Today is Blue Monday, the day when we’re all at our lowest here in the UK, apparently: the weather is grim, there are several months to get through before spring, the post-Christmas credit card bills are in, and the New Year’s resolutions are probably broken. Traditionally in the book trade it’s the time of year when a raft of self help books are unleashed on readers determined to beat the problem that stands between them and a happier, slimmer, more fulfilled life. They tend to being out the cynic in me but Vintage’s Shelf Help promotion, launched today, is a cut above the usual – twelve books, several published for some time, aimed at improving our mental and physical health. Obviously, it’s a marketing campaign and as such you might think it doesn’t deserve space on this blog but it’s a carefully chosen list and includes several books that I’ve read which seem altogether appropriate – Jeanette Winterson’s autobiographical Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Sarah Bakewell’s cleverly structured biography of Montaigne How to Live, Tim Parks’ experience of the link between mental and physical health Teach Us to Sit Still and Roger Deakin’s hymn to wild swimming Waterlog – all of which are uplifting in their way. Two others – Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life, which kicks off the one-a-month promotion, and Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree – were already on my TBR list. The only one I’d quibble with is Sebastian Faulks’ overlong Human Traces, a novel about the history of psychiatry which seemed to get lost in the author’s research.
If you like the idea but would prefer something of a less commercial persuasion there’s the Reading Agency’s Reading Well initiative which has two strands – Reading Well Books on Prescription and Mood Boosting Books. It’s been running for several years and a second list of books chosen by readers was added to the Mood Boosting strand last year. I’m hoping to see my old favourite, The President’s Hat, on this year’s list should there be one. For me, it’s usually enough to lose myself in an absorbing piece of fiction, if I’m feeling down, something which in that good old-fashioned phrase takes me out of myself. Are there particular books that you turn to for consolation? Ones that have helped you through a difficult time?