Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 – beaten out for Book of the Year by Heidi James’ utterly impeccable The Sound Mirror.

Why no review then, I hear you ask?

Well, the back end of 2020 was a tough time for this purveyor of bookish reviews – my first child was born, which is obviously far more important. Plus, after a long day in a stressful new job, I barely had time for writing.

Consider this gushing article a present atonement for my lack of a review.

So, what is The Midnight Library actually about?

Nora Seed, our protagonist, is done with life.

Not in a ‘whew, what a bad day – time for a bath, bottle of wine, and a book’ kind of done with life, but a depressive spiralling into suicidal thoughts.

And Nora actually succeeds in killing herself.

It’s a depressing premise, for sure. 

However, like most of Matt Haig’s writing, a remarkably prescient insight into a person’s mental health struggles runs throughout the book. 

Haig knows that not all depressives are made the same; we all possess various quirks and triggers, plus we’re all different people harbouring wildly varying life experiences.

But where Haig finds a commonality is through the Midnight Library itself.

Upon death, Nora finds herself in a library. A library packed full of her life experiences in books, all branching into various future realities depending on the decisions she made.

In short, she’s offered another chance at life by the librarian of the Midnight Library. Nora can pick as many books as she wants, experiencing these separate realities, hopping across lives that have been and could be, before being offered the option to settle into a satisfactory, preferable life.

This idea – the ability to rewrite decisions made – is what unites depressives.

Looking back is the nature of the beast when it comes to depression. We’ve all stopped and pondered the consequences of decisions made – both macro and micro – wondering whether we’d be more content if only X had happened, or if one hadn’t let go of a friend at a certain point in time.

The Midnight Library taps into the ifs, buts, and maybes that plague one’s life – allowing the reader to play out their fantasy of rewriting the past through Nora’s own experiences. 

What is the central message of The Midnight Library?

Haig’s novel is a beautiful, yet sombre exploration of the oh-so-familiar ennui of anxiety, depression, and memory that many face at various points in their lives.

But it’s not all angst. There’s an enduring message inside this book too:

'Carpe Diem'

Carpe diem isn’t just an excellent bar in Leeds – it’s actually Latin for ‘seize the day’.

The Midnight Library reminds the reader that imagined realities are often a smokescreen. For a start, they don’t exist – and therefore neither do any of the downsides or consequences of this life. It’s totally imaginary.

You can overanalyse your own actions, as depressives do; vivisecting one’s self on the altar of self-reflectiveness. Or, you can take your life as it is, warts and all. Mould it, influence it, and – in somewhat of an Absurdist manner – live your life in spite of the shortcomings and create art that parodies your own mortal condition.

In short, just live.

Tell me more about your experiences of The Midnight Library in the comments below 👇

How to Pick the Perfect Blog Name

How to Pick the Perfect Blog Name Blog Header

How do you pick the perfect blog name? Deciding on your name is the first major challenge for any budding blogger.

And it’s a pretty big deal.

Then again, I’m the kind of person who sits in character creator screens in role-playing games for hours upon hours so…

But really, how do you pick the perfect blog name?

It’s complicated, and there are a fair few more aspects to it than you might have first thought.

Pick something unique to you

This is super important. There are over 600 million blogs on the internet, so you want to differentiate yourself from everyone else. 

It doesn’t mean you need to come up with something entirely unique – largely because you’ll be there for weeks trying to do so – however, your blog name will require something that makes it uniquely yours.

Do you have a favourite novel you could pick a motif from? For example, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston uses a machine called a ‘speakwrite’ – in which case your writing, news, or current affairs blog could be called ‘The Speakwrite’ – or a variation on that.

To further differentiate your blog, you could use keywords from your niche as a prefix or suffix. Take a look at booksnest.co.uk for example. 

Pick a Unique Blog Name Blog Image

Beth is a book blogger, so she simply stuck books at the beginning of next  to create ‘booksnest’. It’s a simple name that just works.

Alex at Spells & Spaceships is an excellent science fiction & fantasy book blogger. He picked one motif from each of his genres – spells from fantasy, spaceships from sci-fi, and created Spells & Spaceships which, again, is simple and works well.

