Stress and Reading: Even if you don’t like books…

According to personal research conducted in my house during my free time, I can confirm that reading reduces stress, expands your knowledge and improves focus.

I am not about to preach to you, non-reader, about why you should read a book, but if you are a book reader, then you will understand that reading illuminates your insides and can quite literally take you into another world while the surroundings of your real world disappear until the moment someone shouts your name or throws a cushion into your face. This escapism is perfect for when the stresses of your day are taking over your sleep time.

On a non-sleep related note, books also make for relaxing discussions. I love reading books on Afghanistan, feminism and books by writers from the Victorian era and the Fin de Siecle. Nothing in this world excites me more than when someone tells me what their favourite reads are, what they’re reading now, and whats on their reading list. Feel free to talk to me about such topics. It will enlighten my Sunday.

I also started a book club that has been running in Auckland for a year and a half and it’s brilliant to surround yourself with other people who just want to talk about books.

This is how most of my conversations with non-book club friends go:

Friend: “What are you doing tonight?”

Me: “I am going to my book club”

Friend: “Oh wow you have a book club?”

Me” “Yes, it’s so much fun. We meet at The Portland and have wine with chips and talk about the book that we’ve all read in often great detail and then the next person chooses their book and we meet up again the next month. Would you like to join?”

Friend: “HA! No”

Reading before bed leads to calmness and subsequently you begin to doze off, as you might be too while reading this blog. Ha…ha?

So, to help you find your nighttime equilibrium, as you’ve successfully balanced being mother, staff member, volunteer, chef, chauffer, housekeeper, and entertainer for one day, I have successfully compiled a list of the top five books that will take you to places only a great book can take you to.

A few choices are related to fashion; women who are inspiring for their originality and dedication to what they love and believe in. The remaining few are of such great literary quality because of their highly acclaimed reputation sustained over the decades, and others who today have in my eyes produced the funniest pieces of literature known to man, or rather just my book shelf. There is also one read that you might find online listed as ‘self-help’, but I like to think of it as self-improvement, because when you’re already awesome enough what is there to lose.

Number Five:

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)

Jean Rhys has successfully given a voice to a woman wrongfully incarcerated in the plot of a literary classic that she didn’t even write. Now that is genius. Antoinette, formally known as Bertha Mason in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, was raised in Jamaica as the Emancipation Act in 1833 for the abolishment of slavery was enforced across the West Indies. Sharing an insightful history into this era you can follow the journey that led Antoinette to the attic of Thornfield Hall, England. In Jane Eyre Antoinette is portrayed arguably as Jane’s alter ego, the repressed Victorian woman, but for Rhys she’s the archetypal portrayal of the intriguing Creole woman that British plantation owners married, moved to England and came to believe that they’re not the domesticated, submissive English wife his household requires.

Number Four:

Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington (2012)

Grace Coddington’s career as American Vogue’s Creative Director at Large spanned longer than I have so far been alive. In my eyes, therefore, she is an icon as I can barely spend longer than an hour sitting in one place (Gen Y problems?). Of course this isn’t the real reason, I hear you question. She has respectably cherished every ounce of her integrity throughout the decades where your mind is no longer relied on for creative inspiration but the apps are on your handheld device. As she points out, she attends every fashion show with her notebook for sketching the information she wants. As her work was slipping into a state of needs must with technology the time was right to leave her position on a high. The most inspiring insight from her book is her love for cats, her humble upbringing in her Welsh family-owned hotel, and her lovers, boyfriends and husband of 30 years, Didier. You might feel like I have just told you everything…I haven’t. There is a lot more.

Number Three:

Miranda Hart: Is it just me? (2012)

A little bit like Marmite, Miranda Hart is a woman who you could either watch and listen to all day with laughter in your belly, or absolutely not at all. Ever. For me, it is 100% the former. It’s not just because of her openness that so many people can now comfortably admit to the thigh clap, the boob clap, or the accidental fart blame-it-on-the-chair scenario, but her very posh accent, her mockery of the middle-class, and most other social conformities that are, when you think about it, ridiculous. In a manner made famous on her TV sitcom, Miranda, you can hear the words ‘awkward’, ‘that’s rude’, and ‘ooh, naughty’ as clearly as if she’s reading next to you. You can find this book in audio form as well should you actually want to have her read to you before bed and literally hear her say those words.

Number Two:

Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel by Eric Boman (2007)

At 95 summers old, Iris Apfel is the world’s wondering art exhibition staging colourful and aesthetically intriguing accessories that she obviously works her clothes around rather than the accessory working around the clothes. She is arguably the inventor of contemporary style, and so it is not hard to believe that Eric Boman chose to take her most extraordinary pieces and photograph them for this book to give us, the inquisitive reader, every ounce of detail we need to know about her often audacious choices. It is not just because of the quality of photography in this book that makes it such an eye pleaser, but Iris herself has written an essay for it encapsulating the wonders of her life using stories to showcase her love for life and vintage photographs from her personal collection.

Number One:

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe (2016)

As a British comedian from Essex, she has an outspoken and unafraid contagious manner about her. She is now the unofficial queen of tackling the topics on life’s inequalities that I myself would be scared of saying out loud. Since discovering this insightful read, though, I now feel confident that someone accredited and of a similar age is with me on my train of thought (toot toot) giving me the sisterhood back up should I ever need it. I won’t reveal the exact topics she so controversially discusses, but I will tell you that her chapter headings range from ‘are you a woman?’ to ‘consent’ and ‘bum, boobs and clever old fat’. She abolishes stereotypes, reasons for self-doubt, and uses her personal experiences with men, boys, family, and her younger self to prove some thought provoking points.

Number Zero (One for luck, or happiness rather):

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin (2015)

I have attempted and failed, and succeeded all the same, to lure people into reading this book so they can share my excitement at the prospect of a betterment project guided serenely by my favourite Australasian stationary shop. You are beginning to get a sense of who I am, I can feel it, and you’re questioning if you should trust someone who reads ‘self-help’ books and favors stationary shops. It’s ok. They’re not ‘self-help’ but self-improvement… We all have a better future self who will go for that run next Saturday, because by then we will definitely be the energetic version of our today self. When you awake after reading this book, though, you realise she has taught you that you can indeed be your next Friday self, who will definitely have the desire for that dinner party, today! Or, the self with the writing power to start that novel worthy of the Man Booker Prize you’ve been meaning to write since last year, but have put off because your Wednesday self is better than your Tuesday self. You’re already awesome, I’m sure, but there is no harm in venturing into unknown territories where supposed self-help books are actually an adventure to read.

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