Four Essential Reads for Women Turning 30
I am genuinely happy to be entering my thirties. Each decade has been even better than the one before it, but navigating the journey through them has not been easy. From muddling through my awkward teens, through the emotional rollercoaster of my twenties, and now emerging into my self-assured thirties, I want to share the four essential reads that vindicated my experiences.
They all follow the lives of British women, often flashing back to their teenage lives and university days and drawing connections to present conflicts within and between careers, families, friends, and relationships. At times they are funny and witty, and at times sad and reflective. However all four are captivating, entertaining, and must-reads for women making the transition from twenty to thirty, and experiencing the societal pressures that accompany it.
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
This hilarious and honest memoir by award-winning author and journalist Dolly Alderton is first on my list. The former Sunday Times columnist covers getting drunk, being dumped, growing older, falling in love, and finding a job. Nothing is glossed over in her raw retelling of events, and honest accounts of her thoughts and intentions both then and now.
Alderton’s witty and vivid recounts of life at university and beyond had me cackling out loud (yes, really) as well as nodding in agreement with her experiences. Additionally, I really related to the chapters about her university days: the highs of wild nights out, last-minute parties, and dating, and lows of studying, having no money, and well… dating.
Moreover, I found this book really readable and easy to start as well as pick up and put down without having to re-read chapters. Alderton’s witty writing style and friendly and affable tone make it a pleasure to read. I noticed myself actively making time to read more of it as I was so looking forward to picking it up again. The shorter length of the chapters makes this a great option if you’re looking to get back into reading, or know that you’ll only have shorter snippets of time to get stuck in.
Olive by Emma Gannon
Olive is the debut novel by best-selling Sunday times author, blogger, and teacher Emma Gannon. The protagonist Olive is a thirty-something woman with a high-flying career living her best London life. Except she’s now post-breakup and is struggling to come to terms with her decision not to have children. The book follows her as she explores the ‘child free’ way of living and thinking.
Olive has a tight-knit group of girlfriends who are all settling down one by one (yes even that friend) whilst she grapples with the distance created by their new priorities. Gannon expertly uses Olive’s life and choices to describe possible alternatives to the house-married-children treadmill. She gives us a self-assured but anxious, confident but flawed, and crucially fully-formed childless female character we can identify with. This, as I’m sure you’ll know, is incredibly rare in contemporary fiction.
I often listen to audiobooks whilst walking in order to really focus my brain away from anxious thoughts. Soon enough I was so captivated that I found myself making excuses to pop out for a walk to listen to more of it. Despite my best efforts to ignore it, the ticking of my biological clock has been getting louder recently and I have been feeling panicked at my lack of maternal feelings. Listening to someone going through similar thought processes and admitting that she just doesn’t want children was amazingly refreshing.
Ultimately I don’t know what the future holds, but this book reminded me that just because I’m a woman, motherhood is not inevitable and can be a choice.
Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue
This challenging and darkly engaging book from novelist and journalist Caroline O’Donoghue is a little different from the others. However, I had to include it in this list of essential reads. It follows twentysomething Jane, who is an agony aunt anonymously alongside her weekday office job. Her alter-ego ‘Jolly Politely’ provides bold and uninhibited advice for women in sticky situations. Whereas Jane herself begins an affair with her boss at an office party, making decisions that would make Jolly cringe. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that it does not go well.
We are taken along with her and her struggle with the power differences in her burgeoning relationship with this man. Ultimately, we see how this affects her job and her relationships with her friends, her family, and crucially, her relationship with herself.
From the very first chapters, I really liked Jane and her intelligence and quick wit. This made it difficult not to scream at the pages or bang my head against the book later in a vain attempt to stop her from making bad decisions. I found Jane’s descent into embodying the ‘other woman’ somewhat unsettling and distressing. However, I could completely sympathise with the power dynamics and emotional manipulation that were at play in her situation. This is a must-read for women climbing the career ladder in this world where leadership roles are predominantly filled by men.
Expectation by Anna Hope
I have saved the best until last. I adore this book from author and climate-crisis campaigner Anna Hope. It follows best friends Hannah, Cate and Lissa from their ambitious expectant youth to their divergent realities a decade later. We get to see the world through each character’s eyes and hear their thoughts and dreams. This allows us to compare their intentions with how they’re perceived by their friends. Female friendship is a strong theme throughout the pages. Hope covers the spectrum of these relationships from companionship and supportiveness to jealously and frustration.
The stories of the different paths that Hannah, Cate, and Lissa take really resonated with me. I identified with the vibrancy, electricity, and optimism of their time living together at university. Their challenges and disappointments whilst navigating the world afterwards felt devastatingly real and relatable. Each strives to make life meaningful and bring happiness, but is always comparing herself to her friends.
The characters were so distinct and vibrant that they almost felt real to me. Their antics made me laugh, their bond made me nostalgic, and their troubles made me sorrowful. I wanted to carry on following their lives after I had finished reading! I almost missed them. Female friendships are so beautifully complex and Expectation really hits the nail on the head. If you only read one book from this list, make it this one.
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