Perhaps it’s the passing of yet another birthday (oh hi I’m 27 now) or perhaps it’s the autumnal turn in the air, but September for me has always been a time to embrace change.
It’s a month of shedding the worries of the last year and making good on those promises made back in January. The perfect time to reassess resolutions, to see how much I’ve learnt and grown (or at least figure out how I’m going to cram some learning and growing into the last few months of the year).
With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the inspirational books I’ve read this year that are perfect for the season of change. Raw, honest, often funny, many of these recommendations come from the huge, not-exactly new sub-genre of self-help-memoirs that almost feel like they’ve rolled off the blog-wagon, into long-form personal essay territory. But that’s not all there is – instead I’ve chosen those books that capture and illuminate the ordinary challenges, provide the wisdom of happenstance. Hopefully you’ll find some common ground here.
1. The life-changing magic of not giving a f**k – Sarah Knight
Life-changing? Maybe not. But as a Virgo, an eldest sibling, and a writer with a thriving case of Imposter Syndrome – it’s fair to say that I’m a natural-born f**k-giver and wow this book pointed out some tough truths. Because whilst I see myself as a strong, independent #girlboss (sometimes) and love to challenge and question people on pretty much anything, I still end up going places and doing things and seeing people when I’d rather just not. I share my chair with an ex despite the pounding in my chest and sprinkle my emails with words like “just” and smiley faces because I don’t want to seem like a bitch. Or, at least, I did until I took Knight’s central lesson to heart, made a budget and stopped giving a f**k about every little thing. This is a book for those of us who don’t necessarily want to care less, just more wisely. Who want to stop wasting time worrying about people, places, and things that don’t make us happy and instead maximise our time for those who do.
2. How To Stop Time – Matt Haig
Matt Haig is probably best known for his memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, which is a beautiful and poignant reflection on his struggles with anxiety and depression. But his best explorations of what it means to be human and to be alive and living, is in his fiction. His latest book, How To Stop Time, absolutely proves this. The novel follows Tom Hazard, a man who doesn’t age like everyone else – he’s over 400 years old but looks like he’s 41. He’s lonely, doomed to watch everyone he loves grow old and die, to be outcast from society and the bond we all share as a result of our short and fragile lives. It’s so powerful and so much about the things that bind us, the things that exclude us. You’ll be left softer for reading it. Your heart will be warmer even though (if you’re anything like me) you may cry over certain passages and ache because of others. You’ll close the last page and feel raw, because the writing is raw, and the story is raw, and Haig has delivered a book that shows you how lovely life is despite its many horrors. This is a book about choices. About actions. About treating people as means in themselves and not means to an end (to get a little Kantian). And it’s about history, the cycles that repeat themselves and the question: can we break that cycle? Go to the bookshop. You need to read this book.
3. How to be a Heroine: Or what I’ve learned from reading too much – Samantha Ellis
I’m always coming back to this one. With a jaunty tone, Samantha Ellis’s debut book explores the role of fictional heroines in our favourite stories and in our lives. The perfect mix of memoir, literary criticism, and self help. It’s a warm-spirited romp through fact and fiction, offering insight into an eclectic range of books and authors, as well as the writer’s own background as part of an Iraqi-Jewish family living in the aftermath of Ba’athist persecution. What I love so much is that it ignores the IRL leading ladies to focus on those women who shape bookish hearts – Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre, Judy Jordan, Anne Shirley. Anyone with a love of words will find it more than relatable. It’s thought-provoking and inspiring to wonder who shaped you? And what kind of heroine might you grow up to be?
4. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories – Marina Keegan
We’re so young. We’re so young. If you’ve ever worried it’s too late, or had nightmares about your dream remaining a dream – if you’ve ever questioned where you’re going, what the world is doing or how you fit into it then you need to read Marina Keegan’s posthumously published collection of essays and stories, The Opposite of Loneliness. It is a heart-render and mender in one. Taking the name of an essay she wrote for the graduation edition of Yale’s university paper – a celebration cut short when she died in a car crash days later at the age of 22 – the collection is striking and witty and captures, again and again, feelings of possibility, potential, vibrancy waiting to happen. There’s no book on this list that has made me realise more just how much I want to achieve, can achieve, will achieve, as long as I put in the work and time and passion.
