I don’t think I believe in God, but I do believe that some higher power or divine energy has pulled me back to reading this fall. And I thank that power daily, for I have truly fallen back in love with reading.
Everything in my life is about to change, is already changing, and it won’t stop changing. I have numbered days left with the people and places around me, I have no earthly idea what the next year of my life will hold, and I am five weeks away from graduating college. My friends are getting jobs (like real ones with salaries and benefits and business casual attire) across the country, one just got accepted into medical school, and we are all starting to imagine what our lives look like when we don’t all share this same space.
Everyone is figuring this shit out. Surely I should have some idea of where I’m headed next by now, but nope.
And as a Virgo through and through, nothing scares me more than the inability to plan. I have never been a fan of spontaneity, of surprises, of uncertainty. I prefer plans, lists, and stability. And right now, the ground beneath me feels so incredibly unsturdy.
I have only felt this sort of groundlessness one other time in my life – during my senior year of high school. I suppose I should have expected that the same feeling would accompany my senior year of college.
Senior year of high school, I turned to reading like never before. I devoured books, finding within them the solid ground that I so longed for. I found knowledge, I found plotlines that unfolded just how they were supposed to, I found conclusions, and I found stories that made me believe that my own story would be just as conclusive, just as predestined, just as beautiful.
Books are serving the same function in my life right now. Books remind me to be excited about my story, even if some chapters seem scarier than others.
So these are the books I’ve turned to this fall, the books that are grounding me:
Harry Potter!!!! All 7 of them!!!!! – J.K. Rowling
(Disclaimer: I already owned these books, so I was not financially supporting the transphobic author in re-reading them, at least that’s what I tell myself)
I lived at home this summer, and my life was quite monotonous. Without fail, Monday through Saturday, I woke up with the sun, walked my dog around my neighborhood, exercised, had coffee, studied for eight hours for the LSAT, had dinner, then spent time with my boyfriend or parents. Often, I felt like a robot, like Bartleby the Scrivener.
I needed fantasy, imagination, magic. So I returned to my first true love: Harry Potter.
I re-read all 7 Harry Potter books this summer – on the beach, in bed at night, on my lunch breaks from studying, during my morning coffee, on planes, and on my childhood couch. And I had SO MUCH FUN!
I loved the escape. I loved the fantasy. I loved reading for fun again. I hadn’t realized how deeply I missed that until I started doing it again. I read hundreds of pages every day, and it didn’t feel like work.
Harry Potter got me back in the swing of things, pulled me out of my funk. My life this summer may have been monotonous, but I knew that each night my bedtime story would involve magic, witty wizards, fantastical creatures, and immersion in a world that was far more interesting than my own, and that made all the difference.
Everything I Know About Love: A Memoir – Dolly Aderton
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder
“I blame my high expectations for love on two things: the first is that I am the child of parents who are almost embarrassingly infatuated with each other; the other is the films I watched in my formative years.”
A book all about the trials and triumphs of growing up, of becoming a thinking, feeling, loving woman in a world that makes it so hard to think and to feel and to love and to be a woman. A book about bad dates and good friends and drunken debauchery and female friendship and self sufficiency. A book about everything I have been thinking about recently.
There is one chapter within this book about body image, eating disorders, and the desire to control that has not left my mind since. It would be a fabulous stand alone essay. In it, she writes the following:
“I carried on because, at every turn, society was rewarding me for my self inflicted torture… I had equated love with thinness, and to my horror, reinforcement of this belief was everywhere. My health was plummeting, my stocks were up.”
Glimmering with wit and insight, Dolly Aderton’s Everything I Know About Love is a gorgeous, entertaining, comforting memoir. Reading this book felt like having a sleepover with a close friend, talking once the lights are turned out, sharing regrets and fears and dreams and stories.
This book showed me that growing up and growing older has always been full of terrifying, glimmering uncertainty. I’m not the first person to face these challenges, and I won’t be the last either.
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence – Edited by Michele Filgate
This is a very unique book. The editor, Michele Filgate, wrote an essay of the same title years prior, which serves as the opening chapter in this collection. But she felt that she wasn’t done with the topic, and others had some thoughts to contribute. She asked fourteen writers to write on this one topic – what they don’t talk about with their mothers – and offered no other parameters.
This is a book full of longing, of yearning, of sorrow, and of love. The subject matter of this book includes the universal difficulty of learning that parents are independent humans, the yearning to know one’s mother better, and the traumatic effects of abuse, addiction, and abandonment.
Projected through a prism of gorgeous artistic authorship, this collection shows a portrait of a complex, vibrating, vivid, and vulnerable humanity. It is a book about how we hurt our mothers and how our mothers hurt us, about how they mess up and how we mess up in return, about what sort of relationships we can make after the hurting and the messing up. It brings the mother-child relationship off of the pedestal , showing mothers to be human beings rather than idealized caricatures of femininity.
