March 20, 2017

"A life spent reading--that is a good life," Annie Dillard

 Reading-After-Lunch
Reading After Lunch by Sarah Bryant, British painter.

Can Reading Make You Happier?  by Ceridwen Dovey  in The New Yorker.  The answer is YES.

In response to the question “What is preoccupying you at the moment?,” I was surprised by what I wanted to confess: I am worried about having no spiritual resources to shore myself up against the inevitable future grief of losing somebody I love, I wrote. I’m not religious, and I don’t particularly want to be, but I’d like to read more about other people’s reflections on coming to some sort of early, weird form of faith in a “higher being” as an emotional survival tactic.
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In a secular age, I suspect that reading fiction is one of the few remaining paths to transcendence, that elusive state in which the distance between the self and the universe shrinks. Reading fiction makes me lose all sense of self, but at the same time makes me feel most uniquely myself.
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For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain...A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of fMRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves.
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So even if you don’t agree that reading fiction makes us treat others better, it is a way of treating ourselves better. Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.

Read the whole thing to learn about the rise of bibliotherapy, that is prescribing reading for its therapeutic effect.

 Reading Conversation-Past-Lives

Comfort Food: The Importance of Reading Aloud as Adults by Annie Hartnett

When I was in the third grade, my neighbor, Mrs. Cris — a 60-year-old woman with grown children — invited me and two other girls to form a weekly reading club. On Wednesdays, Mrs. Cris would serve us buttery Danish cookies, and juice in fancy punch glasses. We would sit on the floor while Mrs. Cris settled into the high-backed chair in front of the fireplace, and she would read out loud to us.

We would lie about it to other kids, what we did on Wednesdays. It wasn’t because I was ashamed, it never occurred to me that a reading club might be considered uncool. I lied because I didn’t want my other friends to be envious, and because I didn’t want anyone else to be added to the club. It was our secret, my favorite day of the week.
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The Reading Club taught me the importance of careful, concentrated listening, and taught me that I could find friends outside my immediate peer group. It taught me reading a story aloud is a way to take care of someone, a kind of care-taking that isn’t overbearing or smothering, and doesn’t feel like babysitting. As adults, reading aloud to one another is something we think we might have grown out of, but that’s only because we’ve forgotten how intimate and cozy it is to be read to, or to read aloud to someone who listens. It’s a simple, low-maintenance way to connect. And if you can tell a good story, I now believe, you can win anyone over, even the most skeptical of listeners. Especially if you serve cookies.

And don't forget the rich pleasure of listening to audio books and becoming deeply immersed in stories that surround you. 

 Stories Surround 1

I've a huge fan of audiobooks for decades, first on cassettes, then CDs and now on MP3s that I download to my iPod.
I've been a great reader all my life, but there were some books I just could not get into, like J.R,Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.  So, one day I ordered The Fellowship of the Ring narrated by Rob Inglis and was completely entranced. I loved them and have become, at last, a J.R.Tolkien fan.

Certain books are immeasurably enriched by a good narrator.  I can't imagine the Patrick O'Brian Aubrey/Maturin series, beginning with Master and Commander without hearing the delightful voice of Patrick Tull.  Graham Greene's The End of the Affair as narrated by Colin Firth, A Town Like Alice narrated by Neil Hunt, A Gentleman in Moscow as narrated by Nicolas Guy Smith, Wolf Hall as narrated by Simon Slater, The Likeness as narrated by Heather O'Neill and Brideshead Revisited as narrated by Jeremy Irons.  This past year I discovered to my great delight Adrian McKinty and his Sean Duffy mysteries set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.  All, beginning with The Cold Cold Ground are narrated by the splendid Gerard Doyle   

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:16 PM | Permalink

To mark her 100th birthday, Vera Lynn releases new album

You might not recognize the name, but you likely will recognize some of her most famous songs from WW2 movies or Dr. Strangelove:  I'll Be Seeing You, We'll Meet Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, and A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square

Known as the "Forces Sweetheart", Dame Vera Lynn provided much needed moral for the people of Britain during the Second World War .  Today is her 100th birthday and she will be repaid with

a touching and a fitting tribute. To mark the national treasure's milestone 100th birthday, a pair of original wartime Spitfires are set to do a rare fly-over and display above the White Cliffs of Dover.  As WWII re-enactors perform a military salute, the iconic backdrop will be transformed more than 70 years after her wartime classic song gave hope to British troops in action.

 Hbday Veralynn 100

She is also marking the occasion with a new album.  In 2009, at age 92, she became the oldest living artist to top the UK Albums Chart.

