What I’ve Read / Furiously Happy, Mad Girl & It’s All Absolutely Fine


Who’s this girl, you might think, reading non-fiction? Well, I made it my mission to read (and talk about) mental health more this year and what better way to start than to read some funny books?

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

As a memoir, Furiously Happy is a concoction of anecdotes from Jenny’s life (think Hyperbole and a Half without the drawings). Jenny’s thoughts and stories about her experience of living with depression and anxiety were really interesting to read. I also found the chapters on how her husband copes with living with someone who is struggling with mental health incredibly insightful and sometimes really lovely – the quote below stayed with me long after putting the book down. Although the more random anecdotes about her life didn’t grab me as much (but you do find out the story behind the cover!), I did appreciate the advice she gives: say yes to more opportunities (even the most ridiculously absurd ones), self-sabotage is a no-no, pretend you’re good at it, and be furiously happy about the good moments as best you can.

“Last month, as Victor drove me home so I could rest, I told him that sometimes I felt like his life would be easier without me. He paused a moment in thought and then said, “It might be easier. But it wouldn’t be better.”

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

I sort of love Bryony Gordon. We couldn’t be more different, really, except for the small matter of our mental heath. That is to say, it’s a bit crap. Bryony has had OCD ever since she was a young girl and, as she got older, it caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. In her memoir, she explores the roots of her OCD and how it – and not treating it – affected her teen years and her 20s. She talks about how mental health doesn’t care about who you are (Bryony herself was a privileged child and now is a successful journalist) nor does it manifest itself in the same way in everyone – it’s a tricky thing to pin down.

Mad Girl is super accessible, just like reading a magazine article or having a chat with Bryony over coffee, which is how it should be, and it was really enjoyable and funny to read. 1 in 4 people suffer from poor mental health and Mad Girl does what I think we all should do: talk about mental health as if we were talking about the flu, honestly and without fear of judgement.

Bryony’s also started Mad World – a new podcast dedicated to talking about mental health – and I suggest you check it out (the first guest is Prince Harry!).

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

I’ve been following Ruby on Instagram for a little while. I love her hilarious yet totally relatable illustrations about mental health and the struggle of everyday life. As soon as I saw It’s All Absolutely Fine, I knew I had to have it. For many of us, it’s not absolutely fine and so yeah, it can be really comforting when someone else says “this is bullshit” about something others would not blink an eye at.

Ruby’s illustrations depict what it’s like to suffer from all kinds of mental health issues: anxiety, bipolar disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, and depression. Her drawings accompany her thoughts on mental illness and stories about what she’s gone through herself.

We all know that mental health needs to be talked about more, and I really do think that humour – visual humour especially – can be a great way to do it. A funny image that someone wants to share can reach more people than other kinds of media. Ruby herself has nearly 100,000 followers looking out for something that they’ll be able to see themselves in. It’s All Absolutely Fine is ideal for fans Hyberbole and a Half and illustrators like Veronica Dearly.

As all three of these books show, humour can be a powerful tool when talking about mental health. Even if you haven’t ‘officially’ (and I use this word loosely) been diagnosed with a mental illness, you’re sure you see or read something in these books and think “that’s me”. Because we all have mental health.

Mini Reviews: Graphic Novels

Mini Reviews: Graphic Novels
I borrowed a bunch of graphic novels from the library (read all about that here) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting stuck into them. Here are my thoughts!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell
I must confess that I’ve never read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, but I have seen the adaptation and have been curious about how it’d work as a graphic novel. As it turns out, it’s wonderfully creepy. I expected Coraline to have bright blue hair and the story to be as whimsical as it is in the film, but the graphic novel is more realistic. I don’t think button eyes and the Other Mother will ever stop being creepy. P. Craig Russell’s illustrations capture the weirdness perfectly!

Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets had been on my wishlist for years. I knew it was a coming-of-age story, but I wasn’t prepared for how gritty it could be. The story of young Craig Thompson and his little brother was both bleak and poignant. The story becomes more hopeful as Craig grows older and falls in love for the first time. Even though the religious aspect was a little too heavy for me, Blankets is full of lovely cinematic panels and gorgeous illustrations.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
El Deafo is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read, about Cece Bell growing up with a severe hearing impairment in the 80s after becoming ill. El Deafo is beautifully illustrated and the story is fantastic. Cece shows us what it’s like to not only be unable to hear what’s being said but understand what’s being said. From the difficulties of making friends – especially best friends – to discovering the amazing Phonic Ear, this is a remarkable story about growing up. Cece now has superpowers: El Deafo, Listener for All!

