Our Daily Read – Summer Edition

Rosie loved this book almost as much as I did.

Rosie loved this book almost as much as I did.

I love clothes, but perhaps I love books even more. Reading has been a constant in my life, books have been my companions on every adventure (however wonderful or ill-advised) and the voices of some of the best works I’ve read still play in my head like long-lost friends. Since I started working on my own, I've found I've got the choice to prioritise reading and taking some time for myself again, so I've been trying to broaden my literary horizons away from my usual space of science-based non-fiction. This means I've consciously gravitated towards more indulgent titles that are not supposed to be digested one chapter at a time in order to fit in with how many tube stops it is until I get to the office (which has been how I have read, primarily, for the past five years), but savoured and pored over lovingly in great swathes of reading time, lounging on the bed or sofa and accompanied by a blanket and a mug of hot chocolate.

I’ve long wanted to start a book club, and I think this month might be when I look into making it a reality, but for now, I thought I’d round up some of the best books I’ve read over the past couple of weeks. I 'm trying to read a wide variety of stuff so if the collection seems eclectic, that’s because it is… hopefully you enjoy one or two or all of them – and let me know if you’ve read any already and loved or loathed them, or if you have any recommendations for September. Talking about books is (Chris Traeger voice) *quite literally* my favourite thing…

The Rules Do Not Apply – Ariel Levy

Non-fiction memoir, best for anyone who feels at a bit of a crossroads in life and needs some words of wisdom from someone who’s been through the mill

For fans of : Cheryl Strayed, Nora Ephron, David Sedaris

I wanted what we all want: everything. We want a mate who feels like family and a lover who is exotic, surprising. We want to be youthful adventurers and middle-aged mothers. We want intimacy and autonomy, safety and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, cosiness and thrills. But we can’t have it all.

Possibly one of the most life-changing books I think I will ever read (although you’ll have to come back to me on that as I only finished it an hour ago). Ariel Levy worked at the New Yorker, had a great relationship, a beautiful house and was pregnant. And then, eight weeks later, none of that was true. Levy is unashamedly honest about her own faults, and discusses the reason why women are so easily swayed by the dream of ‘having it all’ that they’ll completely explode their life in the pursuit of it. I bought it to read on a train journey and instead, picked it up to read the first page earlier today and then finished it in one sitting. When it was over, I felt a strange mixture of sadness, joy and a real sense that whatever you choose to do with your life – that’s okay. You do you. (God I love this book.)

Killers Of The Flower Moon – David Grann

The true yet little-known and deeply unsettling story of oil, money, murder and the birth of the FBI - non-fiction that feels almost too dramatic to be true. Best for reading when Donald Trump has done something awful and you feel helpless. So, probably every day until 2020.

For fans of: John Grisham, John Krakauer, Tana French and Hillary Clinton (obviously)

It is a question in my mind whether this jury is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder - or merely cruelty to animals.

When the case of Standing Rock hit the headlines, it was a heartbreaking tale of how private enterprise could destroy something so devoutly sacred without repercussions (in fact, with endorsement of, the government). And while the timing of Grann's book could never have been planned to coincide with this latest tragedy to befall native Americans, this tale of one of the most deeply troubling stains on the country's history feels remarkably apposite today.  

Driven from their homes onto what the white newcomers believed was ‘barren land’, the Osage tribe signed an agreement that whatever was found on the land was theirs. It eventually transpired that they were sitting on bountiful oil reserves (some reports have it that it was more than was found in the entire rest of the United States), turning them into the wealthiest people per capita on the planet. What followed was a relentless campaign from white men to destroy the matriarchal structure of the Osage tribe by picking off (primarily female) family members by whatever means necessary - often marrying them with the intention to kill, as this meant they would inherit the wealth of the family. 

The story focusses on one family that was decimated one by one in suspicious circumstances, but the message is clear – this is a small scale look at the wider issue, that the relentless persecution of the tribe was nothing less than genocide. The death tolls continued to rise, and there was no inkling of investigation until national media coverage arrived. As local law enforcement departments were being corrupted by the wealthy white men, the FBI was founded to investigate from a federal level, adding an additional layer of historical significance to this really tragic tale that goes further into the relationship of police work and corporate crime than anything I've read in a long time.