These are both fine examples of simplicity and originality done well, which is important because of the next tip…

Check if the domain is available

A domain is simply your website address. 

What may happen (multiple times) is that you come up with a killer name, but the website domain is already taken. This happened a fair few times with the creation of Tales from Absurdia, which required me to think outside the box.

How to Pick a Blog Name Domain Checker
Check out https://wordpress.com/domains/

Ideally, come up with a handful of unique names (including variations on those names) and run them through a domain checker. There are loads out there, but let’s use WordPress for this example. Type in your desired domain (e.g. talesfromabsurdia.com) to see whether it’s available.

In this case, talesfromabsurdia.com is taken (well, you are here!) but other alternatives may be available such as .net, .co.uk, or .org. You may also see some alternative root domain suggestions such as ‘Tales of Absurdia’ or ‘The Absurdia Tales’, to continue with the example of this blog.

How to Pick a Blog Name Domain Taken
You can also purchase a domin with your chosen hosting provider (I use Dreamhost)

There’s a lot of debate over the pros and cons of .com, .co.uk, and .net domains – but in an ideal world, you’ll want a .com domain. .com is the most widely known internet domain, with more people globally using that address. 

So, if you’re looking to attract an audience outside of your own country, people are simply more likely to type in .com domains than your own country-specific one. It is admittedly slightly more complicated than this, but if you’re able to get a .com domain, go for that.

If you’re faced with a situation where your domain is already taken, you have two choices:

  1. Pick a variation on the taken domain
  2. Just choose a new name

The dangers of picking minor variations on an existing domain is that you may end up losing traffic to that other website (or vice versa) due to readers becoming confused and going to the wrong site. 

Upon realising they’re on the wrong site, the user will leave which will increase your bounce rate (where users leave your site after visiting only one page). This tells Google’s ranking algorithm that your site is not as credible, and will make it harder for people to find your site.

I’d always recommend going back to the start and choosing a new name, over picking minor variations. It’ll only harm your blog in the long run.

Once you’ve chosen a domain, you can either purchase it to guarantee it’s yours, or wait until you’ve chosen a hosting provider (GoDaddy, IONOS, Dreamhost, etc.). 

If you’re not self-hosting your website, and instead opt to do it for free through WordPress/Wix/your website builder of choice, then simply select your desired domain name. Keep in mind the following point, however…

Are the social media handles available?

If you’re simply going to share your blog via your personal social channels, then this isn’t much of an issue. However, if you want to gain the widest possible reach, you’ll want blog-specific social accounts so that your audience can follow your content without the noise of personal posts.

You’ll want to base your social handles on your website’s name to make it easier for people to find you. Again, you’ll need to run your name through a name checker. The aptly named namechekr.com is a perfect place to do this.

Simply enter your name into namecheckr.com and it’ll show all of the social networks (and websites!) where your domain is available – and highlight the ones that are not.

namecheckr.com/ shows whether your social handle is available or not

If you see ‘error! in your search, then go to the social media website in question to double-check whether your name is available.

As you can see, I don’t use most of these social networks. This is largely because I don’t have time for more than a couple of social media accounts at one time. 

And that’s the next point – social media (done properly) is time consuming. If you use too many, you won’t actually have time to blog! 

You could arguably sign up to all of the networks you reckon you’ll use – just in case – but that’s up to you.

Say your blog name out loud

This might sound like odd advice, but there are a few good reasons to say your name out loud.

For a start, does it sound as good being verbalised as it does on the page? Is it simple to say?

Are you proud of that name, or does it secretly make you wince?

Remember – this is your identity on the internet. If you’re not able to say it out loud, with confidence, then it’s probably not the name for you.

Will my blog name impact SEO?

This is probably worth a whole series of blog posts itself, but I’ll try to condense things down.

SEO, short for Search Engine Optimisation, is the practice of tailoring your content so that it appears higher in Google’s search results (you can read more about SEO at Backlinko.com).

In a nutshell, Google ranks a website based on its perceived value. Value is determined by a range of factors. 

