I heard about The Midnight Library at the end of 2020 by the Goodreads Choice Awards, in which this book won for Fiction. Boring, regular fiction as a genre is not something I gravitate to. It’s usually way too deep for me, and not fanciful enough.
Yet this book caught my interest, being just enough fantasy. When I discovered the audiobook was read by Carey Mulligan, whom I adore, I thought I would give the audio a shot. AND then I ordered the book, because I’m that reader that when I hear words so admirable, so noteworthy, I have to experience the words as well and study them. So I ordered the book from my favorite small bookstore and revisited the words like a study guide, with annotations and everything.
This book review is more of a life review (and I will get personal as things struck me). I will review the book, but not as much as I will explain my experience while reading it. In some of my early author bios, I wrote, “she strives to live a life without regrets.” This is true, but impossible. This book is about regrets.
A quick summary of the plot, Nora Seed has a really terrible day and decides she doesn’t want to live anymore. In the space between life and death, Nora finds herself in a library where she can live in a life if she had chosen differently. Think of movies like Run Lola Run, Sliding Doors, and It’s A Wonderful Life. It made me think of hinge moments in life – those small decisions that changed your trajectory, even though you didn’t know it.
Aim To Be The Truest Version Of You
“If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give a second thought when people mock it or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise.”Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
I remember not smiling with my teeth, and hating the way I laughed. I had a crooked smile with funny, crooked teeth. My laugh is loud and I always felt a bit obnoxious.
Around 16 or so, while having an enormous amount of fun with new friends after entering high school, I had a bit of a breakthrough. High school was a crowning moment in my life, and the friends that I made at that time became jewels I carry more precious than anything.
During this period in life, I decided that I didn’t want to keep hiding my smile. I liked smiling. I liked laughing. It makes me feel good. It makes others smile. I wasn’t being the best version of me when I can’t laugh or smile.
This decision changed my life, my happiness, and was good for my heart. I became more silly, more embracing of my nerd culture, more accepting of uniqueness, more ridiculous, more guile. I embraced my you-ness. And even though I feel like a dork sometimes, I don’t regret hiding my smile, because it brings light that other people can seen. I love being that dorky example for others.
A Person Was Like A City
“A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs, but the good stuff makes it worthwhile.”Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
When I heard this, I quickly marked it in the book. There are things I don’t like about me. There will be parts I will never like.
I have a mole and birthmark on my eyelid.
My skin never tans and hates the sun.
My hair is baby thin.
I’m forgetful of the little things.
I have acne scars.
I forget about medical bills, because they are not part of the regular bill cycle.
I keep too much stuff.
I spiral in dark moods every October.
I have a scar on my thumb from breaking a plate to prove a point.
I have no retention for movie quotes.
But these things are also what make a city beautiful.
When I visit cities, I look for the little things. I remember when in Atlanta, I found leaf patterns imprinted on the sidewalk, sometimes with dates or initials. Portland was a scavenger hunt of sticker graffiti. Lisbon had these incredible, aged tiles everywhere. And I liked the imperfect things, the things that gave it character, story, and flavor. Why should I be any different?
I guess I’m a mix of those things, the pretty with the dark things, and I should love it. It’s a huge question to ask yourself, but I’m now searching for what I can love about my city.
The Fabric of Happiness
“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 forever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.”Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
Another quote of mine, “You have to experience sorrow to comprehend joy.” This came after years of infertility.
Infertility is the most painful, the most cruel of trials. You are being denied joy. And it’s very unfair, and the unfairness of it pops up when you least expect it. Mother’s Day was an exceptionally hard day for me. When attending church services, all the mothers would get a flower or gift, but I never did. Even if someone would give me one of the Mother’s day flowers, because obviously I had the equipment to produce a child, so I should receive this delicate bloom… but I didn’t. My stubbornness didn’t like the pity. I hadn’t earned the honor.
I have two children, both miracles. And it’s not like my infertility pain went away the second I got pregnant, the emotional healing can’t be patched up so quickly. It’s taken years. I still don’t like Mother’s Day. I still don’t like the pressure people unknowingly (or knowingly) put on couples that do not have children.
But what having a child did for me is understanding joy. It’s the closest word to adequately articulate the experience of seeing my daughter for the first time. I think many people know what I’m talking about. It’s too close to emotions that don’t have a defining word. Joy doesn’t feel strong enough. The sorrow helped clarify this feeling for me.
When Haig writing about the fabric of happiness, this is how I feel – the weave of emotions that blend together to compliment, contrast, and even out the patterns that make us. Even when we see people that we feel have a ‘Too Perfect’ life, there are things we never see or that they never show us. I would compare my childless existence to those with children as me not having the perfect life and them having it. The perfect life doesn’t exist, striving for better does. This part spoke to me that it’s okay to not have that perfect life.
Waiting Around Long Enough To See it
“It was interesting, she mused to herself, how life sometimes simply gave you a whole new perspective by waiting around long enough for you to see it.”Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
I had an experience that reshaped my married life right after it started, making me rethink my decision. Imagine that person that you never fully recovered from, reappears in your life and you are no longer available. It’s all very Hollywood.
I evaluated the path I was traveling and the path of ‘what could be’ for years. I’m finally in a place to say I would not be the person I am today if I would have chosen that path (and I would have, being naive and infatuated with the literary story of it). The confidence I have now is a result of events from this path, this life.
I wouldn’t have become a writer. I wouldn’t be working in a laboratory that I love. I wouldn’t have my children.
There are many blessings in hindsight, and I find that I am glad that I didn’t have a choice at that moment, because I know my choice. It took years to see it, but I can see the paths very clearly now. I was wrong for him and he was wrong for me. In the moment, and being blindly infatuated, I couldn’t see the paths at all. Now, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life.
This is what a book did to me – gave me time to reflect on my choices and the path that I’m currently on. It made me thankful and humble.
This book was an incredible conception, cerebral in nature, spun with words bonded in emotion that settle in the very cells that make us. It was an incredible journey and worth every accolade it earns.