My 2019 Summer reading

The Summer holiday season is finally upon us (yeah!), and one of my favourite ways to recharge those all important human batteries is to get down to some serious reading.  And so I’d like to share with you some of the books that will be tempting me this holiday. I hope it inspires. Happy holiday everyone!

Not working – why we have to stop by Josh Cohen

The title of this book instantly intrigued me (talk about judging a book by its cover)! I am a big advocate for working less, and living more.

Cohen (a London psychoanalyst) divides his book into four sections; the burnout, the slob, the daydreamer and the slacker. In each section he explores his personal connection to each quality and then explores the lives of artists who embody these qualities. So for example for the burnout, he speaks about Andy Warhol and for the daydreamer he writes about Emily Dickinson. 

This book is well written and researched. But I struggled to stay with it at times as the case studies became all encompassing and I was yearning for a bit more on the wider context of work and its many facets and its impact on society. Cohen obviously knows his stuff and I wanted to hear more from him and less about these four artists. 

However there are a fair few gems from Cohen, including when he writes, “Frenetic activity tends cunningly to disguise its own emptiness…we do things only because we can’t bear to have nothing to do.” And I appreciate how he extols the use of therapy as a space where people can hit pause on their lives.

The Incurable Romantic and other unsettling revelations by Frank Tallis

Similarly to Susie Orbach’s In Therapy and Stephen Grosz’s The Examined Life, Tallis (a clinical psychologist) has compiled a collection of experiences in therapy but this time all with the theme of love running through them. I always find these kinds of books (as long as they are well written) to be highly entertaining, despite it being a bit of a busman’s holiday for me. 

Tallis argues that we should take love and its many forms (e.g. unrequited, obsessive, heartbreak etc.) more seriously as “when love goes wrong, the results can be fatal”.  He draws upon case studies, supported by the odd theory, which adds an educational element. Highlights of this insightful collection include the married law clerk who fell in love with her dentist and convinced herself it was reciprocated, the financier who was dumped after four months and left baffled and heartbroken, the family man addicted to sex with prostitutes. But my favourite chapter is one entitled “The American Evangelist” which is about halfway through the book. I had been lulled by the previous case studies and this chapter really turned things on its head and is a great inclusion and very well written. I won’t give anything away, but it’s worth the wait!

The Little Book of Calm by Dr Aaron Balick

If you want something small and light-hearted, then look no further than this little gem.  What it lacks in length, it makes up for in good humour, and insightful comments about our anxiety and fear in day to day living. Balick uses modern day (ish) metaphors to provide useful ideas, such as to “bend it like Buffy” or to  “Goggle earth yourself the hell out of there”.   

A personal highlight is when he compares feeling emotionally awful to throwing up… “Nobody likes throwing up, but everybody knows that they feel better afterwards. It’s gross and unpleasant while it’s happening, but avoiding it only prolongs the pain.” 

This book won’t change your life (what book really does that anyway), but it’s a good-humoured approach to something we can all relate to and does provide doable tips, so it’s definitely worth a flick through. 

The Heartland. Finding and losing schizophrenia by Nathan Filer

Nathan’s debut novel, The Shock of the Fall, was an international bestseller and won the Costa book of the Year. He’s followed it up with this book, The Heartland, inspired by his previous work as a mental health nurse. 

He writes about the various aspects of schizophrenia including the experience of a soldier, journalist and a mother of an ill son. He cleverly alternates these real life experiences with commentary chapters in regards to discrimination, diagnosis, causes and medical treatment (to mention a few). This avoids the book becoming too dry, as when he gets a bit technical or heady, you know as the reader, there will soon be a chapter based on a case study to bring you back to earth.  

It’s well researched and his style of writing keeps a book which could have been pretty dark and difficult, a little lighter with a vague sense of hope. Not a book for everyone, but if you’re interested in severe mental health issues then an enlightening read. 

Black sheep. The hidden benefits of being bad by Richard Stephens

Given to me as a gift (was there a hidden message for me here?), this is a fun, lighthearted and informative book extolling the virtues of being a little naughty from time to time. 

Stephens tackles the most obvious of vices, including sex, alcohol, swearing and speeding as well as few others including love and death. He explores each, with lots of supporting research, with the aim of highlighting their benefits, these include:

  • Having regular sex reduces stress and anxiety
  • Swearing can reinforce close bonds between people
  • Stress (once subsided) can bolster your memory

My favourite chapter though was one defending our right to waste time. Stephens writes, “ Indeed doing nothing can sometimes be just the thing for solving difficult problems.” I am a big believer in a bit of random daydreaming or doodling. Allowing ourselves to feel bored, allows our creative self to step forward.  Stephen writes, “Boredom serves the purpose of telling us that it is time to stop what we are doing and go and do something else more meaningful.”

And I think that’s a pretty good quote to end with. Summer break presents the perfect opportunity to rest, recharge and daydream a little.  So enjoy everyone!

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

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