By Frederic Colier | [email protected]
Only five weeks have elapsed since Trump took power, and what a contrast with the previous administration. The country seems to have been seized by the invisible hand of hysteria and neurosis. In recent memory, never a concentration of angry and vocal citizens has been so strident and quick to gather. In this time of uncertainty, it is always wise to take a deep breath and step to the sideline to better understand what is happening. Are we deluding ourselves with this new administration? Is the threat real? Or are we just venting the seething resentment that has been cementing since the beginning of the Great Recession and, why not, the costly Iraq War? This month’s selection provides reflections on our national and chaotic mental states.
(Grand Central Publishing, pp 399, $28.00)
Whoever came up with the subtitle for this fascinating book did an excellent job creating a strong hook. Who indeed would not want to live longer? Contrary to what you may consider, that life is just a game of roulette, the authors claim that you can certainly influence your longevity. To entice you into their secret, they ask, why some people at 40 look like 60, while others at 60 look like 40? The story narrated here deals with telomerase and, more precisely telomeres, which are the capstones at the end of the DNA, whose states mirror the way we treat ourselves. Good telomeres will keep you disease free longer. Translation: your lifespan will be elongated.
Here, as in diet books, we find that the main culprits for premature aging: quality of sleep, frequency of exercise, types of diet, and chronic stress, all of which deeply impact our telomeres. Over the book, Blackburn and Epel clearly demonstrate the mind-body connection. Having recurring negative thoughts for example will affect also your telomeres, and your appearance. Telomeres shorten in repeated adverse conditions. People looking healthy have long telomeres. So the main question you should ask yourself, and it should make you want to pick up this book at once, is whether a body who has been exposed to all types of unhealthy habits and physical abuses can reverse damages done to the capstones of its DNA? In other words, are frayed telomeres irreversible? The book goes at great length to provide answers. Particularly fascinating are the chapters discussing the impact of early trauma during pregnancy and income inequalities to show the relations between depression and schizophrenia. One thing is certain: this book will not age you.
(William Morrow, pp 368, $26.99)
In “Wicked City,” one can smell the whiffs of Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway as he journeys back and forth between New York and East Egg. You can touch Princeton, the Prohibition, the allure of speakeasies with Fitzgerald pouring a scotch, and nudge the fabulously wealthy yawning at thought of attending the next party. From where we stand, the era feels like a distant shore, a fata morgana only made possible by the booming business and new wealth created overnight, the windfall of WWI. In typical Hollywood stories, with the winners come the losers, and not necessarily those who never had, but rather those who tried hard, got there, and walked away on a whim, which, for many of us, reveals a certain disposition towards foolishness. This is where Williams starts her two-time-framed narrative. The story moved from present to past and back and forth. “Wicked City” is a Nick Carraway journey in reverse.
Ella Gilbert starts at the top of society and decides to leave it all behind upon learning that her banker husband cheats on her. She trades her life of luxury and high-comfort in Soho for a small pad of Greenwich village. That’s for the near present. But Williams’s story also is situated in 1924, where the Village was not the ultra-expensive resort for startup moguls of today. Back then there were forbidden places, where more prosaic people could go in search of excitement. The place in question is a speakeasy, the Christopher Club. The club introduces the second protagonist, Geneva Keely, a flapper, who gets caught in a raid and is forced to help the police track down her father, an important bootlegger . . . The story takes its own flight as we ponder how the two narratives are interrelated, making the twists and turns highly entertaining and surprising.
(Other Press, pp 296, $26.95)
Psychosomatic illness is problematic. Disregarded as not real, it is often not considered seriously and is relegated to footnotes in medical books. And yet, it is all around us, often having debilitating effects on the sufferer, which can last for years in some cases. According to Dr. O’sullivan, it costs the health system twice as much to treat as diabetes. Expensive for imaginary treatment. Who has not heard of someone suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome or sudden memory loss? In this important book, O’Sullivan lays out her case for a new approach and treatment methods for psychosomatic illness. Her argument is convincing. Taken from real life experiences, through her work as a neurologist and neurophysiologist, she shares the cases of some of her patients and ponders how come so many of them complain about symptoms without any physical manifestation? Is it really all in their head?
At first brush the book can appear slightly mechanical, since chapters are matched with a single patient. There’s Pauline, Camilla, and Rachel among others. But each has been carefully selected to illustrate precisely O’Sullivan’s claims. The plurality of psychosomatic manifestations run far and wide and would appear to stem from hidden stress and major traumas. Surviving rape or exposure to chronic mental abuses being the most obvious. We’ve known for century that the mind can affect our physical health. But clearly, here O’Sullivan seeks to establish a connection between mind and body that goes beyond simple mood disorder treatment. She advocates for new ways to look, understand and treat unexplainable symptoms, paving the way for bringing relief to her patients. Some of the cases will break your heart. Matthew did it for me.
(Open Road Integrated Media, pp 488, $16.99)
Sanity can be regained in many ways. While there are those who go to great lengths to analyze a person’s psyche to better penetrate it and spend a great deal of time to suggest curative solutions by trial and error, there are also those who advocate the more expeditive fire-by-fire approach. Divergent psychologies imply different perception and understanding of humankind. This is where Alan Jacobson (a truly underrated author) situates himself. Not that he necessarily believes in the latter approach, but in terms of thriller writing, his willingness to throw his characters into the darkest recesses of the human mind makes his story feel like boarding a hell-train from page one. His new Karen Vail’s novel, “The Darkness of Evil,” is beautifully layered for this reason.
Think for a second if you woke one morning and found out your father was a serial killer. What would you do? What would you say? This is what happens to Jasmine Marcks, one of the protagonists. Is it possible to love a father who tortures innocent young women? Can a sadistic killer be a good father? Whose allegiance should a daughter have in mind, the community or her father? No easy answer, no matter who we are. But here the novel addresses the question in an original way. Jasmine, who turned her father in to the police, has written a book about him. But the incarcerated serial-killer father manages to escape and now seeks revenge. Karen Vail must protect Jasmine from her own father. But what is Jasmine now going to do about it? . . . This brisk, surprise-filled twisted ride will drain every ounce of darkness out of you and make you feel like a sober angel.
(Penguin Books, pp 268, $ 18.00)
When I first read that Sunim had sold more than three million copies of “Things” upon its release in his native South Korea, I was intrigued. What could make such a quiet book so potent? It did not take long to figure it out. The story how the book came about speaks for itself. Haemin Sunim’s marvelous pages filled with wise advices and aphorisms started on social media, where Sunim, the first Korean monk to teach religion in the US, gave compassionate responses about the pressure and anxiety of daily life. Given the high-octane politics we are going through at the moment, it is not surprising that most of us feel lost or even more stressed or fearful than usual. Sunim speaks to a generation expose to the constant threat of North Korea. For us, his book is a well-timed antidote to most everyday situations, especially as uncertainties reign.
Broken into eight chapters, each tackling a different aspect of life: rest, mindfulness, passion, relationship, love, life, future, and spirituality, the book gives the themes the impression of overlapping at time. But scientific accuracy here is not the name of the main concern. Each heading is introduced with a short essay followed, in the great Buddhist and Confucian tradition, with pages of quotes, expressing in three or four brief lines, worldly wisdom (some are even lifted from the Bible). The themes are also unified under the mindful nature of the conscious mind that endows the practitioner with a sense of control. Not external control but internal. Indeed, you can choose how you react or deal with a situation, which is not the same as ignoring or finding clever devices to escape it. Agitated or not, you have nothing to lose reading this book.