Matt Haig has cemented his place firmly in the nation’s hearts. Last year’s The Midnight Library was a huge best seller and a quite glorious read. I heard him recently on Radio 4’s Open Book talking passionately and eloquently about libraries which have featured in great literature. As I have discovered with Reasons To Stay Alive, Haig’s journey to revered author has been rocky to say the least.
I stepped back to 2015 and soaked up this clever, poignant and quite frankly, important book. Part memoir, part pocket guide, Reasons To Stay Alive is oozing honesty and charm. So much of what we read holds a mirror to our minds or guides us to a view through the open window. This does both.
. That’s a mirror I mostly avoid. As he points out repeatedly, it is good to remind yourself where you’ve been.
But I also found myself nodding and smiling, sharing with the author a passion for those great medicines for our minds – the outdoors, exercise, loving, reading and, of course, writing.
As Matt Haig himself explains, often authors explore their relationships with themselves, the world around them and their own mental through works of fiction. He cites his own novel, The Humans, as an example of this. But with Reasons To Stay Alive, the story is ruthlessly personal. That Haig can achieve this without any sense of ‘woe’ or self pity is testament to the quality of his writing.
The book is written in easily digested passages, switching between his own story, pointers to surviving our times and a series of checklists. The shifts in focus feel effortless as you move through the book. In fact, the brief snippets are clever antidotes to the tougher memoir passages. My favourite has to be the list entitled “Things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression”
Reasons To Stay Alive is readable and relatable without ever being bossy. Yet it is full of great advice and nudges us towards accepting our own minds and their workings.
It should be a lazy cliche to describe it as ‘important’, but as an open and gentle guide to living life alongside our mental health, I reckon it really is.
It is a quick read and a ‘pocket sized’ book, but one that’s worth keeping to hand as one of our tools for navigating our way through life.