Books to Lighten the Heart

Published in Health

In the age before tablets, mobile phones, computers and televisions, many people used to read, and reading was a social asset. Yes, it is so. We who are old enough remember that there was a time, not so long ago, when these wonders of modern living did not exist. Children brought up in this age of instant communication across continents often wonder what we did with our time. One thing was reading. Books, newspapers, journals, magazines and comics were the main sources of passing the time pleasurably and/or educationally.

For moving pictures there were films, or movies as the Americans have it. Silent at first, then with sound tracks. Going to the cinema was a social outing, far removed from just slipping a disc into the home entertainment system. Cinemas still exist, but have been undermined by video and more recently DVD players. In Dalmatia during the summer there are still some outdoor cinemas, but fewer and fewer each year, sadly, just as the once-popular drive-in movie theatres in America have declined.

Using free time wisely is one of the skills of living healthily. Rest and relaxation are important for reviving physical and mental energies. Of course, for a balanced life, there should be a combination of activities and interests to keep body and mind healthy. The human body is a mobile machine, and keeping still for long periods is not what it was designed for. If you have a job which involves sitting or standing through most of your working hours, exercise of some kind during your breaks or before or after work is a must. In the United Kingdom, where unemployment benefits have been higher than the lowest paid jobs, there are reports of families which have never worked, and who often spend most of the day in front of the television. Televisions and computers have helped to make people more sedentary from an early age, and also more isolated from each other.

The development of computer games and the widespread use of computers, tablets and smartphones for entertainment by children are a cause of concern to health workers. Radiation from mobile phones is a risk factor for brain tumours, cancers and genetic damage for all age groups, with children specially vulnerable. Also worrying is the effect on the eyes of watching a small screen at close range, and the development of hunched, crooked posture from holding a device close to the face. Not to mention the mindless violence which seems to be a part of many of the 'games'. Common sense dictates that all these devices should be used on a limited basis only. Unfortunately, as they are addictive, many youngsters spend long hours playing computer games rather than running about outside or doing something more positive.

Reading is a peaceful activity which develops and uses the imagination. Story telling is the first step in arousing a child's interest, and it has been shown that if a parent reads to a child, activates the child's interest in books, and engages the child in learning and social activities, that child will achieve higher intellectual and social/behaviour scores later on than others who have not had the same level of stimulation. (Research project, led by the Institute of Education, London University: Summary, The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE), page 4; detailed report, Tracking Pupil Mobility Over the Pre-School and Primary School Period, 2003 - 2008.)

If the reading habit is established at an early age, it will remain a lifelong pleasure. It is always a pleasure to read a good new book, and most readers have favourites which they return to from time to time. I have selected a rather random top-ten, although there are many more, so it is subject to change and is not an exclusive list. Laughter is one of the best natural therapies, and some of my favourite books invariably make me laugh a lot. For very light fun reading, I enjoy P.G.Wodehouse's Jeeves and Bertie Wooster series. The flimsy plots are carried by the perfectly drawn characters. For all the exaggerated caricatures, there is an echo of the British upper classes as they once were, when snobbery ruled and the gentry did not mix with the hoi polloi; when, for instance, manual workers were not allowed to join the 'gentlemen's' rowing clubs but had their own, called Thames Tradesmen RC; nor were they allowed across the hallowed threshold of the Leander club, but were given a tent to change in outside the building during the famous Henley regatta. Another very funny book is 'Around the World With Auntie Mame' by Patrick Dennis. More educational, but nonetheless extremely entertaining is 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves' by Lynne Truss.

For happy memories of the days of amateur tennis before the game became a big-business circus, Gordon Forbes' 'A Handful of Summers' captures with a beautifully light touch the ups and downs of the international tournament circuit, and the particular difficulties of being a South African player in the days of Apartheid. I keep in touch with childhood memories through 'The Wind in the Willows', especially the lyrically evocative chapter seven, 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn'. Memories of Oxford are revitalized by Max Beerbohm's caustic fantasy satire 'Zuleika Dobson'. Helene Hanff's '84 Charing Cross Road' charts the charming and funny relationship between the author and an antiquarian bookseller from the days when Charing Cross Road in London was a treasure trove of intriguing and irresistible bookshops, which I loved to browse in even though I could not afford to buy much. Aidan Crawley's autobiography 'Leap Before You Look' is the interesting and inspiring memoir of a man of immense courage, humour and affection, who had about as rich a life as is possible during both war and peace, including playing his part in high-level British politics.

There are many books by expatriate Britishers who have shared their experiences of settling in other parts of Europe, notably France, Majorca, Spain and Italy. Annie Hawes' 'Extra Virgin - amongst the olive groves of Liguria' about setting up home in northwest Italy stands out for being an interesting story, superbly constructed and beautifully written. It is the first part of a trilogy, and the other two volumes are equally worthwhile. Very few people have written about moving to Croatia. The recent book 'Lavender, Dormice and a Donkey Named Mercedes' by Paul Bradbury, Dalmatia's best-known British blogger and internet journalist, is an extremely entertaining and vivid account of his transition from itinerant aid worker to family man in the small town of Jelsa on Hvar Island. His adventures are unusual, often creating a sense of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, but the main theme is a celebration of his new life embracing a very different culture from that of his native Manchester.

Now that independent bookshops have largely disappeared, there are fewer opportunities for browsing through a large stock of books in any country. The wonderful bookshops of Zagreb were among the first casualties of Capitalism and austerity following the Homeland War of 1991-95. It is heartening to learn that some bookshops have survived and are even thriving, but they are few and far between. In the UK, one successful initiative to keep quality book publishing alive is 'Slightly Foxed', a company which has received well-deserved high praise from Gaby Wood, Head of Books on the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper. Book reviews can help readers identify new books of interest, and the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books and New York Review of Books are at the forefront of high-quality literary appraisals.