“Mothers are idealized as protectors: a person who is caring and giving and who builds a person up rather than knocking them down. But very few of us can say that our mothers check all of these boxes. In many ways, mothers are set up to fail.”
This book grounded me in gratitude. I am one of those lucky few, with a mother that I admire on so many fronts: as a feminist woman, as a professional, as a wife, as a mother, and as a human being. I am so lucky to love and be loved by her.
But this book, through its stories, also reminded me of the profound connectivity that books offer. I felt like I found 15 friends, 15 people who chose to show me the deepest parts of themselves. And I loved them for it.
I’m Glad My Mom Died – Jennette McCurdy
As a quick PSA, I would recommend being very, very mentally stable when you read this book. I read the majority of this book in one sitting, basking in full sun, watching my puppy chase bugs on our porch. If I hadn’t been surrounded by such joy, I might have spiraled. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder
We all remember Jennette McCurdy – the charming tomboy, Sam, who stole all of our hearts on iCarly with her goofy humor. Well Sam? Sam grew up wrote a book, and now I don’t think I’ll ever watch iCarly again.
I’m Glad My Mom Died is a heartbreaking and infatuating and hilarious memoir about the struggles of Jennette McCurdy’s childhood in the acting sphere – pursuing a dream that was never her own.
With unflinching candor, McCurdy details the detrimental narcissism of her mother, the abuse of her director, the messaging from both her mother and her field that pushed her toward a near fatal eating disorder, the burnout that led to addiction, the death of her mother, and finally, recovery.
“Through writing, I feel power for maybe the first time in my life, I don’t have to say someone else’s words. I can write my own. I can be myself for once … Writing is the opposite of performing to me. Performing feels inherently fake. Writing feels inherently real.”
Jennette McCurdy is brave, powerful, resilient, and vulnerable. In a world that tried its damn hardest to make her hard, she remained soft. And I think we can all learn from that.
The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
A spy novel rife with mystery, intrigue, suspense, and complexity.
I still find it hard to believe that this is Nguyen’s debut novel. Few people manage a Pulitzer Prize winner on the first try.
The Sympathizer begins in South Vietnam in the spring of 1975. Saigon is about to fall. A South Vietnamese general, with the help of our narrator, the captain, is drawing up a list of those who will be given spots on the last flights out of the country.
But the captain is a mole. He is working for the Viet Cong army, providing intelligence of the Southern Vietnamese strategy along the way. Never blowing his cover, the captain flees Vietnam, takes refuge in Los Angeles, and attempts to live straddled between languages, identities, political theories, and countries.
“What I learned, against my will, is that it’s impossible to live among a foreign people and not become changed by them.”
This book kept me within its grasp while also educating me about the reality, effects, and legacy of the Vietnam War in films, literature, and political theory of today. History nerds – this one’s for you.
Untamed – Glennon Doyle
I started listening to Glennon Doyle’s podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, around late August, and I haven’t shut up about it since. I send the episodes to all of my friends, talk to my therapist about it, and even got one roommate to read Untamed also. Glennon is a person who struggles with her own obsession with control, as am I. I feel like we’d be good friends if we ever got to meet. Something about the way she speaks just resonates within me, like I’ve thought or heard all of this before. Like she can see me.
“What scares me more than feeling it all is missing it all.”
“This is the most revolutionary thing a woman can do: the next precise thing, one thing at a time, without asking permission or offering explanation.”
Untamed is a book about how women are tamed from birth by the patriarchy, how we are taught to make ourselves smaller and quieter and less intimidating and less magical. We are taught how to act, how to be, what to look like, who to love, what to dream of, and ultimately, who to be.
Untamed tries to show us how to break out of the cages that lead us to a “good enough” life in order to go seek the most beautiful, most true life we can live.
“It might take us a lifetime. Luckily, a lifetime is exactly how long we have.”
Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole – Susan Cain
During my last therapy session, I was conveying just how sad I felt about college ending. About how sometimes my fear of ends make living in the now hard. About how I am a person predisposed to nostalgia, to sentimentality, to bittersweetness. “It’s like nostalgia is my default state,” I said, and she scribbled something on her notepad (which is never a good sign) and then began telling me about this book.
I know it’s not actually homework, but when someone tells me they think I would benefit from reading a book, I usually don’t put up much of a fight. And I don’t really mind homework anyway. I got to reading.
Full disclosure, I am only halfway done with this book. But I am doing my homework.
Bittersweet uses a mix of research, storytelling, and memoir to reveal the value of a melancholic outlook on life, shows that this can be a quiet force to help us overcome our personal and collective pain.
I’m looking forward to finishing this one, to learning the lesson I’m meant to, to seeing just what she might’ve been scribbling on the notepad that day in therapy.
So there ya have it, my Fall 2022 Reading List. More to come.