Shar­maine Love­grove on bib­lio­ther­apy

ELLE’S LIT­ER­ARY ED­I­TOR SHAR­MAINE LOVE­GROVE ON THE BOOKS TO CURE YOU

ELLE (UK) - - Contents -

Hav­ing re­la­tion­ship/ friend­ship/so­cial me­dia prob­lems? There’s a book for that. ELLE’s Lit­er­ary Ed­i­tor pre­scribes a heavy dose of good lit­er­a­ture

Books have al­ways been in my life. I had no sib­lings un­til the age of seven, so

I had plenty of time to be by my­self and read. I grew up in south-west Lon­don, sur­rounded by bril­liant li­braries, and I clearly re­mem­ber bor­row­ing Roald Dahl’s

Matilda, a book that first taught me the per­sonal im­pact of read­ing. As a pre-teen, I went to an amaz­ing pri­mary school with an in­cred­i­bly scary head teacher who was Miss Trunch­bull 2.0. I was hav­ing a hard time ad­just­ing to the ar­rival of my new lit­tle sis­ter and felt as though my love of books put me at odds with ev­ery­one around me. Read­ing Matilda showed me that sto­ries were pow­er­ful, and mag­i­cal, and the more you read, the more you could achieve.

At 13 years old, I went through some aw­ful teenage angsty mo­ments as I started at a con­vent school. Be­ing a black girl with afro hair, spots, glasses and Bugs Bunny teeth, I was never seen as at­trac­tive by those I wanted to at­tract. Through read­ing Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s

Me, Mar­garet, I found so­lace and power in Mar­garet’s strug­gle, which seemed to echo my own. I be­gan to re­alise that the more I read, the more em­pa­thetic I be­came. From that mo­ment, I would al­ways turn to books when I needed to take time to re­flect on a sit­u­a­tion.

Fast-for­ward 15 years, and I found my­self in Ber­lin as the pro­pri­etor of a book­shop. The gift of em­pa­thy through read­ing was some­thing I wanted to share with my cus­tomers, so my right-hand woman Nerys and I set up ‘book doc­tor’ ses­sions at the shop. Cus­tomers would fill in ques­tion­naires so we could di­ag­nose their lit­er­ary likes and dis­likes, and then we’d dig deep and pre­scribe 15-20 ti­tles for them to con­sider. I loved these ‘bib­lio­ther­apy’ ses­sions, where our cus­tomers would dis­cuss their life ail­ments and we’d pre­scribe a lit­er­ary rem­edy. Peo­ple wanted fic­tion to help soothe breakups, ma­ter­nity-leave books and dat­ing ad­vice (I once had a re­quest to help a grand­mother who was on the scene again and wanted to know how peo­ple talked on dates). One of my fond­est mem­o­ries is pre­scrib­ing The Co­me­di­ans by Gra­ham Greene to some­one who was go­ing on a silent re­treat; they told me af­ter­wards they’d nearly been ex­pelled for laugh­ing out loud while read­ing it.

We never know what’s go­ing to hit us in life, what will change our path, and who we’ll end up shar­ing the joy­ous highs and the murky lows with. Here are my sug­ges­tions for books to help you get out of your stink, re­mind you that you’re not alone, and what to do when you don’t want the party to stop.

FOR WHEN YOU’RE STUCK ON A CRAMMED COM­MUTER TRAIN IN THE CITY OF YOUR DREAMS

Get­ting your dream job in the city is both ex­cit­ing and daunt­ing. In these books, we en­counter two brave women tack­ling life and forg­ing their paths in new en­vi­ron­ments. Read­ing An­drea Levy’s

Small Is­land will re­mind you that, al­though you are on a big per­sonal jour­ney, you are not the first per­son to move to a city, and you have what you need to get ahead.

The novel, set in 1948, is based on four char­ac­ters who move from Ja­maica to Eng­land. The well-man­nered Hortense has hopes of be­com­ing a teacher, but in­stead faces racism for the first time and must deal with life in shabby Lon­don. If things feel tough as you nav­i­gate a new city, re­mem­ber Hortense, take a deep breath and put your best foot for­ward.

Though over 50 years old, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath re­mains the rite-of-pas­sage book for women step­ping out into the me­trop­o­lis. Fol­low Es­ther Green­wood as she moves to New York in the Fifties to start an in­tern­ship at a fash­ion mag­a­zine. Bal­anc­ing cock­tails and manuscripts, Es­ther’s life un­rav­els as de­pres­sion takes hold. A vivid, dark story that should be on ev­ery­one’s book­shelf.

