Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

I have just this moment finished Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl, which I listened to on audiobook because despite my repeated proclamations that I am not going to stick with my Audible subscription, I keep forgetting to cancel it.

I read Bryony Gordon’s first book, The Wrong Knickers, a couple of years ago when I was going through a patch of reading memoirs by funny women, which was a pretty great reading phase. I loved it, it is laugh out loud funny, but after reading this I don’t see it in quite the same way. If you haven’t read either, I recommend reading both because they inform each other.

Mad Girl is a memoir of her experiences with mental illness, OCD, depression and bulimia, specifically. Somewhat unexpectedly, it’s still very funny, pretty pacy and not a completely overwhelming, intense read. I mean, it’s intense, there’s no getting around that, but it was still pretty easy to get through. She strikes a clever tone which allows her to be honest but also allows the reader to keep going.

It’s also just wonderfully honest, as she talks about mental illness completely unabashedly, which is really great to see. It’s wonderful that she’s part of the hopefully changing conversation about mental health, especially because her previous book doesn’t acknowledge everything that she was going through in this time, so she comes from the position of not talking about it. The very existence of the second book says something important, I think.

It is a representation of mental illness that I haven’t seen before, and I would recommend it particularly if you have someone in your life who suffers from mental illness and you want to try to understand it better, which is the position I’m in. If you suffer from it yourself, it might be triggering to be perfectly honest, but it also might give you hope.


Rapid Fire Book Tag

Ebook or physical book?
Physical books, all the way. I have a kindle and it saved my life when I was living abroad, especially in Rostov-on-Don, a kind of… provincial city in southern Russia where there is pretty limited access to English language books. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like a physical book. I love books as objects, the cover design, the endpapers (I have this thing with endpapers…) And since I’ve started working in a publishing company, I’ve understood how much work goes into them, and why designers make the choices that they do, how much thought and work goes into it.

Paperback or hardback?
Hardbacks piss me off. I like them as objects, but they’re just annoying, because I like to carry a book everywhere I go, and it’s a pain in the arse. I’m currently reading Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto in hardback and I might as well be lugging a brick around in my handbag. I also feel slightly weird about writing on hardbacks.

Online or in-store book shopping?
In store, generally, because I tend to shop for books in quite a random, sporadic way, where I just pick up whatever catches my fancy. I bloody love a bookshop.

Trilogies or series?
This is a weird question. These are not two opposites, trilogies are a subsect of series. They’re series of three. If I have to pick one, I think I’ve read more series, but the honest answer is standalone books.

Heroes or Villains?
I’d rather read a well-written villain, but I think the key there is well-written. I just want an interesting character, whether they fall into good or bad or neither.

Used Books: Yes or No?
I love second hand bookshops. Oxfam bookshops are some of my favourite places to buy books, and the second hand book stalls on London’s Southbank and the banks of the Seine in Paris are some of my favourite places in the world. I tend to buy more new books, but that’s something I’d like to balance out a little more.

Borrow or Buy?
As I mentioned in my last post, I write on books, so I would always prefer to buy so that I can do that. I also love owning books, having a collection of them. The argument could certainly be made that I own too many books.

Characters or Plot?
You kind of want both, but I lean more towards characters. I deeply love Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot is famously a play in which nothing happens… twice. I’m more interested in people than in events.

Long or Short Books?
I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before – I am bad at long books. Come to think of it, maybe that’s related to the question above. I’m looking at my bookshelf now and the long books that I’ve enjoyed are much more plot driven, and tend to be funny. Although I don’t love short stories, as a general rule.

Long or Short Chapters?
In contrast to the question above, I prefer longer chapters, generally, because I tend to find lots of break interrupt the flow of my reading.

Books That Makes You Laugh or Cry?
For a long time I would have said books that made me cry. I am a crier in life, I love a good cry. But more and more, I am getting into funny books. I think it’s Mhairi McFarlane’s fault, she’s one of the few writers who make me laugh out loud when I’m just sitting by myself reading.

Marginalia, or scribbling all over books

I have a confession: I write on books. I scribble all over them.

I think it’s a habit learned from studying literature, I’m so used to highlighting and underlining and scribbling down my initial thoughts that it’s transferred into the reading I do for pleasure. And now in my job, although I don’t make notes in the same way and I can’t write on the samples, I do take notes as I read the books, and stick post it notes where there are issues.

The printed word is treated with such reverence, as if once something has been stamped on paper, it is sacrosanct and must not be touched. We can react to it, have opinions on it, but we aren’t supposed to attach those to the words as they stand. I don’t really know why. (FYI, Witch, Please has some great discussions of marginalia, particularly in relation to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).

When I say that I write on books, or lend someone a book that I’ve scribbled on, the response is often surprise. People tend to tell me off for it, which is bizarre because they’re my bloody books and I will do what I like with them.

I like that when I reread books, I can see my original responses, the bits I’ve underlined and the bits I’ve written NO in huge letters next to. I like seeing that on other people’s books too – if I borrow a book and someone’s written on it, I enjoy feeling that I’m sharing the experience with them, and wondering why they might have marked a particular section as important.

I also think that writing on books keeps me actively engaged in reading them. It means I’m paying full attention to what I’m reading, taking the information in, analysing it, questioning it, returning to points I don’t immediately understand. It prevents my reading from becoming a passive act. It helps me retain what I read, and it directs what I will read afterwards. I read widely, but making notes on them makes me see the patterns in what I read, so that it all feeds into each other.


I wasn’t going to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Spoiler: I did. The day it was released. In under two hours. (No actual spoilers here, FYI)

I genuinely believed I wasn’t going to read it. I have tickets for the play in London in October and I wanted to see it as a play before I read it.

But then we went into Waterstones on Sunday in search of adult colouring books and I saw the piles of books and I couldn’t leave it, because for the first time in nine years there is a new Harry Potter book and I wanted it with everything in me.

Which is the most obvious thing in the world, really, because I have loved Harry Potter since I was seven – more than two thirds of my life.

I haven’t written anything like this since the final film came out and I was an overexcited teen on tumblr, but I fucking love Harry Potter. These are my favourite characters in fiction, this is a world that I still go to when I am sad, or struggling.

When I was seven (maybe six, I’m not sure), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first book I ever read alone, because I couldn’t wait for my mum to read it with me in the evenings. I remember she would get annoyed with me because she wanted to know what happened and I kept going ahead of her.

All through school, when I felt awkward and uncomfortable with being clever, because I felt like it drew attention to me, Hermione’s influence was the thing that made me go “no, fuck it, I know the answer to this”. (There are a number of people I went to school with who would say that I very clearly never felt shy about knowing the answer – this is evidence of the strength of the Hermione Granger effect. It turned me into the obnoxious shit I am today.)

And this year, the most stressful year of my life, as I’ve ramped up to the most full on exams I’ve ever sat, written the most intense essays imaginable and poured all my energy into my dissertation, when it’s felt like too much, I’ve pulled out the illustrated edition of Philosopher’s Stone, read a few pages and pulled my shit together.

Harry Potter is so important to me that I can’t properly explain it, and

This isn’t the eighth book, not really, but it’s as close as I’m ever going to get and I loved it. I genuinely loved it (which is a huge relief).