Friday, 6 January 2012

Ups and downs

In mid December Helena Nelson recommended a book on facebook. It was this book:



“Michael Rosen's Sad Book” by, well, Michael Rosen, illustrated by Quentin Blake.

Sometimes there is something about a recommendation that just makes me reach for the “order” button straightaway... and this was one of those times. I can't even quite describe the formula that makes for “order straightaway” instead of “think about it for a bit” but I know it's some kind of blend of the following: tastes I know I share with the recommender, emotional state at the time, finances... and a whole lot more besides. In this case I hardly read a thing about the book before ordering it. I just clicked... and then got on with bloody Xmas preparations. Man, I'm glad that's over.

Anyway. The book. When it arrived I was quite surprised because... well, it looks like a kids' book (as I said I read very little about it before ordering). I knew Rosen wrote for kids but I knew he'd done all kinds of other writing too and I suppose I expected this to be something more... adult... with more words. But in the “Sad Book” (2004) there are very few words really. It's a simple book about sadness – largely the sadness brought on in Rosen when his teenage son died in 1999.

I don't want to write a whole lot about it – though there is much I could say... about death... and depression... and pharmaceuticals... – but the book really says it all so I would just back up Helena Nelson's recommendation and say “yes, get this book – for your kids, for kids you know, for yourself, for adults you know”. I think that really the best kids books are for adults too (if not more so) and vice versa (some content depending...).

The illustrations are just perfect. For a start Michael Rosen actually looks like a Quentin Blake drawing in real life (something also mentioned in this article about the book) and that is some relief in our world of ever-more plastic people. I read the book with our girl last night and we talked about the pictures (she knows Blake's style well from Roald Dahl books, like many kids). “They're kind of childlike” she said (getting very fancy now at 11...). “Well, yes, but in a good way,” I said. And I realised that she may be growing up but I am definitely going in the other direction (but then I was one of those kids who wasn't really a kid at all... unbearable, no doubt).

One of my favourite bits in the “Sad Book” is the section where he tells himself how to cope, how to carry on. There are four suggestions/instructions:

“I tell myself that everyone has sad stuff. I'm not the only one. Maybe you have some too.

Every day I try to do one thing I can be proud of. Then when I go to bed, I think very, very, very hard about this one thing.

I tell myself that being sad isn't the same as being horrible. I'm sad, not bad.

Every day I try to do one thing that means I have a good time. It can be anything so long as it doesn't make anyone else unhappy.”

All sounds pretty sensible to me.

And if you see it with the illustrations you can see that the thing he's proud of (in the book) for point 2 is cooking a roast dinner – which I loved! We can all do that, right? H and I tried the suggestions last night – what were we proud of for yesterday? What had we done to make us have a good time? It was simple... but effective (my catchphrase...). Try it tonight. Try it every night...

And finally, I heard this song on the Cerys Matthews radio show on New Year's Day (well, actually on replay a few days later). How did I ever miss this one?



Labi Siffre from his 1975 album “Remember My Song”. He's not an artist I've known much about in the past (didn't even know that Madness' “It must be love” was his song...) but I will be learning more about him this year...

In the meantime here's wishing you happiness... and strategies to get through sadness too. It can be done. For the most part.

x



24 comments:

Vick said...

Such a melancholy post, in all the right ways. I had heard of that book ages ago and managed to forget all about it. I think I will also have to do an order now. Some kids books have been amongst the most profound and moving things I've read, in fact I'm sad that I no longer have an excuse to go to the picture book section in the book shop. I remember spending many an hour almost in tears reading to the kid when she was a small thing. I think it's important we all realise that sadness is o.k and that it's ok to stay there for a little while too.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, growing up with a parental suicide in the background it is quite hard to learn how to be sad (part of you always wonders what will happen if you get too sad...). But I do think it is important... we are very scared of sadness these days maybe.

x

Danish dog said...

“Poetry is one place in our relentlessly cheerful culture where we are allowed to be honestly unhappy.” A.E. Stallings in "Beautiful Fierce Cheats"
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/240976

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I think it's the "relentless cheerful" side of Xmas that I struggle with too!
x

Rachel Fox said...

Missed a 'y' there!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Don't know this book Rachel but I agree with his ideas for overcoming sadness and with your comments. I think we all have to work out our own strategies. Although I have been very happily remarried for almost twenty years there are some places I don't go (real places and places in my head). If I think of them I divert my thoughts to something else - usually a lovely meadow full of exquisite wild flowers which I begin by naming then imagine smelling - it has a marvellous effect on me but I am sure would not work for everyone.