FOR WHEN YOU SWIPE RIGHT ON TIN­DER AND FALL FOR SOME­ONE

Dat­ing has dra­mat­i­cally changed over the past decade. These days, it seems few meet their soul­mate ran­domly. I’ve been mar­ried for six years, but by liv­ing vi­car­i­ously through friends who are on­line dat­ing, I hear both hor­ror sto­ries and hap­pily-ever-af­ters. These books are per­fect for those who have found the right match and are un­sure what hap­pens next.

I am a big fan of Slid­ing Doors-style nar­ra­tives, and Laura Bar­nett’s The

Ver­sions of Us is one of the best. Eva and Jim are 19 and study­ing at Cam­bridge Univer­sity when their paths cross for the first time. We are led through three dif­fer­ent ver­sions of their fu­ture, both to­gether and apart, span­ning a pe­riod from the Fifties to the present day. This novel is per­fect at re­mind­ing us that the small­est de­ci­sions can af­fect the rest of our lives.

Love at first sight, paint­ings, pol­i­tics, fam­ily se­crets, Rus­sian oli­garchs and the art of food – there is so much to take from

The Im­prob­a­bil­ity of Love by Han­nah Roth­schild. An­nie McDee finds a paint­ing in a junk shop and in­tends to give it to her new beau as a birth­day present, but when he doesn’t turn up, she has to keep it. On a visit to a gallery, An­nie meets a guide who falls in love with her while she be­gins a quest to un­cover the orig­i­nal owner of her paint­ing. I laughed and cried when I read this novel, and took from it that we should be open, cu­ri­ous and lis­ten to those around us to un­cover true hap­pi­ness.

FOR WHEN SO­CIAL ME­DIA IS TAK­ING OVER YOUR LIFE

Some­times the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia can be over­whelm­ing. I long for more time away from screens, but the gaps between log­ging on and off seem to be get­ting

shorter. These two nov­els will make you re­think your use of so­cial me­dia and ob­ses­sion with your smart phone.

I Hate The In­ter­net by Jarett Kobek is an in­dict­ment of the greed of the tech com­mu­nity and those who fund it. A satire at its finest, it fol­lows Ade­line as she goes from be­ing a kind-of-fa­mous comic-book chick to the fo­cus of in­ter­net trolls for some un­pop­u­lar opin­ions she once shared. Ade­line be­comes a vic­tim of a cul­ture that hates women, and this in­sight­ful, evoca­tive novel re­minds us to think be­fore we post.

The Cir­cle by Dave Eg­gers imag­ines a ter­ri­fy­ing world dom­i­nated by an in­ter­net com­pany, The Cir­cle, for whom there is no such thing as pri­vacy. Mae is thrilled to be work­ing for the busi­ness, but as the com­pany’s grip on so­ci­ety tight­ens, she re­alises that her iden­tity and sta­tus are bound up with how much she is pre­pared to re­veal to The Cir­cle’s vast com­mu­nity. Will she sac­ri­fice fam­ily, friends and even her­self to live up to the com­pany’s motto, ‘Se­crets are lies, shar­ing is car­ing, pri­vacy is theft’? Be­ing made into a film with ELLE cover star Emma Wat­son, out this year, The Cir­cle is a thrilling page-turner that will make you think be­fore you log on.

FOR WHEN IT FEELS LIKE YOUR FRIENDS ARE BE­COM­ING MORE SUC­CESS­FUL THAN YOU

It’s tough when a group of friends slowly dis­in­te­grates as the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and re­al­i­ties of adult life re­quire you to take your own path. It can also be tricky when old mates seem to be fly­ing off on hol­i­day to ever-more ex­otic places while you’re count­ing pen­nies in or­der to af­ford meals for one at the end of the month.

How ca­reer choices af­fect friend­ships is the sub­ject of In­vin­ci­ble Sum­mer by Alice Adams. In it, we meet a group of friends on their last day at Bris­tol Univer­sity dis­cussing their hopes and dreams as they head out into the world. Over the course of the novel we join them for 20 years of ebbing and flow­ing friend­ship and en­counter their per­sonal tri­als and tribu­la­tions. An­other take on this theme is The

Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. In 1974, a squad of teens are plan­ning the rest of their lives by the pool while smok­ing pot and drink­ing vodka. Decades later and it’s as though this tal­ented bunch has al­lowed the grind of ev­ery­day life and the pace of New York to get in the way of their dreams. In­sight­ful and funny, The Interestings cap­tures our hopes, fears and the re­al­ity of grown-up life and friend­ship on ev­ery page.