Technology has changed the shape of modern publishing, but books, including printed copies, will always have an important part to play in our lives. Books can be a source of comfort, relaxation, amusement, excitement, inspiration, information and education, so they should not be neglected. My advice to parents: help your children to enjoy reading, and introduce them to the nearest library as quickly as possible. That will be a great gift for life.

 

Note: the links for the books cited are to Amazon.co.uk, but all are also available on Amazon.com, other bookselling sites and of course through bookshops

© Vivian Grisogono 2013

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
You are here: Home health articles Books to Lighten the Heart

Eco Environment News feeds

  • For decades David Attenborough delighted millions with tales of life on Earth. But now the broadcaster wants us to face up to the state of the planet

    Sir David Attenborough’s soothing, matter-of-fact narrations have brought the natural world to our living rooms for nearly seven decades and counting. From Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the jungles of central Africa, the 94-year-old broadcaster has dazzled and delighted millions with tales of life on Earth – mostly pristine and untouched, according to the images on our screens. But this autumn Attenborough has returned with a different message: nature is collapsing around us.

    “We are facing a crisis. One that has consequences for us all. It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to control our climate. It even puts us at greater risk of pandemic diseases such as Covid-19,” he warned in Extinction: The Facts on BBC One primetime, receiving five-star reviews.

    Continue reading...

  • Wild Justice accuses UK government of breaching duty to protect conservation sites

    Conservationists are suing the UK government over the release of millions of game birds on to land that is home to rare and threatened species.

    The campaign group Wild Justice has accused ministers of breaching their legal duties to protect sites of high conservation value in England by failing to control the use of large areas of countryside to shoot pheasant and red-legged partridge for sport.

    Continue reading...

  • Beach clean organiser wants to assess amount of masks and gloves discarded during coronavirus crisis

    Volunteers in this year’s Great British Beach Clean are being asked to record the personal protective equipment (PPE) they find, to get a clearer picture of the volume of plastic masks and gloves discarded during the coronavirus pandemic and their impact on the environment.

    The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), which organises the annual September event, is urging people to organise their own surveys with smaller groups of friends, family and “bubbles”, in line with government guidance.

    Continue reading...

  • About 40% of the Tiehm’s buckwheat population destroyed, amid fierce dispute over proposed lithium and boron mine nearby

    Nestled among the slopes of Nevada’s Silver Peak Range are six patches of Tiehm’s buckwheat, a rare flowering plant found nowhere else in the world. Only an estimated 42,000 plants remain on 10 acres. But over the weekend, conservationists discovered that 40% of the total population had been destroyed.

    Related:Chinese fishing armada plundered waters around Galápagos, data shows

    Continue reading...

  • Data reveals just 14% of good ecological standard and none of good chemical standard

    All English rivers have failed to meet quality tests for pollution amid concerns over the scale of sewage discharges and agricultural and industrial chemicals entering the water system.

    Data published on Thursday reveals just 14% of English rivers are of good ecological standard, a rating that suggests they are as close to their natural state as possible.

    Continue reading...

  • Hundreds of vessels caught logging 73,000 hours of fishing in just one month in new analysis

    A vast fishing armada of Chinese vessels just off the Galápagos Islands logged an astounding 73,000 hours of fishing during just one month as it pulled up thousands of tonnes of squid and fish, a new report based on data analysis has found.

    The discovery of the giant flotilla off the archipelago that inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution stirred controversy and outrage in Ecuador and abroad.

    Continue reading...

  • Castle Bytham, Rutland:These symbols of might from mite line the plough furrows where they fall to become food, or mulch

    Just outside this ancient village is a little hill. There aren’t many hills here, so you tend to notice them. Back in the day, this one had a Norman castle on it. Like many, that met a torturous end. And now, like others, it has become that weird rural symbol: a scratch of ornate type on the map, and a ghost in a place name – Castle Bytham.

    The broadleaf wood on top of the hill never saw the castle. These trees are slender, youthful. But they carry another, more venerable rural symbol. The wood ends hard at a field edge, where a path runs. The limbs of the trees lean over it, like spectators over a rail. And there they are: acorns, by the fistfuls and fistfuls.

    Continue reading...

  • As forests evolve in the face of climate crisis, some surprising methods are being used to track how species migrate

    Angelica Patterson is on the lookout, shotgun in hand, as she hikes through New York state’s Black Rock Forest. She focuses on her target high up in the canopy, then bang – a branch falls to the ground. “I can’t climb trees, building scaffolding is expensive, and using a slingshot requires a lot of skill,” she says. “A shotgun is an efficient, cheap and effective way to collect the high-up leaves that have full exposure to the sun.”

    Patterson puts the northern red oak branch into a bucket of water, cutting the submerged stem to ensure that its leaves continue to function, before walking back to her laboratory in the forest.

    Continue reading...

  • Number of fires in world’s biggest tropical wetlands more than doubled in first half of 2020 compared with last year

    Continue reading...

  • Tyre attachment designed by four students aims to reduce road transport pollution

    A device that captures microplastic particles from tyres as they are emitted – and could help reduce the devastating pollution they cause – has won its designers a James Dyson award.

    The Tyre Collective, a group of masters students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, scooped the UK prize of the international competition with their solution for the growing environmental scourge of tyre wear caused by road transport.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds

Feed not found.