Month: August 2022

Book review – So You Want to Live Younger Longer?, by Dr Norman Swan

Title: So You Want to Live Younger Longer?

Author: Dr Norman Swan

Publisher: Hachette, July 2022; RRP: $34.99

Dr Norman Swan has become well known in Australia over the past three years as a prominent Covid advisor and commentator. He is the host of Radio National’s Health Report and co-host of the acclaimed Coronacast. Dr Swan’s an award-winning broadcaster, investigative journalist and producer.

So You Want to Live Younger Longer is a book that covers a wide range of topics about health as we, as a community and culture, age. He not only focuses on older people but looks in detail at what people of all ages can do to maximise living healthier and feeling younger into their older age. This is not necessarily a book about finding the perfect recipe for beating the clock; it’s a book that looks at all aspects of longevity and health over generations. It’s a body of work that balances the broad aspects of health, genetics, lifestyles, age, and culture.

The book is presented in 10 parts which makes it easy to read. Statistics and research are used engagingly to broaden and reinforce what is known and what is still being suspected or worked on. The author explores a range of general health aspects: diet and its relationship to cultural and family background, poverty and postcodes most likely to have good and poor nutritional outcomes, family genetics, mental health, and the broader healthcare system issues.

Dr Norman Swan on knowing what’s good for you

@ the hawke centre, 2021

Food, and the many different diets and approaches, are explored in a refreshing and extensive manner backed up by recent studies and research. The section on medication and pills is fascinating and well substantiated. Exercise and its benefits and relationship to staying younger as we age is enlightening and an eye opener for those of us who are less than active.  As expected, ‘Bugs, Bowels and Hormones’ in part five provides fascinating reading. There is also a small section on plastic surgery which talks briefly about the stigma of ageing, particularly for women.

There is a substantial part of the book that provides information, some detailed, on general health issues, from high blood pressure to ‘fatness’ measures, alcohol, and sex. Mental health is addressed under the label of ‘Does the Mind Matter?’ Mental wellness and its relationship to living younger longer is explored, whilst the issues of sleep and its often-overlooked importance produces surprising findings.

On a practical level there is a wonderful guide called ‘Here’s what to do in your twenties’,  Also included is what to do in your thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. These parts are instructive and encouraging. The book focuses on prevention and avoiding pitfalls in relation to general health. Norman Swan says it’s hard to live younger longer if you die of a preventable disease first’.

The end note is a short nod to current environmental changes and the abuse of medicine. Swan is quick to point out the threats to our planet and the consequence of not doing enough to address environmental issues. He says, ‘So you want to live younger longer? We know how. Just gotta do it.

This non-fiction book is professionally written with humour and wit as well as a down-to-earth approach from a practitioner who understands the difficulties surrounding remaining healthy and ensuring we live as young as we can for as long as we can. Reading this account was reassuring and educative. For those inclined to want more reading on the topics raised in the book, the notes and the index at the back of the book span 50 pages.

Dr Norman Swan writes as entertainingly as he broadcasts. His voice is confident and trustworthy, especially when he deals with tough health messages many of us would prefer not to know about.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche

Ballarat Writers Book Review Group July 2022

Review copy provided by the publisher        

Something Overhead

by Roland Renyi

Winner of the 2022 Pamela Miller Prize

Coffee in hand, Richard climbed up to his and Ruth’s bedroom in time for the weekly web team meeting that he chaired. He could feel the stillness of the house now that Ruth and the kids had gone for the day.

Across from the open bedroom window a skylark was trilling and coming from overhead was the almost continuous sound of the planes on their approach to the airport. They made him think of Danylo and whatever might be in the skies above him.

He looked at his monitor, strategically placed so that their bed was out of view, and sipped his coffee. He and Ruth had bought a Krups coffee maker right after the kitchen units had been put in, a funky one that actually hissed as the steam escaped. Now they had temporarily run out of money to finish off the kitchen floor. But if he was going to work from home, he was going to drink good coffee.

Brita called in just ahead of time. Sometimes he could hear church bells from the square outside her apartment in Verona.  ‘Richard,’ she said in a scolding voice, her Italian accent emphasising the second half of his name, ‘I told you not to cut your hair like that. I can’t believe that Ruth would find that sexy.’

‘Lockdown’ said Richard protectively. ‘I got used to cutting it myself. And we’re budgeting. The kitchen floor, remember.’

