliant thing that happens a lot in Bristol is stumbling across random unheard of bands who sometimes go on to be massive (exactly what happened with Ed Sheeran) but even if they don’t, you always end up having a good time and discovering new people that you should be listening to. I love going out ‘just for one’ and ending up dancing to a ska band or world music artist who happen to be doing a gig in your drinking hole of choice.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the concerts that I am looking forward to in 2021 which I am seeing across Bristol, Birmingham and London. You’ll probably be able to tell that my music taste is pretty eclectic and I won’t have a bad word said against Steps.

Have you got any live music plans for the year ahead? Who would you most like to see performing live? Do you have any music recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below.

Ben Howard

Dermot Kennedy

Princess Nokia

Tom Grennan

Black pumas

House gospel choir

Jon Hopkins

Steps (!!!!)

Me and White Supremacy

books, stuff

Laylaa F Saad began an Instagram challenge called #MeAndWhiteSupremacy where she encouraged people to own up and share their racist behaviours, big and small. Thousands of people participated and from this project the Me and White Supremacy book was born; with added historical and cultural contexts, stories, anecdotes, definitions, examples and further resources. The book leads readers through a journey of understanding white privilege and their participation in white supremacy so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage of black, indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) and in turn, help other white people do better too. It is clear from the onset that this work will be uncomfortable, painful and necessary. Even if you already have an understanding of white fragility, cultural appropriation, and tokenism, methodically working through and examining your own complicity in them is another thing entirely. This is essential work for all white people.

White privilege – inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice
White supremacy – the belief that white people constitute a superior race and should therefore dominate society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups, in particular black or Jewish people
White fragility – discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice
Cultural appropriation – the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society
Tokenism – the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from under-represented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce

In light of the BLM protests, a friend of mine set up a book club for us to explore this book. As a group, we decided to meet weekly and share our journaling responses to the chapters. Saad sets out the most effective way this can be done as a group to ensure that it is a safe space for sharing. Before starting work, I genuinely thought that racism was negative words and actions said and done towards black and people of colour. I believed that I hadn’t ever been racist because I had never acted in this way. I didn’t think I really had any work to do around racism because I was a good person who believed everyone should be treated equally. Working through this book taught me just how wrong I was. I had limiting beliefs, I had unknowingly benefited from my white privilege, I had tone policed people of colour and I had been a performative ally. Responding to the questions posed by Saad made me go deep into my childhood – growing up in a Cornish town where there was one person of colour in my whole secondary school, challenge my behaviour when dating black men in the past and acknowledge where I have disregarded the experience of black, indigenous and people of colour.

Something that becomes very apparent through the book is the need to call out/in friends, family, colleagues, random strangers when you witness behaviour that needs to be challenged. This is something that I never thought I’d be able to do. I’ve heard problematic comments and I have been silent. Doing this work in a group setting gave us the chance to talk through real life experiences and workshop the best ways to respond whilst also exploring how they may respond to your actions (white centering/fragility). Putting this into practise is hard but isn’t comparable to the hard shit that BIPOC have to go through as a result of my and other white people’s actions. I finally feel like if I lose people as a result of calling them in/out then c’est la vie.

I’ll be honest – the work was hard and at times I wanted to give up. I felt apathetic & then there was a chapter about white apathy. Saad totally hits the nail on the head when she says that it is absolute white privilege that we get to opt out of this work when we want to and disengaging cannot be an option. I felt proud when we completed the 28 days but knew that this wasn’t where the work finished, it is where it begins. We were asked to list our actions that we would be taking forward over the next 2 weeks and beyond and committed to holding each other accountable. There is so much that we can do with our money and time to support BIPOC and we have to do that over and over again. It is baffling how many people/companies shared social media posts in solidarity during the BLM protests and have since been silent. It is not up to BIPOC people to tell you what you can do or how you can help. This shit is on you.

