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.

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

There’s nothing like a nonfiction book to bring you back to reality after having read fantasy. I’ve just finished Smarter Faster Better, and I found it just alright. A little background here: Duhigg’s previous book, The Power of Habit, was the book that got me interested in nonfiction, so I was a little disappointed in how Smarter Faster Better turned out.

Since I’ve been reading psychology books here and there, I found the first two chapters a little lackluster. I thought to myself: I’ve read this somewhere before… I hope the rest of the book isn’t like this. Well, I’m glad that it takes a lot for me to decide not to finish a book because the middle chapters of Smarter Faster Better had some interesting concepts on using mental images and stretch and SMART goals. I even enjoyed reading some of the stories that gave context to Duhigg’s overarching ideas. (I particularly enjoyed the backstory to Frozen and the corporate culture of General Motors.)

Overall, there were maybe only two or three chapters that I liked. Most of the book fell flat to me. I found that the ideas did not flow well from chapter to chapter—each chapter could stand independently; I didn’t see the point of the book since none of the chapters built upon each other. I really wanted to like the book because I still think The Power of Habit is a good book to learn about habits, but Smarter Better Faster simply isn’t for me.