How To Be Alone

Lane Moore is a rare performer who is as impressive onstage – whether hosting her iconic show Tinder Live or being the enigmatic woman of It Was Romance – as she is on the page, as both a former writer for The Onion and an award-winning sex and relationships editor for Cosmopolitan. But her story has its obstacles, including being her own parent, living in her car as a teenager, and moving to New York City to pursue her dreams. Through it all, she looked to movies, TV and music as the family and support systems she never had.

From spending the holidays alone to having better “stranger luck” than with those closest to her to feeling like the last hopeless romantic on earth, Lane reveals her powerful and entertaining journey in all its candour, anxiety, and ultimate acceptance – with humour always her bolstering force and greatest gift.

How To Be Alone is a must-read for anyone whose childhood still feels unresolved, who spends more time pretending to have friends online than feeling close to anyone in real life, who tries to have genuine, deep conversations in a room full of people who would rather you not. Above all, it’s a book for anyone who desperately wants to feel less alone and a little more connected through reading her words.

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This review is difficult to write because How To Be Alone, Lane Moore’s heart breaking, funny, painful and ultimately healing memoir destroyed me for a solid week. Honestly I’m still not over it.

But I knew that would happen going in. Lane Moore appeared on Hannalyze This (an amazing podcast about mental health and processing trauma that I highly recommend you check out) a few weeks back and though I hadn’t heard of her before, I knew by the end of the episode that I needed her book. You know when a book calls to you on, like, a cellular level?

Yeah.

That.

How To Be Alone is a series of essays about Lane’s life, touching on her childhood (Emergency Contact Left Blank) through leaving home (Now You Get To Be An Adult, Even Though You Were Always An Adult. Good Luck!), relationships (So Your Family Dictates Your Romantic Future? What a Fun Punishment! and All This Pain Must Be Worth It Because You’re Supposed To Be My Soul Mate) and loving Jim Halpert from The Office (Am I The Last Hopeless Romantic On Earth?). Lane describes in strikingly honest detail – and I do mean tear yourself in half, blood on the pages honesty – what life is like when your primary support system, your family, is abusive and absent. In moments funny and tear-inducing, she writes of clawing her way to survival by way of the music, TV shows and books she used to build her identity in the absence of any adult affirmation or supervision.

What I loved most about How To Be Alone is it is a memoir written by someone who is still in it, by which I mean to say still in the pain, in the recovery. I heard Lane herself say in an interview that she was sick of reading memoirs by women detailing their painful experiences of negotiating the wilderness alone that almost universally end with… ‘and then I met Jeff and now everything is fine’.

Screw Jeff.

What Lane has produced is a book for people who are still in it. It’s proof that even in the midst of the pain and the horror there are moments of lightness. That feelings of pain – overwhelming and awful and insurmountable as they so often feel – are survivable, because Lane is writing not having survived, but currently surviving.

With almost every significant female written memoir in the story of survival canon ending with the arrival of Jeff, this is no small thing.

What I also appreciated about this book was that she didn’t only write about her struggles with romance, but with platonic relationships too. It’s always bothered me the way people who ‘struggle with relationships’ on TV do so exclusively in the romantic arena – seeming to have no problem maintaining an often large and close knit group of friends. As if feelings of insecurity, feeling like you’re a burden or having boundary issues only matter when sex is involved.

If you’re someone who finds life generally pretty hard, if you had a weird childhood that you’re still struggling with or you’re going through a tough spot right now, then you should read How To Be Alone. You’re likely to find a piece of yourself in there somewhere.

I grew up in a pretty chaotic household. My mum was a single parent and we had no money. She was in an emotionally abusive relationship for a long time (12 years – so basically my entire childhood and still a very large proportion of my life so far) and that person, though I haven’t seen or spoken to him in getting on for a decade, continues to loom large in my life in ways I’ve only really come to understand in the last couple years.

My dad was a very unreliable and often absent, and when he was around, the type who’d do something shitty to you and then find a way to demonstrate that it was actually your fault that he did that thing. We’re not in contact any more.

I do not have an easy time being close with people. I am painfully socially anxious and I second guess literally every single interaction I have. For a long time I just assumed I was broken, but I’ve recently realised (on an intellectual level, anyway) that actually my natural setting of General Dread may not be one I was born with so much as one that was… installed. Healing is a long, hard process I for one have barely even begun, but books like How To Be Alone, filled with pain as they are, go a long fucking way to helping you feel whole again.

In How To Be Alone – even though Lane’s life was a lot (a lot) harder than mine has been – I saw myself reflected in a way I really never have before. There was no neat tying traumatic experiences up in a bow, but instead a slow unfolding of the exhausting process of learning to carry your extensive and heavy emotional baggage – and the hope that you might one day let it all go.

 

 

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Renegades

Nova is an anarchist, a girl on a mission for revenge after the heroes sworn to protect her family failed her.

Adrian is a renegade, a boy with extraordinary abilities who believes in justice, and in Nova.

They should be sworn enemies, but Nova finds herself torn between Adrian and the Renegades, and a villain that could destroy them both.