Good SEO practices, such as keyword-focused blog posts (don’t forget those alt descriptions) will result in your blog posts appearing near the top of the page on Google. This will significantly increase your organic traffic in the process.

But back to blog names. 

A more unique name will be more likely to get a spot near the top of Google’s search rankings due to there being less competition.

However, there’s a trade-off here. A more unique name is less likely to be searched for. This isn’t a huge problem, as provided that your blog name is related to your blogging niche..

A more derivative name, picked with SEO in mind, may rank better for general keywords. However, if it doesn’t stand out, it’s inherently less appealing, and people are less likely to click and visit your site.

Despite this section, try not to obsess over SEO. 

It’s very complicated, mostly a long game, and your blog name is not the most important factor in determining whether you gain organic web traffic or not. It’s far more important to ensure that the blog posts you write are SEO-friendly. But, I’ve included this section because it’s worth keeping in mind at an early stage.

For example:

John’s Bookish Book Blog will have high search volume because it contains general keywords relating to book blogging – people typically search for ‘book blogs’ or ‘bookish blogs’. However… this blog will be directly competing for web traffic with loads of other book blogs, and even newspaper book blogs.

Tales from Absurdia, however, is far more niche. Sure, it’s less likely to drive direct searches – however, using a keyword strategy targeting book-related phrases, I am able to drive a decent amount of monthly organic Google traffic.

Despite this section, try not to obsess over SEO. 

It’s very complicated, mostly a long game, and your blog name is not the most important factor in determining whether you gain organic web traffic or not. It’s far more important to ensure that the blog posts you write are SEO-friendly. But, I’ve included this section because it’s worth keeping in mind at an early stage.

Finally... Once you’ve Picked the perfect blog name... stick with it!

Once you’ve managed to pick the perfect blog name, try not to chop and change it. This will only confuse your audience and worse – it will severely impact your SEO gains.

It’s best to go through this process one time, so take a steady approach in your quest to pick the perfect blog name. It isn’t easy, but you will get there eventually.

How did you pick your blog name? Was this guide helpful? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

Ringlander: The Path and the Way Book Review

Ringlander The Path and the Way Book Cover

Ringlander: The Path and the Way – the debut fantasy novel from Michael S. Jackson – is an absolute riot.

Set in Rengas, a continent dominated by conflict, the occupying & brutish Bohr seek to quash an ongoing rebellion from the native human population. Meanwhile, an astral war engulfs the cosmos above, with the world torn apart by competing realities.

Sound complex? At first, it does come across a little abstract.

However, Jackson’s brilliant writing guides the reader deftly, navigating the various factions of Rengas, from the Tsiorc rebels to the Pathfinders of the North.

This is a fantasy novel with a truly original lore – and that’s a really exciting prospect for future entries in the series.

Overview – Ringlander: The Path and the Way

Fantasy lives or dies by three key elements: world-building, characters, and narrative.

And from the beginning, it’s clear that a lot of love has gone into Ringlander. It’s a well-realised world, with its own terminology and detailed topography. For this reason, both a map and glossary are included. These are welcome additions, designed to assist the reader in their journey through Rengas.

The glossary is oddly selective, however. More often than I would have liked, I’d consult the glossary, only to find that the entry I was looking for was conspicuously absent. It’s not a deal-breaker, as the novel does a decent job of introducing the reader to its concepts, but more definitions would have been welcome.

As for the characters – they’re an impressionable, well-drawn bunch for the most part. Kyria, Fia, Jagar, and Iqaluk are certainly explored in more detail than perhaps some of the supporting characters, for example. Nonetheless, I was impressed how Ringlander’s characters largely break free of the more overt fantasy tropes. 

Kyria and Atalfia, for example, are genuinely compelling in their own right, demonstrating charisma, single-mindedness, and courage. Nor do they require approval from their male counterparts. Plus they’re thankfully freed of the far-too-familiar shackles of hyper-sexualisation, which was welcoming to read. Meanwhile, Jagar, the banéman, remains an unsettling menace, whilst Rathe – half-Bohr, half human – experiences a particularly interesting arc.

