Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles

After The Fifth Season, I was in the mood for something a bit more light-hearted to read. I’ve been a fan of Sara Bareilles’ music since my then fiance-now husband suggested one of her songs for our first dance, and I was intrigued to learn she’d written a book.

Sounds Like Me isn’t a typical celebrity memoir full of love affairs and feuds, but it’s written with humility and humour, and provides insight into the experiences that shaped Sara as a musician and person from her parents’ divorce and being bullied about her weight at school, finding her love of music and theatre to her first love and inevitable heartbreak, a year studying in Italy, recording and touring, right up to writing the Broadway musical Waitress.

It’s a short book comprising of eight essays based around eight of her songs, though one aspect that did disappoint me was that most of the songs she picked as the basis of the chapters in this book were from her earlier recordings with no songs from Kaleidoscope Heart and only one from The Blessed Unrest, although she does include one from Waitress.

I started reading this thinking it would be a little stopgap between other reads, but I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. Sounds Like Me is a quick and entertaining read, filling in the background of one of my favourite musicians that made me want to listen to her songs with fresh insight, though it did leave me wanting to know more.

My reading often dips in the summer when longer, lighter evenings encourage me to spend more time outside being active, but back under partial lockdown for a couple of weeks and on the cusp of autumn, I’m looking forward to cosy evenings catching up on my TBR shelf. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

21 Miles by Jessica Hepburn

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At the age of 43, after ten years and eleven cycles of IVF, Jessica Hepburn decides it’s time to give up on her dream of motherhood and get on with her life. Hepburn remembers an old childhood ambition and starts investigating whether or not she can actually achieve it. At first her dream of swimming across the English Channel seems as impossible and out of reach as motherhood, but Jessica turns the same dogged tenacity she put into a decade of fertility treatments into swimming. In terms of difficulty, she points out, more people have climbed Mount Everest than swam across the Channel.

One unexpected benefit of her ambition is that following the example set by Captain Matthew Webb in 1875, she won’t be able to wear a wet-suit and is encouraged by her swimming coaches to put on body fat to help her keep warm in the water. In order to help her put on weight, Jessica decides to have lunch with a list of 21 inspirational women (only some of whom are mothers) from neuroscientists and polar explorers to the founder of Mumsnet, an MP and a ballerina to discuss whether motherhood makes women happy.

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Over the course of her training, Jessica has to overcome her doubters and her own self-doubt, as well as her aversion to cold water and fear of jellyfish. Working her way slowly from swimming in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park to open water, and finally her solo voyage across the Channel, I found myself rooting for Jessica and welling up during the description of her crossing.

Written with self-deprecating humour that had me chuckling out loud, this is also a thought-provoking and poignant book as Jessica doesn’t shy away from describing her disappointment and grief at not being able to have children, the shame and isolation of infertility, and the strain it put on her relationship. Unlike a lot of other books written about infertility, 21 Miles doesn’t end with Jessica having a baby, and yet it is life-affirming and inspiring. Throughout this book, Jessica considers the complex relationship women have with food, as well as the difficulties in her relationship with her partner, her relationship with her own parents, the social pressure to have children and the tension that sometimes exists between mothers and childfree or childless women, and in many ways, 21 Miles is as much about the modern experience of being a woman as it is about swimming or motherhood. Have a lovely week! X

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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I Am Malala is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read forever and I ended up borrowing a copy from the local library. In many ways, Malala comes across as a very ordinary teenager who bickers with her little brothers and worries about her exams, and I really enjoyed her vivid descriptions of her life in Pakistan, playing with the little girl next door, listening to her father and his friends chat about politics, visiting relatives in the mountain village where her parents came from, the sense of family and community, and her dawning awareness of living in a patriarchal society.

Malala recalls being vaguely aware of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan but – as I’m sure many people reading can relate – that was something happening somewhere else, until their influence slowly started spreading. Malala describes how a militant group of fundamentalists seized upon the chaos and destruction created by a devastating earthquake to extend their influence and occupy North West Pakistan where she lived, bringing terror, torture, murder and civil war to her home.

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The day that Malala was shot by a Taliban terrorist was just another day up until that event, and she recalls the confusion and disorientation of waking up in an unfamiliar place with no memory of what happened and feeling desperately worried about her family. Malala clearly expresses her humility and gratitude at being alive, reunited with her family and their new life in the U.K. with all the freedom and safety it provides, but it is also tinged with homesickness for Pakistan and all her friends there.

Malala comes across as a young woman shaped by her circumstances, she recognizes how fortunate she was that her parents supported and encouraged her education, and how her family were ordinary people caught up in the conflict between the Pakistani government and terrorists, yet instead of being cowed and frightened into submission, Malala developed a sense of purpose and her determination and courageousness shine throughout this biography. I Am Malala is every bit as powerful and thought-provoking as I expected, and ultimately Malala chooses to define herself not as the girl who was shot by the Taliban but as an advocate for education. Have a lovely week! X

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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For almost as long as I can remember I’ve been a Star Wars fan, and my affection for the franchise is in no small part due to the sassy, blaster-wielding Princess who bossed her male counterparts around and was always at the forefront of the action.

Carrie was apparently inspired to write The Princess Diarist when she stumbled upon the diaries she wrote while filming Star Wars: A New Hope, and decided that forty years after the event, the public revelation of her affair with Harrison Ford would cause minimal damage to those involved.

The Princess Diarist starts with Carrie recounting her decision to step out of her celebrity parents’ shadows, and how at the age of nineteen she was cast as Princess Leia in a low-budget “space fantasy” simply called Star Wars. I sometimes wonder how faithful her recollection of events is but I can’t deny it’s entertaining to read about some of the changes in the original script, the process of finding that iconic hairstyle and various other behind the scenes moments between the cast and crew. However, for what is ostensibly a kiss-and-tell memoir, Carrie Fisher is remarkably tight-lipped about the details of her love affair with Harrison Ford.

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The mid-section contains poems and direct extracts from the diaries she wrote in 1976, and this part lags a little as the diary entries are rambling, self-indulgent and laced with Carrie’s teenage insecurities.

The final part explores the cultural phenomenon Star Wars became, and some readers might be offended by the way she describes the rabid fans and their sense of entitlement for autographs and selfies, yet I suspect she probably understood why the Star Wars characters are so beloved because she admitted that there were times throughout her own life when she wished she was more like Leia. I also found it interesting reading about the different ways male and female fans respond to her character, and she doesn’t shy away from sharing details of some of her experiences and observations about Hollywood sexism (and ageism).

I suspect that Star Wars fans may be disappointed that she doesn’t share more behind the scenes secrets and people expecting a more linear biography may also be disappointed, but Carrie’s inimitable style, humour and candour still make The Princess Diarist an easy and enjoyable read. Have a lovely week! X