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Renegades by Marissa Meyer is a fun and exhilarating adventure through a world filled with super heroes and super villains – the definition of which really depends which side you’re on. The mainstream narrative dictates that the Renegades are the Good Guys – in charge after putting an end to the bloody age of anarchy many years before. They now govern Gatlon City (full of prodigies, AKA powered people and normies, AKA not really in the story cause, boring) with a bureaucracy entangled iron fist and public opinion 100% behind them – supposedly.

The book opens in dark and dramatic – Meyer-ian, you might say – fashion, with the tragic origin story of Nova, one of our two narrators. Baby Nova witnesses her entire family gunned down in front of her (i.e. not rescued by the Renegades who are supposed to save people from such horrifying ends) before being swept away by her Uncle Ace who just happens to be head of the Anarchist movement.

Then we jump forward ten or so years and 17-year-old Nova is PISSED. Shortly after losing her family, Nova’s Uncle Ace was killed in the aforementioned Renegade’s taking back the city battle and our girl has an axe to grind, a gun and a carefully thought out assassination plan. Her target? Captain Chromium, head of the Renegades and de facto leader of Gatlon City – after, I think, stabbing Ace Anarchy through the head? He carries his helmet around on a spear for public holidays while the crowd cheers about the idea of a man having a pike pushed through his skull.

Not that I’m judging. I live in England where every November 5th we burn effigies of a would-be 17th century terrorist.

Hey, it’s tradition.

All this, and we’ve only just hit the second chapter. If you’ve read and loved The Lunar Chronicles then you know that Meyer knows how to build a politically complicated world. Gatlon City is certainly that, with the war between the Renegades and the Anarchists finished but never really over – especially when the Anarchists are still living in the sewers (surprisingly, nicer than it sounds).

As all powerful as the Renegades certainly seem, opposing worldviews still struggle for dominance. For the Renegades, it’s about order at all costs – even if people are disempowered and afraid, at least they are behaving. Coming into power off the back of so much lawlessness there is a sense with the Renegades that they can accept the world isn’t getting any better so long as it isn’t getting any worse. They fight for Good Enough and for the young people of Gatlon City, that isn’t going to cut it for much longer.

The Anarchists, on the other hand, were all about freedom. Before they came along, prodigies were discriminated against and abused. Ace Anarchy changed all that by tearing down the government and its affiliated institutions – he created a world with no order and no consequences. It wasn’t long before crime and violence filled the hole institutions left behind. Gatlon City became a dangerous place, where, as Meyer says “It became the strong against the weak, and, as it turns out, the strong were usually jerks.”

Aint that the truth.

Ace Anarchy dreamed of a world free from tyranny, and he failed to create that for everyone. But the deeper you get into this book the more prominent the question becomes of whether the Renegades are really any better. Nova, as much as she enjoys having super powers (she can put people to sleep when she touches them. So handy. Imagine the boring conversations you could get out of), believes the world would ultimately be better if super heroes didn’t exist, because, she argues, if people didn’t spend all of their time waiting for someone to come save them, they would be forced to think up ways of saving themselves.

In a book about super heroes and super villains, Meyer is really talking about the real threats to the world – complacency, apathy and indifference. Renegades is about fighting the assumption that, because there are powers at be that are greater than you, you are therefore powerless. Nova believes that powerlessness is a choice that we’re all making, and she’ll give her life to fight for a world where people are brave enough to choose something else.

“They saw prodigies themselves as only good or evil, leaving the rest of humanity somewhere in the realm of neutral.

There was potential for evil everywhere, and the only way to combat it was if more people chose goodness. If more people chose heroism.

Not laziness. Not apathy. Not indifference.”

This entertaining book about teenage super heroes (and their delicious, slow burning romances) asks vital questions about activism, personal responsibility and determination to fight for what you believe in. It looks at whether people can ever join hands across political lines or if ideological divides are too greater gap to bridge.

It also has one hell of a twist at the end that I did not see coming. Bring on book 2!

Roar

Have you ever imagined a different life? Have you ever stood at a crossroads undecided? Have you ever had a moment when you wanted to roar?

The women in these startlingly original stories are all of us: the women who befriend us, the women who encourage us, the women who make us brave. From The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared to The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf and The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged Her Husband, discover 30 very different women. Each discovers her strength; each realizes she holds the power to make a change.

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Roar, Cecelia Ahern’s short story offering is a selection of feminist tales that aim to explore the pressures, prejudices, joys and maddening frustrations of women’s lives. The stories weave magical realism into the modern day pressures of motherhood, marriage and aging in a way that was effective if occasionally a little contrived.

Overall, I found Roar to be a pretty mixed bag. I enjoy magical realism, but Ahern’s on the nose use of metaphor at times came across a little heavy handed. The first story in the collection, The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared sees a middle aged woman gradually vanish into nothing – making the point that women in middle age and beyond are ignored and maligned in society (particularly noticeably in the UK, where it’s generally accepted that women aren’t allowed to be on TV anymore once they hit 50). In The Woman Who Wore Pink, gender roles are enforced by a literal Gender Police that sees men and women fined and even imprisoned when they don’t adhere to the roles society has laid out for them. I’m not arguing her point, but there was a layer of subtlety missing in the collection that made me feel like she wasn’t so much showing me her opinion as bashing me over the head with it.

