TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager chose the perfect book for Valentine’s Day as her February 2024 Read With Jenna pick.
“Good Material” by Dolly Alderton, the author of “Everything I Know About Love” and “Ghosts,” is the club's February 2024 selection.
“I love this book so much,” Jenna says. “I’m obsessed with it because it’s a deconstructed love story.”
What does that mean, exactly? Jenna responds: “Well, I’ve never read anything quite like it — it’s the unwinding of a love story. And yet, there’s so much love in it.”
“Good Material” is narrated by Andy, a 35-year-old comedian recently dumped by his ex Jen, as he tries to figure out what caused the end of their four-year relationship.?
Alderton tells TODAY.com over email she spent her twenties writing about her friendships and dating life in a weekly column, and sharing her daily life on social media.
“I had this growing feeling that it didn’t serve me anymore,” she says. “In my early 30s, I experienced a strange sort of adolescent heartbreak that inspired the first ideas for 'Good Material.' In writing the book, I took one of the worst years of my life for lots of different reasons — heartbreak, the isolation of the pandemic — and I made something funny out of it. Even though it’s the most fictional thing I’ve written, the pain it came from was one of the most real experiences of my life. In a way, it’s the most intimate book I’ve written.”
At times laugh-out-loud hilarious, and at others gut-wrenching, “Good Material” explores the choices 30-somethings are tasked with: getting married, having kids, seeing the world, focusing on a career — and even considering an entire career pivot.
Alderton says she was inspired by of her experience “doing the opposite” of everyone she knew when she turned 30.
“What I realize now is that you can design your own version of what a 30-year-old is,” she says.?
"When I meet a woman in her sixties who isn’t married or hasn’t had kids, one of my first thoughts is ‘What happened?’ and I hate that that’s a question I ask. But when a man makes that choice, it is accepted or even romanticized. I’m hopeful that this is evening out.”
“It takes a huge amount of bravery for a woman to feel comfortable being single into adulthood, because there aren’t that many women doing the same. It’s a historic response to feel panic at being ‘left behind,’ like you’re not cool, not normal, not feminine,” she continues. “But with every generation more and more women will see that it’s OK to want to be on your own. We will stop seeing it as sad or transgressive.”
As Andy adjusts to single life in “Good Material,” he recounts his highs and lows after moving in with a quirky older roommate and trying to find time to spend with friends as they wed and have kids. He has run-ins with Jen as they’re living in London and navigating their breakup amongst their shared friends, complicating the narrative he’s trying to pin down about why Jen wanted to break up with him.
In the novel, Andy attempts to get back on the dating scene. His flops were some of Jenna’s favorite parts about the book.
“I mean, I haven’t dated in 20 years, which is very strange because I still think of myself as 26 years old, so to read books about modern dating is interesting,” she says. “It’s fun, it’s an escape, and this is set in the U.K, which I just loved. I also really loved these characters and rooted for them, even though I didn’t always agree with their choices.”
To get the voice of Andy’s right, Alderton says she interviewed more than a dozen men about heartbreak, love, relationships and sex.
“It became clear to me that men don’t have an outlet to process their feelings in the same way that women do, that they weren’t able to talk to their friends in depth about their break-ups or other heartbreaks in the same way,” she says. “But they still go through the same madness, obsession, self-flagellation, self-loathing — all of that, too.”
And it’s not just Andy’s perspective readers get to hear: Jen takes the reins toward the end of the book, giving her side of the story as to why the pair weren’t compatible.
“It is February. It is love month. And this is the perfect book to pick up,” Jenna says. “It is funny, it is charming. You see the perspective of this relationship from two people, which you never really get to do, and I think you will fall in love with these characters.”
Alderton adds she’s “incredibly thrilled” to have her book chosen for Read With Jenna.
“Often writing — and reading — is thought of as a solitary act, but my experience of it has been much more convivial, more reliant on the exchange of ideas, stories, and emotions,” Alderton says. “This book was born of conversation, and so it feels deeply satisfying that it is a book club pick. I’m so excited to share it with all of you.
For fans of “Sorrow and Bliss,” Jenna’s February 2024 selection will be sure to tug at your heartstrings (and probably will have you shedding a few tears, too).