“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

I liked this book. A lot. I liked it because it made me feel good. And not like good about myself, but just good about the world. There are some books that you read that just give you a fuzzy warm feeling and make you believe in the goodness of humanity. It was this book for me. I know it is a trendy book but this one is trendy for a reason. I can’t make up my mind yet if that’s the best one that I read this year but it is definitely getting close.

The “Midnight Library” is a book about Nora Seed, 30-something-year-old who works in a guitar store. Nora’s life seems unremarkable to her – she does not have a dream job, a family or a passion. She is full of regrets of what her life might have been life: she could have become an Olympic swimmer, she could have been married, she could have been a musician. With one last drop of being fired, she decides that she is ready to die. However, there is a library between life and death that allows you to live different lives you might have had if you would have made different choices. There, she meets her old school librarian, Mrs. Elm, who guides her through different possibilities until she… (well, I can’t tell you much more or otherwise it would be a spoiler).

I like this book not only because the plot was engaging but also because I found it to be extremely well written. It was easy to follow and the writing felt very organic. I also highlighted a lot of quotes:

***

‘Want,’ she told her, in a measured tone, ‘is an interesting word. It means lack. Sometimes if we fill that lack with something else the original want disappears entirely. Maybe you have a lack problem rather than a want problem. Maybe there is a life that you really want to live.’

***

The thing she had once loved about swimming was disappearing. In the water, her focus had been so pure that she thought of nothing else. Any school or home worries vanished. The art of swimming – she supposed like any art – was about purity. The more focused you were on the activity, the less focused you were on everything else. You kind of stopped being you and became the thing you were doing.

***

For instance, I am someone who gets stage fright and yet, here I am, on a stage. Look at me … on a stage! And someone told me recently, they told me that my problem is not actually stage fright. My problem is life fright. And you know what? They are fucking right.

***

‘I think it is easy to imagine there are easier paths,’ she said, realising something for the first time. ‘But maybe there are no easy paths. There are just paths. In one life, I might be married. In another, I might be working in a shop. In another, I might have said yes to this guy who asked me out for a coffee. In another, I might be researching glaciers in the Arctic Circle. In another, I might be an Olympic swimming champion. Who knows? Every second of every day we are entering a new universe. And we spend so much time wishing our lives were different, comparing ourselves to other people and to other versions of ourselves when really most lives contain degrees of good and degrees of bad.’

***

‘There are patterns to life… Rhythms. It is so easy, while trapped in just the one life, to imagine that times of sadness or tragedy or failure, or fear are a result of that particular experience. That is a by-product of living a certain way, rather than simply living. I mean, it would have made things a lot easier if we understood there was no way of living that can immunise you against sadness. And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness for ever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.’

***

‘You need to realise something if you are ever to succeed at chess,’ she said, as if Nora had nothing bigger to think about. ‘And the thing you need to realise is this: the game is never over until it is over. It isn’t over if there is a single pawn still on the board. If one side is down to a pawn and a king, and the other side has every player, there is still a game. And even if you were a pawn – maybe we all are – then you should remember that a pawn is the most magical piece of all. It might look small and ordinary but it isn’t. Because a pawn is never a pawn. A pawn is a queen-in-waiting. All you need to do is to find a way to keep moving forward. One square after another. And you can get to the other side and unlock all kinds of power.’

***

Beautiful, right? I think my main takeaway from this book is that you don’t need to have a grand, fancy or complicated life to have a good life. Everyone can create a good life our of their given circumstances. And also, in any good life, I recommend reading this book!

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