Good Reasons for Bad Feelings review – a new approach to mental disorder


This post is by Tim Adams from Books | The Guardian


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Randolph Nesse’s insightful book suggests that conditions such as anxiety and depression have a clear evolutionary purpose

Randolph Nesse is a pioneer in what he argues is a new way of thinking about psychiatric disorders and the science of mind. He sees his work as a branch of Darwinism. This intriguing book turns some age-old questions about the human condition upside down: “Why,” Nesse wonders at the outset, “do mental disorders exist at all? Why are there so many? Why are they so common?” Surely, he suggests, “natural selection could have eliminated anxiety, depression, addiction, anorexia and the genes that cause autism, schizophrenia and manic depressive illness. But it didn’t. Why not?”

Nesse, formerly both a professor of psychology and psychiatry and now the director of the Center for Evolution and Medicine at Arizona State University was never, of course, going to offer definitive answers to these questions. ...

Good enough to eat? The toxic truth about modern food


This post is by Bee Wilson from Books | The Guardian


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We are now producing and consuming more food than ever, and yet our modern diet is killing us. How can we solve this bittersweet dilemma?

Pick a bunch of green grapes, wash it, and put one in your mouth. Feel the grape with your tongue, observe how cold and refreshing it is: the crisp flesh, and the jellylike interior with its mild, sweet flavour.

Eating grapes can feel like an old pleasure, untouched by change. The ancient Greeks and Romans loved to eat them, as well as to drink them in the form of wine. The Odyssey describes “a ripe and luscious vine, hung thick with grapes”. As you pull the next delicious piece of fruit from its stalk, you could easily be plucking it from a Dutch still life of the 17th century, where grapes are tumbled on a metal platter with oysters and half-peeled lemons.

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Amazon pulls books offering dangerous ‘cures’ for autism


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Following reports of dangerous therapies being promoted in titles being sold through the site, a number have been quietly withdrawn

Books that promise cures for autism through potentially dangerous therapies have been quietly removed from Amazon over the last week.

The removals followed an exposé in Wired magazine this week that highlighted how Amazon was selling dozens of titles claiming to be able to cure the lifelong condition with nostrums from camel milk to yoga and veganism.

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Wellcome book prize: gender and identity dominate 2019 longlist


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Books in contention range from a transgender man’s boxing story to a memoir of recovering from psychosis and a novel about narcotic hibernation

Thomas Page McBee’s memoir about being the first transgender man to box at Madison Square Garden, Amateur, and Tara Westover’s account of her survivalist upbringing preparing for the End of Days, Educated, are both competing for the £30,000 Wellcome book prize.

Related: ‘I started dry retching’: the harrowing world of a trauma cleaner

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Want to transform your life? Stop chasing perfection


This post is by Oliver Burkeman from Books | The Guardian


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Give up the rat race, accept reality and have the courage to be disliked – the latest self-help trend is not about self-reinvention but finding contentment in the life you have

By tradition, this is the season for personal reinvention, but these days it’s hard not to feel cynical about the idea of a triumphant liberation from the past. In the news, Brexit provides an hourly reminder that merely wishing to bring about a glorious fresh start is no guarantee that calamity won’t be the result. Meanwhile, other dark developments – from the erosion of American democracy and the resurgence of the European far right, all the way to climate change – fuel a sense of foreboding that isn’t exactly motivational when it comes to self-improvement: the creeping fear that you might be living in the end times is a poor basis for making a new beginning. In any ...

The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?


This post is by Paul Dolan from Books | The Guardian


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The ‘success’ narrative is at the heart of our idea of wellbeing, but the evidence tells a different tale, argues behavioural scientist Paul Dolan in this extract from his new book

There are countless stories about how we ought to live our lives. We are expected to be ambitious; to want to be wealthy, successful and well educated; to get married, be monogamous and have kids. These social narratives can make our lives easier, by providing guidelines for behaviour, and they might sometimes make us happier, too. But they are, at their heart, stories – and ones that may not have originated with present-day people in mind. As such, many of these stories end up creating a kind of social dissonance whereby, perversely, they cause more harm than good.

Since we’re talking about stories, let’s start with an experience of mine. It’s about a working-class kid who becomes a university ...

If books can cure loneliness why are we closing libraries? | Arifa Akbar


This post is by Arifa Akbar from Books | The Guardian


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A new study calls for a £200m government scheme to promote reading. That sounds like a fairytale idea to me

“We read to know we are not alone,” wrote CS Lewis. He was clearly on to something. A new report claims that books are powerful enough to halt loneliness and social exclusion. The 50-page study, undertaken jointly by the thinktank Demos and the literacy charity the Reading Agency, argues that reading could also assist with social mobility and mental health, and even “hold off” dementia. It backs its argument with an array of compelling research and recommends a government investment of £200m, involving the NHS supporting “book-based interventions”, as part of its social prescribing strategy, alongside a major Comic Relief-style campaign to raise money for book charities, book circles and reading aloud schemes.