George’s round face popped up from his shared house in Kelowna, British Columbia. He had once told Richard that his window looked across a lake towards sloping vines. Consequently, Richard had put him under orders to place his laptop opposite a blank wall.

‘Danylo?’ asked Brita.

They had all been following the news, but Danylo’s one condition for remaining on the project team was that it was not to be discussed.

‘We’ll give him another minute’ said Richard. ‘So. Cucumber or strawberries? Aside from lemon. Which goes better with gin and tonic?’

The consensus so far was that cucumber was better with Kendricks while strawberry worked with Gordons.

Richard exhaled when he heard the ping of Danylo’s login. He looked just the same, with his pointed beard, square glasses and shaved head, a typical web designer. He was calling from what looked like a high-tech designer office, recessed lights, potted plants and abstract paintings on the wall. A bottle of Kendricks was on the shelf behind him, next to a bowl filled with limes, cucumber and strawberries.

Then with a jolt Richard realised the obvious, that the background was completely fake; a digital dream constructed by their Ukranian colleague Danylo, who had never missed a call.

‘Sorry to be late’ he said. ‘There was something…’ then Richard heard the tremor in his voice ‘…There was something overhead. But we have internet. And it’s cucumber, guys. Always cucumber.’

‘Well, that’s great – really, Danylo’ said Richard. ‘Now, there’s a problem with the functionality of table 17. Shall we start with that?’

Book review – Hovering, by Rhett Davis

Author: Rhett Davis

Title: Hovering

Publisher: Hachette; RRP: $32.99

In 2015 Rhett Davis completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Hovering was written as part of a PhD at Deakin University and won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2020. Rhett currently lives in Geelong, Wadawurrung country. Hovering is an interesting and ambitious first novel.

From a writing perspective Hovering is a progressive work, exploring techniques for story telling in the social media age. It delves into several current societal issues reflecting on the current wave of uncertainty and changing values. It also explores traditional themes of family relationships.

There are three main characters in Hovering: Alice, her sister Lydia and Lydia’s son, George. The relationship between these three characters provides the main framework for the story. A fourth character, the city of Fraser, permeates the story line with its distinct persona and surreal habit of reconfiguring streets and landscapes. This touch of the absurd is an interesting metaphor, perhaps for the uncertainty in life. A clever example of showing rather than telling?

Within the story, Davis suggests the reconfiguring nature of the cityscape is a manifestation of guilt. Fraser does not belong in this landscape; it is an infringement on indigenous relationships with country, the natural order of things.

The urban upheavals of Fraser are also a useful backdrop to the stresses within the relationship between the two sisters, though the absurdity of a reconfiguring city may be challenging for some readers.

Hear Rhett Davis talk about Hovering with Maria Takolander

@ geelong regional libraries

At the heart of this story is the family/sibling relationships, tension between the sister who left home to seek her destiny and the sister who remained at home, local versus worldly views.  Alice the artist with a loathing of small town and small-minded thinking, juxtaposed with her analytical sister who has stayed behind, got a job. had a child and who analyses data in search of subtle consumer behavioural insights.

The reader is also treated to an exploration of an artist’s role in reflecting societal values.

Certainly, Davis is not the first author to spend time telling their readers what is wrong with society and yet not offer a lot in the way of remedies. However, in the final stages of the story Davis does offer a little remedial wisdom, and – spoiler alert – it has a lot to do with honest acknowledgment of one’s past mistakes and shortcomings along with a willingness to be better in the future.

Davis ticks a lot of boxes with this novel. Some of the obvious themes include Lydia being a successful single parent. Alice and Lydia are products of baby boomer parents who are living it up on manmade tropical islands – in other words, the selfishness of baby boomers. George represents the new generation, smarter and more emotionally stable than his mother and/or aunt, despite still being at school.  Land rights with accompanying white person guilt. And an insensitive irresponsible mainstream media.

If there is a legitimate criticism of this book it is that Davis has highlighted too many issues/themes, skims too shallow, but perhaps that is just a reflection of complex modern society, a society driven by hashtags, soundbites, and abbreviated comment.

I did not find this book an easy read and in parts mildly disagreeable. The use of text messaging and social media-style language complete with hash tags was challenging, though I applaud the experimentation and thought the effort to read it was worthwhile. I am glad to have read it. Hovering is well deserving of the awards it has been given.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Review copy provided by the publisher

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