Six Books for a Beautiful Start
How are you, in this moment?
First, know that this timeslice, good or bad, doesn't conclusively define you. Like smoothies, sidewalks, or big brick houses, we're all just an aggregate of things, moments, and actions...a big lasagna of experience, if you will. And every layer is different - so embrace that, if you can.
Some days feel light and bouyant, they feel untethered, you feel free...life feels easy and crisp and your body hums hot to the crinkle of falling leaves. Some days, though, feel heavy, hot, sticky and hard, where the mediocre task of getting up to put on clothes will demand an unimaginable level of strength. Strength, of course, that everyone on Instagram seems to have, along with nice hair, fulfilling jobs and effortless access to willpower. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
But life isn't like that, and despite what your intuition says, this article isn't meant to go in that direction. We're smart. If we were to look inside ourselves, we'd grab on to the knowledge that all of us are damaged sometimes, but that we are ultimately accelerating, pushing, fumbling about, together. We should realize that in sharing our experiences, in being honest, brave and openly flawed...there's more beauty in that than anything.
Statistics show that self-help books don't really help us - they tend to, like the diet industry, contribute to a cycle of super-high highs and profoundly-low lows. In reaction, we then trudge our little bodies to the Strand, or Chapters, or some kindle-adjacent reading contraption and select another title to tell us more of the same. We assume we aren't strong enough, or that we don't know "the rules of life" this cover smugly promises to offer. And hey, we're all young here - it's fair to assume we don't know much. But if life really did have rules, if it had some fail-safe formula, we'd have found it by now...along with flight, the internet, and the complex, ever-growing majesty of machine algorithms. So maybe, let's change our ideation of this - let's find inspiration in everything, not just the things perched on shelves with shiny packaging that read "you're not good enough but you can be if you buy this."
My favourite teachable moments have come rooted in the interactions I've had with people brave enough to be soft. Like keys, their words have pierced through some kind of membrane I'd constructed, allowing me to expand or fill up, in ways I used to before allowing other people to dictate my feelings. This is how my most favourite books have struck me - without meaning to, their unbridled authenticity cracked open some kind of chasm in my chest, turning the corners of my mouth up with wonder as I felt just a little bit less misunderstood.
That said, the following are books I've read, am reading currently, or have had recommended to me by people I love more than anything on this planet. I hope they speak to you, and maybe help you in a way that isn't as conventional as you'd think. You're already pretty rad.
A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
I read this book in one day, sitting in a café in Paris I took refuge in from the rain. Over coffee-based beverages, alternating from nostalgic "Café Americains" and more appropriate Café au Laits, I can still recall, years later, the succession of whirring heart-hums that came with every sentence...the ones that made me feel less alone. Hemingway is so, deeply human...the way in which he articulates that, spinning truth in such a simple fashion, it made the mundane seem magical, magnificent. This was and still is my single favourite novel, particularly because it found me at a time when my solitude gave me peace.
Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
Recommended to me by our head of strategy, Emily, this book depicts the gritty, poignant realities of a 20-something woman navigating the nuanced world of New York City. The most interesting detail exists in the origin of this novel's title; a translation of poetry that just makes you think different. Says Danler:
"The title was there from the first draft. It came from Anne Carson. Sappho was the first one to call love bittersweet, I think, and in Eros the Bittersweet Anne Carson suggests that bittersweet wasn’t true to the word order in Greek, and also wasn’t true to the order in which love is experienced—that it should be sweetbitter instead. Something about that metaphor and the way it related to life and taste, food, and sex, held up as I began working on this novel. I’d quit my job, changed my whole life, and had gone back to graduate school. The first thing I submitted in class was the first twenty-five pages—it was a short story then, but it started with the same words, “You will develop a palate.'"
What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton
I'm currently in the middle of this one, and I think it's pretty much essential reading for women, non-women, people that have failed, people that are failing, or will fail. All people, basically. No matter what you believe in, we are living through a monumental moment in our history, and should take a moment to think about what it means for humanity.
One More Thing, BJ Novak
This book reminds me of what it would feel like if you could inject those one-off, side-of-the-street bus stop conversations into a stack of bound pages. Reading it also mirrors the feeling you get after walking home from a movie or, if you've ever had the chance to visit, that wistful feeling in your soul when you stare at the Seine from the cobblestone streets of Paris at around 5:30pm. All of that levity, all of that unexpected wisdom...here, in a stack of short stories penned by an unconventionally brilliant man.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
God, this book is magical. Magical in the sobering, crystalizing way that has a sort of piercing finality to it, something that made me so fervently aware that yes, life is finite, yes, death is a certitude but yes, there is something that is so very beautiful happening here. Something that Paul toys with in every beautiful sentence, and something he left us with as the most generous of parting gifts.
What You See When You Read, Peter Mendelsund
"We perform a book, and we attend the performance." This book sits on my coffee table, and weekly I'll open it to a fresh page, insert this new thought into my mind, and let it marinate for a moment. Usually it inspires me to write. Always it inspires me to observe - to think about our perceptions of things, of books, of characters, of life. It really is quite masterful, and - if only to challenge your understanding of reality - I really recommend you give this one a once-over. Heavy in graphics, you won't be intimidated. Just blown away.