I have always thought the term, ‘self-help’ in the book sections sounds dirty. A sub-genre of a kink in pornography. I picked up L’art de la Simplicité (The English Edition): How to Live More With Less by Dominique Loreau as I breezed past the section. I was attracted to the concept of decluttering and the sexy French title. The French language is so beautiful it can make the harshest of terms sound chic. I always like to take a self-development book on holiday to assist with improvement and instruction. I thought choosing this as one of my summer reads would aid me in a spring clean of my flat, Treeview, and help it did. From the first chapter on material excess, I was hooked.
Western society has lost the art of living simply. We have too many material possessions, too many temptations and desires, too much choice, too much to eat.
Halfway into this book I realised it is aimed at females with a section about what every woman should have in her handbag but I am a modern guy so I got over this and applied some of the rules to my man-bag. I particularly like the concept of a capsule wardrobe as Coco Chanel said, ‘fashion changes but style endures.’
They say that 21 days is the right amount of time to adopt a habit but I must confess this was not the case for one of the health tips I experimented with: 50ml of white vinegar and 50ml of water to be consumed every morning. It wakes you up more than a cup of coffee but leaves you with a fixed grin on a par with the Joker. Sometimes the advice can border on GOOP-style nonsense but the meditations and suggestions on how to look at life are refreshing, particularly when you are recharging your batteries on holidays.
Visualise where and how you will be in a month, or a year, who you may be with what you’ll be wearing, how you will live the rest of your life, how you would like to die, what you would like people to remember about you. Visualise the person you are inside, what you like about them, what they bring to you. Next visualise the famous people you most admire, people you’ve met or would most like to meet.
Organise a ‘mind conference’ and gather them all around you, receive their advice and encouragement. Let them share their secrets with you. Follow their footsteps. Inside us all is a person of vitality, energy and charisma. Who will you be when you are 90 years old? What can you do now to become that person? What changes can you make to become healthier, more open wiser, more cheerful? Most top athletes visualise their competition in advance. They see themselves winning, receiving accolades, savouring their achievement.
An essential holiday item is an epic tale to immerse yourself in. Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter: Costa Shortlisted 2015 focuses on the story of Harry Crane, an Englishman who settles in Canada taking his demons with him. He leaves England abruptly after his family deems him as an ‘unmentionable.’ Set in 1908, Gale creates a voice for all the homosexual men who could not tell their story,
The challenge was to inhabit a homosexual life where there are no words to describe being gay.
The tale is a hybrid of Maurice by E. M Forster and Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Gale borrows a quote from Forster’s piece too,
England has always been disinclined to accept human nature.
With a cast of memorable, feisty characters, this story is both sad and uplifting; a poetic piece of writing that is a fitting epitaph for the many men and women who had to hide their true identities to appease society.
Stimulating short stories
I always pack a collection of short stories to dip into in between the needed pool-dunking or the waiting around in airports and queues. Coming from Liverpool, where 1 in 3 GP appointments are related to mental health, ‘Faces, Places and Spaces is a book of short stories that stem from the Writing on the Wall competition, Mental Health & Me. This collection provides comfort and offers valuable insights into something which affects us all. The stories are brave and honest:
My pain is the power, which leads me forward to touch success even though success is invisible but once I decide to succeed, success becomes visible.
I am by Fatoumata Diane
Joe Lavelle’s Bleach was the standout for me personally as it reminded me of my own mother. The cleanliness described in the words so vividly portrayed, the very stench of bleach seeps off the pages. Writing on the Wall delivers an anthology that highlights the amazing work they do with their projects, work that is broad and inclusive that supports health, well-being and personal development. This book contains quality writing that will stimulate debate and help to louden the conversation about mental health.
Creative writing and the arts is beneficial to emotional well-being. I wrote my play PASSING THROUGH to help deal with the depression brought on by grief after losing my Nan.
The lynchpin of the family who we all thought was here forever.
A book of poetry is another necessity in my suitcase. I hate clichés but sometimes they are too too true, for instance currently in the political spectrum, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’ To counterbalance the lunatic rhetoric spouted out on Twitter by the man who currently occupies the White House (even if only very infrequently), I find myself grasping for refreshing and diverse celebrations of the human spirit. Grace Nichols’ poetry spray-paints a massive tropical mural into the readers’ mind. Her collection The Fat Black Woman’s Poems (Virago Poets) uses a pallet of passion, anger, cynicism and complete authenticity with a good measure of sarcastic humour.
Grace Nichols, ‘The Fat Black Woman Goes Shopping’
Shopping in London winter
is a real drag for the fat black woman
going from store to store
in search of accommodating clothes
and de weather so cold
Look at the frozen thin mannequins
fixing her with grin
and de pretty face salesgals
exchanging slimming glances
thinking she don’t notice
Lord is aggravating
Nothing soft and bright and billowing
to flow like breezy sunlight
when she walking
The fat black woman curses in Swahili/Yoruba
and nation language under her breathing
all this journeying and journeying
The fat black woman could only conclude
that when it come to fashion
the choice is lean
Nothing much beyond size 14
I struggle with poetry, reading it can take me three or more times before I get it. Song lyrics are like poetry too, you can be singing lyrics without realising the exact meaning behind the lyrics. My mum used to sing Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood to me when I was a baby, which I found shocking as I became older and understood that little bit more.
I first encountered the poetry of Grace Nichols as an undergraduate in Aberystwyth. This collection had an explosive impact on me and still resonates now. The only other poet to do this to me was when I discovered the piss-stained unapologetic ramblings of Charles Bukowski. A man who showed me that there is poetry in the grimmest of places. I often go back to this slim collection. Her verses are like feathers ripped out of an angel, floating on to the page, staining it with glitter and the majesty of life.
Self-development, an epic novel, a collection of short stories and a little poetry. Four essential items that every valise should contain. Oh and perhaps a blank notebook to write and sketch. Of course, along with the sun cream and capsule wardrobe. Just what you need on holiday, time to read, reflect, recharge. Ready then for the next chapter in the tapestry of life. One final thing, do not forget your passport!
If you are looking for more, J. C. Greenway’s summer reads are here!