Phonogram, Vol 2: The Singles Club by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Before I loved books, I loved music. In The Singles Club, each character gets their own comic, telling the story of one night in a dance club, in a world where music is magic – and they are all “phonomancers”. It’s a little odd and I didn’t love all the characters’ stories, but I enjoyed the bubbly Penny B and her love of dancing, The Pipettes, and beautiful boy Marc, who can’t get over his ex. It’s not a favourite, but a fun concept all the same.

The Property by Rutu Modan and translated by Jessica Cohen
I love coming across books I didn’t know about yet end up loving, but it rarely happens. The Property is the tale of Regina Segal and her granddaughter Mica, who return to Warsaw to get back the family home that was lost during the Second World War. The Property is an emotional tale of heritage and family secrets, but with a sense of humour too. I picked it up because I’m intrigued by World War II stories but I got much more: an emotional graphic novel that I continued to think about long after I put it down.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Ghost World is the story of Enid and Becky, two best friends growing up and growing apart. It’s hailed as “a must for any self-respecting comics fan’s library”. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t a teen in 90s USA, or perhaps I because I just wasn’t like these particular teens, but I found them too pretentious and unpleasant to appreciate what happened to them. Although I enjoyed the occasional panel, the story and artwork didn’t work for me. I welcome graphic novels about what it’s like to be a teenage girl, but Ghost World sadly isn’t one of them.

Have you read any of these graphic novels?

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

El Deafo

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

The Singles Club

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

Coraline

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

Blankets

Frame illustrations designed by Freepik.

Book Review: Relish – My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Book Review: Relish – My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

Shelved: Non-fiction (graphic novel, memoir)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

In the spirit of a foodie Bank Holiday weekend (I blogged about Penguin’s Great Food series yesterday), it seemed only appropriate to start my review of Relish: My Life in the Kitchen too. I first came across this foodie graphic memoir when I saw that it had been nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award in 2013. I love books and I love food, so I added it to my wishlist straight away. It wasn’t until last month that I finally got around to buying it, after a trip to Gosh! Comics with Debbie. We had never visited Gosh! before (neither of us have read many graphic novels or comics) and were looking forward to it. We loved the huge curated display table as soon as you set foot through the door, and this is where we found Relish (Debbie bought Friends with Boys). We both definitely want to go back, especially because the staff were super friendly.

I loved Relish as soon as I started reading it. It’s 29-year-old Lucy’s graphic memoir of growing up surrounded by food and food lovers, from her chef mum’s home cooking to exotic foodie adventures on trips abroad – what food means to her and what food she particularly loves, and what memories they bring back. She says, ‘I can remember exactly the look and taste of a precious honey stick, balanced between my berry-stained fingers, but my times tables are long gone, forgotten, in favour of better, tastier memories’. Lucy’s drawings are wonderful and colourful – an exquisite mix of food writing and delicious illustrations. You can’t really ask for more.

I relate to her because she’s a foodie, but not a food snob. She love artisan bread and good quality chocolate, but she won’t say no to McDonald’s or a packet of Oreos. (‘We wouldn’t be eating it if it didn’t taste good’). She writes so eloquently, but clearly, showing us how memories of food are memories of growing up, and how tasting all the different flavours – from home and from other cultures – is like no other experience. I craved so many different kinds of food while reading Relish, including food I’ve never even tried (where can I find a tomatillo or honey sticks?). At the end of each chapter, there’s an easy-to-follow tasty recipe to make one of the foods featured in that chapter, such as the best chocolate chip cookies and sushi rolls. It was perfect for bedtime reading and it made me want to pick up more graphic novels – and eat more food!

I can’t wait to pick up her travelogue, French Milk, next and her new book, An Age of License: A Travelogue, is published in September. She also posts lots of lovely things on Tumblr.

Published: 26th April 2013
Publisher: First Second
Pages: 192

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Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh


Shelved:
Non-fiction (graphic novel, memoir, humour)
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I picked up Hyperbole and a Half on a recent trip to Waterstones Gower St, but it wasn’t exactly a planned purchase – although it had been on my wishlist for a while and I had been thinking about buying it – because I wasn’t 100% sure that it wouldn’t just be a coffee table book that I’d flick through once, think was just okay, and then never come back to again. As it turns out, Hyperbole and a Half is well worth the purchase. I have been telling other people to read it since I finished the last story because it made such an impact on me. It won a Goodreads Choice Award for a reason, you know!

Hyperbole and a Half, as I’m sure you’re familiar, stems from Allie Brosh’s successful blog of the same name, made famous by the ‘ALL THE THINGS!’ internet meme. I discovered it one day in 2010 as I was casually browsing the internet and came across one of her illustrations. I clicked through to read more and after a few minutes I was giggling to myself, so I forwarded the blogpost onto to a friend, who responded with ‘HA! Clean ALL the things!’. I don’t really know why it resonates with people so much, perhaps because it captures such a simple, mundane moment so hilariously and accurately. Hyperbole and a Half is genuinely funny – I couldn’t resist starting it straight away and I found myself laughing out loud on the bus on the way home from the bookshop. I knew that I was going to love it.


