A Man Called Ove by Erik Backman: Book Review

A Man Called Ove: A Novel

A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman is a wonderful feel good story, about a cantankerous old man called Ove and set in a small Swedish town, . Oh, but A Man Called Ove is so much more than that! The author, Fredrik Backman, has masterfully used this story to explore love, grief, what it means to be a ‘man today, ageing and the importance of community.

For a long time I resisted reading A Man Called Ove. This was the mistaken belief that it would be another version of The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by fellow Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Please do not do yourself the same disservice. This book is wonderful for it’s unique story and the authors exploration of contemporary themes affecting most western countries today.

With A Man Called Ove we are given an intimate portrayal of the day to day life of an elderly man swamped with grief following the death of his adored wife. In a state of depression he alienates himself from society through the bad behaviour of an angry old man. Neighbours, old friends and cats are not safe from Ove’s grumpy rants and acts of revenge.

Ove’s life story is tantalisingly revealed through the authors clever use of alternating present and past. Flashbacks mixed with rants about not following road rules, apartment block signs and the evils of spending up on credit cards, slowly reveal Ove’s honest and humble character, together with a beautiful love story.

The theme that I most enjoyed in this book is that of community. In Ove’s case, how the love and support from a community can transform a life. Within this theme we are offered a glimpse of how Sweden, like many countries, is losing it’s small communities to larger cities and how immigration is invigorating small towns and villages.

The driving force of the story is Oves relationship with an immigrant, Parvenah. Through the character Parvenah the Author explores the theme of ‘place’. Do you need to be born and bred, go on to build your own home to establish a sense of place? Or in the immigrant’s experience is ‘place’ built by familiar food & customs and developed through reaching out and helping those in need? Why do some cultures have charity as a very strong value? If someone is in need of help, do you impose charity regardless of if they want it?

Oves is able to stay in his home that he has built and enjoyed with his beloved wife. This is only possible with the help of neighbours and is a beautiful example of ‘ageing in place’ and another option to ageing gracefully as discussed in a previous blog post.

A Man Called Ove the movie was released in 2015, I haven’t seen the movie and will probably wait a while. I just don’t like being disappointed if the director’s interpretation is different to my own. A Man Called Ove was so enjoyable that I would like to saviour my own personal delight in the story a little longer.

I recommend A Man Called Ove to anyone who enjoys a feel good story that is well written. If you have enjoyed The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared then you will love A Man Called Ove. Anyone with a love for Sweden will enjoy the poignant descriptions of the landscape and unique Swedish quirks of the people.

A Man Called Ove is a definite 5 stars from me!

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge: Book Review

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge is a tale about psychiatry, horror pulp fiction, secrets and the scandal when secrets are revealed. The Night Ocean revolves around H. P Lovecraft and his contemporaries, as told by the wife of H. P. Lovecraft’s would be biographer. Furthermore, the wife is also a psychiatrist.

The reviewer is not familiar with the work of H. P Lovecraft and after reading this book I am not sure I want to explore this author? Horror pulp fiction is not my interest. I picked up this book because I was intrigued by the story line as told by a psychiatrist.

The Night Ocean is a within a story. In a less capable authors hand this format could of been confusing, but wasn’t. The author has explored each characters secrets and provided enough twists and turns to keep momentum. In the reviewers experience this book was unique in terms of the format and it is this aspect The Night Ocean provides compelling reading.

Each character was well developed, the reader is given exquisite insight into every secret through both the character and the recollections of friends, enemies and lovers. The keeping of so many secrets and the resulting bad behaviour to keep the secrets hidden meant that the reviewer found most of the characters not likeable.

The Night Ocean is successful in that it delivers a nice neat tidy package that by the end all secrets are revealed, the story was well resolved and very well written. Would I recommend it? Well that is the rub. I just didn’t like the characters, although I admire the authors intent. Quite simply the book was too ‘dark’ for my tastes.

Interestingly, the horror fiction writer Stephen King has said that H. P Lovecraft is “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.”** Stephen King names H P Lovecraft as the writer who inspired him to create his own horror fiction.

I recommend this book to anyone with a love of H. P. Lovecraft and the history of horror pulp fiction.

**Wohleber, Curt (December 1995). “The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King”. American Heritage. 46 (8). Retrieved September 10, 2013.

This book has a 3 out of 5 star rating.

