It’s November, and 2022 is almost over already! I’m not ready to confront this just yet, so instead, I’m going to take a look back at the months that just passed.
This year, I’m aiming to read fifty-five books, which will be my highest number yet! I read eight books in September and October, and five of them really stood out. I was lucky enough to have these excellent novels lined up, as I travelled a lot during these months. They helped me to kill time on trains, planes and waiting rooms. I also got Covid at the end of October, so finished number five almost in one day!
Immediately, after reading it, I recommended this novel on a list of books for Sally Rooney fans. It really reminded me of her simple, thought-led prose.
‘How to Fall Out of Love Madly’ is a comforting book, not in a heartwarming way, but as a reminder that we’re not the only ones to have felt a certain way. It’s made up of small yet universal experiences. At its core, it’s a novel about unrequited love, not only with someone you can’t have, but with someone you supposedly have, and yet you’re alone in that love.
The novel is split into three perspectives, with the third coming in much later. It takes you through their experiences now in love, heartbreak and friendship, while also including previous experiences and how these affected them. It’s a bit of a slow read and lacks a major plot, but I personally love a thoughtful book to curl up with.
“Joy and Annie are friends and roommates whose thirty-something lives aren’t exactly what they’d imagined. To make ends meet, they decide to rent their extra bedroom to Theo, who charms Joy with his salt-and-pepper hair and adoration of their one-eyed cat. When Annie goes to live with her boyfriend, Theo and Joy settle into a comfortable domesticity. Then Theo brings home Celine, the girlfriend he’s never mentioned, who is possibly the most stunning woman Joy has ever seen. Joy resolves to do whatever it takes to hold on to him, falling ever deeper into an emotional hellscape of her own making. She is too obsessed to realize that Celine’s beauty doesn’t protect her from pain. Haunted by an event from her past, Celine can’t escape her shame and finds herself in an endless cycle of self-sabotage.
Annie is baffled by Joy’s senseless devotion to Theo, but she’s consumed by her own obsessions: she can’t stop parsing her commitment-phobic boyfriend’s texts in an exhausting mission to maintain his approval. At work, where she fully embraces her natural assertiveness, Annie is a star. But when an anonymous letter lands on her desk accusing her esteemed and supportive boss of sexual misconduct, she is forced to decide who and what she’s willing to stand up for.” - How to Fall Out of Love Madly, Jana Casale
I already knew of Jennette from her Nickelodeon days, but even without that, the title of this memoir would’ve caught my attention immediately. There has been a lot of discussion surrounding this brutally honest memoir, and I have to recommend it. I think too many people are taking fault with the title before even reading the book. This memoir was difficult to read, as the abuse and subsequent struggles with mental illness are told plainly and honestly. But you have to respect however Jennette chooses to take this trauma. Additionally, by the end it is clear the title is also a reference to how the death of her mother allowed her to finally break free from her self-sabotaging cycles.
“Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.” - I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette McCurdy
I found it impossible to put this book down, which proved difficult as I couldn’t help but blush while reading it. I read it before bed, on the train, in a waiting room and anywhere else I could snatch a minute, but always felt extremely naughty for doing so.
This novel is funny, erotic, heartbreaking, moving and seductive. It’s about hunger. That hunger for food, as it very clearly discusses eating disorders and fatphobia. But also the hunger for sex, love and belonging, as so often we try to fill ourselves with one or the other.
I feel nervous recommending this book to friends as it is quite graphic, but to you, reader, I’ll be honest: read this book. It was almost vulgar at moments, but that is exactly what makes it such a good novel. It was a completely unfiltered mind and I think that can scare us a reader, as we’re used to likeable characters and appropriate boundaries. But screw appropriate, this book is real.
“Rachel is 24, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control through obsessive food rituals while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals to nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting - until her therapist encourages her to take a 90-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.
Rachel soon meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam - by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family - and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.” - Milk Fed, Melissa Broder
This was what I like to call a ‘blind read’! This is when I pick up a book randomly in a bookstore with no prior knowledge, and go off the cover and blurb. It’s just about trusting my gut, and this one proved to be a great find.
Tish managed to seamlessly weave a story of loneliness and love, and set it against the backdrop of the troubles, using historical events to paint the timeline. This novel takes place over several decades and we hopelessly follow Mary praying for a happier ending. It was quite a sad book to read, but also a beautiful and simple story. Tish has an almost poetic style of prose that keeps you enraptured page after page for the most mundane details.
“When she was young Mary Rattigan wanted to fly. She was going to take off like an angel from heaven and leave the muck and madness of troubled Northern Ireland behind. Nothing but the Land of Happy Ever After would do for her.
But as a Catholic girl with a B.I.T.C.H. for a Mammy and a silent Daddy, things did not go as she and Lizzie Magee had planned.
Now, five children, twenty-five years, an end to the bombs and bullets, enough whiskey to sink a ship and endless wakes and sandwich teas later, Mary's alone. She's learned plenty of hard lessons and missed a hundred steps towards the life she'd always hoped for.
Will she finally find the courage to ask for the love she deserves? Or is it too late?” - Before My Actual Heart Breaks, Tish Delaney
This book came up on my Tiktok feed and I added it to my Goodreads TBR list without much further thought. Then in October, I was going to be travelling for a week and wanted some books on my Kindle to read, and so I randomly added this one.
Wow. This book was definitely unexpected! I went in expecting more of a ‘Devil Wears Prada’ only in book publishing, which I love reading about. But it was definitely more of a ‘Get Out’ or ‘Stepford Wives’ vibe. The book took a little while to get going, but the last third was impossible to put down. Perfectly timed, as I got Covid and relished the distraction at home!
I really liked reading this novel also for the insights it gave about being a black woman in such industries, including microaggressions and expectations. While it was quite 1984-esque, it also was rooted in reality and held important messages.
“Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.
Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.
It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.” - The Other Black Girl, Zakiya Dalila Harris
There you have it, the five best books I read in September and October, all of which you could add to your list before this year ends. And don’t worry, I’ll be back at the end of the year to round up on my top reads of 2022. In the meantime, feel free to check out the best books I read in 2021 for inspiration.
Do you have any books that you think I need to read before the end of 2022? Let me know in the comments. I still have to read 7 books to meet my yearly goal, so I’m open to any ideas or genres. Especially if it’s your own book, let me know so I can get a copy!
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Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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