My Book Notes

Compiled by Bruce Rickard

The author, Thomas Newkirk, writes about ‘owning the passages that speak to us.’ He says,

“We can learn to pay attention, concentrate, devote ourselves to authors. We can slow down so we can hear the voice of texts, feel the movement of sentences, experience the pleasure of words…and own passages that speak to us.”

Thomas Newkirk ‘The Art of Slow Reading’

My Book Notes are just that, ‘owning the passages that speak to me.’ By recording the words and sentences that capture my attention I am ensuring that they are not lost to me and will continue to challenge and inspire.

My Book Notes are not a summary of the text. I am not attempting to condense what the writer is wanting to communicate, nor am I providing an outline.

My Book Notes are not a review of the text. I am not analysing what has been written, nor am I making comment.

I’m pleased to share with you My Book Notes and hope you might be motivated to consider reading the books for yourself. All the books listed have contributed to my thinking and enjoyment so come with my tick of approval.

Featured:

The Comfort Book

Matt Haig

ISBN: 9781786898296

Category: Health & Wellbeing

Themes: Mental Illness, Suicidal Depression, Despair, Hope, Connection, Comfort

Date Read: August 2021

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

My Book Notes:

Introductory comments:

There is a kind of accidental theme, though. The theme is connection. We are all things. And we connect to all things. Human to human. Moment to moment. Pain to pleasure. Despair to hope.

When times are hard, we need a deep kind of comfort. Something elemental. A solid support. A rock to hold on to.

The kind we already have inside us. But which we sometimes need a bit of help to see.

Once upon a time, my father and I got lost in a forest in France. It was in the Loire Valley, and we had gone for a run.

‘If we keep going in a straight line, we`ll get out of here,’ my dad said. And he was right.

I thought of it when I was in the middle of a breakdown. When I was living in a panic attack punctuated only by depression, when my heart pounded rapidly with fear, when I hardly knew who I was and didn’t know how I could carry on living. If we keep going in a straight line, we’ll get out of here. Walking one foot in front of the other, in the same direction, will always get you further than running around in circles. It’s about the determination to keep walking forward.

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.

When I was twenty-four, I was convinced I would never see my twenty-fifth birthday. I knew for certain that I wouldn’t be able to survive for weeks or months with the mental pain I was suddenly encountering,

Because I didn’t really understand how I fell into suicidal depression, I imagined I would never find my way out. I didn’t realise that there is something bigger than depression, and that thing is time.

That doesn’t mean time dissolves all mental health issues. But it does mean our attitudes and approaches to our own mind change and often improve via sticking around long enough to gain the perspective despair and fear refuse to give.

The best thing about rock bottom is the rock part. You discover the solid bit of you. The bit that can’t be broken down further. At our lowest we find the solid ground of our foundation. And we can build ourselves anew.

Depression:

Depression lies. And while the feelings themselves were real, the things they led me to believe were resolutely not.

Time disproves the lies depression tells. Time showed me that the things depression imagined for me were fallacies, not prophecies.

Mental illness is about peaks and troughs. But the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view.

I used to think I was the pain. I called myself a depressive. I rarely said, “I have depression’ or ‘I am currently experiencing depression’ because I imagined the depression was the sum of who I was.

Once I was diagnosed with depression, I felt I had been exiled to a new land and that there would be no escape back to the world I had known.

Emotions are like the weather. They change and shift. Clouds can seem as still as stone. We look at them and hardly notice a change at all. And yet they always move.

There was a time when my depression was so heavy my tongue wouldn’t move. I could nod. I could mumble. But I sounded as if I were in slow-motion. Underwater.

Language gives us the power to voice our experience, to reconnect with the world; and to change our own and other people’s lives.

‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.’ Mary Angelou

Language is the way back to life.

Writing down darkness doesn’t make you feel dark. Writing things down brings that inner darkness into external light.

Writing is a kind of seeing. A way to see your insecurities more clearly. A way to shine a light on doubts and dreams and realise what they are actually about.

In my twenties I had a breakdown. A fusion of severe depression and panic disorder that made me fall so hard I spent three years of my life desperately wanting to die.

Happiness is an accident of self-acceptance. It’s the warm breeze you feel when you open the door to who you are.

The most painful moments in life expand us. And when the pain leaves, space remains. Space we can fill with life itself.

‘the freak randomness of my existence’

We all come from randomness. We exist out of uncertainty.

Let them flow – unspoken thoughts, suppressed emotions, unacknowledged difficulties, guilty secrets, painful memories, awkward truths, latent longings.

Even within those moments of despair, we can reach pleasure via the despair. In the darkness even the tiniest fragments of light can shine.

One day this will be over. And we will be grateful for life in ways we never felt possible.

Even though I have largely recovered from depression, the door is never quite closed, always slightly ajar.

When I was in the depths of a breakdown, my fear of life and fear of death were equally matched. I was scared of the pain of living, and I was scared of the annihilation of death.

