Holiday Reading: Or how 3 Books I didn’t “Really” want to read changed my life.

Guys! I am back from Greece!

I had a fabulous time, and will be sharing loads of pictures and things asap, but I’m having a small internet glitch with images right now – so bare with me!

While I’m waiting though, I thought I would mention some holiday reading I did which I suspect will literally change my life.


I went away reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – the story of a communist’s daughter in Nazi Germany living with a German foster family…who happen to be hiding a Jew named Max in their basement.  I was thoroughly engrossed in this book, and rarely dragged my nose out of it from the moment we left home to head for the airport until I vigorously applied after-sun to my burnt nose at the end of our first day on the beach.
I imagine this is the type of book that everyone takes a different message from, but for me it was about compassion, acceptance and togetherness. It was fabulous, and quickly entered my canon of Top Ten Books. Its hard to get into.

After I finished The Book Thief I was really disappointed – like I’d lost a friend. Luckily I am the kind of person who downloads things in batches to my Kindle, so I had (and have) plenty more books to choose from.
In keeping with the uplifting spirit of being on holiday, I elected to read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben. 

I’m sorry to say that I am the sort of person who judges a book by its cover – and that is precisely why I am also an example of why you should not judge a book by its cover. I would have never picked up the book based on the sleeve. I would never have seen it, in all likelihood, in a book shop, because it would be categorised as “Self Help” – and I never admit that I need help.
I never admit that I need help. That is precisely why I needed this book.
I picked the book because when I typed “Happy” into kindle store search, it came up in the results. The Happiness Project.
It sounded like just the sort of thing I wanted to know someone else had done – like The Pursuit of Happyness – so that I could enjoy someone else’s success and hard work. From a distance.
But as I read Gretchen’s story, even the first page, I became convinced that I had to start my own Happiness Project.
Why wouldn’t I? Who doesn’t want to be happier, more engaged, more likable, more successful?
This book has the main aim of maximising your own happiness in your own life. How fantastic – make small changes to your own life to ensure you’re as happy as possible!
I am a convert and will be starting my very own happiness project very soon.
Visit for more information on The Happiness Project, and resources for starting your own.

I devoured Gretchen’s book in less than a day. She has a fantastic selection of Suggested Reading which is lovingly described throughout her own Happiness Project, and I was happy to find that I had a few of the books she mentioned already on my Kindle.

I then set about reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  Again, another book which I would not normally want to read, but had downloaded due to a Harry Potter fuelled search for books about “Magic”. Ruben had also suggested it as part of her research reading, which added extra validity to why I should read it. Gretchen Ruben has become akin to sensei this week.
The Year of Magical Thinking is a very honest biography of loss, written by Didion during the year immediately following her husband’s  unexpected passing away. Having lost lots of close people – though none particularly suddenly – I could relate to much of what she candidly described. The morbid calculations of when “exact moment of death” would have been, among others subjects. Joan again suggested many points of interest for me, and suggested many books – hers, her husband’s and others, which I eagerly want to read.

For the first time since leaving university, and the first time ever in my life, I have compiled a reading list solely for pleasure of reading. 

In a departure from the many, many books I have listed as wanting to read based on the above books, I picked up Voluntary Madness by Norah Vincent. This is a book I absolutely would pick up in the book shop.

I found much information on this experimental, immersive journalistic approach to life in the “loony bin” following research done after reading Bronson by Charles Bronson and Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters – a time in my life which I became fascinated by the life of the individual within a system unfamiliar to my own. Death Row. Prison. Homelessness. Loony Bin.
I’ve yet to finish this book, but at approximately 50% through, I must admit it has given me much food for thought on the subject of mental health, prescriptive medication and the importance of social bonds to being happy and healthy.

The basic premise is that a journalist talks her way into 3 different mental health facilities in the USA to report on life inside. My initial shock was how easy it was for somebody to be admitted, written of as “mentally ill” and medicated – often heavily – in the name of helping. Even in the case of Norah herself, who, at first at least, describes herself as “well.”

Perhaps the biggest question this has raised, though, is this:

Do the sick people make the treatment system necessary, or does the treatment deemed necessary make the sick people sick?

This, as Vincent says herself, is rather a chicken-or-egg question, but has perhaps become one of my Koan’s.

Do you have any books you’d say have changed your life?
How about any you’d recommend?



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