While overall I found this heavy handedness to be disconcerting, there were times when she used it to amusing and deeply satisfying effect. The Woman Who Guarded Gonads, about a world in which men have to appeal to a room of women to be allowed a vasectomy flips the narrative of bodily autonomy on its head and has men held to the same standards women have struggled against since forever. Lines like “And what about the lack of thought for the sperm? Why deny your sperm the right to life?” highlight the utter ridiculousness of the ‘pro-life’ position in a way that was as funny as it was cathartic.

What has left me so on the fence about this collection however was one particular story that left a bad taste in my mouth. The Woman Who Blew Away is the story of a millennial influencer who is obsessed with her Instagram likes, spends hours on her makeup, has plastic surgery and takes lots of selfies who one day “became so light, her head filled with too much nothing, she blew away”. This story was such an outlier – especially in such an overtly feminist collection – built on stereotypes, assumptions and the coding of things typically ‘feminine’ as stupid. In a book packed with complexly imagined women fighting guilt, insecurity and harassment this story of oh she likes makeup and cares about social media so therefore she must be stupid was a slap in the face. It felt very Rashida Jones #stopactinglikewhores level tone deaf and cast a bit of a shadow over the rest of the collection for me – and perhaps extinguished any patience I had kept for the aspects of Ahern’s writing that weren’t working for me.

While it definitely had some triumphant moments, overall Roar was let down by obvious metaphors and Ahern’s decision to give some women complexity and nuance while removing it from others.  It felt very feminism 101, which while still a good thing in itself, didn’t really say anything that was new to me.

Strange The Dreamer

TW: Rape

Since he was five years old, Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the mythical lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to go in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself – in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors – and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep to cut it off from the rest of the world? What did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of a god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await within Weep. But so do many of more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who visits Lazlo’s dreams…

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Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor took me a full month to read, but my slow pace, for once, wasn’t because of a slump; I was simply savouring every second. It’s a well established fact at this point that nobody writes quite like Laini – magic dust coats every page as she crafts odd and enchanting worlds one can’t help but fall into.

“Lazlo felt as though the top of his head were open and the universe had dropped a lit match in. He understood in that moment that he was smaller than he had ever known, and the realm of the unknowable was bigger. So much bigger. Because there could be no question:

That which cast Weep in shadow was not of this world.”

Strange The Dreamer is about two young people trapped within small worlds they are absolutely desperate to escape from: Lazlo “The Dreamer” Strange, formerly monk-in-training now librarian and completely obsessed with finding the lost city of Weep; and Sarai, spawn of long murdered Gods, officially but not actually dead herself, doomed to spend her entire existence hiding in a ruined citadel floating above Weep from humans who would kill her on sight. She has blue skin, so flying under the radar isn’t really an option.

The novel switched effectively between Lazlo’s narrative and Sarai’s, on the ground in Weep and above it inside the citadel while establishing the history of horror suffered by the inhabitants of both.

Far from the magical place of opportunity he had envisioned, Lazlo finds the city crumbling beneath the weight of its painful, bloody history. The central tension of the novel on both sides – Lazlo and the people of Weep and Sarai and the Godspawn of the citadel – is how to move forward. Both groups are defined by the atrocities of the other. For the humans living down in Weep it’s the centuries spent as slaves to the Gods, disappeared, killed and raped at will before being cast back down to Earth when the Gods were finished with them. For the Godspawn, it’s the massacre of the Gods – and most of the Gods’ children – by the humans. Minya, one of the surviving Godspawn is so trapped by the trauma of that day she simply never grew up – she is stuck as the six-year-old girl she was on the day the Gods and their babies were violently murdered in front of her. Meanwhile the citizens of Weep, years after the murder of the Gods, live in literal shadow – the citadel that was (and unbeknownst to them, still is) the home of the Gods hovers above them, forever blocking out the sun.

Strange The Dreamer is a novel about trauma, and how we deal with it as individuals and societies. For the humans, the only way forward they could conceive of was the complete eradication of the Gods, even the babies, who they refused to imagine could grow into anything other than the monsters that their parents were. Equally, the surviving Godspawn can only see the humans as murderous. Survival means revenge and the eradication of the monstrous other.

Well… mostly. There is a level of exhaustion with violence among certain characters in this book. A hope, small at first but growing, and, I think, contagious that there might be another way. But the other way is buried under so much rubble it’s hard to know if those hopefuls will ever manage to uncover it fully.

Strange The Dreamer is a rich, layered novel that explores the grey areas of life. For every character that seems on the face of it villainous, there is a level of complexity within them that prevents the reader from seeing them as purely monstrous (apart from maybe Drave. It’s hard to feel any real sympathy for that guy). The world is magical, curious and tragic in all the ways we have come to expect from Taylor’s work, and the characters – even those we can’t help but dislike – engaging. While very long, the book keeps you hooked throughout – though I could have done without Lazlo and Sarai’s long shared dream sequence – until the shock ending that will have you desperate for book two.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.