The narrative presented is solid. Early on, it’s a little confusing whilst the reader acclimatises to the world. You may find yourself flicking to and fro between the map & the glossary. However, the patient reader is rewarded by a scintillating ending of drama that teases a sequel.

Conclusion

The first installment in Ringlander’s universe is a fantastic read. It’s clear, concise, and compelling.

Ringlander is a well-written fantasy novel, highly descriptive (though not obtusely so), and the prose reads exceptionally well. It’s liberating to read a fantasy novel that gets its point across in under 500 pages, avoiding the usual prevarication and overly descriptive writing associated with the genre.

The narrative is decent, the characters well-rounded, and the world-building impressive for a debut effort. And with additional books planned in the future, watch this space – I’ll certainly be checking out Jackson’s future entries in the world of Rengas!

4/5

Ringlander: The Path and the Way is available in at Amazon in paperback, hardback, or as part of Kindle Unlimited.

One Key Reason to Read the Book Before the Movie

Why You Should Read the Book Before the Movie Blog Header

‘Why read the book when you could just watch the movie?’

You’ve likely been asked this from one or two of your slightly less bookish friends.

It’s one of those moments where you’ve got a whole range of reasons lined up to explain why, but don’t wish to sound unkind.

But to be fair, there are plenty of very good reasons why someone might wish to experience the movie first. Here are a handful.

Reading is Daunting

For some, the prospect of opening a book at the end of the working day is just not desirable. For those who haven’t made reading a part of their life, it’s a hard sell when there’s an easier option.

People don’t like to feel stupid or vulnerable, and reading – being such a basic life skill – can make them feel that way if it’s something that isn’t part of their daily routine.

In that respect, it’s often easier to settle down and watch a movie.

The movie is shorter

(Unless it’s the Hobbit trilogy *snicker*)

But in all seriousness, the point of movie adaptations – other than making all of the moneys – is to create a more digestible form of media.

It stands to reason that some may prefer this method of media consumption – even if those of us in the book blogging community may not.

Credit: Reddit.com

Prefer the experience

Let’s be honest – there’s something spectacular about watching a movie on the big screen. The overpriced popcorn and coke taste automatically better than they ought to – plus you’re often with your mates. Watching a movie is a social experience.

Alternatively, with a home cinema setup with 4K, surround sound, and all the bells & whistles, it’s hard to not find that an inherently sexy way of experiencing media.

Compare that with the humble setting of you, yourself, and a battered paperback. Sure, it’s charming, but it’s at least understandable why some might prefer the big screen.

Struggling with reading

My brother loves reading, but as someone with learning difficulties, he sometimes struggles to follow the words without a visual cue.

For him, watching a movie first gives him the understanding of the outline of the plot – and who the characters are.

Then, when he reads the book, he already has a contextual knowledge of what’s happening on the page. This actually allows him to enjoy the book far more than going in without a point of reference.

And if that means he’s able to get more enjoyment from the book, who are we to judge?

Watching the movie can be an entry point into reading the book

Let’s not forget – it doesn’t need to be one or the other.

Look at Game of Thrones (the TV show). It was a television phenomenon that actually made people far more interested in picking up G.R.R.M.’s novels. I can think of a handful of people who don’t typically read, who picked up the box set and were making steady progress.

To return to the movie angle – plenty of people were enthralled by the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire, and simply could not wait for the Mockingjay movies to come out. So they read the books.

Here's why you should read the book before the movie, however...

As discussed, there are a bevy of reasons why people might watch the movie adaptation first.

However, by doing so, you miss out on a one-time joy that you’ll never, ever be able to replicate again.

Experiencing a story free of bias.

When you read a book for the first time, your imagination fills in the details. Your idea of a setting & how characters look will inevitably differ to another reader’s.

Reading is an act of creation. Every time you open a book, without prior experience of the world contained within, the reader creates a textual palimpsest; another layer of fictionality that watching a movie robs the reader of.

Remember – a movie is one person’s interpretation of the source material. Watching that, without having read the book, robs the reader of their creative agency – and from a reading perspective, that’s quite tragic.

What are your thoughts? Do you try to read the book before the movie, or the other way around? Leave a comment and let me know!