Well folks, 2017 is here. Which means New Year, new me…right? To be honest, I’ve come to resent that adage ever so slightly. With the beginning of each year comes a certain pressure to reinvent one’s self, or at least pretend to really try for the first day or week or month: to go to the gym, to eat well, to get up earlier, and so on and do forth.
The fact that I was coming into the New Year after having moved cross-country to a brand new city and thus a little down about spending my first holiday away from my family, along with not being thrilled with how a new job was starting out (both topics for another post) left me a little less than enthused about the prospect of reinventing myself for January 1st.
Therefore I decided to approach my ‘resolutions’ a little differently this year. Instead of (another) dramatic lifestyle change, I decided to try and nourish smaller passions that had been put on hold for one reason or another. This is my way of attempting—instead of diving headfirst into a drastic change of sorts—to nurture my mental and emotion health first through the little things: creative outlets like drawing and doodling, writing about things that I’m passionate about, and a return to the mental stimulation of diving into a good book.
So here are the first few books I’ve made it through since the start of the year. Each has been very different, but I’ve honestly loved them all—2 out of 3 came recommended by my book-club attending, reader Bee of a mother who set me up for success. Enjoy!
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I started this book on a bit of a whim, and I owe much of my renewed appreciation for escaping into a good story to this. There’s something so highly satisfying about a well-done blend of history and fiction. This book depicts the life of sightless young Marie-Laure, whose father is the master of the locks at the Museum of Natural History in Paris; and Werner, an orphan from a small German mining town who has a penchant for the mechanics of radios; both growing up at the start of World War II.
The lives of these two children are wrenched apart and uprooted in very different ways as their countries deal with all the transition that war brought with it. The parallels, innermost thoughts and aspirations of Marie-Laure and Werner are charmingly and heartbreakingly similar. Marie-Laure spends her days studying the miniature models of her Parisian arrondissement and subsequent walled town of Saint-Malo that her father crafts for her so she can self-sufficiently find her way around outside. Werner’s secret aspirations of higher learning and his expert knowledge of building and fixing radios that make him an invaluable asset for tracking German resistance. Two very different perspectives of the war from children caught on opposite sides, their stories finally converge in the stronghold of Saint-Malo in a heartbreaking account of youthful innocence coupled with a tragically mature wisdom that only growing up in the midst of war could bring.
**Tess takeaway: If you like seeing history from a truly unique perspective and quotably beautiful writing.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
I somehow never managed to see this film when it came out—a surprising fact considering my love of heartbreakingly predictable Nicholas Sparks-esque romances—which thankfully allowed me to create my own perception of the characters without the constraints of (the equally gorgeous) Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.
This story kept me guessing to the last page. I can’t emphasize the importance of maintaining ignorance as to the ending—if you’ve somehow managed to keep an unsullied perspective of this story like I did, avoid any “spoiler alerts” or friends who may have read/ seen this like the plague. It’s one of those stories that relies heavily on an element of surprise in order to play with your emotions (in the best of ways) to the very last.
Twenty-something Louisa Clarke lives a narrow life with her working-class family in a small English town. Louisa’s relatively unambitious career trajectory is thrown on its head when the local café she has worked at for years closes up shop. She is hopelessly unqualified and fails miserably at several random employment opportunities in her small town. At her wits end, she accepts a position as a caretaker of a quadriplegic man—the once successful, exceedingly wealthy and (of course) handsome Will Traynor. Her primary job is to bring light into his now narrowly confined world. After a tumultuous start, Louisa slowly becomes acquainted with Will’s contempt and bitter resentment of his newly confined lifestyle. She begins to understand the internal battle of a man who once lived a life so large her limited experiences pale dramatically in comparison.
It is both dark and uplifting, and will encourage a life lived to the fullest. Tears were definitely shed. You will turn the last page and need to take a few minutes to dejectedly stare out the window before getting up with the sudden urgency to do something meaningful with your life. Don’t worry, this will wear off shortly thereafter and you’ll be left with an unconventional love story that reminds you that a situation could always be worse, and to not take anything for granted.
**Tess takeaway: If you like a slow-unfolding British romance and the thought of living in a tiny town near a castle.
Bloom: Navigating Life and Style by Estée Lalonde
This strays from the fictional theme of the first two books, but it has been an equally exceptional, if not even more inspiring read. I fairly recently became acquainted with Estée’s YouTube channel (both her main lifestyle/ beauty channel as well as the vlog-oriented Everyday Estée), and I have to say, she’s quickly become one of my favorites. I am enthralled by the online world in which you can watch a person cultivating their passions for an audience of a million viewers, yet still feel that they are talking to you personally as if you are close friends. I stumbled upon Estée’s channel at a time when I had just moved far away from any friends or family, and quickly related to her experience of moving from Canada to London without knowing a soul apart from her boyfriend.
Bloom details different aspects of Estée’s life in eight organized sections: Life, People, Work, Beauty, Fashion, Home, Travel and Food. Not only does she offer her perspective along with personal anecdotes on these topics, but she also gives advice without seeming preachy or showy in any way. I feel like it could be easy for a book like this to turn “read about how great my life is and look at how beautiful I am and see my gorgeous home and dog and boyfriend, etc.” But the thing about someone whose life is so open to the public eye is that it’s fairly easy to suss out their true personality by merely watching a video or two. From the start, Estée has seemed so down to earth that I couldn’t help but be impressed by the openness and directness with which she communicates her opinions and passions. I don’t agree with her on everything, but I have great respect for her motivations and what she does, which is what drew me to her book.
Bloom has definitely lent another welcome perspective on Estée’s lifestyle and personality, and has inspired me to focus on areas of my life that I might not have honed in on myself. Would I love to work from home and have a beautiful house filled with plants and bespoke furniture? Of course. (Although still not sold on her love of crystals.) But this book has been more about finding ways to adapt my own version of her many philosophies into my life. To name a few: wholeheartedly embracing new experiences no matter how anxiety-inducing, incorporating unique and meaningful décor (and plants) into my living space, and treating beauty and fashion as an ever changing process of self-discovery.
**Tess takeaway: If you like real life and (so many) awesomely relatable and unashamed throw-back pictures.
Well there you have it, the first three books on my New Year’s reading list. I saw someone post about a goal of reading 52 books in 52 weeks last year and that concept has definitely inspired me to always have a new book lined up and ready to go. Especially now that I have twice-daily subway rides to look forward to on my way to and from work: prime time for getting in a quick chapter or two each day if nothing else!
Please let me know your thoughts on the above, and of course suggestions are welcome as to what should be next on my list!