Sunday, May 6, 2018

How to be a Healthy Writer

I am not a full time writer (yet) but all my working life I've spent on a chair, in the front of a computer, tiping either my academic papers and articles or books or journalistic articles or translations. Everything I ever did for money in my life involved writing - from a chair in the front of a computer. I even had a vintage time, in my first university year, when I even wrote my papers at a typing machine - also from a chair. Such work habits lead in time to various issues: my poor sight, back pain, excessive use of coffee and cigarettes. Those were the times and it took me a long time to realise that I really need to change everything in order to have a longer, healthier life. At the time, there were not too many books or mindsets pledging for a healthier lifestyle; if you wanted to deal with words for a living, you had to be self-distructive, crazy and drunk, smoking packs of cigarettes after the other when the writing was blocked and avoid sleep because it cuts you from the genuine root of creativity. 
Such a romantic view is proved greatly toxic in fact, and you need to witness the slow or sudden death of your ex-colleagues to realize that life is a gift that literally gifted or not, you have to reason to waste.
The Healthy Writer is an example of how writers can start changing dramatically their toxic life,  one step at a time. It helps, among others 'reduce your pain, improve your health and build a writing career for the long term' (which means also that you can increase your lifespan). The main keyowrds are empowerment and sustainability: as a writer you can avoid health issues that may impede your writing - both in length and quality - and create long-term strategies for a better mental and physical health. It calls both for balance and clear acknowledgment of your limits, also taking into account the personal health history. 'We need to bear in mind that health is intrinsically bound up in all sorts of factors that include whether you work for a living, where you live, what you eat, whether you smoke and your social and family circumstances'.
The book was written based on the personal experiences of the writers - one of whom Dr. Euan Lawson is a medical doctor - but also following surveys done within the community of writers. What I personally liked very much about this book is its realistic approach: it offers a systematic overview of the threats the writer cope with in his or her daily life - from sleep deprivation - sleep being considered 'one of the basic bulding blocks of a healthy resilient life' (note to my insomniac self) - to peculiar work space or serious mental health issues - with simple, doable solutions - from yoga to walking or proper eating habits. 
Those new habits may have a dramatic influence on the quality and quantity of writing as well. 'Persistance is the secret of success in writing as much as general fitness or finishing ultra-marathons'.
Provided with a list of questions at the end of every chapter, aimed at figuring out the main issues that one may deal with from the health point of view featured as well as with a list of bibliographical references, The Healthy Writer is one of those books you keep near your desk as you may need to return to a specific section later. 

Rating: 5 stars
Disclaimer: Book offered by one of the authors in exchange for an honest review  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Book Review: Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith

Important thing about me: I am fascinated and passionate about novels set in the former post-Soviet/post-Communist time. As myself I am familiar at a certain extent with the life in those countries, I love the feeling of reading fiction inspired by hard and always worth a couple of novels realities. However, it is not enough to have the perfect details and set of characters in order to write a good book.
I had a similar impression when I had my first encounter with the Arkady Renko novels, in Stalin's Ghost: great setting, interesting characters and some curious story developments, but in the end of the day, the domino pieces did not match together and the entire story ended up in a very disappointing course of events. 
It happened the same in the case of Tatiana, which features the extraordinary pressures against the work of investigative journalism in post-Soviet Russia. There are all the elements for an excellent story: local mafia, former USSR problems - Kursk submarine drama, for instance - and state of mind and also Chechen fighters. It seems that the author has a subtle knowledge of the realities in this troubled part of the world. The dialogues are the part I've loved the most in the book: full of live, smart and witty. However, when all those parts were brought together: the dialogues, the bizarre characters, the circumstances, the story failed of being more than plain, less exciting than the everyday news in the Russian media. There is something in the art of storytelling which is missing and it is enough to discourage me from liking the book.
However, will give another - last - try to this author, as I have his latest book ready for a review. Hopefully things are sounding better but as for now I am not impressed at all.

Rating: 2.5 stars