Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (but not exactly)

Previously I posted about developing new routines and hobbies during quarantine, but I’ve found that those no longer appease my itch for face-to-face interactions and my anxiety about bringing work into my home. I recently picked up new things to do, including letting go of my old books and running in the neighborhood, but they’re quickly getting old. In an attempt to get myself out of a rut, I read Reasons to Stay Alive.

Although the book has a fair number of good reviews, it wasn’t for me. There was something about it (tone or style, perhaps?) that didn’t resonate with me. While I loved the intention of the book, I found that it fell short. I liked that the book dealt with topics and feelings people normally suppress. Talking about mental health has been taboo—these are not “real” problems—for a while now, but it’s time we acknowledged its reality. The pandemic is not yet over, and social distancing is still highly encouraged. People who don’t identify as depressives need to be come to terms with whatever the new norm turns out to be.

Because health includes not only one’s physical but also one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Reasons to Stay Alive is a good way to get the conversation started. It’s not exactly my cup of tea, but it gets the job done. I’ll look out for more books that deal with mental health (not as a side-effect of a traumatic incident). Maybe I’ll find something I connect with better.

The Erstwhile by Brian Catling

The Erstwhile is the second book of The Vorrh Trilogy. The first book spent a good number of pages setting up the context for the trilogy, so by this book, we already have context on the world and its characters, and its events are easier to follow. Although a sequel, The Erstwhile doesn’t fall into the trap of being a sequel for the sake of a sequel. It is its own story, and it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger intended to make readers itch for continuity and closure. Well, suffice to say that I’m not the biggest fan of cliffhangers, so I appreciate when books, albeit sequels, can stand on their own.

With this book, I developed a newfound respect for some characters—and obtained confirmation of my feelings about some other characters. In particular, I enjoyed reading about Cyrena Lohr and Hector Schumann and how they handled the next phases of their lives. Plus, I like that other side to Ghertrude Tulp, and I feel like she will be back in The Cloven. I didn’t expect to ever be curious about her, but here we are waiting to learn more…

But there was something about the book that didn’t compel me to inhale it. Don’t get me wrong—I loved the book. It just took me a longer time (a month!!!) than usual to finish it. Maybe because it was slower? Or that it was dark? If it is because of those two reasons, that’s interesting because it is also for those two reasons that I liked the book: its pace and world is different from what I normally read. Huh.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’d known early on that I did not enjoy reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Apart from reading depressing scenarios each time I open the book, I did not enjoy following too many characters—generations of the Buendia—most of whom repeated the same mistakes through the years. None of the characters were very likable, and most of them did not get enough airtime—with the exception of Ursula and Colonel Aureliano Buendia, both of whom lived very long lives—for readers to learn to love them.

It seems that I should have stopped reading the book early on, cut my losses, and moved on with my life. However, I chose to finish reading this book because (1) I didn’t have too many options during this ECQ, and (2) I refused to let my effort of including the book in my move from SF to MNL to go to waste. So I read a chapter a night until the last night when I realized I could finally get my closure.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautifully written book. I liked how the socio-economic landscape changed through the years even if it was as if nothing ever changed in that town. I found myself referring back to the family tree (very helpful if you decide to read this) provided in the beginning of the book. (The family tree spoils nothing, in my opinion.) When I reached the ending, I appreciated how Gabriel Garcia Marquez tied up all the loose ends. Everything made sense, and I appreciated the book as a whole after reading that last sentence.

Verdict: It is not my cup of tea, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment having read this book. I’m glad I didn’t have to read this for Literature class in school (some people had to). Otherwise, I would never have had the drive to finish this book since, on top of my not enjoying the book, I hate assigned reading.