The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik
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July 11, 2010


{Same country, different war, but I've always loved this poster.}

I'm three-quarters of the way through The Great Silence, a wonderful book about how the British coped with the two years after World War I. (This is the kind of book that has turned me back to reading history.)  Juliet Nicolson is unflinching about the devastating effects of the war, but she also turns to a whole range of social and cultural changes. It's a fascinating combination and a very readable book.

There was one description (really one of many) that called out to me. In the chapter called 'Hopelessness: Spring 1919,' she writes:

The sense of free-falling chaos prompted by the uncontrollable and persistent grief could sometimes be steadied by a determined control of the mind, and the practice of the highly fashionable mind-training programme of Pelmanism came to be adopted as a solution by some... Its advocates claimed that it could 'soundly strengthen and develop a person's mind and character while removing those barriers that led to inefficiencies and no growth as an individual.'

The Times wrote of the potential benefits the programme could offer to thousands of people who felt themselves overcome by mental lethargy. A suggested schedule of reading and physical exercise before breakfast would set in motion a habit for the day that discouraged the temptation of inertia, over-indulgence and excessive consumption of alcohol.

It's amazing how contemporary this sounds, isn't it?  And I don't mean to trivialize what people in this era were going through, but I'm tempted to substitute 'job worries' for 'grief' and 'chocolate' for 'alcohol' and sign up.  The cure sounds very appealing!

1 comment:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I love this review! Well done, and I do agree that the passage you selected is very relevant today -- and I'll substitute anything for chocolate, on any day! :)

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