This article is going to be the first in the “Ex Libris series” of book reviews.
“Note to Self” is Connor Franta’s second venture into book writing. Connor, a content creator out of Los Angeles, is best known for his successful Youtube channel, but also has extended his entrepreneurial spirit to projects such as a lifestyle brand called Common Culture, a music label, and severa; compilation albums. Connor’s first book, “A Work in Progress”, an autobiography of his life, remained a New York Times bestseller for 16 consecutive weeks.
Note to Self has a completely different feel than the polished, optimistic “Work in Progress”. Instead of chapters, the book contains a reflective and intimate collection of poems and essays. Each addition conveys a musing about life, as Connor records his struggles with depression, his devastating breakup, and his slow and gradual healing process. He writes to his younger self, his future self, and he reflects on growth and humanity and happiness. Throughout, personal photography acts as interludes to accompany the heaver poems and essays.
Even with all these potentially grandiose topics, Connor’s voice is honest and compelling. There are no pretentious sweeping statements about life, nor does he shy away from his failings and humanity. This isn’t a carefully edited and poised self presented between these pages, but an emotional and vulnerable one. We’ve all been there.
I especially loved “Frames”, a poem which is an exploration of the emptiness of a falling out. “photographs fly down/where we used to lie down” – intimacy turned to emptiness.
Apropos as well was the poem “somebody else”: “I want the old me back”. This semester I found myself struggling with depression and anxiety, due to a number of factors. I missed being full of energy, missed being able to put in 100% effort, missed succeeding and being proud of my work. I wasn’t myself this semester.
“I saw a boy in Larchmont” reminded me of the familiar panic of seeing an ex in public. It also reminded me of how I’d been convinced in the past that I was over something only to unexpectedly realize I wasn’t.
Other poems, though, felt awkward, as if the words wouldn’t come. Some felt so full of emotion, almost choked by it, so that not else remained – and that translated onto the page; a set of words conveying jumbled despair but not much else. Others felt juvenile, like a 10th grader’s first attempts to voice their experiences through poetry – focusing too much on the weight of the words themselves, not the images they portray.
Similarly, in some of the essays, interjections and notes to the reader took away from the point of the essay. It felt immature instead of personal.
Those are the weaknesses, but the strengths of this book far outweigh them. Each piece, written during or immediately after the precipitating feeling, holds humanity and emotion as securely as if it were cold pressed. Remember the kids in highschool who flaunted the fact they have it all together? Constantly were sharing and bragging on social media? Note to Self is the opposite of that – it is humble and authentic. It’s the writings of someone who gets it.
Connor’s voice needs to develop, in my opinion, but he writes on beautiful, painful, and relatable topics which show his great personal growth and relate to all of us in our human experience.
I loved this collection so much that I started a “Note to Self” project of my own. I can’t take photos to save my life (hi galaxy S5 camera!) but I already have a few pages of material. That’s why I loved this book so much – it was so inspiring and so beautiful that it made me want to curate my own notes to self.