Across a prolific body of both fiction and non-fiction work, English writer Matt Haig delves into the darker sides of modern life and mental health. His personal struggles with anxiety and depression – culminating on a cliff’s edge in Ibiza at the age of 24 – formed the basis of his 2015 memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, a number one Sunday Times bestseller that stayed in the UK top 10 for nearly a year.
His novels include 2006’s The Dead Fathers Club, 2010’s The Radleys, 2017’s How to Stop Time, and 2020’s The Midnight Library – an enchanting exploration of suicidal ideation and the not-quite-afterlife that won the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction. Haig’s also written an array of bestselling children’s books that carry messages of hope for younger readers. His latest work of non-fiction, The Comfort Book – a collection of philosophy, books, quotes, thoughts, and mantras that have provided him light in the darkness – was released last year.
Sharing his own favorite books for finding solace in The Week, Haig included work by Rainer Maria Rilke, Anne Lamott, and Marcus Aurelius. From ancient Roman philosophy to the wisdom of Winnie-the-Pooh, explore his life-affirming reading list below. Complement with Glennon Doyle’s best books for hard times.
“This is the ultimate comfort read. The book is what the title suggests: letters from an older poet to a younger one. The great thing about Rilke’s advice is that it acknowledges the darkness and suffering of existence, yet manages despite that — or maybe even because of that — to inspire.” -MH
“I read this book during the first lockdown, and it was the perfect read for uncertain times. Chödrön is a Buddhist, but the advice and philosophy in these relatively few pages speaks universally. It’s a great book about embracing life in its totality, about seeing hope and suffering as part of a whole.” -MH
The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
“The Winnie-the-Pooh stories really speak to people going through tough times. In many ways, each of the characters reflects a different mental state: Eeyore is depressed, Tigger is hyperactive, Piglet is anxious, and Pooh reflects a hope and optimism much needed in recovery. I reread this book when I was ill with a panic disorder, and it soothed me.” -MH
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“In my opinion, this the greatest book about writing ever written (alongside Stephen King’s On Writing). But like Rilke, Lamott is offering far more than writing advice. She is offering wisdom on life and how to embrace its imperfect nature.” -MH
“This one may be the world’s ultimate self-help book. Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man in the world when he wrote these notes to himself two millennia ago; he had a literal empire at his disposal. Yet the philosophy presented here is a humble one that shuns material rewards in favor of a quiet stoicism that helps build resilience.” -MH
On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
“This is such a readable book for something that was written by a Roman philosopher 2,000 years ago. The writing is almost conversational, but the stoic wisdom is timeless.” -MH
(via The Week)