Recommendations:


– Read Me and White Supremacy
– Read Why I’m no longer talking to White people about race
– Financially support charities/projects ran by BIPOC for BIPOC
– Ask charities/projects how you can best support them
– Get involved in local protests
– Listen to the About Race podcast
– Listen to the Woke Up podcast
– Diversify the media you consume and those you follow on social media
– Challenge spaces that aren’t diverse or are tokenistic
– Have conversations about racism with your friends/family
– Take ownership of where you have done wrong in the past and apologize
Think about where you hold influence and how you can use this to be a force for good

Top of the (reading) pops

books

Since giving up all social media for Lent (#hero), I have been storming through my to-read pile and have read 21 books so far this year! One of those reads, Me and White Supremacy, will be getting it’s own blog post soon as I really want to fully delve into my experience of completing this work. I thought it would be fun to rank the other 20 books I have read in 2021, some of these feature in this post but for those that don’t, I’ve included a brief description for you to decide whether it is something you would like to read too. I would love to hear about what you have been reading or if you rate any of these books in the comments.

20. Life’s what you make it, by Philip Schofield
Firstly – Philip, I’m sorry. Secondly – It would be extremely rare for me to rate an autobiography higher than a fiction book, which I genuinely much prefer reading because it is easier to lose yourself in the story. That being said, this was a well written book and I loved learning more about one of the nation’s heroes. Despite ranking at #20, I would still recommend it to fans of Schofe.

19. People like her, by Ellery Lloyd
A pretty trashy thriller but I enjoyed it nonetheless and read it in 2 days. The depiction of Instamums is so accurate but I wasn’t surprised by the conclusion and there weren’t enough twists, which is something I look for in a good book of this genre. Content warnings: Child death, death and suicide.

18. Glorious rock bottom, by Briony Gordon
I have loved Briony’s other books but this one didn’t blow me away. Her willingness to be brutally honest about her experiences is commendable and it did help me to more understand the mindset of an alcoholic. Content warnings: Alcoholism, sexual assault.

17. The Black flamingo, by Dean Atta
This is a beautiful prose book for YA’s about a boy’s journey to drag. It is a quick read and skilfully written – weaving a coherent and gripping story into poetry is no easy feat. Now I feel bad for not ranking it higher.

16. On the come up, by Angie Thomas
Another YA book but this time about a young, black rapper. I thought the lead character was too similar to Star in ‘The Hate You Give’ (Thomas’ other novel) but still, I enjoyed the book. Thomas has created a really realistic world that her characters live in.

15. Concrete rose, by Angie Thomas
Talking of Star in ‘The Hate You Give’ this is the prequel, about Star’s Dad. I thought lots of questions were still left unanswered in this but maybe that was intentional. If you have read Thomas’ other books then you should definitely read this one too. I can definitely see this and #14 being turned into films.

14. The Guest list, by Lucy Thomas

13. Silver sparrow, by Tayari Jones

12. A man called Ove, by Fredrick Backman
This is a really sweet book. It’s a biographical novel about a man who has tried to take his life on numerous occasions but is continually interrupted. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter there are some beautiful, light hearted moments. Ove is possibly the grumpiest man you will ever meet but by the end of the book, you’ll really love him. Content warning: Suicide.

11. The Giver of Stars, by Jojo Moyles
This is a lush story of 5 women in the mountains of Kentucky who set up a travelling library. What happens to them and to the men they love becomes a story of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion.

10. The Colour purple, by Alice Walker
This book is considered one of the all time greats and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to read it! It’s set in South America and tells the story of a young girl born into poverty and segregation. It’s a hard hitting and important book.

9. Clap when you land, by Elizabeth Acevedo

8. The Thursday murder club, by Richard Osman
I am often wary of books with a lot of hype but I honestly felt this one made up for it! I adored the character of Joyce, so much so that I am willing to overlook the slightly confusing conclusion. This book rightfully deserves a place in the top 10 and I am looking forward to the TV show that is being made of the book.

7. The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

6. The Betrayals, by Bridget Collins
After loving The Binding, also by Bridget Collins, I wasn’t sure if this book would live up to it.. it almost did. I loved the fantasy elements of the book but did admittedly find the main character slightly irritating. I didn’t guess the main twist and found that this was a wonderful book for escapism. A definite hit for fans of fantasy novels.

5. All the light we cannot see, by Anthony Doerr
This is a stunning book in every sense. If you like historical novels then I would highly recommend this one. An instant New York times best seller, Doerr tells a story about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as they both try to survive the devastation of World War II. This is the sort of book that baffles you as to how one mind could have created it.

4. Love after love, by Ingrid Persaud

3. The joy of being selfish, by Michelle Elman

2. The Invisible life of Addie Larue, by V.E. Schwab
This is my unexpected favourite read of the year. I knew nothing about it before a friend leant me it and I didn’t want it to end. Addie is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets until she finds someone who remembers her. This is a a stunning adventure that plays out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

1. A thousand splendid suns, by Khaled Hosseini

Thirty, flirty and thriving

stuff

I have always wanted to be older. I am the youngest of 3 and desperately wanted to be in my brother and sister’s gang. I hated playing by myself and would spend the Summer holidays asking my Mum when it was time to go back to school. I loved being around people and I loved the sense that a new year at school meant I was moving up in the world and one step closer to being a grown up. At that time being a grown up meant being in year 6 and ruling the roost but in later years it was my constant drive to be moving onto what was next. At secondary school, during a nasty patch of bullying, I remember telling my parents how ready I was to go to University. I was 13 at the time. I always felt mature for my age and I looked older too (I feel like I’ve been 5ft11 since I was 8) so I wanted to be with my equals who didn’t pick on me for not having a Jane Norman bag for my PE Kit or for preferring a night watching a musical at the theatre to underage drinking in the park.

I also had some complex stuff I was dealing with in my family life which conflicted the standard parent/child dynamics all whilst trying to sit my GCSE’s and then A-Levels. I definitely didn’t do as well as I could in school but my brain felt so full of other stuff that I didn’t have room for finding the value of ‘X’. There was a huge lack of support for my wellbeing not helped by the fact that I absolutely did not want to talk about it. When things settled on that side of things, I felt like I’d missed out on the time that is really important for a young person growing up and figuring out the world. I guess what it bottles down to is that I spent a lot of my teens feeling really fucking lost. I was so unsure of myself and didn’t know who I was, what I liked or where I was going. Looking back, it feels kind of sad that I spent so much time wishing away my younger years and not being present in my childhood and teens.

University was a time of real transformation. Moving from a small town bubble to a big city meant I had the chance to make friends with people from all over the UK (and beyond) and forge friendships from mutual interests and not because we’ve been forced into the same form group. I also got to study Drama and Creative Writing which I loved with other people who loved them too. I didn’t care that I didn’t know what I wanted to do after University, I was finally living my life and being an adult and I could eat pizza every night for dinner and my Mum couldn’t force me to finish my peas before I got down from the table. The confidence I gained at University meant that the day after my graduation, I travelled to Canada to spend a month with a friend I hadn’t seen since I was 9. This would have been unthinkable to the anxious child and paranoid teenager I was but University had really changed me. The world was my oyster.

Repressing a lot of stuff as a teen was always going to catch up with me and a large part of my twenties has been spent nurturing my inner child and younger self. I have definitely made a whole load of mistakes since graduating from University but I feel now that every decision I have made has lead me to the place I am today and I’m doing ok! Yes, I’ve had a lot un-fulfilling relationships with men but they have lead me to a blissfully happy in a relationship with a woman where I am able to voice my needs and truly believe that I deserve to have them met. Yes, I’ve worked myself to breaking point in the past but I now know the power of rest, boundaries and my own self-worth and care. I feel like I finally know who I am. I know what I like and I sort of know where I’m going. I think growing older is a privilege.

I am stepping into my thirties and it feels really good.

