Move away from the self-help bargain book bin, we’ve found the people preaching a new wave of the good life
Have you given up on your new year’s resolution yet? If you have, you’re in good company. Research suggests that less than half of resolution-makers are still going strong by the end of January. And no wonder: gyms aren’t much fun and the clichés of mainstream self-help books wear thin after a couple of weeks. But this doesn’t mean that all life guidance is nonsense. You might just have to look a little further afield – to a novel, a poem, or a conversation between people who like going out as well as getting shit done. We’ve chosen ten alternative guides to life that you’ll still want to follow come the end of 2015.
ANIMALS BY EMMA JANE UNSWORTH
Laura and Tyler are best friends in their early 30s, living together in a flat in Manchester and getting wasted every night (and most afternoons). You know it can’t end well, but Unsworth writes so perfectly about the wild and brilliant things you miss out on if you go to bed early and sober that Animals is the ideal novel to mark the end of Dry January.
WHAT WE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN AND NO REGRETS
n+1’s 2007 book What We Should Have Known contains the transcripts of discussions between the magazine’s founders, editors and contributors, in which they talk about what they wish they’d known and what they wish they’d read when they were in college. Last year, they repeated the format with No Regrets, but this time with an all-female group of participants. Together, the two books provide a reading list that will last you several lifetimes.
We’re a bit obsessed with other people’s routines, and we’re also a bit obsessed with Adult’s Mornings After series. Each installment features one woman in her apartment (photos included) talking about what she does when she wakes up. There’s a lot of lounging and coffee-drinking and day-dreaming, and every single one will make you want to change the way you start your day.
YOGA FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN'T BE BOTHERED TO DO IT BY GEOFF DYER
Geoff Dyer rambles around the world, sometimes in reality and sometimes only in his head. Visiting places such as Cambodia, Libya, Amsterdam and New Orleans. But Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It is no Eat, Pray, Love. “Once you turn forty, you realise that life is there to be wasted,” he concludes.
GRAPEFRUIT: A BOOK OF INSTRUCTIONS AND DRAWINGS BY YOKO ONO
Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit – published in 1964 – is an artist’s book consisting of instructions ranging from the fanciful (“Take a tape of the sound of the stars moving./ Do not listen to the tape./ Cut it and give it out to the people on the street./ Or you may sell it for a moderate price”) to the mundane (“Make one tunafish sandwich and eat.”).
“ONE ART” BY ELIZABETH BISHOP
We lose things all the time. But we’ve felt a lot better about it since we learned by heart Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art”. “The art of losing isn’t hard to master;/ so many things seem filled with the intent/ to be lost that their loss is no disaster,” it starts, and goes on to list things the speaker has lost: her mother’s watch, a house, two rivers, a continent, her lover. Ignore the last lines, where it becomes clear that the speaker’s resignation in the face of loss is an act. Instead, memorise “Accept the fluster/ of lost door keys, the hour badly spent”. Repeat as necessary. This is really the only advice that anyone needs.
“SELF-RESPECT” BY JOAN DIDION
Joan Didion wrote “Self-Respect” in a hurry, to fill a space left in Vogue by a piece another writer had failed to produce. The essay’s guidance is none the worse for being hastily assembled. Didion argues that self-respect is not about what you do, but about coming to terms with what you do: “There is a common superstition that ‘self-respect’ is a kind of charm against snakes, something that keeps those who have it locked in some unblighted Eden, out of strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general. It does not at all. It has nothing to do with the face of things, but concerns instead a separate peace, a private reconciliation.”
ONE BIG QUESTION
The Hairpin’s One Big Question series asks a bunch of its writers to answer one question every month. The latest is “How Do You Get Shit Done?” and the answers will help you become more efficient without making you feel bad about your procrastination habits.
I'LL HAVE WHAT SHE'S HAVING BY REBECCA HARRINGTON
I’ll Have What She’s Having isn’t a diet book so much as a book about terrible diets. It brings together Harrington’s extremely funny columns for New York magazine, as well as new material, in which she records her experiences trying out different celebrity diets. (Highlights include Gwyneth Paltrow’s and Pippa Middleton’s). Harrington is admirably game in the face of absurdity, and we should all aspire to her combination of humour, empathy and deep scepticism.
“MY DARLING, MY CLICHE” BY KATHRYN SIMMONDS
In this poem from her highly recommended 2008 collection Sunday at the Skin Launderette, Kathryn Simmonds jumbles a whole lot of clichéd advice to produce a set of instructions stranger and wiser than the originals:
Beware of old lovers bearing gifts. A rolling stone
gathers much loss. If you can’t say something nice
say something with gall (many a true word
was said in a vest at three a.m. on a Wednesday night.)