Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it, #ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
How to Be You and Me
By Roxanne Fequiere
Old habits die hard. It’s been just over two months since I left my corporate copywriting job, but the distinct chime of an Outlook inbox makes me flinch all the same. I have alarms in my phone named after weekly meetings I no longer need to attend. And I still divide the year into quarters when trying to visualize long stretches of time, like we used to do for marketing purposes.
Luckily, I no longer need to consider how best to capitalize on March Madness without using those exact words—they’re trademarked—or sell to dads and grads come June, but I find myself determined to evaluate my output nevertheless. How much did I spend in Q1? How much did I earn? Did I stick to my resolutions? Did I step outside of my comfort zone? What should I tweak going into Q2?
It probably won’t come as a surprise that I was a diligent student before entering the full-time workforce. Though I often took on staggering workloads, there was comfort in the knowledge that my goal—excellence—was clear and concise. Difficult to achieve, perhaps, but always in sight. Even better, grasping the academic brass ring came with a built-in conclusion: end semester, rest, begin again. New courses, clean slate.
Now several years removed from the academic arena, I’m occasionally stricken by the notion that possibility, however abundant it may be, forges no such path. All we can do is pick a direction and begin moving forward. It’s a quandary that’s exhilarating and unnerving in its sprawling potential, but the student I once was still craves a syllabus, a grading rubric, a roadmap that provides directions to success so that I don’t have to chart my own course.
For this reason, I’ve long been enthralled by self-help and how-tos, the kinds of books that focus on living your best life, replicating a desirable lifestyle, or learning to do things correctly, the way they ought to done. I think of them as a salve rather than a medicine—that is to say, I tend to take them with a large grain of salt—but they serve as enlightening entertainment with oftentimes unexpected real-life applications.
In high school, I became enamored with a trio of guidebooks by Kate Spade titled Style, Manners, and Occasions. Though she was holding forth on subjects like guest room linens and cocktail menus, I clung to every word, certain that her advice would be relevant one day. Years later, as a college freshman, I found myself crouched in my bedroom with my roommates, all of us frantically flipping through those same pages as a party raged out of control outside my door. We’d decided to host a gathering, but things had taken a turn and we didn’t know how to get our guests to leave. I could have sworn my girl Kate would know how to handle the situation, but I couldn’t quite remember where I’d seen the tip.
“Found it!” I said, waving my roommates over. “She says to quietly begin cleaning up the room, and they should get the hint.”
Reader, it worked. Our soirée had none of the book’s recommended panache: no votive candles, no linens, no artfully arranged flora. We used Solo cups instead of highball glasses, and I’m willing to bet our drink selection was trash, but we’d found a way to disperse our rowdy guests with grace and restraint. For a brief moment, we felt as if we were gallant hostesses. The tip was handy, but the payoff was priceless.
This month, I’m looking forward to spending time with books of the how-to variety, new discoveries and old favorites alike. It’s not gospel that I’m seeking, although I’m open to the idea that there may be one or several books out there—of any genre—that could truly transform my life. Rather, it’s the glimmering assurance that we can all take small steps to smooth over the myriad paths we’ve chosen for ourselves. We’re all free to be you and me, but beyond that, it’s up to us to figure out what that looks like. I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to take all the help I can get.
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.