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BIBLIOPHILES

Matt Haig on finding comfort in books of all kinds

Matt Haig, the author of the best-selling “The Midnight Library,” a novel in which a deeply despondent young woman happens on a magical archive of the many routes her life could have taken, now offers readers more inspiration and hope in a confusing time with his essays in his just published “The Comfort Book.”
Matt Haig, the author of the best-selling “The Midnight Library,” a novel in which a deeply despondent young woman happens on a magical archive of the many routes her life could have taken, now offers readers more inspiration and hope in a confusing time with his essays in his just published “The Comfort Book.”Kan Lailey

Matt Haig, the author of the best-selling “The Midnight Library,” a novel in which a deeply despondent young woman happens on a magical archive of the many routes her life could have taken, now offers readers more inspiration and hope in a confusing time with his essays in his just published “The Comfort Book.” The prolific British author lives in Brighton, England, with his wife and two children.

BOOKS: What have you been reading?

HAIG: Over the last year I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction with a vague philosophical or religious leaning. I recently read Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart.” She’s a Buddhist and writes about how in the West we have trouble with uncertainty and accepting the pain of life. That helped me toward the end of last year. I also read Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” which is about writing but also about life. Purely for research I read the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales from 1812, which is much cruder and darker than the later version. I’ve also been reading a lot of old books, such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed” and Raymond Chandler’s “The Lady in the Lake.”

BOOKS: How many books do you read at once?

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HAIG: I have about three or four on the go. I’m a very unfaithful reader. My favorite books are ones I don’t even read straight through. I just dip into them, like my favorite of all time, Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities.” It has little vignettes about fantastical cities, which are like fever dreams of Venice.

BOOKS: How would you describe your taste as a reader?

HAIG: My tastes go from low- to highbrow. I’ve been reading Elton John’s memoir, “Me,” which is fun because he’s such a candid person. Every paragraph contains something scandalous. I like that kind of memoir, when it feels like you are overhearing a conversation. I also ordered Michel de Montaigne’s complete works. I find him a very modern writer for someone who wrote in the 1600s. He’ll do an essay on noses or fashion. It’s like modern magazine journalism style but then he suddenly gets philosophical.

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BOOKS: Have you always read books to think about and get advice about life?

HAIG: Not at all. I used to be the ultimate snob about that kind of thing. As I’ve grown older I feel like books are the perfect medium for our philosophical side, especially in the social media age. It doesn’t have to be an overtly philosophical book to do that. I can be a novel or poetry. You can probably even get that from Elton John’s memoir.

BOOKS: Which novels have been influential for your life?

HAIG: When I was a kid I loved the S.E. Hinton books, which aren’t well known in England. I loved “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish.” Those showed me that reading doesn’t have to be good for you, like a breakfast cereal you don’t want to eat. It can just be as entertaining as film. Hinton kept me reading as a teenage boy even though I went to a very sports-centric school where reading was not the thing to do. It became my secret activity. Then I met my best friend Jonathan, who loved horror novels. We read Stephen King’s “Christine,” about this possessed, demonic car, simultaneously and would talk about it in school. It was a period after I’d been very alone and then had my two-person reading club.

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BOOKS: When did you become the reader you are today?

HAIG: Probably during my recovery from depression in my 20s. Until that point I was insecure as a writer and reader. I had done a master’s and had been conditioned to believe literature had to be a certain way. When I began to recover from my depression I was determined to no longer be snobby about what I read. I was staying in my childhood room and was agoraphobic so didn’t have much access to books other than the ones I had from childhood. “The House at Pooh Corner” was massive for me. That became like a self-help book to me because it has so much wisdom about life.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.