#40iscoming Toolkit 1. The Essential Question – So What Do I Read?

Right. Let me bring you up to speed here, if you haven’t read this last post: I’m going to turn 40 in a couple of months’ time and I’m trying to figure out how one does that in a Spring Minded way. How do I change digits in a way that’s nine parts hopeful and excited about what’s next and only one part freaking out about (in no particular order) ageing, wrinkles, mortality and whether my life has meaning, rather than the other way around?

(Does that sound completely alien? Are you looking at this text thinking “God, these people who have time to worry about such inconsequential things. Self-centred weaklings. I for one was never / will never be troubled by such trifling things. It’s just a meaningless number. You should instead be thinking about important matters, like global warming, the terrifying rise of nationalism, the prospect of a third world war, solving world hunger” or variations on that theme? You are right, of course you are. You are a better, stronger human being and you must be very busy changing the world. No need to read on, you’ll just get increasingly annoyed and might feel an urge to troll people on social media.)

The next logical question (for me, at least) was: what am I going to read? Of course, there’s the usual Spring reads (which I will be updating over the weekend, so feel free to check them out), but are there things I can read that will be good for this particular, #40iscoming-type situation?

Yes! First of all, there’s the Bible. No, not the actual Holy Book (although, if that’s your thing, that is definitely a worthy read too). I’m talking about the Bible of embracing your age, the book I always go back to when I need a reminder that getting older is something to be celebrating: Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. My copy used to belong to a friend of mine, a beautiful woman who is the definition of an inspirational friend: full of spark and joy, brave with her life and choices, and heart-meltingly kind and loving. You know those people who spread such light you can’t even envy them? That’s Daniela. She left me the book when she moved to the US a few years ago. This book, my darlings, is IT. It’s a collection of autobiographical essays, written when Quindlen was 60, and the best way to sum it up is to quote the first blurb on the back cover: it’s like having a “favourite aunt over for a cup of tea”. And she brought cake. Calorie-free cake. Then you fall asleep on the couch while she’s telling you stories and she pulls a soft blanket over you and does the dishes. And you feel like everything is going to be just fine.

“It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again.”

Once you’re done with candles and cake, you could do a lot worse than Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming. Yes, there’s so much hype around it, but the hype is actually real this time. So pick it up. One favourite quote:

“I am now at a new beginning, in a new phase of life. […] At fifty-four, I am still in progress, and I hope that I always will be.”

At this point, I could pretend that I am a much better person than I actually am and keep going on about books as if that’s all I ever read. But the truth is I’ve always loved magazines and I also waste A LOT of time on the Internet (hello, Facebook rabbit hole. Let’s never do this again). And those are very dangerous places for #40iscoming, because they have this knack of making you feel awful about yourself so you will buy more stuff to feel less awful. Also, everyone looks 25 (and is probably under 18). But there are a couple of safe places, which I would call my guilty pleasures if I felt any guilt about loving them, which I don’t:

  • Stylist – it’s a free weekly magazine you get handed out when you go into the Tube, so it’s probably crap, right? Wrong. It’s bright and opinionated and feminist and fun and I never miss an issue when I’m in London.
  • O, the Oprah Magazine. I know, I know. Cringe. Then hide from your cool friends and go read it. The only women’s magazine I’ve ever had a subscription to. And yes, I always skip the recipe pages because I don’t really do the cooking thing. But the rest is great.
  • And…drum roll because I was definitely saving the best for last: The Pool. Self-dubbed “a platform for women who are too busy to browse”, this website reminded me why I grew up wanting to write for women’s magazines, because it’s women’s media at its best: smart, informative, funny, real, and with some of the best columnists you could wish for. And their daily newsletter is the best thing for your inbox. I get (voluntarily) quite a few other newsletters every day: the FT Briefing, Axios Pro Rata, PitchBook News (no prizes for having figured out that I didn’t end up working for a women’s magazine after all), the Skimm (fab for a quick scan of the news, if a bit US-centric, and funny too). But The Pool’s newsletter (plus anything Robert Shrimsley writes, because a girl is allowed an FT crush and he’s so good I even read his stuff about UK politics) is a coffee break’s best friend.

We then move on into the murky waters of Instagram…but that’s one for next time, because I’ve got to get myself and two unwilling children to the gym. Happy reading!




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