I thought January was a busy month reading wise – how wrong I was. As it turned out, I spent a lot of February feeling unwell and drained thanks to my IBS and anxiety being constantly in competition for the title of Ultimate Fucking Life Ruiner, so, it meant that I was also spending more time that usual with my head in a book. While they didn’t completely take away how shitty I was feeling, they certainly helped me escape and switch off for a bit, which is definitely what I needed. There was quite a mixed bag in terms of what I read last month, so let’s crack on! Here are my thoughts on my February reading list.
Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber, 2017) ★★★
From the Back:
“Frances is twenty one years old, cool-headed and observant. A student in Dublin and an aspiring writer, at night she performs spoken word with her best friend Bobbi, who used to be her girlfriend. When they are interviewed and then befriended by Melissa, a well known journalist who is married to Nick, an actor, they enter a world of beautiful houses, raucous dinner pirates and holidays in Brittany, beginning a complex ménage á quatre. But when Frances and Nick get unexpectedly closer, the sharply witty and emotion-averse Frances is forced to honestly confront her own vulnerabilities for the first time.”
I purchased this alongside Normal People, which I read last year, but I only just got around to actually reading this one. Following on from the announcement that Sally Rooney was releasing a new novel later this year, I really wanted to make sure I read Conversations With Friends beforehand. While this wasn’t particularly my favourite read of the month, it was certainly enjoyable. Let’s be real – the characters were AWFUL people and ridiculously self destructive, but I guess that’s a testament to how well Rooney writes. It was quite a slow start, but generally, as the novel went on I became more engrossed in what would happen next and I couldn’t really call what was going to happen at the end.
They recently confirmed the cast for the TV adaptation of this too, which includes Joe Alwyn as Nick, and I can’t bloody wait for 2022 when it comes out. It’s also going to be directed by Lenny Abrahamson, who worked on Normal People, so I’m betting it’s going to be another binge-worthy series. Will it become one that I develop an unhealthy obsession with? Time will tell.
Normal People – Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber, 2018) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying – something life changing begins. Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.”
Yes, I read it again. Deal with it. I’m not going to go into too much detail as I’ve already talked about it in a previous post, but I’ll at least tell you why I read it again. As you’ll know, I’m now at 20+ watches of the TV adaptation of Normal People, but with the book, believe it or not, I’ve only read it once (during the first lockdown and peak Paul obsession), so after reading Conversations With Friends, I thought I’d give it another go. I enjoyed it a lot more the second time around and managed to pick up a few details I hadn’t the first time around, and again it was quite interesting comparing the differences between the book and the TV show.
The Love Square – Laura Jane Williams (Avon, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back::
“She’s single. But it can still be complicated…
Penny Bridge has always been unlucky in love. But a change in circumstances sees her stepping into a new life in a new town, where the last thing she expects is to meet a remarkable man. Followed by another. And then another…And all of them want to date her. Penny has to choose between three. But will any of them be The One?”
I absolutely loved One Stop – Laura Jane Williams’ first novel – which I read last year, so when I head about The Love Square, I knew I had to read it. This was one book that I read during the peak of my IBS/anxiety episode, so it was certainly a welcome distraction. It was your typical rom-com style book, with an instantly likeable main character, as well as an ensemble of supporting characters including the supportive best friend and sister, the loveable relative, and so on. If you’re not a fan of the typical rom-com genre, this probably isn’t for you, but if you are a fan of this genre, I would definitely recommend reading. Despite fitting a number of rom-com tropes, I was still hooked from the first chapter, and it was a delightful bit of escapism during a time when I was really struggling.
How to Tell Depression to Piss Off: 40 Ways to Get Your Life Back – James Withey (Robinson, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back:
“When James Withey was first unwell with depression, he was desperate to know what to do. What action should I take? What should I be saying to myself? How do I manage something that feels utterly unmanageable?
Trying to manage the range of symptoms depression throws at you is like navigating a pitch-black ocean when you can’t swim. What you need is a guide. A really good one.
How to Tell Depression to Piss Off gives you forty ways to get to a better place with this terrible illness. These tips will help you prioritise you and not the illness. The advice is born out of James’ own experience of dealing with clinical depression and many years of professional work with people with depression. James has been on both sides and knows how destructive this illness is, but he also knows how resilient we can be.
You don’t need to read this book in order. Dip in and out if you’d like to. No matter where you are with your depression, this book can help and provide some much-needed humour along the way.”
Okay, so I don’t actually have depression, but I think anyone with OCD or anxiety will tell you that bouts of depression can certainly come with it. The book also had some really good Amazon reviews too, so I thought it would certainly be worth looking at if it gave me a few tips. Plus, the sweary title instantly appealed to me. I wasn’t disappointed – the book is filled with some great advice on dealing with depression, and it doesn’t weigh you down with heavy psychology terms and clinical advice. It’s practical, easy advice to follow, and a lot of it was stuff I was reading for the first time. James addresses you like a friend and while his advice is simple, it’s so effective. Again, I was really struggling when I read this, so a lot of the tips in the book were incredibly comforting to read. One of my favourite snippets of advice was rather than taking things day by day, take it second by second. The idea being that every second you go through is one that you’re surviving, and that’s amazing.
