Reasons to stay alive

reasons haig

REASONS TO STAY ALIVE BY MATT HAIG

This is such an important book. If you have depression, anxieties or other mental illnesses, I cannot recommend this book highly enough to you. Buy it and read it now. It might just save your life.

Aged 24, Matt Haig found himself stood on the edge of a cliff about to jump. He could see no way to go on living. Reasons To Stay Alive is the story of how he came through the depression that got him to that point and overcame an illness that almost destroyed him. In this part-memoir, part self-help book, he shares with us the reasons he found to not just stay alive but really learn to live again.

Mercifully, there are no trite inspirational quotes or meaningless platitudes here. This book is true and the advice he proffers on how to live better, love better and feel more alive is honest, helpful and real.

Depression

I have suffered from depression on and off for most of my adult life. This year I have been experiencing particularly bad episodes of it. So it was with great fortune that I looked up Matt Haig on Twitter recently to see if he was writing a follow up to his excellent novel The Humans, only to discover he had just published Reasons To Stay Alive. I bought it and began to read it immediately. It came at a really vital time in my life.

REASONS smaller than you

Haig has written this book to lessen the stigma that still exists around depression (unlike any physical illness) and to try to convince people “that the bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view.” He perfectly describes depression as “like walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.” “Depression,” he says “reveals what is normally hidden. It unravels you, and everything you have ever known.” Indeed his list of symptoms are frightening and show this debilitating illness in all its infinite darkness. Continue reading

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A Moveable Feast

A MOVEABLE FEAST

BY ERNEST HEMINGWAY

hem

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

A Moveable Feast was written during the last years of Hemingway’s life. In it he reflects back on his days as a young, unknown writer living in Paris between 1921-1926. His recollections of that time are really brought to life in this excellent memoir. It is a short book but a fine example of his brilliant writing.

I devoured the entire book in one sitting (home ill on the sofa!) and felt totally immersed in Parisian, literary, 1920s life. Hemingway with his cafes, bookshops and booze conjured up romantic imagery of the daily routine of a writer. He may have been poor and hungry (after quitting journalism and having a wife and young baby to support) but he was happy writing in coffee shops and sharing his Paris life with some of the greatest writers, poets and painters in history – James Joyce, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso to name just a few.

His anecdotes on Ford Madox Ford interrupting his writing and another about his road trip with Scott Fitzgerald to fetch an abandoned car are particularly entertaining to read.

I adored every word on every page and just wish there had been a hundred pages more.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9/10

The age old questions

TRAVELS WITH EPICURUS: MEDITATIONS FROM A GREEK ISLAND ON THE PLEASURES OF OLD AGE BY DANIEL KLEIN

EPICURUS

This is a charming, escapist travelogue memoir by best-selling author Daniel Klein. We follow him as he packs a suitcase full of books by his favoured philosophers (Epicurus, Sartre) and travels to the Greek Island of Hydra to contemplate life’s big questions. Hanging out with the local old folk and immersing himself in ancient philosophies, and even the lyrics of Frank Sinatra, Klein tries to figure out whether it is better to try to remain forever young or to grow old authentically.

This is a guide to living well in old age for the modern age. At a time when the world is youth-obsessed and where many try to delay the arrival of old age by remaining active and setting goals, this books offers a welcome alternative. Epicurus believed that old age was the pinnacle of life, the best it gets, once we free ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs. In going from forever young to old old age, Klein, like Epicurus, believes that we miss out on the chance to be a fulfilled old person “docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness.”

As Klein adds: “Old people do not have to fret about their next move because the Chess game is over. They are free to think about any damned thing they choose.” Sitting, thinking, meditating and just being idle is advocated throughout this lovely book. Continue reading

Bedsit Disco Queen

BEDSIT DISCO QUEEN: HOW I GREW UP AND TRIED TO BE A POPSTAR

BY TRACEY THORN

tracey thorn

I suspect that like a lot of people, I like Tracey Thorn “a bit.” I bought her hits with Everything But The Girl ‘Missing’ and‘Walking Wounded’ and her collaboration with Massive Attack on ‘Protection,’ but that’s as close as I get to being a fan.

So why read her life story? Well I like any insight into the backstage world of pop stardom. At the age of 34 I still secretly harbour dreams to be a singer in a popular group and I cannot see how it can be anything less than the perfect lifestyle.

EBTG

But of course it is. In Tracey’s intensely warm, readable and personal account she shares the highs of the unexpected resurrection and hit singles with her partner Ben Watt as EBTG, to the lows of being written off by critics and their struggle through Ben’s crippling illness.

I can see why this book from one of our more understated and maybe underappreciated artists became a Sunday Times bestseller. Part memoir, part social commentary, we are led on a gripping journey through the last few decades of the music industry. It feels like she’s telling us all about it over a pot of tea and plate of biscuits round the kitchen table.

Like Morrissey’s Autobiography, her early years are the best to read, full of exciting nostalgia and obsessions with boys, bands and fashion. As with so many of her generation, it is Punk that then sparks her into life and she soon forms the promising Marine Girls who go on to become favourites of Kurt Cobain. Continue reading

Pleasing final mooring in canal boat trilogy

NARROW DOG TO WIGAN PIER BY TERRY DARLINGTON

The final part of the Narrow Dog trilogy sees pensioners Terry and Monica Darlington and their two whippets heading north on their latest boating adventure. Their previous tales took them across the Channel to France (Narrow Dog to Carcassone) and through America (Narrow Dog to Indian River).narrowdog

All three of these books are beautifully written and witty affairs. At worst you could call them whimsical. In Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier we follow this eccentric bunch on their new boat the Phyllis May 2 (the original Phyllis May canal boat having perished in a fire) as they sail to Liverpool, Lancaster, York, the Pennines and finally to Wigan Pier. Continue reading