Hyperbole and a Half
is a memoir like no other. It’s particularly about Allie Brosh’s relationship with her two dogs – Simple Dog, who is unable to grasp the concept of stairs and Helper Dog, who is found to have developed a few psychotic episodes of his own, particularly involving other dogs and also snow – and her experience with depression, accompanied by simple yet brilliantly evocative illustrations. And surprisingly, these two subjects blend considerably well. Although Hyperbole and a Half tackles depression, it’s not depressing – that’s just not Allie Brosh’s style. She is immensely critical of herself, but she’s also conscious of the fact that she’s self-deprecating and that’s what makes you want to keep on reading. Allie manages to explain depression in a way that very few books do – so clear, real and understandable, not just an abstract concept that ‘happens to other people’. Hyperbole and a Half also features hilarious anecdotes from her life and childhood, from when she was determined to eat a slice of her grandfather’s birthday cake even after it was hidden from view (‘cake is the only thing that matters’) to when a goose managed to find its way into her home (‘most geese are dangerous psychopaths’). ‘Hyperbole’ is exactly the right word to describe what Allie Brosh does – it’s definitely exaggerated and ‘evokes strong feelings’, but it’s not fictional.

As for Allie Brosh’s drawings, well, I am jealous of her talent. No one has mastered MS Paint as well as she has and I cannot imagine any other style working so well. Hyperbole and a Half is a truly unique book; an incredibly honest and accurate portrayal of everyday life, and I cannot imagine anyone not laughing (even a little bit!) at her many ‘learning experiences’. Also, Allie is correct, the book is heavy.

“But she can’t do anything to prevent the world from containing other dogs, so instead, she is determined to make sure that no other dogs can enjoy existing. If she senses that another dog is enjoying itself nearby, she will do everything within her power to ruin that dog’s day”.

Published: 29th October 2013 (US) 31st October 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Touchstone (US) Square Peg (UK)
Pages: 384

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Book Review: The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

Book Review: The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

Shelved: Young adult non-fiction (contemporary, illustrative, scrapbook, memoir)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Isobel Harrop is an eighteen-year-old girl from ‘where nothing really happens’ and The Isobel Journal is the charming scrapbook of her delightfully ordinary yet wonderful teenage life.

I snuggled up with The Isobel Journal and a blanket on a cold night and read until I consumed every last page. I was particularly keen to read and review it because it’s just the sort of book my fellow Tumblr-goers enjoy, but also because even though I’ve not been a teenager for four years – and there’s a lot I prefer about being an adult! – there’s a lot that I miss and wish I could go back and do again.

The Isobel Journal is a pretty collection of quirky illustrations (drawn by Isobel herself), photographs and random bursts of thought; a stream of teenage consciousness. It includes scans of tickets from concerts she’s attended to the myriad of people she’s observed and sketched over the years (and who often look like owls). Isobel’s life is not exactly like mine (although it’s about to get a whole lot similar since she recently started at the university I went to!) but there’s a lot I connected with. Stacey’s Teenage Life pretty much consisted of booksmusicinternet, rinse and repeat, so here’s some of my favourite pages:

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop
I’m normally not an enthusiastic fan of otters – although I tend to love all baby animals – but this page is adorable! I sent a picture of it to my otter-loving friend. It’s so fun and colourful and hits you as soon as you open the book.

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

I also keep a little box full of cinema tickets, concert tickets, train tickets to fun places, band badges and other little things. My oldest cinema and concert tickets are from 2003, when I went to see 50 First Dates and Good Charlotte!

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

I used to love music as much as I love books. (Maybe more. Gasp!).

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

And one of my least favourite chores to do is change the bedclothes, even though I love the feel and smell of fresh sheets. I used to get inside the duvet cover in an attempt to put it on. I wouldn’t recommend this.

The Isobel Journal is a lovely book to curl up with while wearing your favourite cosy pyjamas and drinking a cup of tea (or hot chocolate and marshmallows, if you’re more like me). It’s pure joy to flick through – delightful, funny and perfect for the nostalgic – and it made me think about what my scrapbook would look like. If you’d love to buy a book for someone who doesn’t usually read, this could be the ideal present. And it’s also nice to come across someone else who thinks pigeons are ‘okay’.

Published: 7th November 2013
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Pages: 208
Source: Thank you Hot Key Books for providing this book for review!

The Isobel Journal by Isobel Harrop

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