Yesterday afternoon I was at Cambridge Literary Festival to see Matt Haig talking about his new book, Reasons to Stay Alive. I had planned to see more than just the one talk, but Matt Haig clashed with another I wanted to see, and I also couldn’t get tickets for the neurosurgeon, Henry Marsh. I really wanted to see Henry Marsh. His book, Do No Harm, was fascinating and I have had slightly more than a passing interest in neurosurgery ever since I had a form of brain surgery six years ago.
Matt Haig was great though, talking lucidly and honestly about depression, just like he did in his book. Listening to him talk was just like reading the other book of his that I have read, The Humans. A mix of self-effacing honesty and tender optimism. And he’s funny too.
The atmosphere at the literary festival was great. It was so nice to be surrounded by people who had converged over a love of books. It is hard to be enthusiastic about reading a lot of the time, people don’t tend to share the enthusiasm (thank God for video games and football). But a massive queue of children holding copies of Anthony Horowitz novels, lining up along the path was a great sight. Reading is very solitary pursuit, of course, but a big get together with other people who like reading enough to go to a literary festival just me feel all warm inside. I got chatting with a woman in the queue who not only knew who Matt Haig is, but had also read him and cared enough about it to come out on a Saturday afternoon and listen to him talk. Just like me.
And as much as I wanted to see Henry Marsh, if I had seen him I wouldn’t have been in the Fitzwilliam Museum instead, and so I wouldn’t have been bimbling around the gift shop and I would never have found this awesome book of medical illustrations. Grotesque but extraordinary.