It was the second of three atypical days in my household last week and reading a book, even reviewing one, was the last thing on my mind!
Drilling works had been underway in an apartment unit two floors down from where we live. Unfortunately, the thunderous noise generated by this untimely renovation lasted from 9 am to 5 pm, which felt like forever (even though it lasted just three days)!
Still, by the afternoon of Day 1, one thing was clear to my wife and me. With all that racket, C our autistic boy, would not be able to do any homework upon his return from school! So it was decided that I should take him out and find a cafe or somewhere quiet to complete his school work.
It was the same for Day 2. This time, I brought him to the neighborhood public library instead. I thought I might as well make it a fun book hunt trip for him, on top of clearing that day’s worth of homework.
And that was how I came to stumble upon my…
…unexpected September book find
Already holding on to several library books still languishing unread on my study desk, the last thing I wanted was to borrow more!
Still, my “inner reader” couldn’t help but glance over at the recommended book display shelves that afternoon. After all, they are always placed strategically at eye level to catch the attention of every library user upon arrival.
So you can’t exactly blame me when lo and behold what should I see?
The author’s name rang a bell for some reason, so I decided to pick up the eye-catching multi-colored book for a closer look.
Though 260 pages long, I realised after flipping through quickly that this wouldn’t be a tough book to wolf down in one sitting if I so choose. After all, it was a mishmash of single short paragraph pages, grocery-like checklists such as the author’s favourite songs, as well as brief 1-4 page long chapters of inspirational quotes, anecdotes, and testimonials.
Which is kind of typical for most feel-good books you find in the mass market. Like the one I previously reviewed.
Except for one major difference in the case of this book.
Let the record speak for itself
Before I reveal why I said that, the reason why I said earlier that Matt’s name sounded familiar soon became obvious when I searched for him online.
Below’s the bio I extracted (with modifications) from his website:
“Matt Haig is an author for children and adults. His memoir Reasons to Stay Alive (2016) was a number one bestseller, staying in the British top ten for 46 weeks. His children’s book A Boy Called Christmas (2016) was a runaway hit and is translated in over 40 languages. It has been made into a film (due out this November) starring Maggie Smith and Jim Broadbent; The Guardian has called it an ‘instant classic’.
With that kind of writing track record, it’s no wonder the name rings a bell. The bookworm that’s me probably came across it in the course of seeking good reads and recommendations.
Now back to the reason why I said this book was different, compared to others in the same genre.
Been there, done that. Still there, hope fed!
You see, what set this book apart from other feel-good spiels out there was how the message of hope and comfort (hence the book’s title) cooked into every page, came from the writer’s own real-life struggles with depression and attempted suicide episodes.
For me, that instantly “ups its street cred” in a manner of speaking, since I’m all about the raw and the unfinished journey of life! It just makes every heartfelt line the writer pens more believable. More so when he readily admits that, two decades on, he still struggles now and then with depression, but still clings valiantly to hope.
So, for example, when he says on pg 16 (Canongate paperback edition 2021)…
“The hardest question I have ever been asked is, ‘How do I stay alive for other people if I have no one?’ The answer is that you stay alive for other versions of you. For the people you will meet, yes, sure, but also the people you will be.”
…you know he could only have come to this conclusion on the strength of his own personal experience and reflection.
Or on pg 23…
“I didn’t realise that there is something bigger than depression, and that thing is time. Time disproves the lies depression tells.”
…you can’t help but pause a moment, close your eyes and the book, press it close to your chest, and whisper a quiet but resounding “Yes, he nailed it!”
And when a writer quotes great minds in history like Soren Kierkegaard (“Life is understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards“) — pg 55 — and Friedrich Nietzsche (“...one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it.”) — pg 56 –?
For me, that just checks all the right boxes!
It’s really a book about “Being” vs “Doing”
One of my favourite passages in the book is taken from pg 200, simply titled “Stuff”:
“You don’t always have to do stuff. Or achieve stuff. You don’t have to spend your free time productively. You don’t have to be doing Tai Chi and DIY and bread-making. Sometimes you can just be and feel things and get through and eat crisps and survive, and that is more than enough.”
Don’t I know it?!
I’ve fought for years to find worth in productivity. To find my worth in ‘doing’. But it’s not gotten me anywhere even close to peace of mind as to who I am, nor any semblance of settledness and quiet contentment. All that striving for ‘stuff’ feels like chasing after the wind really. What is far better is to simply be still, feel and be in the moment, and let that be ‘enough’.
But if I could add to Matt’s wonderful quote above, I would say that an additional ‘step’ from simply ‘being’ vs ‘doing’ is to do what the God of the Old Testament divinely advised us through the sons of Korah.
In Psalms 46 verse 10 is recorded God’s pronouncement of peace to one and all: “Be still and know that I am God.”
That’s been my ticket to freedom whenever I feel despondent and down.
So even though every now and then I find myself drawn to feel-good books like Matt’s, they bring me ultimately back to what I regard as the most important book of all. The one that, for me and countless others like me, has been our absolute anchor when times are tough; when we need comfort and to “feel good” again.
Worth a read? Yes!
Matt’s “The Comfort Book” is both timely and easy to browse, so I would definitely say go check it out.
You can either read it all the way through at one go (no more than two hours I believe, depending on your reading speed); or you can break it up over several days, depending on your schedule and convenience.
You can begin from the start and read it all the way sequentially to the end. Or just jump around to any page you fancy since the structure of the book is very fluid.
Whichever way, I guarantee there’s something in there for you, especially if you need comfort and help.
So happy reading!!
Beyond such a book, where to get help in Singapore
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868 (8am – 12am)
Fei Yue’s Online Counselling Service: eC2.sg (Mon to Fri, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm)
Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6386-1928/6509-0271 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (Mon to Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)/ tinklefriend.sg (Mon to Thu, 2.30pm to 7pm and Fri, 2.30pm to 5pm)
TOUCHline (Counselling): 1800-377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 (Daily, 10am to 10pm)