The inclusion of photographs of the subjects is an excellent touch - it's so meticulously researched and beautifully written that it's not until you turn the page and see their faces staring back at you that you remember it's a true story. It’s fascinating, terrifying and sadly, absolutely pertinent in 2017.  As Grann says, “history is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset.”  Unfortunately it doesn't look as though we learned too much this time.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Non-sappy but uplifting fiction, best for reading on a wintery train journey when you can devour it in one go and feel the full warmth of Eleanor’s tale

For fans of : The Rosie Project, Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night Time

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine 4.jpg
If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.

Profound loneliness has shied away from the media attention and blockbuster bestsellers that other inner demons have received in the past few years. Luckily for us, however, although Eleanor may be lonely, she has a lot to say. The reasons for her loneliness unfurl as you get deeper into the book, slowly blossoming to reveal the true meaning and depth of her solitary life, but also a heartening sense in yourself as the reader that you never truly know what’s going on in someone else’s head and that a little empathy can go a long, long way. And also, that however introverted you are, we will all fall hopelessly in love with a rockstar at some point.  That’s just the way of the world, I’m afraid, whether you're chronically lonely and talk to your houseplant for company or not. 

There's no fireworks or car chases or civil unrest here - it's just a sharp and funny look at one woman trying to make her way in life, and to be honest, this inward-facing, navel-gazing approach is refreshing when everything else is jostling for space as a piece of political commentary.  I've recommended this to a few people, and every single one of them loved it as much as I did - old, young, male, female. It's a fuzzy cuddle of a book and perfect for turning off your phone (Eleanor would approve) and getting stuck into it by the fire. 

How To Murder Your Life – Cat Marnell

Non-fiction memoir that’s the complete opposite of self-help – in fact it should probably come with a ‘don’t try this at home’ sticker

For fans of : Lena Dunham, Caitlin Moran

We’d talk a little and he’d spot me the fifteen pills to get through the week. As soon as I got my next script, I’d pay him back. Then when Marco was inevitably short himself a week or two later, I’d spot him until his next doctor’s appointment. We never screwed each other over. Pillhead honor code.

I’ve read a few drug memoirs – primarily of rockstars, models and people of that ilk who rely on substances to give themselves a bit more, well, substance . This book, though, is one of the first I’ve read that believes that drugs are, in fact, inanimate objects, and for most people, it is a choice to actively ingest them at every possible availability. Which is exactly what ex-beauty editor Cat Marnell was doing. There’s no self-help angle to this book, because there doesn’t need to be. Her unashamedly honest tales of using and abusing whatever she could get her hands on is sad, grubby and a tale of self-destruction so wanton, that it operates as a clear manual on what not to do.

“Who could I call?” she writes. “I scrolled through my phone. I had psychiatrists; I had coke dealers; I had f--- boys. Why didn’t I have any friends?” When I read it in partnership with Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, two books that on the surface couldn’t be further apart, their opposite takes on loneliness make a yin & yang partnership that I kind of enjoyed - it was like having an angel and a devil on your shoulder simultaneously as Eleanor's voice was still ringing in my ears with disapproval at Cat's behaviour, and Cat would think Eleanor was too vanilla to even converse with. If I'm totally honest, though, I wouldn't read this book again or recommend it too highly as it kind of frustrated me with the sheer level of rich white girl who's daddy bails her out of every scenario (up to and including her spotting $3k from her 81 year old grandma to buy pills), but I'm glad I read it once, if only for the voyeurism of that lifestyle. It's like Gossip Girl meets Jeremy Kyle - but somehow ends up as less than the sum of it's parts. 

If you made it to the end of that loooooong literary word vomit, bravo. I found this poem online. I thought it was really sweet.

Book stores don't sell books;
Just paper, ink, and thread.
The only books you truly own
Are the books that you have read.