 Veralynn 100Album

Asked for secret to a long life she said, 'Keep interested, read books, watch television, keep in touch with life'
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Dame Vera marked her birthday with a family tea party and said in a statement: 'I am truly overwhelmed by the wonderful messages, gifts and gestures that people have made to mark this milestone occasion with me. I feel blessed to have reached 100, and I am humbled by everyone's kindness."

 Vera Lynn

She is held in great affection by veterans of the Second World War to this day and in 2000 was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:54 AM | Permalink

Health round-up: Exercise and cancer, cystic fibrosis, statins, tea, coffee and vitamins

Cystic fibrosis patients living 10 years longer in Canada than U.S. thanks to a high fat diet

Researchers identify differences in diet, health insurance and access to lung transplants...A spike in Canadian survival rates noted in 1995 may be due to a high fat diet, emphasizing cheeses, fish and nuts, recommended for Canadians with cystic fibrosis since the 1970s.  "The Canadians tried high fat diets, more calories, more palatable, and this really had an impact on the nutritional status, particularly with children, and that seems to set the trajectory for the disease."

Antidepressants can stop prostate cancer from spreading to the bones where it kills 90% of patients

Prostate cancer metastasises, or spreads, to the bones in 9 out of 10 fatal cases.  Scientists found a reducing a protein in the brain stopped the cancer spreading.  Discovery could pave the way to a treatment for advanced forms of the disease

How exercise reduces the risk of cancer.

Exercising is known to reduce the risk of breast, bowel, colon and womb cancer.  But how?  Scientists say active people are better at removing a by-product - lactate -  that fuels tumors. Lactate – which makes muscles stiffen after exercise – is a key driver of cancer growth and spread, experts claim.

Dr Inigo San Millan, of the University of California, Berkeley, said: 'With this paper, we open a whole new door for understanding cancer, showing for the first time that lactate is not only present, but mandatory for every step in its development. 'We hope to sound the alarm for the research community that to stop cancer you have to stop lactate.'

Gene in some people which makes their brains 12 YEARS older than they should be

Researchers at Columbia University found a certain gene is present in people with prematurely aged brains
Just as some people physically age faster than others, the same goes for brains. The study examined autopsy data from almost 2,000 people without diseases.  They found those with older-looking brains had two copies of a certain gene - TMEM106B.  The common genetic variant greatly impacts normal brain aging from around the age of 65.  It may also increase one's risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease or dementia.

Just ONE cup of tea a day lowers the risk of toxic clumps forming in the brain

Researchers found that drinking tea reduces the risk of dementia by some 50% while those who carry a 'dementia gene' can slash their chances by around 86%.  Tea leaves are considered to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. And it doesn't matter whether you prefer green tea or black.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore assessed the tea consumption of 957 adults over the age of 55 over a period of 12 years.  Every two years, the participants were assessed on their cognitive function using standardized tools.  "A simple and inexpensive lifestyle measure such as daily tea drinking can reduce a person’s risk of developing neurocognitive disorders in late life," said Dr Feng Lei and help  protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration.

Coffee 'stops vitamin pills working'

Scientists claim swallowing tablets with your morning cup of caffeine wipes out all of the good they do because the heat in the drinks can dramatically reduce the effects of tablets. It can even kill the ‘friendly’ bacteria in probiotic foods such as yoghurts..Now experts suggest waiting at least an hour before consuming hot food or drink after taking tablets.

City-dwellers should stock up on B vitamins, experts claim.

A new study suggests that the supplements may play a critical role in reducing the devastating impact of air pollution. In a trial on humans, scientists found just small doses could offset the deadly damage caused by tiny, toxic particles. Experts believe the findings could have a significant public health benefit in heavily polluted cities across the world.

Mediterranean diet 'as effective as statins' in reducing heart attack risk

“For most middle-aged people wishing to avoid heart disease, a healthy diet offers a far more powerful, sustainable and enjoyable plan than lifelong statin tablets,” said Prof Simon Capewell, vice-president of the UK Faculty of Public Health.

Taking high dosages of statins raises the risk of developing diabetes in older women by 50%

Australian scientists have carried out one of the first studies of its kind focusing on the effects of statins on more than 8,000 female pensioners....The team found over-75s face a 33 per cent higher chance of getting diabetes if they are taking them.  But the risk rose to more than 50 per cent for those on higher doses. It follows research last year which showed people with naturally higher levels of cholesterol, paradoxically, are less likely to suffer diabetes.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:42 AM | Permalink