5. milk and honey – Rupi Kaur
And now for something completely different. milk and honey is a collection of poetry by the Canadian writer and instagram-sensation, Rupi Kaur. At 24 years-old Kaur sold 1.4million copies of this beautiful book – which is pretty much unreal for a first-time writer (let alone poet). No wonder then that her slow road to overnight success is so inspirational. But beyond the savvy use of social – her poetry is also exquisite in how simple, raw, and precise it is. Taking a stand against some of the hypocrisies that face women in society and offering poems on love, femininity, trauma, Kaur never shies from the hard subjects. She remains matter-of-fact and exquisitely brief. My favourite poetry takes the reader on a journey and Kaur absolutely does this. It’s fierce and painful and oh-so-relatable. Her second collection, the sun and her flowers, is out now.
6. Ctrl-Alt-Delete: How I grew up online – Emma Gannon
I know some people rail against being labeled millennial, but if you – like me – happen to have grown up with Nokia 3310s, MSN, The Facebook, Neopets and online tribes, then Emma Gannon’s Ctrl-Alt-Delete will almost certainly make you cackle, wince, and realise just how bloody weird growing up through the 90s and 00s really was. Sure, for those of us born in the years where the walls came down and the webs went up, this book may feel eerily familiar. But it’s brilliant. Smart, timely, feminist (and many, many more excited adjectives I’m sure) Gannon definitely makes you LAUGH as well as think. Because it’s powerful, especially when she talks about writing and making her passion into a pathway. Life isn’t always about leaning in, sometimes you have to take yourself out so you can pursue the right things. And that’s a lesson in change I definitely think more of us could learn. You can also tune into Emma’s podcast of the same name, here.
7. BETA: Quiet Girls Can Rule The World (there is more than one way to be the boss) – Rebecca Holman
Speaking of leaning in or out – BETA is a new book that I kept seeing people going mad about on bookstagram. When someone says ‘there’s more than one way to lead’, it all seems perfectly obvious – until you realise that all advice on leadership (particularly for women) comes down to being strong, fiery, fierce personalities who go to bed at 1am, wake up at 430am and Get Sh*t Done all day and night long. Holman takes a long look at that style of doing things and then gives a platform to the pragmatists, the quiet girls, the not-quite-so-perfectly-curated personalities. It’s never about championing Betas over Alphas, just about highlighting how very okay it is to not be Miranda Priestly if that’s not your style. Holman is candid and BETA speaks straight to anyone with Imposter Syndrome. A great life-coach-memoir-mashup for readers curious about different definitions of success and styles of leadership. (Also a curious contrast to The Glass Wall).
8. Men Without Women – Haruki Murakami
I devoured this book. Murakami writes his surrealist best when he deals with the ordinary, the mundane, the unassuming. In Men Without Women this is more than evident. In seven short stories he applies his acute powers of observation on the lives of men who find themselves alone. And between vanishing cats and ephemeral women, he illumines a landscape that is rooted in the everyday experiences of loneliness, loss, power, and sexuality. It’s about the curiosity that drives us, the decisions that define us. It’s quirky (as most of his writing is) and sad at times too. Change and the passing of time are absolutely central – there’s a lot of ‘what if’ moments in these stories – and I think that’s why this book is so positive and powerful for anyone who has ever felt caught in any kind of existential conundrum.
What books would you recommend this autumn?
There are so many more great books I could add to this list – not to mention ones I’m sure I’ll want to add from my to read list – but what would you add on here?
I also have a collection of deliciously scary novels for you all coming in October. From the gothic to the grotesque – prepare to be spooked!