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You Are What You Read: Everything I Know About Love

Blyth McPherson on the ways she sees herself in Dolly Alderton's best-selling memoir

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Image Credit: Penguin Books Ltd, 2019

‘You are what you read’ is a statement which rang true upon my initial reading of Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton. This may have been aided by Alderton starting the book explaining her childhood growing up in Stanmore, which also happens to be exactly where my family home is. She perfectly explains it to be a place with no culture, calling it “as beige as the plush carpets that adorned every home.” This description left me gaping at the book in my lap, not quite sure whether to be offended by her description of my precious town, yet agreeing with her fully. This brutally honest, descriptive approach is her style throughout the rest of her memoir. The familiarity I found in the narrative also might have something to do with the fact that a lot of the book refers to Alderton’s adventures as a single female at university. While this might be a limiting factor in the inclusivity of the novel, the lessons Alderton shares with the reader about friends and love has something in them to benefit everyone.

When I finished reading, I struggled to find a book which fully engaged and made me think, quite like how Everything I Know about Love did. When explaining why I loved this book so much to a close friend of mine, I described it as having changed my understanding of friendship, which is exactly what this book does. Alderton tells many different stories from her life and how they changed and impacted her, with the common factor in them all being the friendships which helped carry her through - while also taking you on her rocky journey with self-love. The book is often described as an ode to female friendship, with the final message (in a tear-jerker of a chapter) being that everything will be okay as long as you have, and appreciate, your friends. In the most obvious yet groundbreaking sentence of all time, Alderton states that the love she has been seeking “had been there all along”, in her friends. From the journey the book takes you on, this is the obvious conclusion yet it’s shocking in how it makes you consider the ways you have not been appreciating all the beautiful, strong people who you surround yourself with.

Re-reading this book a year on, I have been able to see how it has changed my approach to maintaining loving friendships. One of the final chapters of the book, “Everything I Know at 28”, is Alderton reminiscing over living with her friends and pinpointing everything she loved about living with them (even the annoying habits). To which I found myself subconsciously doing the same as I read along, matching with her on the issue of bin bags - but that’s a discussion for another day. Now more than ever, I think that this is the healthiest way to view the friendships you have; reminding yourself what it is about a person you love and is unique to them. I have seen a lot of posts recently on social media saying things like “remember who messaged you during lockdown, they’re your true friends”, and thinking how ridiculous it is to judge someones ‘commitment’ to your friendship in such an unsettling time. Instead, I think quarantine and this strange world could be the ideal time to think about all the positive impacts your friendships have on your life and maybe let your friends know that. Let’s be honest, we could all do with a little lockdown pick-me-up now and then.

While the book is a fantastic representation of women and friendships, Alderton did not want to ‘moralise’ life as a woman in her memoir, and she achieves this by writing honestly about her experiences. She shares her ups and downs, her heartbreak, her loss, her greatest achievements, without ever sugar-coating anything. She writes as if she is telling her best friend the stories of her life, with all the honesty one reveals to their closest friends, and by the end of the book it feels like Alderton is indeed one of your closest friends. While the book has some very thought-provoking themes and ideas about life, it is also hilarious and filled with bizarre writing tools; such as recipes, text messages with nobody and weekly shopping lists. She tells the tales of how all the things in life that she wanted to stay the same didn’t, and how feeling like you’re falling behind on others is something normal. Her lessons about entering ‘adult life’ after graduating are ones which should be read by all, as I somehow feel like I’m better prepared for it with Alderton’s guidance in my hand.

The book is a fantastic memoir and an honest insight into what being a female in the 21st Century looks like. I have found that the key takeaway messages on my first read and my second a year later are very different, and feel like that is a continuum for years to come. At a time where the world feels a little odd, this book is a lovely reminder that everyone has high and low points in their life and to check up on your friends, because they’re in your life for a reason.

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