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Important for all women to read!!

Below is an excerpt from the introduction to Jessa Crispin’s interview (posted 19 March) with Dana Becker, author of One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea (2013). Although the interview is more relevant to Americans than Canadians, it’s important for all women to read.

Are you stressed out? It would be difficult not to be, what with the constant economic despair, the precarious employment status we all live with, the overwork and the declining living conditions and the breaking down of community ties. Also maybe stressing you out is this thing we keep hearing about, that stress, if you don’t figure out a way to “manage” it, and cope with it, will give you cancer or heart disease or diabetes or a stroke or any number of other terrifying things. What are you going to do, though, when a hot bath and some scented candles won’t cut it?

Dana Becker points out the obvious in her new book One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble with Stress as an Idea, that if we are all dying internally from stress-related issues—and that is debatable, as stress as a health problem is a relatively new, and scientifically unsupported, idea—the thing that is going to save us is not yoga classes and mindfulness.

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And what have I been reading?

  • The first three of Edmund Crispin’s dated mystery novels (The Case of the Gilded Fly, 1944; Holy Disorders, 1945; and The Moving Toyshop, 1946), on the recommendation of P.D. James in Talking about Detective Fiction (2010), itself a dull read;
  • Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost (2004) and its companion, autobiographical story collection Learning to Talk (2010), both of which I recommend;
  • Deborah Moggach’s 2004 novel These Foolish Things, which was reissued as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel after the 2012 movie came out; I recommend taking in the movie and the novel, because they’re quite different in plot and character;
  • Terry Pratchett’s A Blink of the Screen: Collected Shorter Fiction (2012), which I found not worth the money;
  • Barbara Tuchman’s much-too-long history Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1994), which, among other things, cured me of thinking of John of Gaunt as in any way an admirable figure; and
  • P.G. Wodehouse’s Mulliner Nights (1933), in which the eponymous Mr. Mulliner tells pub stories of adventures that befall his host of relations, mostly male. Thirty-seven of the total of 41 Mulliner stories were originally published in magazines between 1926 and 1937; the final four, between 1947 and 1970.
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Some things I’ve been watching lately

(besides The Wire, whose first season I’ve just inhaled on a loaner DVD and the rest of which I’ll be buying):

  • Stephen Fry in America, a six-hour TV series he did for the Beeb in 2008. His ambition was to visit all 50 states, and he did, but some states (such as Delaware and Idaho) were “covered” in less than two minutes, and others received a stereotypical treatment (Maine = lobsters; New Jersey = gambling). With this kind of superficiality, I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know. However, I appreciated Fry’s lack of vanity: He was willing to make a fool of himself on camera drinking bourbon in Kentucky, riding a horse in Georgia, and firing a gun in California. And his conversations with Morgan Freeman in the latter’s Blues club in Clarksville, Mississippi and with a native of Hawaii were genuinely interesting. Such moments of entertainment and illumination were rare, though, and it was apparent to me that the sole audience for this series was a British one, although I do wonder how their ears coped with unaccustomed accents, such as that of the prison warden in Louisiana.
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Attached to the series’ theme: the gospel/blues song

Having become addicted to the excellent crime drama series The Wire (2002-08), the first season of which a colleague lent me on DVD, I’ve also become attached to the series’ theme: the gospel/blues song “Way Down in the Hole.” (The full line is, “You gotta keep the devil way down in the hole.”) In the first season, the song was done by The Blind Boys of Alabama (from their 2001 album Spirit of the Century, which won a Grammy Award in 2002). Here’s the full-length version on YouTube,

to which I find myself dancing a mix of Cajun/rhumba/East Coast Swing when it comes on. The same song was rendered by other artists in subsequent seasons; I’ve listened to them all, but much prefer the Blind Boys’ version.