+ Easy Mediterranean healthy cookbook

Easy Mediterranean by Sue Quinn: Book Review

Easy Mediterranean healthy cookbook by Sue Quinn

Easy Mediterranean by Sue Quinn is a healthy cookbook. Filled with delicious recipes that are simply to prepare. My favourite combination when looking for inspiration for family meals.

After reading The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel, as well as The Mind Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer MD I was surprised to discover that both books mentioned the Mediterranean diet as the best approach to leading a healthy lifestyle. Not just the actual food but the accompanying social aspect i.e. sitting down with family/ friends and enjoying your food. I was a little confused by what constituted a ‘Mediterranean diet’ as the Mediterranean covers a vast area with diverse cultures. Interestingly enough there were not many healthy cookbooks that cover Mediterranean cuisine.

Easy Mediterranean author, Sue Quinn states that her book is not intended as a prescriptive diet book, but as guide to the healthy eating habits of the Mediterranean using “delicious food and wonderful flavors and ingredients of the region”. This healthy cookbook achieves these goals and some. An instant dinner party success was the Freekah with Feta, Roast Tomatoes and Herbs recipe. A new family favourite is Juicy Pork Chops with Rosemary, Juniper and Braised Fennel. Both full of flavor and appealing to the whole family. What’s not to love?

My only disappointment was that Easy Mediterranean is aimed at the UK market, although the author is Australian. Therefore some of the ingredients are not available as fresh produce in Australia, so I then had to substitute with the canned version. A little annoying when my aim was to eat healthy & fresh food. Although the Mediterranean is a long way from Australia so really what can be expected?

The preface includes some interesting  information about the history and health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, together with “The Mediterranean Diet at a Glance”. The information is concise and nicely correlates with the information contained in both The Telomere Effect and The Mind Gut Connection.

Overall I have found this cook book to be very useful. Quite often I will buy a healthy cookbook and find, maybe, two recipes that are cooked once and the cookbook then languishes with the rest of the collection, rarely opened again. Because of the simplicity of the recipes together with the sheer flavor of the food combinations this healthy cookbook is becoming well used. The splashed, dog eared kind of well used. If you are looking for a simply guide with easy healthy recipes that will appeal to the whole family then I recommend Easy Mediterranean by Sue Quinn.

This book has a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.

 

The Mind Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer MD: Book Review

Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health by Emeran Mayer MD, explains the science behind the connection between our mind gut and digestive system.

As someone who has a general interest in health, I found this book to be an interesting read, although I did ‘dip’ in and out of the book and at times went ahead to see what the secret was to a happy mind gut. The content, while explained simply, was still a little over whelming.

The author presents the latest research on the effect of the mind gut on our overall well-being. The insights into microbiota (gut flora) offer hope to suffers of gut disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In essence, medical doctors had thought that our brain controlled our digestive system, when in fact the science now proves that the gut impacts our mood, choices and health. The mind communicates with the gut, but your gut also talks to your brain.

In The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health you will learn;

  • The importance of intuition and gut feelings
  • How we can optimize our gut health to live a long disease free life.
  • The relationship between our digestive health and the emotions that make us who we are. Some may even call it our soul!

A big ‘take away’ for me was learning about the effect of unhealthy childhood memories on the mind gut and the resulting long term health outcomes. As a parent it is a natural to want to give your child a happy childhood filled with healthy memories. Sometimes it isn’t always possible and I now see the importance of the link between your child’s mental well-being and the mind gut. It is so important to seek support if you or your child is not processing their life experiences in a healthy way.

Intuition affects most of our everyday decisions. Learn why an upset gut could be responsible for poor decisions and how you can make better intuition decisions in the future.

The good news is that according to The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health it is easy to optimise mind gut health.

  • Essentially lots of probiotic rich foods like kim chi, sauerkraut and yoghurt.
  • Consider a good quality probiotic supplement if taking antibiotics.
  • And of course eat lots of fruit & veggies
  • No processed food
  • Red meat once or twice a week
  • Follow a Mediterranean style diet
  • Include social connection at meal times
  • Daily exercise like walking most days and cardio workouts 3 x per week

For anyone that has family or friends living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) there is hope that with some awareness around the research presented in The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health we are all closer to some answers. In Science Translational Medicine Magazine (March 2017) it was reported that germ free mice have successfully received a transplantation of fecal microbiota from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and this alters gut function and behaviour in recipient mice. These results indicate the potential of microbiota directed therapies for IBS sufferers. See link here for more information http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/9/379/eaaf6397

I recommend The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health to anyone who has an interest in mind gut/ digestive disorders, pursuing a healthy lifestyle, parenting and the science behind why we need to look after not just our guts, but our minds as well, to live a long disease free life.

