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

  • Exclusive: Draft regulations seen by the Guardian reveal the European commission wants to prohibit the insecticides that cause ‘acute risks to bees’

    The world’s most widely used insecticides would be banned from all fields across Europe under draft regulations from the European commission, seen by the Guardian.

    The documents are the first indication that the powerful commission wants a complete ban and cite “high acute risks to bees”. A ban could be in place this year if the proposals are approved by a majority of EU member states.

    Continue reading...

  • A plan to halve carbon emissions every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years, provides a simple but rigorous roadmap to tackle climate change, scientists say

    A new “carbon law”, modelled on Moore’s law in computing, has been proposed as a roadmap for beating climate change. It sees carbon emissions halving every decade, while green energy continues to double every five years.

    The carbon law’s proponents are senior climate-change scientists and they argue it provides a simple, broad but quantitative plan that could drive governments and businesses to make urgently needed carbon cuts, particularly at a time when global warming is falling off the global political agenda.

    Continue reading...

  • Roll clouds and wave-like asperitas are among the additions to the new digital International Cloud Atlas, that dates back to the 19th century. It features hundreds of images captured by meteorologists and cloud lovers from around the world

    Continue reading...

  • Extent of ice over North pole has fallen to a new wintertime low, for the third year in a row, as climate change drives freakish weather

    The extent of Arctic ice has fallen to a new wintertime low, as climate change drives freakishly high temperatures in the polar regions.

    The ice cap grows during the winter months and usually reaches its maximum in early March. But the 2017 maximum was 14.4m sq km, lower than any year in the 38-year satellite record, according to researchers at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) and Nasa.

    Continue reading...

  • Massive fine reflects change in sentencing as previously low penalties failed to deter water firms from polluting England’s rivers and beaches

    Thames Water has been hit with a record fine of £20.3m after huge leaks of untreated sewage into the Thames and its tributaries and on to land, including the popular Thames path. The prolonged leaks led to serious impacts on residents, farmers, and wildlife, killing birds and fish.

    The fine imposed on Wednesday was for numerous offences in 2013 and 2014 at sewage treatment works at Aylesbury, Didcot, Henley and Little Marlow, and a large sewage pumping station at Littlemore.

    Continue reading...

  • Birdwatchers ‘elated’ after snapping photo of the endangered species in state’s arid interior in discovery that could significantly impact on mining developments

    A night parrot has been photographed in Western Australia, adding another twist to the mysterious history of the species that was presumed extinct until it was rediscovered in Queensland four years ago.

    It is the first verified sighting of the bird in WA for almost 100 years and follows a history of unverified sightings, disbelieved reports and futile ecological surveys that rivals the hunt for the (presumably still) extinct Thylacine in Tasmania.

    Continue reading...

  • Anne says she would farm GM food and GM livestock a ‘bonus’, while Charles says GM crops will cause ‘biggest disaster environmentally of all time’

    Princess Anne has strongly backed genetically modified crops, saying she would grow them on her own land and that GM livestock would be a “bonus”.

    Her stance puts her sharply at odds with her brother Prince Charles, who has long opposed GM food and has said it will cause the “biggest disaster environmentally of all time”.

    Continue reading...

  • In the first in a series, Yale Environment 360 reports from Honduras where Berta Cáceres fought to protect native lands and paid for it with her life – one of hundreds of victims in this disturbing global trend

    They came for her late one evening last March, as Berta Cáceres prepared for bed. A heavy boot broke the back door of the safe house she had just moved into. Her colleague and family friend, Gustavo Castro, heard her shout, “Who’s there?” Then came a series of shots. He survived. But the most famous and fearless social and environmental activist in Honduras died instantly. She was 44 years old. It was a cold-blooded political assassination.

    Berta Cáceres knew she was likely to be killed. Everybody knew. She had told her daughter Laura to prepare for life without her. The citation for her prestigious Goldman Environmental prize, awarded in the US less than a year before, noted the continued death threats, before adding: “Her murder would not surprise her colleagues, who keep a eulogy – but hope to never have to use it.”

    Continue reading...

  • Vibrant vegetation in a Venezuelan lake, Saharan dust in snowy Sierra Nevada, cloud vortices in South Korea, a vast solar farm in China, and a lone ship in the Atlantic are among our satellite images this month

    Every so often, a vibrant green colour infuses the waters of Lake Maracaibo. Floating vegetation – likely duckweed – was swirling in the Venezuelan lake when Nasa’s Aqua satellite flew over in February 2017. Most of the time, Maracaibo’s waters are stratified into layers, with nutrient-rich, cooler, saltier water at the bottom, and a warmer, fresher layer near the surface. But after heavy rains, the layers can mix and make the lake an ideal habitat for plant growth. A narrow strait roughly 6km (4 miles) wide and 40 km (25 miles) long connects the lake to the Gulf of Venezuela and the Caribbean Sea. The influx of saltwater through the strait makes Maracaibo an estuarine lake. This mixing causes the water currents responsible for the concentric swirl pattern, according to Lawrence Kiage, a professor of geoscience at Georgia State University.

    Continue reading...

  • Green groups’ report says move to cleaner energy in China and India is discouraging the building of coal-fired units

    The amount of new coal power being built around the world fell by nearly two-thirds last year, prompting campaigners to claim the polluting fossil fuel was in freefall.

    The dramatic decline in new coal-fired units was overwhelmingly due to policy shifts in China and India and subsequent declining investment prospects, according to a report by Greenpeace, the US-based Sierra Club and research network CoalSwarm.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds