Not breathing but panting; or reading to overcome the Overwhelm

Ann Christensen.jpg

Ann Christensen

During a bout with insomnia that went the full 12 rounds a few years ago, I began to read about the science and havoc of stress in the hope of managing mine. I discovered the neuroendocrinology behind stress-triggered cortisol surges that sicken and age us, contributing to depression, anxiety, autoimmune disorders, and even cancer, and I learned why our dear shriveling hippocampi, the bosses of memory and learning in our brains, need exercise to outrun the amygdala, where fear and negativity lurk. Brain research is hopeful: “Small positive actions every day will add up to large changes over time, as you gradually build new neural structures” (Hanson, Buddha’s Brain 19). Although we academics are as overwhelmed as other professions, it seems our deadlines coincide with preexisting conditions of stress, namely December holidays, and, for those of us with children, grading and conventions often dovetail nicely with Spring school concerts, sports tournaments, and graduations. Because the resources I discuss here helped slow my cortisol careen, I gratefully pass them along.

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Books that Made me a Historian

Elly Truitt

Elly Truitt

Long before I even knew what a historian was or did, I was fascinated by stories about the past. My grandparents indulged my endless questions about their lives in the 1920s and 1930s and my parents and older siblings made sure I had an endless supply of diverse reading material at all times. One of those books was a version of “Sleeping Beauty” illustrated in the style of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, the famous fifteenth-century Book of Hours illuminated by the Limbourg brothers. The strange clothes and the rich colors in the book captivated me, as did the idea that people might have lived in castles and spun their own thread.
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Capturing notes in words – the books that shaped the music critic

Lloyd Sachs at Grimey's.jpg

Lloyd Sachs at Grimey’s, Nashville, TN

Being that I’ve spent a good portion of my life writing about music, particularly jazz and rock, you would think I’d be able to cite any number of music books that influenced or inspired me – that convinced me it was not impossible to capture notes in words, a task Thelonious Monk (allegedly) said was about as easy as dancing about architecture.
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Coming Home to Memoir

Denise Low.jpgTeachers suggested many books for me to read when I was young, so I slogged through a canonical list of Austen, Dickens, Eliot, Hawthorne, Melville, and Maugham. These are all worthy should reads. They forced me to imagine life beyond my small town of Emporia, Kansas. The conventions of fiction—Aristotle’s unity of plot, catharsis—became familiar.

Finally, though, I took charge of my own reading list and discovered memoirs. These enraptured me. Their narrators are intimate and true, not invented characters with exaggerated beady eyes and rumpled top hats. Memoirs now populate my private shelf of books to reread.
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Finding a Place for Monstrous Nature in the Environmental Movement


Joe Heumann & Robin Murray

Even though we grew up in different regions we have always loved the natural world, hiking and camping with scouts and climbing neighbors’ trees as children. But the books we read promoted respect for animals more than a broader vision of the environment. We both fell in love with monkeys after reading Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks with the Circus, horses after reading The Black Stallion and wild animals after discovering Wild Animals of North America. But as researchers, two books stood out as guides for real interdependent relationships with nonhuman nature: Ellen Swallow Richards’ Sanitation in Daily Life (1907) and Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There (1949). Continue Reading ›

Bookshop of the Month: March

In the beginning, Clarke’s Bookshop, Cape Town, started out with a shelf of new books on South Africa or published in South Africa – now that’s the main focus. Spread over two storeys are new books either published in South Africa, written by South Africans or about South Africa, as well as a second hand mix of general stuff – not just about South Africa.

Find out more about our bookshop of the month for March