IDEAS WORTH EXPLORING: Mediterranean Diet, Probiotics, Microbiota 

This book has a 4 out of 5 star rating.

+ Ideas worth exploring ageing gracefully

Ageing Gracefully: Ideas Worth Exploring

To care for an ageing parent is any child’s privilege. Firstly we can return some of the love and nurturing that we received and secondly we can still enjoy this person in our lives and help our loved one in ageing gracefully. Certainly a privilege when you consider anyone who has lost a parent and grieve’s that loss.

As I creep closer to 50 years of age I find that social gatherings inevitably leads to discussions about the options for an ageing parent. I am the primary carer for my 73 year old mother, who also has traumatic brain injuries from a car accident over 52 years ago. As part of caring for my Mum I have had to consider a lot of the issues now facing my friends a long time ago. So what are the issues?

Essentially:

  • Downsizing or moving from a larger, quite often the Family Home to a smaller home that is easy to maintain.
  • Self Care, especially following a fall or sickness. How will my loved one manage rehabilitation, managing money, preparing meals, showers, mobility and house cleaning?
  • Safety around the home and in the event of a fall or sickness.

In the next stage of life, following the initial down sizing, many people express regret that they hadn’t made the move sooner. Regardless the process of downsizing for many people is extremely stressful, because it can be the first time that person has had to acknowledge they are getting older and recognition that they are not able to cope with everything like they once did. The new home will be easier to look after and there is a lot less stress because they are not worried about gardens, lawns, fences, painting or any number of items that must be maintained.

When making the decision about where to live many things have to be considered:

  • Proximity to family, friends or support networks.
  • Have they considered their current health issues and what the long term quality of life is likely to be?

In my mothers situation I had to consider her traumatic brain injuries and the real likely hood that in old age Mum will require a high level of care. To this end we decided that a self care apartment in a Retirement Village with a high care nursing home, as part of the facilities was the best option.

Mum will age gracefully in the knowledge that while she is mobile and able to live independently now. Then down the track, if required, there are options like the nursing home, that are in an environment that Mum is familiar with.

Most importantly we are anticipating Mum’s needs now and planning, instead of being in a stressful situation where we may not have options for accommodation or the best care.

Too often I see friends parents denying the reality of their situation and choosing to stay in the home that they can no longer care for and most damaging of all, trying to ignore the fact that they are ageing and their needs have changed. Inevitably they end up having a serious fall with a extended hospital stay and cannot return to their home and are in the unpleasant situation of having to move into care that is not to their liking or located away from family friends. Needless to say this involves stress and heart break to not only your ailing parent but you and your family as well. With a little planning and a few difficult conversations this can be avoided.

In The Telomere Effect we learn the importance of support networks, stress reduction, together with eating a Mediterranean style diet and aerobic exercise. By following the recommendations in The Telomere Effect, together with the guidelines above we can expect, not only ourselves, but our loved ones, to age gracefully and live a healthier longer life free of disease.

+ The Telomere Effect living younger healthier longer

The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn & Elissa Epel: Book Review

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Nobel Prize Winner, Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel.
Learn about the telomere effect of the shoe lace cap like ends of our DNA and discover the secret to ageing gracefully.

We all know that we need to eat more fruit & veggies (especially a Mediterranean Diet) and keep moving to be healthy, so no surprises there. However, throw in some stress reducing ideas, like meditation and the right diet with exercise and you can expect to have good Telomere’s and a better chance of living a long and healthy life.

The authors explain this complex subject in very easy to understand terms. At times I felt that I was sitting with a (smart!) friend in a cafe who was chatting about the extraordinary benefits of looking after Telomere’s. All the information & recommendations in The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer have been rigorously researched and supported with scientific studies by recognised universities.

One of the studies focuses on measuring the telomeres of women who are the primary caregivers for severely disabled children. The results are fascinating for anyone interested in the importance of mental health on our overall well being. The data from this long term has gone a long way to also prove the importance of good telomere health.

Since becoming a Nobel Prize Winner the authors work has been widely recognised and number of health supplements and beauty products have become available that claim to support telomere health and essentially offer “the fountain of youth”. The authors also provide the scientific reasons why these products should be avoided and could possibly lead to cancer.

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer is compelling reading for anyone interested in health, beauty and the latest innovations in science on how to live a long and healthy life.

Ideas worth exploring: Ageing Gracefully, meditation and the Mediterranean Diet.

This book has a 4 out of 5 rating.