humsSome time ago, I had this great idea that I could feature the best reads that I have stumbled across on Forages & Finds… and I have been delightedly lapping up books ever since I finished my degree and could bear to spend my precious spare time on books again. Calling this feature ‘Foraged Fiction’ was irresistible, with just the slight issue that a lot of the time I don’t really read fiction.

In any case, this month I finally picked up a book that I have been hankering after for ages (I’m the least impulsive buyer you’ll meet… I already tried to find it in one local indie bookshop where I’d seen it but hadn’t bought it the first time, before finding it in Jaffe & Neale finally). Somehow I had discovered and followed the author of this book on Twitter, which is how I came across it.

It’s a very silly book. At first I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would warm to the main character… that is, a ‘Vonnadorian’ alien who has been sent as a replacement for Professor Andrew Martin, who was murdered due to his discovery of the solution to the Reimann Hypothesis way before humans are mature enough to deal with this kind of discovery. The problem that the alien finds is that it’s really quite difficult to fit in on Earth, and despite his briefing that humans are relatively intelligent but entirely selfish & very violent, the humans keep acting in unexpected ways.

By the end of this I was right in there rooting for the characters… it’s certainly a heart-warming read but with a Mark Haddon sort of constant squirm and frustration factor! And similarly to Mark Haddon’s books, there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Many people who have experienced depression will recognise how it feels to look at this world as an alien might, to feel trapped with conventions and to find release in unexpected ways. Matt himself has mentioned that this book was influenced by the time he was depressed.

Which reminds me – Matt Haig is at Chipping Norton Literature Festival on Sunday 25th April 2015, I must buy tickets!

The absolute highlight of this book for me is a chapter at the end, called ‘Advice for a Human’ which Matt has shared on his website, and it’s a wonderful read, especially if you’re feeling a bit lost and in need of some inspiration, so I have decided to share it – I don’t think it gives too much away. So I will leave you with this.


