Cherries (1877) Henri Fantin-Latour, V&A
There are some books that deserve shelf space for their titles alone. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, All the Birds, Singing and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals are all somewhere in the house, lovingly remembered for their titles, if not all for their contents. To this group I have now added All My Puny Sorrows which I most certainly will remember (the title is a line from a poem by Coleridge and has to be one of the best, most apt, most memorable ever).
Melons (c1950-1970) Kate James, Aberystwyth University
Miriam Toews is doing an amazing thing. She is talking and writing about suicide in families, about trying to prevent suicide, about assisted suicide, about dealing with it when it happens, about the black humour of the situation, about other people's reactions. Her book contains a mix of personal rawness and anger about the suicides of her father and sister (in real life and in the novel) and a carefully constructed narrative which enables her, as the writer, to stand back and keep the reader reading. It shows how messy, difficult, terrifying, and tiring life can be when you are living with people who have a deep desire for death, and yet it also shows just how amazing family and friends and some medics can be in these situations. If it sounds dismal and depressing, it's not, because it's written by someone who is a great survivor with a huge enthusiasm for life and people. And, because it deals with a subject that is experienced by so many people and yet is still taboo at many levels, it's a really important book.
Pears (1938) William Nicholson, Leeds
It could, perhaps, be read in tandem with Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, although I find this harder to get through because it takes you right to the core of how it feels to be seriously, suicidally depressed. I love the title, though, because I think some days we probably all need reminders and reasons to carry on, and if Matt Haig's book helps any sufferer to stay alive or want to stay alive, it's done a fine thing.
Apples and Plums on a Plate, artist unknown
And on that lovely, life-affirming, positive, optimistic note (not), I shall ignore all my own puny sorrows and consider a few reasons to stay alive. I shall make a cup of tea, have a biscuit, walk round the garden and smell the roses and the washing on the line, screw my eyes up at the sun, wriggle my toes in the warmth, water the morning glories, and make plans to quilt, read, talk, cook, and listen.
Three Pears on a Plate (1985) Christina Bingle, Gloucs NHS Trust
[fruit art, for pleasure and metaphor]