A number of years ago, I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life. I had been diagnosed a few years earlier with a rare neurologic disease that left me in constant pain and unable to work. The long term disability insurance I had through my employer was abruptly cut off (a story unto itself). As a result, I was forced to move to a more affordable location, far away from family and friends. I had no money, no support system, no car and no job. I was utterly miserable, and, though I didn’t realize it at the time, grieving deeply for all I had lost. Everything that mattered to me was gone — at least that was how I felt.
It was during this dark time that my sister bought me a copy of Bradley Trevor Greive’s international bestseller “The Blue Day Book: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up.” Now a classic, the book was originally published in 2000, shortly after my life fell apart. My sister found it on a shelf in a little gift shop in Virginia City, Nevada, and thought it would make a perfect gift for a sibling who was seriously down in the dumps.
She was right.
For those who have never seen a copy, “The Blue Day Book” is a short, 95-page photo essay that offers straightforward advice about handling a bad case of “the blues.” Greive conceived it while living in squalor in a small flat in Australia. A would-be author who had almost as many rejection letters from publishers as he had birthdays, he was feeling empty, forlorn, and about to give up. Sitting in a coffee shop writing poetry and doodling, he wrote on a napkin, “The world turns grey, and I grow tired,” and next to it drew a turtle lying on its back. And that, he explains in the introduction to the book, summed up exactly how he perceived himself — helpless and hopelessly stuck.
But then Greive did something extraordinary. Looking at the hand- drawn illustration of the turtle, he remembered all of the black and white photos of animals he’d seen in Life magazine growing up, and he smiled. Grey is all most animals see, he thought to himself, and they seem OK with it. And with that thought, the idea for “The Blue Day Book” was born.
Greive’s book is a collection of mostly black and white photos of animals with some sage advice on living a happier life thrown in. It includes pictures of elephants, polar bears, dogs, cats, frogs and giraffes (among other species), all bearing decidedly human expressions or doing very humanlike things. Each photo bears a caption. And these, when read consecutively, form the substantive message of the book — that everyone has bad days, for many, many different reasons. But life is still worth living. You just need to keep moving, and never give up hope.
“The Blue Day Book” isn’t for everyone or for every occasion. I would not recommend it for someone who was in the early stages of mourning the death of a loved one, for example, or someone who was deeply depressed. Its message, while important, is delivered in a way that might cause someone who was suffering greatly to think you were trivializing their pain. But it is a wonderful book for someone who is struggling, as I was, with other kinds of loss, whether that’s the loss of health and independence, the loss of a relationship or the loss of a job (or maybe all three). Its charming balance of humor, compassion, empathy and advice, offered against the backdrop of some of the most delightful photos you’ll ever see, is bound to cheer up even your most morose friend.
Want a sneak preview of the book before you buy it? Watch the author narrate the book in the video below.