I followed this advice when my anxiety was really bad and honestly, it helped so much. It all goes back to being in the moment, and on days where you literally feel like nothing is going to make you feel better, taking the day second by second can be so helpful, and on days when your mental health is at its worst, that in itself is an achievement. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, and I would strongly recommend you give it a read – it’s packed with great advice, plus, it’s a really quick read that you can also dip in and out of if you need to. It’s definitely one of the most helpful mental health books I’ve read.
The Shelf – Helly Acton (Zaffre, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back:
“Everyone in Amy’s life seems to be getting married, having children and settling down (or so Instagram tells her) and she feels like she’s falling behind. So, when her long-term boyfriend surprises her with a dream holiday, she thinks he’s going to finally pop the Big Question. But the dream turns into a nightmare when, instead, she finds herself on the set of a Big Brother-style reality television show, The Shelf.
Along with five other women, Amy is heartlessly dumped live on TV and must compete in a series of humiliating and obnoxious tasks in the hope of being crowned “The Keeper.”
While inside the house, will Amy learn there are worse things than being ‘left on the shelf?’”
I had mixed feelings over The Shelf initially. The male characters were absolute wankers, from Amy’s self absorbed boyfriend to the cringe-worthy host of the TV show, and I’d often find myself getting angry over the things they said and did. However, the more of the book I read, the more I felt myself relating to Amy as a character – the fact that she was feeling the pressure of having a baby because all of her friends were doing so being one in particular (that’s another therapy session for another day of course) – and I started to develop more of a liking towards the other characters and their stories. As someone who actively hates Love Island and Big Brother (which many have likened this book to), at times, it often felt a bit cringey, but actually, if you look at how these sorts of shows are presented, the book nailed it – right down the humiliating tasks contestants often have to carry out. While at first, I wasn’t sure about the concept, towards the end, I got it.
The overall message of the book is about discovering what’s right for you – just because everyone else is settling down, having kids and so on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the right path for you. It was so refreshing to read Amy’s development throughout the book, and as a character, you find yourself rooting for her from start to finish. I would say it’s definitely worth a read if you like the books of Beth O’Leary and Laura Jane Williams – it’s that sort of vibe. If you’re a fan of reality shows like Love Island, you’ll love the drama and the nods to the show, but equally, if you’re like me and can’t stand them, you’ll see the book as poking fun at these types of shows, which actually makes it a lot easier to read and enjoy.
Once Upon a Tyne: Our Story Celebrating 30 Years Together on the Telly – Ant & Dec (Sphere, 2020) ★★★★
From the Back::
“Ant and Dec hold a special place in the hearts of TV viewers everywhere. This is their epic story, with never-before seen photography and the very best tales from their 30 years in TV. From their modest beginnings in Byker Grove through to their “unique” time as pop stars and an award-laden TV career, those three decades have flown by in the blink of an eye. They’ve also featured an incredible cast of supporting characters, including their first scriptwriter (an unknown comedian called David Walliams), Saturday night fun and games with countless Hollywood A-listers, and celebrities they torture – sorry, work with – every year in the jungle. Told through the lens of every TV show they’ve made, this is the riotously funny journey of two ordinary lads from Newcastle who went on to achieve extraordinary things.”
Are you even British if you don’t hold a soft spot in your heart for Ant and Dec? Back in the day, I was OBSESSED with them. To the point of having three autographed photos of them and was fantasising daily about being married to Dec. Don’t ask. Anyway, while my obsession has since subsided, my love for everyone’s favourite Geordie duo hasn’t, and I’ll still tune in for pretty much every show they do. Once Upon a Tyne went straight on my Christmas list, and it was such a good, light hearted read. Each chapter focuses on a TV show they’ve worked on, from the very beginnings of Byker Grove to the latest series of Saturday Night Takeaway. It’s packed with some hilarious stories behind the scenes, including that unforgettable moment where John Lydon (aka. Johnny Rotten) dropped the C-bomb live on I’m a Celeb.
They also spoke about their DNA Journey documentary (which was emotional AF I might add), and the first ever episode of Saturday Night Takeaway that aired without an audience due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was an insightful read throughout and had me laughing more often than not, so if you’[re a fan of Ant and Dec, I would definitely suggest you give it a read!
I told you it was a mixed bag! This month’s reads certainly kept me occupied at a time when I was really struggling, and to be fair, I had quite a large TBR list, so in a way I’m quite glad that I had the time to smash through it. Having said that though, I would rather read less books and NOT have an intense IBS flare than have one and read a substantial pile of them so, that’s just a little message for the IBS gods out there should they exist.
What have you been reading in February? Have you read any of the above? What did you think? Let’s chat in the comments 🙂