Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Feel Inspired by... The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

Everyone seemed to love The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. I lost count of how many people I recommended it to, so my expectations were set high when it came to Jonas Jonasson's second novel (which he has now published, very quickly indeed). 

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden was released here in the UK last week, and I just finished it yesterday. You can certainly tell that it's by Jonas Jonasson: echoes of The Hundred Year Old Man are everywhere in the novel.

Some may say that this makes it a bit predictable - what with nuclear weapons, top-tier world leaders and awful coincidences cropping up everywhere - but the wider themes at the backbone of the novel remind me why I enjoy Jonasson's writing so much.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson: an inspiring - albeit not perfect- second novel.

A brief summary

Nombeko Mayeki is born in a shack in Soweto, South Africa in 1961, and is fated to die an early death like others working at the local sewage plant. 

Yet Jonasson works his magic, and her world collides with Swedish royalty, a twin who technically doesn't exist and Israeli Mossad agents. The fate of Sweden lies in Nombeko's hands (something greatly facilitated by her extraordinary intelligence), and we realise that anything is possible in this novel.

Read it and feel inspired to do great things too

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is a novel about doing great things, continually learning, and always persevering

Degrees are achieved, political feats are accomplished, newspapers are set up, potato companies boom, and both millions and lifelong friends are earned. 

If you're in need of some inspiration to stop procrastinating and get on and do something (very much like me as of late), see if Jonas Jonasson can help you out.

The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden as an inspiring novel
A sneaky reveal of the novel's fate on the opening page of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden.

My verdict

All in all, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden is a really inspiring read that stretches across the globe. It's not perfect, and I was less motivated to keep reading than with The Hundred Year Old Man, but I did find it worth reading. 

I'd definitely recommend The Hundred Year Old Man as a starting point for readers new to Jonasson, but The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden has energy in the writing, memorable characters, and inspiration to apply to your own life.

Have you read it yet, or are you keen to? I'm looking forward to the reviews of other bloggers!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

5 Astounding Ways Reading Fiction Can Boost Well-being

Note from Lucy: This is a guest post from the wonderful Angeliki over on Reading Psychology. I've read Angeliki's blog for a few years now, and she shares so many of my own thoughts on the link between reading and wellbeing (see her posts on bibliosophy and fiction for depression). Therefore, I'm so excited to have this post on my own blog.

I do hope you enjoy reading this well-researched piece as much as I have - do check out her blog for more of the same!

Reasons fiction can boost wellbeing

Books can transport you to a fantasy world. The fact that reading a book is usually a solitary activity means that it can be a special part of you, a secret world that it is completely under your control about when and for how long to jump in.

Books can also be therapeutic. Reading helps me navigate through personal uncertainties and helps me identify problems and solutions and remind me that there is always another perspective in things.

I’m a researcher by trade and I wanted to find out whether the effects of reading fiction were a personal quirk or whether these effects are more universal. I turned to science and this is what I found:

1. Books open your mind

According to a recent Canadian study (Djikic et al., 2013) reading a literary short story expands your comfort with ambiguity. People who have just read a short story express more comfort with disorder and uncertainty- attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and great creativity- when compared with peers who have just read an essay.

2. Books can help you lose weight

According to another study by Pampel (2011), reading despite being sedentary, is actually associated with lower body weights, particularly in higher income nations. Random but awesome!

3. Books enhance empathy

Through reading we expose ourselves to a larger range of emotions. Novels often contain unreliable characters or narrators, forcing the reader to fill in the gaps himself. That guessing, in turn, strengthens your ability to understand others’ feelings in real life as well (Comer Kidd & Castano, 2013).

4. Books can facilitate change

Green and Brock (2000) showed that when readers became transported into a story, their attitudes about topics that were included in the story changed more strongly than those who were not transported into a story.

5. Books teach you how to behave in social circumstances

Paluck (2009) studied how a reconciliation radio program influenced perceptions of social norms in postwar Rwanda and found that through these radio stories, people’s perceived norms about how one should behave in social situations increased over time.

I find these research findings fascinating. Books can indeed help with various aspects of psychological (and physical!) well-being. However, let’s not forget that having fun is also essential, and often the primary reason we choose to read a book.

Choosing books of your interest and taste is the only way to enjoy the activity and consequently reap the benefits of reading. So, don’t worry about books you ‘should be reading’ or books that ‘everyone talks about’, choose what you please and enjoy!

Do you want find out more? Here are some interesting articles on bibliotherapy:

4. Books can heal: bibliotherapy and the effect or reading on the brain

5. ‘Losing yourself’ in a fictional character can affect your real life

Do you believe that reading fiction can help us to boost our sense of wellbeing? Share your experience in the comments box - I'd love to hear from you. Also, do check out Reading Psychology for more like this!

Like more of the same? Subscribe to the Tolstoy Therapy Newsletter and receive a round-up of the week's articles every Sunday to enjoy with your coffee. Click here to subscribe.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Feeling Grateful After Reading Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King

Gratitude in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
Gratitude in the movie adaptation of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Image source.
"I was down here in the supermarket, and this old woman comes around the corner [...] – obviously one of the kind of women who says whatever is on her brain. She said, 'I know who you are, you are the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do, but I respect your right to do it. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption.'

'And I said, 'I wrote that'. And she said, 'No you didn’t'. And she walked off and went on her way.'" An interview of Stephen King by Neil Gaiman for the Sunday Times.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most-watched films in my house. I'd say it was the natural transition after watching the 2002 film adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo an unfeasible amount for years beforehand, really.

Both films deal with wrongly-accused crimes, inhumane prison sentences and testing the balance between revenge and justice in one way or another. Also, both films are the result of two very good books.

Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo was a book I immensely enjoyed reading a few years ago, and I knew I had to try Stephen King's original short story, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, for myself.

At 132 pages long, Shawshank is not quite the tome that Monte Cristo is. However, there's so much in it. If you're looking for a short but compelling read, I'd by all means tell you to give it a go. After all, you may come away with a few life lessons and a reinforced sense of gratitude.

Here are a few things Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption can teach us:

Having a hobby can keep you (relatively) hopeful and sane

I think the strongest characters in the story are ones who find activities that they're interested in, even when in prison. The narrator, Red, tells us,
"Oh, there are all sorts of ways to divert yourself, even in prison; it seems like the human mind is full of an infinite number of possibilities when it comes to diversion." 
We also hear the following about Andy, the prisoner at the centre of Red's story:
"Geology had, in fact, become his chief hobby. I imagined it appealed to his patient, meticulous nature. A ten-thousand-year ice age here. A million years of mountain-building there. Tectonic plates grinding against each other deep under the earth's skin over the millennia. Pressure. Andy told me once that all of geology is the study of pressure."

Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs

We soon understand that Andy isn't the standard Shawshank prisoner. For one, the fear of being 'institutionalised' doesn't seem to concern him as much as it does the other characters.

While Red often worries that he couldn't last outside the prison confines, Andy works hard to stop this happening to himself. Twenty-seven years later, he does falter slightly, but he perseveres.

Red observes that, "some birds are not meant to be caged", but perhaps it's more a case of some birds not accepting being caged, even after so long.

Imagine the Pacific when you're stuck in a cell

Many of the conditions described at Shawkshank prison are far beyond anything that we've experienced in our own lives or could even imagine. To stay psychologically strong, stoically distancing your mind from external circumstances seems to be the best option. By no means is that easy, but Andy tries his best:

"'He spoke with such calm assurance you would have thought he had only a month or so left to serve. 'You know where I'm goin', Red?'
'Zihuatanejo,' he said, rolling the word softly from his tongue like music. 'Down in Mexico. It's a little place maybe twenty miles from Playa Azul and Mexico Highway 37. It's a hundred miles north-east of Acapulco on the Pacific Ocean. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?'I told him I didn't.
'They say The Pacific has no memory. That's where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.'

"It always comes down to just two choices. Get busy living, or get busy dying"

Probably the most famous line of both story and film, this quote is more than a little cheesy. However, I know I should remember it, and remember it well.

The destination of Shawshank Redemption, Zihuatanejo
"Remember that hope is a good thing, Red, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." 1745 Anson Map of Zihuatanejo Harbor, Mexico. The destination of hope and direction in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Have you read Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption? Perhaps you've watched the film - if so, why not give the story a go too?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How Reading A Game of Thrones Can Help Us to Cultivate Courage

I've written before about how brilliant I think George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series is. The series begins with A Game of Thrones, the book that most of us are used to hearing about, and with each book I want to write more about it.

Read Game of Thrones and have more courage
The first cover of the stunning new Harper Voyager
series, which I'm making my way through.
The twists and turns of the series are superb, but what really gets my attention is the way the series affects the reader's own life, particularly when it comes to cultivating courage.

How A Song of Ice and Fire has given me courage

I'm just coming to the end of A Storm of Swords (Part II), which must be my favourite book of the series so far. Also, it's definitely having an impact on my own courage and psychological resilience.

I've had some job interviews that didn't go the way I hoped, but this isn't getting me down at all. I'm not viewing temporary setbacks as failures, and I'm certainly not viewing myself as a failure.

Instead, I'm feeling resilient and keen to keep going and not let the small stuff get me down. Perhaps this is because I've been exposing myself to more challenges, but I think my reading material comes into it too.

How could A Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire have possibly helped me to build courage?

We look up to the courageous characters

If you know the book or watch the show, think of Arya, Daenerys and Catelyn stark: female characters who strive towards what's best for them and their families and don't shy away from danger or challenges.

Also, there's Eddard Stark standing up for what he believes in, and - from A Clash of Kings onwards - Brienne of Tarth completely subverting the 'fair maiden' stereotype (to very good effect). These are all characters I want to act like in my own life, at least when it comes to finding courage.

Courage can be cultivated, even in the most unlikely characters

Samwell Tarly enters A Song of Ice and Fire as the least likely candidate for courageous behaviour. His lord father has given up on him, he sobs, and he doesn't seem to have an inch of muscle. However, things change, and we realise that courage isn't fixed in the slightest.

Rather, sometimes the most unlikely characters can display the most courage in the world of Westeros. Physical problems and a difficult past rarely stop a character from cultivating courage when it's required of them.

Similarly, Jon Snow is a bastard by birth, but he doesn't let this affect his morality or his courage, despite the taunts and exclusion he often faces. I've found myself looking up to him at many points in the series, even after he's made some questionable decisions, and find the way he motivates other characters to be particularly admirable.

George R.R. Martin helps us realise when we're being craven

'Craven' is a word that must appear in at least every chapter. Characters dread being called craven, but even the men and women we class as the strongest get accused of it.

When reading A Song of Ice and Fire, I think the fear of 'being craven' seeps into the reader's way of thinking in some way. For instance, when I find myself dreading or fearing something (be it tackling a difficult task or simply getting out the house), I tell myself not to be craven and get on with it.

George R.R. Martin draws us into his writing, and even gets us thinking like his characters. Such is the magic of well-written fiction.

Effect of Game of Thrones on our own lives
"Winter is coming..." Can A Game of Thrones help us to be more courageous in our own lives? Image source.

Have you found courage and greater resilience after reading a great book? Also, if you've read A Game of Thrones, has it had a similar effect on you?