Dear Stranger…

I thought it fitting that my first blog post in five months should feature a book with ‘stranger’ in the title. So, for creativity’s sake, I thought I’d address this blog post to you, dear reader and possible stranger…

Dear stranger,

There’s a book I read recently which I think everyone should read. It’s that life-affirming. Dear Stranger sees fifty different authors write letters about happiness. Most letters are thought-provoking, some are hilarious and some are heart-breaking. All have something interesting to say. Happiness certainly doesn’t mean one thing to everybody.

Matt Haig writes a letter to his twenty-four year old self, knowing that the poor man has three years of clinical depression ahead of him. He writes that ‘the next three years are going to be the three worst years you will know.’ But he manages to end on a hopeful note, about remaining strong. It’s a wonderful letter and he speaks a searing truth when he writes that ‘depression draws a line. It separates life into eras. It will give you a BC and AD of your own life.’ Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive is in a similar vein and also well worth your time.

Caitlin Moran’s letter manages to be both funny and upsetting. It’s like when you’ve been crying a lot and you see something silly and then you’re laughing-crying. She talks about being kind to yourself, being careful with the things you tell yourself. So, she gives her inner voice the identity of a dachshund called Eric: ‘Oh, I treat Eric so well! I make sure I walk Eric everyday, for I have found he gets morose if he’s cooped up. […] He needs to gallop around a bit, woofing – which I disguise as jogging, and going “AHHHH!” at the top of steep hills. He needs regular meals, and a good night’s sleep, and to be stroked, curled up on the sofa, watching musicals.’ I think I might do this.

A lot of the more thought-provoking letters entertained the fact that, in our society, we are sold the idea of happiness. We’ll be happy when we buy a certain bag, for example. And this isn’t true. It is fairly damaging, in fact. If we are not happy we are told that there is something wrong with us. We aren’t designed to be constantly happy and selling the idea of happiness is exploitative.

Ah-hem. I also love the letters from Martha Roberts, who writes a letter to a depressed woman she sees in a cafe, and Ellen White, who is a far wiser teenager than I ever was. Tony Husband’s cartoon was very touching. It’s interesting to see what the authors come up with in terms of just writing a letter. Looking back at it, I enjoyed so many of the different perspectives in this book.

So I think you should read Dear Stranger, because it might affect you more than you’d think.

Yours sincerely,

Katharine Lunn.