Rachel Fox said...

What a lovely technique!
x

Sandra Leigh said...

Well, Rachel, since your post brought tears to my eyes, I shudder to think what the book would do to me. The older I get, it seems, the closer I am to tears. Maybe the book is just what I need.

Rachel Fox said...

I know. I've cried twice a day, every day this week! At movies, books, stuff of Mum's around the house, other things... post xmas tears some of it, general purpose tears the rest.
x

martine said...

Picked this up at a friend's house a few months ago and was so moved by it I sent Michael Rosen a message to say how I had liked it and he sent me a lovely message back saying thank you. It is a truly beautiful book.
thanks for sharing
martine

Kat Mortensen said...

When I'm sad, I throw myself into something that demands my absolute attention - I cook, or garden, or read a fast-read sort of book, like a mystery, or something.

I've grown to really feel very little at Christmas, since my father died. He pretty much WAS Christmas for me, and it's such a relief when it's over. It's pretty hard to avoid the sadness when it comes around. This year, I steered clear of drinking much alcohol, and that was a good decision.

I'd like to read this book, but "finances" are not free to allow me, at the moment.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Martine, some writers still communicate with their readers. It's a nice thing.

I picked up a copy of this book pretty cheap, Kat, though how easy it will be to get it cheap over your way I'm not sure.

x

Elisabeth said...

A poignant post, Rachel. It reflects the book and the idea of sadness. It makes me think again as I already do that there is something good about a degree of sadness in our lives. It's not the sadness per se it's how we deal with it.

I know what you mean, too, by the impulse to get a book on spec, sight unseen, the something that captures us and draws us in.

Face Book drew me here, and it had something to with the title of the book, as well. Some people are drawn to horror, others to comedy. I think I'm drawn to the beauty of sadness.
Thanks for an enthralling post.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, facebook's not all bad! It can lead to interesting things...
x

Titus said...

I am tempted, but I find the growth of my own sentimentality a little disturbing these days. I'm crying at books, films and television (Dr Who Christmas Special, for goodness' sake!) a lot more these days, and children's books are particularly affecting. I suspect I was a curiously unempathetic child, teenager and young adult. My edges are now blurring...

And re below, I felt a little cheated by Room when I read it, though can't remember exactly why now. I think, unlike you, it was because I didn't find the central character (yes, definitely Ma) convincing.
Labi Siffre. Absolutely fascinating man.

Rachel Fox said...

I always say to h that there are points in lots of movies/TV where the makers fully expect (indeed plan for) all mothers to cry. "Here it comes, here it comes... Mums cry moment!" There are a lot of them. I seem to be crying so often... This book is different though - it's really about sadness - and what bigger sadness to cope with than the death of a child? I can see why he wrote it/had to write it.

As for "Room" - yes, the Ma character was something other than convincing... she was kind of admirable... a bit like the above... to challenge hardships and rise above them... even beat them... that's something to admire, I think. And I loved the interview scene... for all that it said about our crappy media. I loved that she stood up to the interviewer - maybe not like real life... better though.

x

Niamh B said...

sounds good, i might even click over and order

sunnydunny said...

I used to do counselling in the place where I worked (I was staff welfare officer in addition to my day job) and this may sound strange, but I really enjoyed bereavement counselling. Being there for someone at times like these was my one good thing. Of course it helped that I had been through it myself. Colin

Titus said...

Mmmm, interesting. It's getting better in my recollection now; I liked the parents' home scenes a lot too. Currently wading through 'The Magus' and am therefore lost as to what's real and what isn't. I think on finishing The Room it assumed a much more metaphorical meaning for me, which your thoughts reawakened. Did you read that report on mental faculties diminishing from the age of 45?

Eryl said...

Ooh, I think I might have to pay Amazon a visit.

Domestic Oub said...

Rachel, to be honest, from the sounds of it, I don't think I could cope with this book - I was in tears from the do one thing every day to be proud of. Hmmm, though denial is hardly a solution either...

Rachel Fox said...

That report, Titus... no I just read the headline. Top skimmer, me.

And Rosen sends readers to Amazon from his website, Eryl, so you don't even need to feel corporate guilt or anything. Well, not much.

With your brood of bairns, DO, you must be doing "things to be proud of" all the time. Mostly without even thinking about it. Maybe you don't need this book... which is something to be proud of in itself... or to be happy about.

x

Domestic Oub said...

Hmm, with this brood, it's more keeping from doing something to be ashamed of most of the time...

Rachel Fox said...

I'm sure shame is a relative concept...
x