FOR WHEN YOU JUST DON’T WANT THE PARTY TO END

There’s a time in our lives when we feel the party has to end, but it’s hard to look around and re­alise that mo­ment hasn’t yet

‘IN­SIGHT­FUL, FUNNY AND EVENT­FUL,

THE INTERESTINGS CAP­TURES THE HOPES, FEARS AND RE­AL­ITY OF GROWN-UP LIFE’

come for your friends. Do you go it alone or do you stick with your gang? These ti­tles will help you see the party from the out­side.

Irvine Welsh’s Trainspot­ting was first pub­lished in 1993 and was made into a film three years later. Its catch­phrase, ‘Choose life’, be­came a mantra for a gen­er­a­tion. With the fol­low-up T2 Trainspot­ting now in cin­e­mas, it’s great to read the orig­i­nal book and join Ren­ton and friends deep in the he­do­nis­tic un­der­belly of Eight­ies Scot­land, where the kicks never come for free.

Slouch­ing To­wards Beth­le­hem is

Joan Did­ion’s epic por­trayal of Cal­i­for­nian life in the Six­ties. Pub­lished in 1968, her first col­lec­tion of es­says is an un­flinch­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of the re­al­ity of the coun­ter­cul­ture (in­clud­ing an episode of a preschool child be­ing given LSD by her par­ents). It is raw, redo­lent and, de­spite its age, feels as fresh as ever. Writ­ing this book helped Did­ion to be­come un­stuck, and I’m sure it will chal­lenge you, too.

The jour­ney of four young Lon­don­ers in The Bricks That Built The Houses by spo­ken-word supremo Kate Tem­pest is a roller­coaster of des­per­a­tion to get away from a claus­tro­pho­bic south-east Lon­don ex­is­tence of drug deal­ers and dead-end jobs. Weav­ing through time and writ­ten in poetic prose, this will make you glad you’re tucked up in bed and not out on the town.

FOR WHEN YOU FANCY SOME­ONE BUT THEY DON’T KNOW YOU EX­IST

How do you get through the day know­ing that the per­son you love doesn’t know you ex­ist? I be­lieve it’s about get­ting real and re­mind­ing your­self that love is about

mu­tual re­spect. In The Girls’ Guide to

Hunt­ing and Fish­ing by Melissa Bank, Jane has been fol­low­ing the ad­vice from a man­ual called ‘How to Meet and Marry Mr Right’, through which she learns that, in love, there is nei­ther pat­tern nor prom­ise. A very funny col­lec­tion of con­nected sto­ries un­der­scored by a por­trait of a woman ma­noeu­vring her way through love, sex and re­la­tion­ships.

In Jenny Of­fill’s Dept Of Spec­u­la­tion, we meet a cou­ple who used to write let­ters to each other for fun, but with the crush­ing re­al­ity of fam­ily life, the ties that once bound them are sev­ered. Vividly writ­ten, this is an in­sight­ful, darkly funny and wise novel of a mod­ern mar­riage.

FOR WHEN YOU THINK YOU MIGHT NOT BE STRAIGHT

Bib­lio­ther­apy is a good way of deal­ing with big life is­sues, and con­fronting your feel­ings on sex­u­al­ity can be a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing co­nun­drum. Read­ing the zeit­geisty mem­oir The Arg­onauts by the cel­e­brated Mag­gie Nel­son, we delve into what it means for your part­ner to change sex, which also en­tails chang­ing your own sex­u­al­ity. Through Mag­gie’s re­flec­tive and philo­soph­i­cal writ­ing, we go on an in­trepid ex­plo­ration to un­cover feel­ings on love, moth­er­hood, gen­der pol­i­tics and fam­ily.

Erotic sto­ries are a sen­sual way of be­ing turned on and tuned in to your sex­ual needs, and no one writes more se­duc­tively than Anaïs Nin. Ground­break­ing when pub­lished in 1979, Lit­tle Birds cap­tures the essence of hu­man sen­su­al­ity in 13 sto­ries ex­plor­ing fe­male sub­jec­tiv­ity through themes such as same-sex de­sire and pornog­ra­phy. It is writ­ten in a spell­bind­ing way that is as com­plex as it is sim­ple. Read­ing Lit­tle Birds will make you think about your­self and sex in a new way, and that can only be a good thing.

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