Boundaries

books, stuff

Last week I listened to The Joy of Being Selfish by Michelle Elman and honestly, it rocked my world. I have always been a textbook people pleaser and would always put other’s needs before my own. I have been called a door mat, someone with no backbone and a push over. I took pride in being the person that others always go to in their hour of need and the more I gave out, the better of a person I felt. Until I didn’t.

I have always let people have a lot of access to me. From my fleeting years of (low-level) Instagram fame where I shared the most intimate details of my experiences with mental health and an eating disorder, to never turning my phone off and always allowing people to get in touch with me whenever they wanted and I would always reply, straight away. From listening to Elman’s book, I realise now that I was showing myself a complete lack of self respect and the only way for me to really practise self love and put energy back into myself is through boundaries. This felt like a scary concept but boundaries will strengthen the relationships that matter because the more respect I show myself and the more respect I demand, the more I will be given.

I initially started the book because I was struggling with someone I know. Conversations we had would replay in my mind when I tried to go to bed and would ruin my weekends because I’d be worrying about seeing them again the following week. They spoke to me rudely, sent me relentless Whatsapps and always called me at bad times. Sure, their conduct was inappropriate but I was allowing them to continue this behaviour by always responding, further confirming that any threats I made such as ‘please stop sending me Whatsapps’ had no roots. The more access I allowed them, the more ‘taken advantage’ of I felt and something needed to shift. This book gave me the tools to have a conversation with them where I laid out my boundaries and then I stuck to them.

Setting boundaries works, you can take ownership of your time and take no bullshit. Another thing that has helped navigating tricky relationships is that I don’t get to control how people react to me – my only power is how I choose to respond. Their response to my words/actions is not my responsibility and thinking about it on a Saturday night when I’m trying to watch Ant and Dec’s Saturday night takeaway, isn’t going to achieve anything positive or change what they are thinking. I do however, have the power to choose how I respond to myself and treating myself with kindness and allowing myself the time to switch off fully is something productive that I can do.

Boundaries with acquaintances is one thing but I also needed to instate boundaries with my friends and family. I have decided that I will do this by:

– Not being accessible to everyone all the time by turning off my phone and not responding to messages right away. Responding to messages quickly means that I rarely process what I am saying and also means I regularly agree to things that I don’t want to do. Responding to messages when with others is also just plain rude (unless it’s an emergency obvs). I also will respect other’s boundaries by not expecting people to reply to me immediately.

– Saying no if I don’t want to do something and not give a reason why. I used to really struggle with saying no to plans but I realise now that a gap in my diary doesn’t mean I always need to say yes. In the past, if I turned down a social invite I would worry that I would have upset someone or that they would be angry at me for not attending. Now, I realise that if I don’t want to do something then I am not going to have fun doing that thing and other’s aren’t going to have fun doing it me. I have the power to choose how I want to spend my time and this means that when I do spend time with others it’s because I really want to. I also will respect other’s boundaries by accepting if they say no to me.

– Being clear when I do not have the capacity to take on someone else’s emotional load. I want to be honest and upfront with friends who need support as to if I am able to give them my time. If I’m not, it is much better for everyone if they reach out to someone else and if I am able to give them my time then it means I am present in that and able to support them fully. I also will respect other’s boundaries by asking before I want to dump my emotions on them.

I’ve realised that I do not need to be liked because I get to define if I am a good person. It is a sure thing that setting boundaries is going to rattle some people because suddenly, they don’t have the unrelenting access to me that they previously had. I have decided that a negative response to my boundary setting will show that they were previously taking advantage of my lack of boundaries and not because I have done anything wrong. Something that really impressed me about Elman’s book is the practical examples of where you need boundaries and how you can set them, as well as how to respond to those who do not respect them. Finishing ‘The Joy of Being Selfish’ left me feeling empowered to take back control of my life. There is so much more I could tell you about boundaries but ultimately they are an extremely personal choice. I would highly recommend reading the book and thinking about where you can set them in your own life because you deserve to reclaim your time, energy and self-belief.