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.

The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2) by Philip Pullman

As I’d mentioned in my review of La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), I decided to (finally) read the series when I saw paperback copies of The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2) in bookstores. What? There were already paperbacks of book 2 out, and I still hadn’t read book 1?! OK, time to read. And then after reading book 1, I tried to hunt down hardbacks of book 2, but couldn’t find one. Thankfully, my friend introduced me to Book Depository, from where I ordered this specific edition. (Having consistent editions sparks joy in my life.)

The events in The Secret Commonwealth occur twenty years after La Belle Sauvage and eight after His Dark Materials. I admit that I could benefit from rereading His Dark Materials (I read it more than ten years ago…), but Philip Pullman tied all of the characters and events so well in The Book of Dust #1 and #2 that I was able to recall the backstories as I read on.

The Secret Commonwealth was almost perfect, except that it felt too much like a lead in to a third book. But I appreciate. I’m going to rave about certain events in the book, so I will tell you now that this post has spoilers.

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