Related: The Tories are savaging libraries – and closing the book on social mobility | ...

Just how helpful is reading for depression?


This post is by Raifa Rafiq from Books | The Guardian


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As winter blues loom, many turn to books for distraction or consolation. But these familiar balms are not always enough

Winter: that gruesome time of year when the sun only pops round to see you off to work and leaves before you can cancel your dinner plans. It has always been a ghastly time for me. When the clocks go back on that insignificant October day and the night crawls in much earlier, the woeful and dampening winter spirit takes hold. Winter blues really aren’t so blue: grey is a much more apt colour for the mood.

In 2016, I was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (Sad), a form of depression that the NHS estimates to affect approximately one in 15 people in the UK between September and April. During that dampened period, I sought solace in books.

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Can picture books meet the crisis in children’s mental health?


This post is by Donna Ferguson from Books | The Guardian


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With more and more children seeking psychological help, Matt Haig is one of a wave of authors trying to reach troubled youngsters with stories

Matt Haig is feeling hopeful. His first ever illustrated story, The Truth Pixie, is published in the UK on Thursday – and he is optimistic it will encourage young children to talk about their anxieties. “It’s a book I want parents to share with their children – a read-aloud bedtime story,” Haig says. “Bedtime is a time when children’s heads are full of fears, and those don’t go away by just ignoring them. They go away by talking about them, externalising them and dealing with them.”

While his books for children are usually full of jokes, Haig’s bestselling non-fiction titles for adults, Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, both explore his own struggles with mental illness. He says The Truth ...

How the ‘blues’ of polar heroes throws light on Sad syndrome


This post is by Claire Armitstead from Books | The Guardian


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A ‘peculiar madness’ afflicted Antarctic explorers, a new book reveals. Their battles with light deprivation hold lessons for today

In the winter of 1897 a surgeon aboard the first research ship ever to spend a whole winter in Antarctic waters observed a worrying affliction among his crewmates. “The men were incapable of concentration, and unable to continue prolonged thought,” wrote Frederick A Cook of his time aboard the Belgica. “One sailor was forced to the verge of insanity but he recovered with the returning sun.”

Given that the darkness of a polar winter can last up to six months, this was no small problem, as a new book makes clear. Among the heroes in Icy Graves: Exploration and Death in the Antarctic are many who buckled under a strain to which few would – or could – openly admit.

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Gary Barlow opens up about his weight issues and daughter’s death


This post is by Mark Brown from Books | The Guardian


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Singer reveals how he became ‘unrecognisable’ after putting on weight when Take That split

Gary Barlow did not leave his house for about six months in the years after Take That broke up and his weight rose to 109kg (17st 2lbs).

The singer spoke emotionally at the Cheltenham literature festival of how good it was that the tide was turning and men could now openly discuss their problems. He also spoke movingly about the death of his daughter, in 2012, in the hope it would help others.

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Gary Barlow opens up about his weight issues and daughter’s death


This post is by Mark Brown from Books | The Guardian


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Singer reveals how he became ‘unrecognisable’ after putting on weight when Take That split

Gary Barlow did not leave his house for about six months in the years after Take That broke up and his weight rose to 109kg (17st 2lbs).

The singer spoke emotionally at the Cheltenham literature festival of how good it was that the tide was turning and men could now openly discuss their problems. He also spoke movingly about the death of his daughter, in 2012, in the hope it would help others.

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Out of my mind: Sarah Perry on writing under the influence of drugs


This post is by Sarah Perry from Books | The Guardian


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When a medical condition left her in agony, The Essex Serpent author was prescribed powerful opiates. They gave her terrifying visions - and a new insight into literary drug culture

The poet Mary Robinson was, said Coleridge, a woman of undoubted Genius. She published her first book while a child bride in a debtors’ prison; she was a political radical who took the future George IV as a lover; in portraits her eyes are serious and her mouth is not. But sickness being no respecter of even the most fascinating people, she acquired an infection at the age of 26, and afterwards lived with paralysis and pain. One night in Bath, finding her suffering intolerable, she dosed herself with 80 drops of a tincture of alcohol and opium, and drowsily composed a poem called “The Maniac”, “like a person talking in her sleep”. Inspired by the memory of a vagrant, ...

Jokes about ‘snowflakes’ ignore the crisis in young mental health | Holly Bourne


This post is by Holly Bourne from Books | The Guardian


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My young adult novel about mental illness has been ridiculed, along with my call for greater kindness. But really, it’s not a laughing matter

There’s no more powerful way to silence someone than to call them crazy. This one word swiftly minimises a person’s anguish as something wrong with them, rather than an appropriate response to a malfunctioning society. These days, whenever a young person is brave enough to talk about their emotional distress, they’re called “snowflakes”. It’s dangerous abuse, and it needs to stop.

