1) THE NAKED JAPE: UNCOVERING THE HIDDEN WORLD OF JOKES – JIMMY CARR & LUCY GREEVES (2006)
Is Man the only animal that laughs? Why are clowns so scary? Do jokes make children more intelligent? Are men funnier than women? Can God take a joke? What’s brown and sticky? Top comedian Jimmy Carr and fellow joke-lover Lucy Greeves tour the strange and wonderful world of jokes – to find out what’s funny and why. With over 400 of the best jokes ever told, The Naked Jape is both a lesson in joke-making and a damn good laugh.
I found this book simultaneously funny and educational. It’s done a brilliant job of explaining topics such as why jokes are important, what makes a joke funny, different theories of humour and why we laugh at offensive jokes spanning across gender, ethnicity and politics. There is a joke at the bottom of each page and here’s one of my favourites:
According to Freud, what comes between fear and sex?
2) THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY – MATT HAIG (2020)
Nora’s life has been going from bad to worse. Then at the stroke of midnight on her last day on Earth, she finds herself transported to a library. She is given the chance to undo her regrets and try out each of the other lives she could have lived. This raises the ultimate question: with infinite choices, what is the best way to live?
I’d heard so many great things about this book and the plot sounded right up my street, so I was ecstatic when Tina surprised me with a copy on World Book Day! I loved the short chapters and how easy it was to read so I found myself racing through it, folding multiple pages to remind me of my favourite quotes. Nora has lived her life trying to please others and most of her regrets seem to centre around this theme. However, I loved the way that the book talked about regrets and how most of the time, our regrets are things that cause a major burden on our lives but are actually out of our control. Through trying out all these different lives, it was satisfying to see how Nora evolved as she came to realise what life is all about.
“It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would have been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”
3) THE WOLF OF WALL STREET – JORDAN BELFORT (2008)
A memoir by former stockbroker and trader Jordan Belfort, documenting his wild rise in the late 80s, and his subsequent fall, through a haze of drugs, women, corruption and fraud.
The Wolf of Wall Street is one of my favourite films, so I was intrigued to learn more about the man behind it all. I’ll start by saying that this book isn’t one for the easily offended; the way that he talks about women and ethnic minorities is downright offensive. However, I found it to be an interesting read overall but would have been even more compelling if it had been more concise and condensed. While his behaviour was unlawful, Jordan was undeniably clever and managed to make thousands of dollars a minute; let’s just say that The Notorious B.I.G. wasn’t wrong when he said ‘mo money mo problems.’
“Without action, the best intentions in the world are nothing more than that: intentions.”
4) HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW? – HOLLY BOURNE (2018)
Tori Bailey is a bestselling author who’s inspired millions of women around the world with her self-help memoir and she has the perfect relationship to boot. But Tori has been living a lie. Her long-term boyfriend won’t even talk about marriage, while everyone around her is getting engaged and having babies. And when her best friend Dee – her plus one, the only person who understands the madness – falls in love, suddenly Tori’s in terrifying danger of being left behind. When the world tells you to be one thing and turning thirty brings with it a loud ticking clock, it takes courage to walk your own path. It’s time for Tori to practice what she’s preached, but the question is: is she brave enough?
I devoured this book within two days and loved how relatable parts of it felt – I especially enjoyed the social media snippets discussing the reality behind her posts and how she views other people’s posts. Protagonist Tori is a frustrating character who is simultaneously difficult to warm to but impossible to give up on. I spent most of the book willing her to leave her long term, toxic relationship with Tom, an emotionally abusive narcissist. It was exasperating to see how she justified his horrible behaviour, clinging onto any semblance of affection that he gave her – while trying so hard to ignore the nagging inner voice telling her that his behaviour is not OK.
This unhappiness led her to become bitter and insecure, constantly comparing herself to her married friends with children. While Tori didn’t necessarily want children, she still felt the burden of expectation that she somehow isn’t complete without a husband and child, so let’s get a round of applause for her pal Sandy who finally makes her see sense! Strap yourselves in for a rollercoaster of emotions and challenges as she comes to terms with the idea that being single and childless in your thirties is a valid way of life, no more or less valid than the lifestyles of those who are partnered and/or have children.
“Turning thirty is like playing musical chairs. The music stops, and everyone just marries whoever they happen to be sitting on.”
5) A WOMAN IS NO MAN – ETAF RUM (2019)
In Brooklyn, Arab-American Deya is starts to meet with suitors when she turns eighteen. Although she doesn’t want to get married, her grandparents give her no choice. History is repeating itself: Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine for America as a teenager to marry Adam. While Deya was raised to believe her parents died in a car accident, a secret note from a mysterious, yet familiar-looking woman makes Deya question everything she was told about her past. As the narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.
Let me start by saying that this book is beautifully written and gave me a clear insight into conservative Palestinian culture. While Rum’s depiction may not represent all Palestinian families, the fact that it happens at all made me feel infuriated, angry and sad at the injustices that some Palestinian women have to endure. I learnt that their only role in life is to marry, have children (girls are seen as worthless so they need to keep trying until they have a boy) and to serve the men in their lives. They are beaten and raped by their husbands in a culture in which this is normalised. As many women are encouraged to marry young without having had the opportunity to gain a higher education or work experience, they are forced to become entirely reliant on their husbands. Happiness and freedom are not options for these women; family reputation, honour and preserving cultural values trumps all.
I felt such sadness for Isra who obeyed everything that she was told, hoping that it would make her husband and his family love her but it didn’t. This upbringing must be even more challenging for Palestinian women, like Deya and Sarah, who grew up in America where women are given the freedom to study at higher education, marry for love when they are ready and where domestic abuse and rape are illegal. The way that these women overcame these huge hurdles in their own ways made me have so much respect for them. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and loved that Rum gave a voice to those who are usually voiceless. However, reading from the perspective of someone who has grown up with much more freedom as a woman, I did find it quite uncomfortable to read at times.
“She knew she had to teach them how to love themselves, that this was the only way they had a chance at happiness. Only she didn’t see how she could when the world pressed shame into women like pillows into their faces. She wanted to save her daughters from her fate, but she couldn’t seem to find a way out.”
6) WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT LOVE – LAURA MUCHA (2019)
Poets, philosophers and artists have been trying to explain romantic love for centuries, but it remains one of the most complex and intimidating terrains to navigate. Laura Mucha has interviewed hundreds of strangers, from the ages of 8 to 95 in more than 40 countries, asking them to share their most personal stories, feelings and insights about love. These intimate and illuminating conversations raised important questions, such as:
– How does your upbringing influence your relationships?
– Does love at first sight exist? Should you ‘just know’?
– What should you look for in a partner?
– Why do people cheat?
– How do you know when it’s time to walk away?
I really enjoyed this book and the comprehensive way that it combined research, statistics and theories in psychology, philosophy, anthropology with interviews on the many facets of love. The latter supplemented the statistics and theories brilliantly by providing in-depth, personal examples. Although I found the overload of footnotes quite distracting, it was an insightful and interesting read overall.
“I found myself coming back to what felt like an inescapable contradiction in romantic relationships: as humans, we often want both safety and excitement, independence and unity – and we want them all at the same time. Monogamy doesn’t solve this problem and neither does non-monogamy. And I suspect that’s because the problem isn’t solvable.”