For the first time in three years I have nothing to read. Having spent three years as an English undergraduate, I had grown used to leap-frogging from reading list to reading list, confining myself to the classics section of my local bookshop.
Now I stand at the threshold of Waterstones much as I stand on the threshold of life as a graduate: alone, uncertain, and unguided. Aware that I’m starting a new chapter in my life, I set out in search of a paperback guide to see me through graduate existence. These are some of the books that I have found helpful.
Pond by Clare Louise Bennett
I spent the day after completing my degree sprawled out in front of my student house, slowly easing my mind into the metaphorical waters of Bennett’s novelistic debut. I sank deeper with every page turn.
Bennett’s Pond is not a book for plot junkies; it follows a vaguely grumpy thirty-something-year-old woman as she confronts existence in a rural Irish village and grapples with the boundaries between the solitary and the social. The narrative follows her as she negotiates the everyday; from oven control knobs and party etiquette, to banana consumption – bananas, according to Bennett’s narrator, ‘ought not to be too ripe – in fact there should be a definite remainder of green along the stalk, and if there isn’t, forget about it.’
Bananas exempted, Bennett’s narrator adopts an ‘inexcusably blasé attitude towards most things,’ forcing readers to confront the mundane realities of existence. Against the panic of confronting adult life, Pond served as a comforting, and extremely calming, reminder that ‘life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that’s not something that ought to be glossed over or denied.’
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
For months I’ve turned scathingly away from the bright yellow cover of Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, dismissing it as a book without a brain. Curiosity – and a desperate need for guidance – eventually overcame my prejudice, however, and I soon found myself flicking through the book, pausing at a chapter entitled ‘Everything I Knew About Love at Twenty-One.’ ‘When you can’t fall asleep,’ the chapter concludes, ‘dream of all the love affairs with olive-skinned, curly-haired men that lie ahead of you.’ I laughed aloud, then scurried off to buy the book; hostilities abandoned.
Alderton’s biographical musings on parties, dates, friends, jobs, life, and love is a must read for anyone approaching the chasm of life as a twenty-something-year-old single woman. Alderton intersperses her anecdotes with lists, recipes, and pearls of genuine, sisterly wisdom: ‘If you’re feeling wildly overwhelmed with everything, try this: clean your room, answer all your unanswered emails, listen to a podcast, have a bath, go to bed before eleven.’
Reading Everything I Know About Love alerted me to the inescapable chaos of adult life and to the futility of obsessing or stressing over the future. ‘Things will change more radically than you could ever imagine,’ Alderton assures us, ‘things will end up 300 miles north of your wildest predictions. Healthy people drop dead in supermarket queues. The future love of your life could be the man sitting next to you on the bus. Your secondary school maths treachery and rugby coach might now go by the name of Susan. Everything will change.’
Three Rooms by Jo Hamya
About half way through Jo Hamya’s novelistic debut, the narrator outlines ‘a particular kind of novel which seemed to be gaining traction in the publishing industry and on bestseller lists’: ‘in this kind of novel, the protagonist was always a woman and always sad.’ ‘These books’, the narrator muses, ‘were always written in sparse, spiky prose that ebbed my spare hours away.’
I, like Hamya’s protagonist, take great comfort in such books and consequently found delight in the melancholic, contemplative, and brutally honest Three Rooms. The plot follows a young twenty-something year old woman – an outsider and observer – as she facilitates between academia and administration, confronting the difficulties of the working world and the conflicts of post-referendum Britain.
Hamya’s myth-busting novel reveals the grim realities of postgraduate life, highlighting the hurdles and prejudices that frustrate the protagonist as she attempts to mark out a room of her own. Hamya seems determined to describe the difficulties graduates face within contemporary society, stressing that, while young people have become ‘very adept at making your lives look far more interesting than they have any right to be (…) the truth is, most days are inexhaustibly dull and full of striving.’ Three Rooms depicts the reality of early independence; a reality that consists of ‘boring, low-wage administrative jobs and living in bedsits, or on friends’ floors.’
In light of this, Three Rooms represents a grounding read for any graduate, reminding its readers that, in reality, graduate life is studded with disorder and difficulty. Hamya’s novel, though bleak at times, exists, for me, as a comforting contrast to the filtered narratives of graduate existence that thrive in the social media age.
Cook, Eat, Repeat by Nigella Lawson
A stroke of somebody else’s genius meant that I was carted off to university with a copy of Nigella Lawson’s Express. Packed with speedy, easy, and financially viable recipes, the book became my culinary Bible.
There is so much around us that we cannot control,’ Lawson writes, ‘but food gives shape to our pleasures and offers both immersion and escape.’ When studying collapsed into stressing, I would escape into my dingy student kitchen, place myself in front of the stove and find something to stir until I felt calm again. Now my copy of Express is crinkle-paged and sauce-splattered. I decided it was time to invest in a new Nigella.
Undoubtedly, Cook, Eat, Repeat represents a more mature cooking companion than Express. Unable to find – or, I dare say, afford – ingredients such as gochujang paste or oxtails, I tend to stray from Nigella’s instructions, swapping crab meat for tuna, and exchanging tahini with peanut butter. Yet, as Lawson herself asserts that ‘the recipe-writer’s role is to be a guide in the kitchen, not its ruling monarch’, I don’t feel too guilty for doing so. Rather, I take my experimentation and disobedience as a sign of my own culinary growth.
Cook, Eat, Repeat has been a constant source of comfort and pleasure ever since its purchase. I’ve spent hours padding around the kitchen compiling Lawson’s ‘Lasagne of Love’; I’ve thrown together many a ‘Fish Finger Bhorta’ when confronted with a ticking-clock or largely depleted fridge; and I’ve experienced the absolute bliss of baking, and devouring, Lawson’s ‘Black Forest Brownies’ or (and I can’t even write the words without salivating) ‘Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.’
What I love about Nigella is her honesty. She admits when tasks will be difficult or fiddly, assuring her readers that she ‘wouldn’t tell you to do it if it weren’t necessary.’ Cook, Eat, Repeat connects food and life, reminding its readers that, while both can be challenging, the end result is invariably worth the difficulties of its construction.
For more content like this click here.
Follow The New Collection on Instagram.