Advice for a Human

  1. Shame is a shackle. Free yourself.
  2. Don’t worry about your abilities. You have the ability to love. That is enough.
  3. Technology won’t save humankind. Humans will.
  4. Be curious. Question everything. A present fact is just a future fiction.
  5. Peanut butter sandwiches go perfectly well with a glass of white wine. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  6. Sometimes, to be yourself you will have to forget yourself and become something else. Your character is not a fixed thing. You will sometimes have to move to keep up with it.
  7. History is a branch of mathematics. So is literature. Economics is a branch of religion.
  8. Sex can damage love but love can’t damage sex.
  9. The news should start with mathematics, then poetry, and move down from there.
  10. You shouldn’t have been born. Your existence is as close to impossible as can be. To dismiss the impossible is to dismiss yourself.
  11. Your life will have 25,000 days in it. Make sure you remember some of them.
  12. The road to snobbery is the road to misery. And vice versa.
  13. Tragedy is just comedy that hasn’t come to fruition. One day we will laugh at this. We will laugh at everything.
  14. Wear clothes, by all means, but remember: they are clothes.
  15.  One lifeform’s gold is another lifeform’s tin can.
  16. Read poetry. Especially poetry by Emily Dickinson. It might save you. Anne Sexton knows the mind, Walt Whitman knows grass, but Emily Dickinson knows everything.
  17. If you become an architect, remember this: the square is nice. So is the rectangle. But you can overdose.
  18. Don’t bother going into space until you can leave the solar system. Then: go to Zabii.
  19. Don’t worry about being angry. Worry when being angry becomes impossible. Because then you have been consumed.
  20. Happiness is not out here. It is in there.
  21. New technology, on Earth, just means something you will laugh at in five years. Value the stuff you won’t laugh at in five years. Like love. Or a good poem. Or the sky.
  22. There is only one genre in fiction. The genre is called ‘book’.
  23. Never be too far away from a radio. A radio can save your life.
  24. Your mother should write a novel. Encourage her.
  25. If there is a sunset, stop and look at it. Knowledge is finite. Wonder is infinite.
  26. Don’t aim for perfection. Evolution, and life, only happens through mistakes.
  27. Failure is a trick of the light.
  28. You are not the most intelligent creature in the universe. You are not even the most intelligent creature on your planet. The tonal language with the song of a humpback whale displays more complexity than the entire works of Shakespeare. It is not a competition. Well, it is. But don’t worry about it.
  29. David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ tells you nothing about space, but it’s musical patterns are very pleasing on the ears.
  30. When you look up at the sky, on a clear night, and see thousands of stars and planets, realise that very little is happening on most of them. The important stuff is further away.
  31. One day humans will live on Mars. But nothing there will be more exciting than a single overcast morning on Earth.
  32. Don’t always try and be cool. The whole universe is cool. It’s the warm bits that matter.
  33. Walt Whitman was right about at least one thing. You will contradict yourself. You are large. You contain multitudes.
  34. No-one is ever completely right about anything. Anywhere.
  35. Everyone is a comedy. If people are laughing at you they just don’t quite understand the joke that is themselves.
  36. Your brain is open. Never let it be closed.
  37. In a thousand years, if human’s survive that long, everything you know will have been disproved. And replaced by even bigger myths.
  38. Everything matters.
  39. You have the power to stop time. You do it by kissing. Or listening to music. Music, by the way, is how you see things you can’t otherwise see. It is the most advanced thing you have. It is a super-power. Keep up with the bass guitar. You are good at it. Join the band.
  40. My friend Ari was one of the wisest humans whoever lived. Read him.
  41. A paradox. The things you don’t need to live – books, art, cinema, literature, wine and so on – are the things you need to live.
  42. A cow was a cow even if you call it beef.
  43. No two moralities match. Accept different shapes, so long as they aren’t sharp enough to hurt.
  44. At some point, bad things are going to happen. Have someone to hold onto.
  45. Don’t ever be afraid of telling someone you love them. There are things wrong with your world, but an excess of love is not one.
  46.  That girl you are on the phone to. There will be others. But I hope she is nice.
  47. You are not the only species on Earth with technology. Look at ants. Really. Look.  What they do with twigs and leaves is quite amazing.
  48. Your mother loved your father. Even if she pretends she didn’t.
  49. There are a lot of idiots in your species. Lots and lots. You are not one of them. Hold your ground.
  50. It is not the length of life that matters. It’s the depth. But while burrowing, keep the sun above you.
  51. Numbers are pretty. Prime numbers are beautiful. Understand that.
  52. Obey your head. Obey your heart. Obey your gut. In fact, obey everything except commands.
  53. One day, if you get into a position of power, tell people this: just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. There is a power and a beauty in unproved conjectures, unkissed lips and unpicked flowers.
  54. Start fires. But only metaphorically. Unless you are cold and it’s a safe setting. In which case: start fires.
  55. It’s not the technique, it’s the method. It’s not the words, it’s the melody.
  56. Be alive. That is your supreme duty to the world.
  57. Don’t think you know. Know you think.
  58. War is the answer. To the wrong question.
  59. Physical attraction is, primarily, glandular.
  60. Matter is an illusion. Everything is silicon. But your emotions? They’re solid.
  61. It’s not you. It’s them. (No, really. It is.)
  62. Walk Newton whenever you can. He likes to get out of the house. And he is a lovely dog.
  63. Most humans don’t think about things very much.  They survive by thinking about needs and wants alone. But you are not one of those. Be careful.
  64. No-one will understand you. That is not, ultimately, that important. What is important is that you understand you.
  65. A quark is not the smallest thing. The smallest thing is the regret you will feel on your deathbed for not having worked more.
  66. Politeness is often fear. Kindness is always courage. But caring is what makes you human. Care more, become more human.
  67. In your mind, change the name of every day to Saturday. And change the name of work to play.
  68. When you watch the news, and see members of your species in turmoil, do not think there is nothing you can do. But know it is not done by watching news.
  69. You get up. You put on your clothes. And then you put on your personality. Choose wisely.
  70. Language is euphemism. Love is truth.
  71. You can’t find happiness looking for the meaning of life. Meaning is only the third most important thing. It comes after loving and being.
  72. If you think something is ugly, look harder. Ugliness is just a failure of seeing.
  73. A watched pot never boils. That is all you need to know about quantum physics.
  74. You are more than the sum of your particles. And that is quite a sum.
  75. The Dark Ages never ended. (But don’t tell your mother).
  76. To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate. As civilisation advances, so does indifference. It is a disease. Immunise yourself with art. And love.
  77. Dark matter is needed to hold galaxies together. Your mind is a galaxy. More dark than light. But the light makes it worthwhile.
  78. Which is to say: don’t kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.
  79. At the sub-atomic level, everything is complex. But do not live at the sub-atomic level. You have the right to simplify. If you don’t, you will go insane.
  80. But know this. Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. Do not fall for categories. Everyone is everything. Every ingredient inside a star is inside you, and every personality that ever existed competes in the theatre of your mind for the main role.
  81. You are lucky to be alive. Inhale and take in life’s wonders. Never take so much as a single petal of a single flower for granted.
  82. Your mother told me a story once, about your uncle. It made me think. If you have children and love one more than another, work at it. They will know, even if it’s by a single atom less. A single atom is all you need to make a very big explosion.
  83. School is a joke. But go along with it, because you are very near to the punchline.
  84. You don’t have to be an academic. You don’t have to be anything. Don’t force it. Feel your way, and don’t stop feeling your way until something fits. Maybe nothing will. Maybe you are a road, not a destination. That is fine. Be a road. But make sure its one with something to look at out of the window.
  85. Be kind to your mother. And try and make her happy.
  86. You are a good human, Gulliver Martin.
  87. I love you. Remember that.


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