This is a beautiful, inspiring, absorbing book. It isn’t a traditional novel, nonfiction tome or memoir but instead a collection of self-published zines (if you’re unsure what a zine is, then google is your friend) which were handcrafted by the author themself. As a result, the look of the book’s pages are much prettier than that of an “ordinary” book, with text written on typewriters, computer and by hand and cute hand-drawn illustrations and embellishments, as well as cut-and-paste images. The text is the collection’s main focus though: Maranda Elizabeth puts a lot of time and effort into crafting their words – and it shows. As an established reader of personal zines (or perzines, as they are commonly known) I know that Maranda’s are among the most popular of the genre, and reading this it is easy to understand why – there is thought and depth in every sentence. Maranda Elizabeth’s style is clever yet easy to read, and I hope their novel is also published soon as I cannot wait to devour it!
What is Telegram about, then? It’s about mental health, the concept of home, the art of writing, friendship, introversion, sobriety, letters, gender, being a twin and many more things besides. Maranda Elizabeth has produced several issues of Telegram a year for almost a decade, so it is more than a wee bit like reading their (very well-written) journal, taking a glimpse into their life from late teens to twenties and following the ups and downs they experienced in this time; including roadtrips, hospitalizations, moving out of their hometown to a city, then back again, then back to the city once more; deciding to quit alcohol and identifying as genderqueer. There really is too much in this book for me to be able to do the content justice.
I personally took a lot from this book. I enjoyed the explorations of mental health labels and diag-nonsenses, and tips on how to be “a good friend to crazyfolk” – the latter has definitely influenced how I try to support my friends who are going through tough times, and has made me feel more confident about my ability to do so. I admire Maranda Elizabeth’s open-minded approach to mental health care, too – rather than saying “all medication is bad! Doctors don’t know shit!” like some (by no means all) nontraditional approaches to mental health I have come across, they talk about the importance of doing what is right and what works for you, whether that is pills or meditation or both or neither or something else entirely. I also enjoyed their reflections on the concept of home, which gave me a new love for mine – I truly feel like I belong here, in this old house in the middle of nowhere, and I knew that as soon as I saw it. I learnt a lot about Canada, where Maranda Elizabeth is from, by reading Telegram and also as a result of more reading online that the book prompted me to do. I want to travel there now!
The most inspiring point that I took from Telegram was Maranda Elizabeth’s words (please excuse my paraphrasing/summing up) about feeling jealous of other creative people and not trying to be more like those you admire and/or who are (more) successful (than you) but instead aiming to be more like yourself. I absolutely love that idea and have embraced it thoroughly – I feel much more free to go off and write and draw what I want now I have mentally given myself permission to be me, not to try and “be good at writing/drawing in the way such-and-such a person is”. What a wonderful, positive and potentially life-changing message.
[I feel I must add a final word of caution however – if you, like me, have been buying and reading Maranda Elizabeth’s zines for several years, please be aware that this is not a complete collection of their zines. If you are buying it to get your hands on the early issues you missed out on, you might be disappointed – those early zines are present, but sometimes there is only a few pages of an individual issue. This isn’t a criticism, and I fully respect Maranda Elizabeth’s decision not to include these zines in full (I shudder to think of publishing stuff I wrote when I was that age, even things that weren’t as personal as those zines undoubtedly were!), but is something I thought other readers might want to be aware of.]