The Human Condition has never been more entertaining

The Humans by Matt Haig

I can’t spoil it as I haven’t finished it myself yet…

I usually write reviews for books that I have just finished recently. It is obviously best to write about a book that is still fresh in your mind, and while you are still feeling whatever emotion the writing has managed to stir in you. It’s also not unusual for me to write reviews of books that I read a long time ago. It’s harder but doable, especially if they are either very good or very bad. But this is a first. I’ve not written one for a book I am still reading before. I’m not even sure if it’s wise, but I’m inspired so let’s give it a go.

Right now I am 221 pages in to The Humans by Matt Haig. I’ve got less than 70 pages left and they are sitting next to me, taunting me as I write in this surprisingly noisy coffee shop in central London. But I feel like I need to write before I read them. Because truth be told I feel like I’ve lost my reading mo-jo a bit recently. It’s partly to do with the fact my commute, my usual prime reading time, has been more than halved with my new job. But, also it’s because I don’t think I’ve been reading the right things. For a good 3 weeks now I’ve been reading The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth in 10 minute chunks on my journey to work. As good as it is, and it is fascinating, it’s not the sort of book that inspires you to keep reading for hours at a time in a comfy chair.

So thank goodness my wonderful friend Elle put me on to The Humans, as that is exactly the sort of book it is. It is in equal parts funny, painfully observant and touching. Do you ever occasionally stop and look around at life on Earth and think about how strange it is? Why do we act the way we do? Why do we place so much importance on clothes, money, our job, and other trivial things? This book is basically that feeling, expanded into coherent and beautiful sentences and a narrative woven in between.

An unnamed alien narrator has come to Earth and takes the place of a human maths professor. He (it?) has a job to do, but unfortunately all these strange, hindering human emotions keep distracting him. Why do humans keep buying magazines when they never feel better after reading them? What is this obsession with having clothes on when you are outdoors? And the big one: “The life of a human is surrounded on all sides by darkness. How on Earth did they cope?”

This might sound dark, and not something you wish to read on a relatively sunny Sunday morning, but the humour and the progression of the story keeps you from thinking too deeply about your own mortality. And conversely, this book so far has left me feeling so grateful for being human. As Haig points out the death and decay all around us, he at the same time highlights all the wonderful things we get to experience in the meantime. Simply written but thought provoking, this is exactly the sort of book I’ve been craving. I’m anxious to finish it but will be sad to do so.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes so far. I smiled when I read it as I recognised myself in it, as I have done several times through this book. Do you recognise yourself too? Let me know in the comments.

“On Earth, social networking generally involved sitting down at a non-sentient computer and typing words about needing a coffee and reading about other people needing a coffee, while forgetting to actually make a coffee”

PS This book actually put me in mind of this TED talk “Are you Human?”, check it out as well!

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