My young adult novel about mental illness, Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? asks the question – are young people really overly sensitive, or is their suffering actually a by-product of an unkind world? I’ve been travelling to schools around the country, and talking to them about Compassion Focused Therapy, trying to free young people from their self-hatred and shame about their mental health ...

This worried world: why anxiety memoirs are filling our shelves


This post is by Brigid Delaney from Books | The Guardian


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As society shifts towards talking more openly about mental illness, readers are hungry for answers and authenticity

Publishing trends reflect the age we are living in. It’s not just about the sort of stories people want to write, but the stories that people want to read.

In 1987, London advertising executive Peter Mayle took a second home in the south of France intending to spend a year writing his novel, A Year in Provence. Instead he sparked a mini-industry of blockbuster aspirational travel memoirs which lasted for two decades.

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Lucia by Alex Pheby review – in search of James Joyce’s daughter


This post is by Ian Sansom from Books | The Guardian


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This extraordinary novel inspired by the life of Lucia Joyce tells the troubling story of a woman who is confined and abused

“This book”, reads the prefatory note to Alex Pheby’s third novel, “is intended as a work of art. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in an artistic manner. Any representations of actual persons are either coincidental, or have been altered for artistic effect.” Erm, OK.

The Lucia of Pheby’s book is Lucia Joyce. She is a dancer, inmate of an asylum in Northampton, sister to George/Giorgio, niece to Stanislav, daughter of James and Nora, lover of artists … Sound familiar? The real Lucia Joyce was born in Trieste in 1907 and became a professional dancer. She was the lover of the artists Alexander Calder and Albert Hubbell. She died in 1982, having spent most of ...

What if women were told the truth? A mother who was not ready for motherhood chronicles the blood, sweat and tears of having a baby


This post is by RO Kwon from Books | The Guardian


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What if women were told the truth? Meaghan O’Connell chronicles the blood, sweat and tears of having a baby

Lately I’ve found I gobble up birth stories. I read them all. As I don’t have children, nor do I seem to want them, perhaps my curiosity has to do with how little I know about this common, pivotal experience. We’ve each been formed, grown in, and either pushed or pulled from a woman’s body, yet for most of my life I’ve learned less about childbirth than I have about, for example, the intricacies of trench warfare. Should nothing but stories concerning pregnancy and early motherhood be published for the next 10 years, it would hardly redress the vast historical imbalance between what humans experience and what has been judged worth documenting. More English language literature has probably been written about medieval jousting than about childbirth. This lack is yet another ...

Is rising inequality responsible for greater stress, anxiety and mental illness?


This post is by Andrew Anthony from Books | The Guardian


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That’s the claim made by the authors of The Inner Level, which furthers arguments first laid out in their 2009 work, The Spirit Level. They reveal the bleak truth about uneven societies

In 2009, when the world was still absorbing the shock of the previous year’s financial crisis, a book called The Spirit Level was published. Written by a couple of social epidemiologists, it argued that a whole raft of data conclusively showed that societies with greater inequality also had a range of more pronounced social problems, including higher rates of violence, murder, drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity and teenage pregnancies.

Given that naked profit motive had just taken the world to the brink of economic collapse, it was a good moment to take stock and reflect on where rising inequality was leading us. For the previous 30 years a broad consensus had operated in politics, particularly in the US and ...

Teenagers’ brains not ready for GCSEs, says neuroscientist


This post is by Mark Brown Arts correspondent from Books | The Guardian


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Sarah-Jayne Blakemore opposes timing of exams in a period of major cognitive change

Teenagers are being damaged by the British school system because of early start times and exams at 16 when their brains are going through enormous change, a leading neuroscientist has said.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore said it was only in recent years that the full scale of the changes that take place in the adolescent brain has been discovered. “That work has completely revolutionised what we think about this period of life,” she said.

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Skybound by Rebecca Loncraine review – a euphoric, courageous book


This post is by Arifa Akbar from Books | The Guardian


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When, with severe illness, the ground disappeared from beneath Loncraine, she decided to conquer her fear, take up gliding and head for the clouds

“But I would rather be horizontal,” begins Sylvia Plath’s poem “I am Vertical”. Plath, poleaxed by depression, wishes her body to become part of the soil, yet even so looks up to the sky with a yearning for transcendence: “It is more natural to me, lying down / Then the sky and I are in open conversation”. Rebecca Loncraine invokes these lines in her memoir, Skybound, and they cast the same blend of light and shadow across this profound, euphoric and courageous book about how to live joyously, and how to meet death.

Loncraine was in her mid-30s when she got breast cancer. Two years after gruelling treatment, she entered into her own “open conversation” with the sky by learning to fly, or “soar” as she puts it, in ...