1. ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL (2015)
Greg Gaines is a socially awkward teenager who spends most of his time with Earl. Although Earl is arguably his only real friend, Greg insists that they are purely co-workers as they spend most of their time making films together. On the first day back as a senior in high school, he is forced by his mother to befriend Rachel, who suffers from leukaemia, leading to an undying friendship between the three.
Starting the year off right by rereading one of my favourite books. I bought this in a second-hand shop in Melbourne in 2016 and it was the first book that I read on the long coach journeys travelling up the East coast of Australia. It will always hold fond memories for me and is honestly the funniest book I’ve ever read. Also, the film is also currently on Netflix (a little different from the book and the film ending made me cry) – it’s well worth a watch!
“So if this were a normal book about a girl with leukaemia, I would probably talk a shitload about all the meaningful things Rachel had to say as she got sicker and sicker, and also probably we would fall in love and have some incredibly fulfilling romantic thing and she would die in my arms. But I don’t feel like lying to you. She didn’t have meaningful things to say, and we definitely didn’t fall in love. She seemed less pissed with me after my stupid outburst, but she basically just went from irritable to quiet.”
2. BRAVE NEW WORLD – ALDOUS HUXLEY (1932)
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society which revolves around science and efficiency. It is inhabited by genetically modified citizens whose emotions and individuality are conditioned out of them at a young age. Through clever use of genetic engineering, reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, classical conditioning and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, all its members are happy consumers in this dystopian society. Bernard Marx seems alone in harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…
I’m not usually a fan of classics as I generally prefer to read modern books on modern topics. However, we stayed at James’ family home for a little longer than expected so I’d finished the books that I took with me. I raided James’ bookshelf which is full of classics, so I decided to give Brave New World a go as I liked the sound of the plot. Overall, it’s a really interesting concept but the writing style didn’t keep me hugely engaged. I also recently discovered that it’s been made into a TV series so I’m really looking forward to checking that out.
“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”
3. HOW TO BE A GROWN UP – DAISY BUCHANAN (2017)
Award-winning journalist and Grazia agony aunt, Daisy Buchanan, dispenses all the emotional and practical advice to negotiate a difficult decade. She covers everything from how to become more successful and confident at work, how to feel pride in yourself without needing validation from others to the importance of making mistakes and everything in between.
While a lot of it felt quite obvious to me already, it was great to read about someone else’s experience of the decade. I found reassurance within its pages; this book really will make feel like you’re doing ok wherever you are in life, while being a bloody funny, honest and warm read in the process.
“It’s OK not to be ambitious in your career, as long as you’re always ambitious for your own wellbeing and happiness.”
4. EXCITING TIMES – NAOISE DOLAN (2020)
22-year-old Ava just moved from Ireland to Hong Kong and is trying to figure out what to do with her life. She spends her days teaching English to rich children and later befriends Julian, a banker who likes to spend money on her and lets her move into his guest room. When Julian leaves Hong Kong for work, she meets Edith, a lawyer who is refreshingly enthusiastic and actually listens to her when she talks. And then Julian tells Ava he is coming back to Hong Kong – should Ava return to the easy compatibility of her life with Julian or take a leap into the unknown with Edith?
I’d been so excited to read this since I first heard about it last year. I found Ava’s post university career choice highly relatable and her observations of Hong Kong were spot on. Parts of it made my heart ache as it’s been too long since I’ve been back. The writing is superb, dryly funny and I got to know the characters really well – the dialogue is brilliant. While I didn’t find Ava hugely likeable, I did find her interesting. I loved the way that it wove in class and culture, the dissection of the personal and financial transactions that life is made of and its echo of Sally Rooney’s Normal People in the words left unsaid.
“I enjoyed conversations where I wasn’t attempting to persuade anyone, where I just said precisely what I thought. I got tired of making myself acceptable.”
5. SWING TIME – ZADIE SMITH (2016)
Swing Time is about two brown girls from Willesden who dream of being dancers. Only one – Tracey – has the talent. But the other has ideas which take her further than she could ever have imagined. We are taken on a journey through this close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, but never quite forgotten.
Tracey makes it to the West End but struggles with adult life, while her friend leaves the old neighborhood behind. She becomes an assistant to a famous singer, Aimee, travelling the world from North West London to West Africa, where Aimee hatches out a grand – yet misguided – philanthropic plan to set up a school for girls. Simultaneously, we learn about the power and lifestyle of the one percent.
I’m not sure how it’s taken me so long to get around to reading a Zadie Smith book but here we are – better late than never. The characters and the experiences that they go through are complex, detailed and feel real which really immersed me into the story. I also found her social commentary on topics such as friendship, family, class, race and celebrity culture insightful and witty. An enjoyable read and I can’t wait to get my hands on her other books!
“I told her she was good. The rest didn’t matter. I told her everybody had tried their best within the limits of being themselves.”
6. THE VERSIONS OF US – LAURA BARNETT (2015)
Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day. It is a story about the choices that we make and the different paths that our lives might follow.
This book had been on my to-read list for a long time so I’m really grateful that my pal, Sophia, bought it for my birthday! I really enjoyed it – the characters and storylines are skilfully portrayed, interesting and realistic. My only slight problem was that as there are three separate story lines to follow, I occasionally had to flip back to the previous chapter of that particular version to work out what was going on. It’s an undeniably brilliant and clever book but I’d recommend making a few notes as you go to remember the key facts and characters from each version, especially if you don’t plan on reading it all in one go.
“Good enough for whom, Eva? Surely it only ever needs to be good enough for you.”
7. WOMEN DON’T OWE YOU PRETTY – FLORENCE GIVEN (2020)
Florence’s debut book is the ultimate guide for anyone who wants to challenge the out-dated and limiting narratives supplied to us by the patriarchy that we have been bombarded with our whole life. Exploring all the progressive corners of the feminist conversation; from insecurity projection and refusing to find comfort in other women’s flaws, to deciding whether to date or dump them, all the way through to unpacking the male gaze and how it shapes our identity. It will teach you to determine feminism on your own terms because after all, you are the love of your own life.
While the content wasn’t ground-breaking to me, it was still an interesting read. At 21, Florence writes with the wisdom of someone much older and I have no doubt that this book has and will continue to help a lot of women. I think it would a beneficial addition to Sex Education and PSHE lessons in secondary school too. The illustrations and quotes are gorgeous, and you can really see Florence’s positive energy shine through!
“Promise yourself to stop buying into people’s potential. You’re not a start-up investor.”
“Stop settling for crumbs, you deserve the whole damn cake.”
“It’s not fair on your mind to compare your lowest moments to another person’s highlight reel, especially first thing in the morning.”
I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these and your thoughts on them too!