The depressed person who believes that people hate them is more likely to act in ways that fulfil that expectation.

At some point, you have to accept your own reality. Even if that reality includes depression and fear and pain alongside other things. And when you accept it, you accept other things too. The more generally pleasurable things.

Hope:

Nothing is stronger than a small hope that doesn’t give up.

Time means change. And change is the nature of life. The reason to hope.

Hope is a beautiful thing to find in art or stories or music.

Hope is the thing we most want to cling on to in periods of despair or worry.

Hope is available for all. You don’t need to deny the reality of the present in order to have hope; you just need to know the future is uncertain, and that life contains light as well as dark.

I clutched on to hope like a security blanket.

It is hard to cultivate hope when in a state of despair.

Hope can feel in scarce supply for everyone these days. Global pandemics, brutal injustices, political turmoil and glaring inequalities can all take their toll on your reserves. And yet, the thing with hope is that it is persistent. It has the potential to exist in the most troubled times.

Hope isn’t the same thing as happiness. You don’t need to be happy to be hopeful.

 Hope is the acceptance of possibility (of a better future)

‘moments of dashed hope’

When things go dark, we can’t see what we have. All we need is to light a candle, or ignite some hope, and we can see that what we thought was lost was merely hidden.

I can remember one night in the middle of a depression feeling suicidal and looking up at a cloudless sky of infinite stars. I felt a mental pain so deep it was physical. But seeing the sky, our small glimpse of the universe, flooded me with hope and wonder of life, and the world is full of such moments.

The greatest changes stem from the darkest experiences. We fall apart to become new.

A more enduring and resilient kind of hope.: A hope that doesn’t wish for bad not to happen – because they sometimes do – but rather one that enables us to see that bad things are never the whole story. They are as filled with uncertain outcomes as everything else.

We can exist in hope, in the infinite, in the unanswered and open question of life itself.

Hope is born from the uncertain fabric of life.

It took Matt Haig more than a decade to be able to talk openly, properly, to everyone, about his experience. He soon discovered that act of talking is in itself a therapy. Where talk exists, so does hope.

Grief:

Love becomes grief. Grief becomes memory. Wounds become scars.

Social Media:

Social media can be a gallery of lives you aren’t living, of diets you aren’t following. Of parties you’re not attending, of holidays you’re not on. of fun you’re not having. So, cut yourself a break and scroll your mind instead. Scroll your consciousness for reasons to be grateful to be you. The only fear of missing out that matters is the fear of missing out on yourself.

Death:

Death forms the basis for so many of our deepest concerns.

And it is a part of life. It helps define life. It raises the value of our time here, and the value of the people we spend it with. The silence at the end of the song is as important as the song itself.

Worth:

Your worth is your existence. You were born with worth, as all babies are, and that worth doesn’t disappear simply because you have grown a little older. You are a human, being.

Virtue isn’t something we gain simply by pointing to bad things outside ourselves and making ourselves feel good by contrast. True virtue is something we achieve by looking inward, to our own motives and flaws and cravings, and addressing those sticky and difficult and contradictory parts of ourselves.

Individuality:

You don’t punish anyone other than yourself by keeping hate inside you. Other people are other people. You are you.

If people don’t like you, let them not like you. Not every fruit has to be an apple. If you are a pomegranate, be a pomegranate.

Blog post: ‘Living with Hope and Despair’

To view the following book notes click on the book title.

Biographies/True Stories:

No Friend But the Mountains – Behrouz Boochani

A Very Easy Death – Simone De Beauvoir

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

A Bookshop in Berlin – Francoise Frenkel

Business Management:

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Fiction & Literature:

Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted – Robert Hillman

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyAnnie Burrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

The River – Peter Heller

The Shepherd’s Hut – Tim Winton

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Fiction & Literature: Classics

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Fiction & Literature: Historical

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

When Elephants Fight – Majok Tulba

Book of Colours – Robyn Cadwallader

The Good People – Hannah Kent

General: History, Drama, Culture

The Library Book – Susan Orlean

The Last Lighthouse Keeper – John Cook with Jon Bauer

Health & Wellbeing:

Almost Everything – Anne Lamott

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart – Gordon Livingston M.D.

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Memoir:

Educated – Tara Westover

Men We Reaped – Jesmyn Ward

The Choice – Edith Eger

Memoir: Travel

Wild: A Journey From Lost To Found – Cheryl Strayed

Tracks – Robyn Davidson

Nonfiction: Essays

Everything In Its Place – Oliver Sacks

Gratitude – Oliver Sacks

Nonfiction: Philosophy

A Philosophy of Walking – Frederic Gros

Faith: Embracing Life In All Its Uncertainty – Tim Costello

Nonfiction: Psychology

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks

Writing:

First You Write a Sentence – Joe Moran

Negotiating With The Dead – Margaret Atwood

Why We Write About Ourselves – Meredith Maran (Ed)

Oliver Sacks