Category > Health, mind and body

Mortality

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Mortality by Christopher Hitchens, book reviewI am rather ashamed that I didn’t discover Christopher Hitchens until it was in many respects ‘too late’. I had read reviews of some of his books and I knew he was someone I ‘ought’ to read but I just hadn’t got round to doing so. Sadly I hadn’t realised what I was missing until he was already dead – passing away in December 2011 to a flurry of critical acclaim and much praise for a life that was cut short but always well lived. Hitchens himself would no doubt have realised that there’s no better publicity for a writer than his own death though it’s not a technique from which the author can hope to benefit. Strange as it will no doubt seem, I decided to spend Boxing Day morning reading his final work, Mortality, a collection of his essays written whilst he was receiving treatment for cancer of the oesophagus and its spread to other parts of his body.


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The End of Your Life Book Club

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The End of Your Life Book Club,  Will Schwalbe, book reviewSitting at the hospital waiting for his mother to complete her chemotherapy session, Will Schwalbe asked her what she was reading. Hours and hours of poison dripping into her arm could be made bearable by reading books and talking about them. Will and his mother, Mary Anne, formed their own two person ‘book club’ and Will called it The End of Your Life Book Club. With a diagnosis of Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer (there is no stage 5) both knew that Mary Anne’s days were numbered but there were still so many great books to be read for the first time or old favourites to be read again. Metastasised pancreatic cancer comes with a short shelf life – typically as little as 3 to 6 months, optimistically, no more than a couple of years.


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Singing the Life

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Singing the Life, Elizabeth Bryan, book reviewElizabeth Bryan is a doctor, an expert in multiple births who worked with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and published books on twins and triplets. As you’d expect with a background like that she knows a lot about genetics but in the case of her and her direct family, a single gene was the root of a devastating health time bomb. Elizabeth Bryan’s family is cursed with the notorious BRCA1 gene which makes carriers susceptible to cancer – especially breast and ovarian cancers. Singing the Life is Bryan’s account of her family and how they lived and sometimes lost their lives with the threat of cancer hanging over them.

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to know that your fate in life could well be an early and painful death.


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Three Thousand Miles for a Wish

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Three Thousand Miles for a Wish, Safiya Hussain, book reviewThree Thousand Miles for a Wish is one British Muslim woman’s account of going to Saudi Arabia to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Growing up in the UK her religion had become such a minor part of her life that she barely noticed that she’d lost touch with her roots. Succeeding academically, she trained as a lawyer and hated the tedium of the job. She went to nightclubs, drank and got a boyfriend. But ‘living the dream’ turned out to be more of a nightmare. When the dream boyfriend turned out to have a fiancé about whom she knew nothing until the other woman was screaming in her face, Safiya’s life started spiralling into dangerous depression. She ripped up her prayer mat, blamed God, screamed at her parents, abused her friends and family and was heading on the fast-track to self destruction. Then one day her parents told her they were going to Mecca for the Hajj and she found herself asking to go with them.


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How Good is That?

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How Good is That?  Jane Tomlinson, Mike Tomlinson, book reviewJane Tomlinson was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27 in 1991. Nine years later in 2000 she was told that the cancer had spread and was untreatable. She was given six months to live. Like many people with a terminal diagnosis she wanted to travel and to create memories for her husband and children to cherish when she could no longer be with them. Unlike most people that urge to travel turned into seven years of performing feats of great physical endurance all over the world to raise money for charities. She competed in marathons, Ironman triathlon events and undertook several long distance bicycle rides including Lands End to John O’Groats, ‘Rome to Home’ (from Rome to Yorkshire) and her final big expedition to cross the USA from the Golden Gate Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that final ride which features in this book How Good is that?

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Spicy Fantasies

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Blue The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka, TranquebarA humid climate redolent of spices, sweat on dark skins – Sri Lanka conjures up many images which lend themselves well to erotica. And of course, erotic writing is far older than many forms and while being general attempts to address itself to the particular covering all kinds of imagined encounters – there is a wealth of erotica, both pornographic and otherwise in the Sinhala language ranging from the historic to the contemporary. What separates it from pornography is that it hints indirectly and so attempts a sensuous stirring of the senses through a kind of half revealing.

Ameena Hussein has put together this collection of short stories, the first of their kind from Sri Lanka, in an attempt she says in her introduction, to unveil the ‘spicy fantasies’ of the land to which she belongs and bring fresh voices to the attention of the English reading public


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C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too

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C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too... , John Diamond, book reviewJohn Diamond was a journalist and broadcaster known for his wit as much as for his marriage to Nigella Lawson and he was by his own admission, a hypochondriac. After decades of seeing every little twinge as a portent of medical doom and waiting almost expectantly for the heart attack for which decades of over-indulgence must surely qualify him, it was as much a self-fulfilling prophesy as a big surprise when a lump in his neck turned out to be more sinister than he’d expected.

In March 1997 he was given a diagnosis of a cancerous lymph node in his neck and the doctors told him with confidence he had a 92% chance of being fine and dandy in no time at all. Sometimes doctors get things wrong – and ‘C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too’ is Diamond’s best selling account of his experience with cancer, based in part on columns that he published in the Times newspaper’s Saturday magazine.


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Ingenius

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Building Brainpower, Dilip Mukerjea, book reviewThe Indian parent spends more and more time racking his or her brain as to how the child’s grades can be improved.Unleashing Genius    A Book on Learning Miracles for Children of all Ages  Dilip Mukerjea With marks getting impossibly high in the school system and so much riding on them, it is of course imperative that children be given some sort of brain headstart in the exams race. Aside from brain enhancers like almonds, there are always exercises that help enhance the mind and the memory through various time tested tricks. That’s where Dilip Mukerjea’s set of books come in, published at an invaluable time as far as the Indian school system is concerned.


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Deconstructing the Divine

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7 Secrets Of Shiva , Devdutt Pattanaik: Book reviewDevdutt Patnaik has moved on from coaching management students and finding the links between management and mythology to mythology full time. This pair of books talks about the philosophies of the two most powerful gods in the Hindu pantheon, Vishnu and Shiva and the reasons why they are as they are in Hindu philosophy. Vishnu is referred to as the Preserver while Shiva is known as the Destroyer. Alternatively Vishnu is the householder, worshipped with sprigs of tulsi, a household plant, while Shiva is the hermit, worshipped with leaves of bilva, grown outside the house. Occasionally, however, they appear to change their roles – Vishnu in his Kalki avatar takes on the form of the destroyer, while Shiva, the most detached of gods is the only one with a wife and children.


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Mantra for Life

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The Happiness Quotient by Rekha Shetty, book reviewHappiness has suddenly become an important factor in the welfare of countries. As far back as 1972, the King of Bhutan introduced a system for measuring Gross National Happiness in his country, rather than the conventional GDP mapping. This was followed by Thailand a while later, and UK and Australia, too are considering introducing a happiness measure related to economics.

Treatises have been written on how to achieve happiness and face life positively. In India, Dr Rekha Shetty says, ‘positive, radiant happiness is our birthright’ and the book outlines a programme on how to achieve it. She has the requisite experience to lay out the programme, since she is the creator of the Mindspower brand and the MD of Farstar Distribution Network limited, a consultancy that works on issues like work-life balance and innovation initiatives.


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Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

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Pink Princesses and Pole Dancers

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter, book reviewThis book is a disturbing account of the ways in which girls and young women are being encouraged to see themselves. It also examines the way that men and boys are conditioned to view women. It includes topics such as pole dancing, prostitution, glamour modelling and lads’ mags, children’s toys and theories on differences between female and male children from a very young age. At times I found it very uncomfortable and depressing reading, but it is well worth reading for the important arguments made.

The book is divided into two halves: The New Sexism and The New Determinism


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The Complete Thyroid Book

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The Complete Thyroid Book By Kenneth Ain, By M.Sara Rosenthal, book reviewSeldom can something so small and hidden have caused so much trouble. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your neck, just below the Adam’s apple. Most people don’t know they’ve got one, have never given it any thought and most likely don’t have the slightest idea what it does. But for those people who are aware about their thyroid, it’s very likely that this little gland is causing them trouble – and in some cases, such as mine, it looked for a while like big scary trouble.

I was one of the many who didn’t know my thyroid from my thigh bone nine months ago and now, thanks to two operations, numerous blood tests, a dose of radioactive iodine and daily medication, my thyroid is a constant preoccupation even though I haven’t actually got one. Sounds weird? Try a diagnosis of follicular thyroid cancer – it’s a great way to turn you overnight from thyroid ignorant to thyroid expert.

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