Marketed as self-help, The Book of Life by Jo Roderick is literally a book about life. It’s about everything from guilt and depression to daydreams and spirituality. It’s about changing the way you live and having the life that you want. That might sound like a massive undertaking – and it is, but does the book achieve what it set out to achieve? The answer is an unequivocal yes. I suppose I should explain.
I didn’t pick this book up because it is ‘self-help’ and nor do I believe that I am in particular need of self-help. I also didn’t pick up this book because I wanted to change my life. On the contrary, I love my life. I did, however, pick up this book because I was intrigued by the statements and quotes I kept seeing on Twitter. The thoughtful snippets and contemplative sentences that got my philosenses tingling (you know, like spidey-senses but more philosophical and significantly less spidery). Quotes that ranged from political to ethical and all the simple truths in between, such as “what better reason for fulfilment of my desire but the fact that I was still breathing?” and “has capitalism failed those who have financial abundance more than those who have little?”
What I love about this book is that it’s not prescriptivist and it’s most certainly not pretentious. Rodrigues is not saying “do this, don’t do that, here is a 12-step programme” but instead, the book reads as though he’s having a chat with you about the world, about what he thinks is great (and not so great), and about which way he thinks is best to live life. He offers insightful anecdotes and writes with heartfelt passion that flows out of the book in droves. To make it even better, he laces his prose with humour and a quick yet homely wit that had me smirking all the way to bed time. With all these, it’s easy to see how the book raises you up and motivates you as Rodrigues passes his passion and desire on to his readers.
The book does occasionally assume that you are coming from a bad place, that you are reading it not to gain some of Rodrigues’ wisdom but because you are in dire straits and require ‘fixing’. I felt, at times, like a naughty schoolgirl with a teacher stood over me wagging his finger and making his eyebrows wiggle as he imparted the importance of certain behaviours: “don’t be a vegetable, young lady, and certainly don’t be a robot!” There are the odd passages, too, that lack depth and cohesiveness, reading a little like a string of grandiloquent statements that are stitched together using only Rodrigues’ easy manner and good words but little else. With such a massive task as writing about the whole of life, though, that was bound to happen and I’m quite impressed that it didn’t happen more often than it did. What’s more, I don’t believe that this book was ever meant to be an in-depth look at any particular part of life but rather an overview of many of life’s aspects, and it does that really well. It’s easy-going, it’s relaxed, it’s like Rodrigues is putting his heart and soul on a page and saying “here it is, take it or leave it.”
If I’m honest, I didn’t learn anything new by reading this book, and actually, Rodrigues didn’t change my mind on anything but it did serve as a reminder to not let every-day life get in the way of your real life – that being the one that you actually want to live. It served as a reminder that we only have one life and it’s pointless to waste it on doing things that make you unhappy. And it served as a reminder that actually, I’m not the only cuckoo bird in the nest – there are others out there who think like me! It may not have changed me, but it did make me think and it brought back to me in the importance of enjoying “life whilst you still have it”. It’s a book that’s littered with questions that will make you stop and think until (if you’re anything like me) you realise that your Kindle has fallen out of your hand and you’ve gone burrowing deep into your own thoughts.
So yes, I believe that this book does do what it set out to do. The Book of Life is exactly that: a book about life. It’s philosophical in its nature and it’s passionate in its delivery. No, you might not need self-help and no, not everything in the book will be applicable to you. But one thing is for sure: many of the things that Rodrigues purports to be true are indeed true, and if everyone lived in the prescribed way, the world be a much happier, much more pleasant place to be.