While I still have some longlisted titles left to read, I’m suffering from a bit of literary fiction fatigue… so I’m taking some time to read a few books that are completely different before going back to the four I have left to read.
First up is Spark! by Norah Casey. It’s a mixture of autobiography and self-help. This is a slightly unusual choice for me – most of the books I read tend to be fiction. And while I often buy self-help books, it’s rare that I finish them. (Or sometimes, even make it past the second chapter.)
Spark! was different. Norah Casey is somebody that I admire – she’s smart, capable and a successful businesswoman and while I don’t really go in for role-models, if I did have them, she’d be on the list.
This book opens with her own story. Three years ago, her husband passed away from cancer. She writes about this with painful honesty. In the months afterwards, with her imagined future gone, she decides to take stock of her own life. What she decides is to start really living – so she starts to challenge herself by doing things that are out of her comfort zone. In doing so, she regains her own zest for life.
The second part of the book imparts what’s she learned over the past few years. This is quite a jumbled-up section with a lot of information in it – it advises you to analyse your life to date, and goes through the typical stages you can expect as you age. It looks at ten specific things you can do – from eating well and exercising, to trying new activities and the power of smiling. There’s some chapters on serotonin and dopamine, and the powerful effect these can have. There’s also a wonderful section where she basically sticks her finger up at the mindfulness craze. While I’m undecided on mindfulness – certainly it works for some people – I do have to admire how forthright she is in dismissing it.
The final section contains profiles and interviews with ten people she believes are inspiring, including astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, actress Fionnuala Flanagan and singer/actor David Essex.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this and it gave me a bit of a push. While I feel that the middle section tried to be too many things, and as a result, lacked coherency and focus, for the most part the advice given was practical and made sense – although, I do believe I may be a bit younger than the target audience she had in mind.
She encourages you to analyse where you are and how you got here – not judge, just analyse. She asks you to look back at what you used to dream about and then look at why it never happened. The message she’s giving is essentially, ‘well, why not do it now?’ It’s a call to action – a call to live, really – and it’s a message that’s worth spreading. We only have one life – why waste it?