Summer reading to expand your mind

Skrevet d. 19-9-2016 15:56:35 af Nicola McCaffrey

Here in Stavanger, summer is a gift that you earn by enduring nine months of wind, rain and snow! With the skies now beginning to clear and the sunshine starting to make a reluctant appearance we might find ourselves sitting outside more and enjoying a good book. But what do you find yourselves reading this summer?

I don’t know about you but at times I find the tables in bookstores overwhelming: Every book cover looks appealing, every blurb glows with praise and comes highly recommended. Sometimes I find I just need a good honest recommendation to inspire me to read. This summer, my recommended reads has a good dose of books with the science of psychology at their core. There is no science to my selection process however! The books that I have chosen are simply ones that I have enjoyed, made me think in new ways, and kept me up reading long past when I should have gone to sleep. As a result, this is an eclectic list but I hope you find at least one book here that inspires you to go off the beaten path when you get some time to yourself this summer.

My first recommendation is 10% Happier by Dan Harris. ‘10% Happier’ is a story about all the things which happened to author, ABC News journalist and Good Morning America co-anchor, following a panic attack while being nationally broadcasted. His story explains the journey he embarked on that helped him to tame the voice in his head, reduce stress without losing his edge, and find a healthy way of coping with life that actually works. The book is both a deadly serious and seriously funny look at mindfulness and meditation as the next big public health revolution. This is perhaps the best book I've read on mindfulness in a long time. It is funny, insightful and honest. As a scientist at heart I enjoyed Harris’ was of cutting through all things “zen” and getting to the heart of mindful practice. If you are looking for a way to kick start your own self improvement, minus new age waffle and general airy fairness, then look no further.

Next on my list is The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin. In this humorous and inspiring book Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months in which she spent test-driving the current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture, on how to be happier. In each chapter Rubin looks at different aspects of her life and what she changed in that month to make her life better and happier. This book is a very straightforward and easy read and reminds me a little of the Bridget Jone’s diaries in its delivery and style. The simplicity and humor of the book are offset by the depth of Rubin's writing however. Each step towards "happiness" is covered in depth and with a large amount of research to back up what she did.

As a mother to two young boys the book Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph recently caught my eye. In my training as a psychologist I covered a lot of pages on the subject of child development so I came to this book expecting that I knew a fair bit about this subject. However Steve Biddulph managed to make me sit up and really challenge some of my beliefs and assumptions about parenting boys. This book is packed with anecdotes, ideas and a genuine sense of purpose. I found myself sometimes laughing, often nodding in agreement, and a few times crying along with the stories. As a mother I cannot honestly say I know what it is like to be male so this book helped me to consider another perspective and reflect on my own parenting style.

Those of you who know me will know that one of the subjects that really interests me is ‘happiness’. This next book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking By Oliver Burkeman, is a fascinatingly different way of looking at the philosophy of happiness. Oliver Burkeman argues that ‘positive thinking’ and relentless optimism aren’t the solution to a happier life, but rather are part of the problem. He also suggests that there is an alternative, ‘negative path’ to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty – all of those things we spend our lives trying to avoid. For me this was a particularly interesting read given that much of my professional life is spent teaching skills such as gratitude and how to overcome our negative thinking biases. This is a thought-provoking, counter-intuitive and ultimately uplifting book and one which can teach us a lot about the power of negative thinking.

My final suggestion is a novel I have read many times over. I first came across it as an undergraduate student at University in Edinburgh and it has been read, re-read, lent out and delivered back to me dogged eared but enjoyed many times over. The book I am recommending as my last on the list is The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime, by Mark Haddon. The story teller and central character of the book is Christopher, a young boy with asperger's syndrome. What I both admired and enjoyed about this book is the graceful way Haddon uses the literal mind of Christopher to develop our understanding of his life and allow us some insight into the mind of a child on the ASD spectrum. The style of writing and the way the book is presented is very different to your typical crime novel, but it adds rather than detracts from the books ultimate goal. This is a very easy, enjoyable and quick read and one that I highly recommend you pack in your suitcase this summer.

Undoubtedly you will be bombarded with different lists and polls of recommended reading this summer and you don’t have to choose anything from my list at all. My only recommendation is that you read! Whatever you find yourself doing this summer make sure you give yourself some time and space to expand your mind, lose yourself in something and relax…...and I find that reading books, any book, offers me all of this. Wishing you all a summer of health and happiness.

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