Cellphones, crime, cancer and cooking


Cellphones, crime, cancer and cooking

Books divert KERNEELS BREYTENBACH's attention from the Rugby World Cup.


THERE are easy solutions for most major manmade problems. First find a scapegoat. Only afterwards concern yourself with identifying the real culprit.

Dr Anders Hansen is a Swedish physician who has gained international fame with his books on exercise as the best medicine and ways to listen to your body so you never lose your mind. He also believes people should embrace humanity with the knowledge that wellbeing is not destined for all of us, and explains how we can find ways to attain ever-elusive happiness.

Cellphone culprit

In The Attention Fix, he chose a scapegoat for our current malaise — the cellphone, and by extension, the computer, tablet, and thus social media. It's a scapegoat I've also grappled with in my small-town wisdom. Especially once, when a couple at a table next to mine in a restaurant sat through an entire meal in silence, scrolling on their cellphones. Hansen undoubtedly sees hordes of schoolchildren in Sweden with neck problems because they spend the whole day looking down at their phones.

Sometimes, one feels tempted to shout, like the Queen of Hearts in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, “Off with their heads!" But, as Hansen explains, we've already succumbed to the sweet temptation of social media to the point where we don't see the bigger problem. Instead, we wonder what the kids find so interesting; maybe we could click on the link?

The Attention Fix is a timely book. In his previous publication, The Happiness Cure, Hansen pointed out the ways in which our brains, in response to impulses from apps such as Facebook, X (Twitter) and Instagram, lead us to withdraw socially. What he now offers is guidance on how to wean yourself off the addiction. How to focus your attention. Essentially, what he's saying is that the technology isn't the sinner — it's you. You must learn how to integrate the cellphone and the things it offers into your daily routine without making everything subservient to it. Your sleep patterns will be restored, your antisocial behaviour will normalise, and you'll soon see anxiety and depression recede.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

I am willing to follow his advice and all the steps he recommends. Haven't I experienced how my depression lifted when I stopped watching CNN, Fox News and eNCA news programmes after Donald Trump became the US president? I'm sure I'm one of the few people in the country who still has faith in President Ramaphosa because I never watch TV news and experience his empty promises.

The question I still grapple with after reading the book is to what extent Hansen is a voice crying  in the wilderness. This article, like everything I've written since the eighties, was created on a computer. I no longer read the printed versions of books, only e-books. All my personal documentation is digitised. I've disposed of my vinyl records and CDs and rely on Spotify and Apple Music. I rarely carry cash any more and have no physical contact with my bank. It laid off its staff in Cape Town long ago and operates from a call centre in Johannesburg.

I find the foundation on which Hansen's advice rests shaky because I know that most people who might read it find themselves in my situation. Therefore, it's not about the technology, but the sinners themselves: humans and their growing need for instant gratification in all areas.

But go ahead and read it. It's a book you grapple with, and that's a good sign. The mind still works.

The Attention Fix by Anders Hansen was published by Penguin Random House and costs R265 at Loot.

Nordic noir

If you've read Bill Clinton and James Patterson's The President is Missing, you'll know it's not always a good idea to let a politician join forces with someone who believes in the truth. For this book, Iceland's top crime writer (Ragnar Jónasson) found someone to help him with plotting for the first time — and it was Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Iceland's  prime minister. Unlike the Clinton-Patterson train wreck, this is a crime novel that can compete in the international league of Nordic noir.

The plot provided by Jakobsdóttir is brilliantly woven by Jónasson: in 1986, a journalist and his sister try to solve a murder that happened in 1956. Jónasson strongly reminds me of Henning Mankell at his best: an excellent plot, all central characters portrayed in full depth, and an ending you could not have foreseen. I was enthralled by Jónasson's The Girl Who Died. Now I know I'm going to eagerly read the rest of his books. Reykjavík penetrates your skull until the truth finally comes out. (For the record: I ignored the All Blacks vs France match for this.)

Reykjavík by Ragnar Jónasson and Katrín Jakobsdóttir was published by Minotaur and cost $25.20 at Amazon.


A very peculiar debut novel, written by a woman who was in the midst of caring for her mother through a major cancer crisis. It revolves around a woman and her daughter who care for their mother and grandmother as she struggles with cancer. In the process, they uncover a murder in a remote area.

The murder case is interesting and engaging, but what resonated with me more is the way Nina Simon weaves the entire story in the spirit of hopefulness that the mother and daughter build around their mother and grandmother. People who have been in the position of supporting a cancer patient will recognise many things. I can only say that the spiritual largesse of this little novel deeply moved me.

Mother-Daughter Murder Night by Nina Simon was published by William Morrow and costs R445 at Loot.

Lazy and hungry

My reading habits are often adolescent. I read on the internet how the goddess of love, Nigella Lawson, praises Ella Risbridger's Midnight Chicken. With the help of Amazon, I had it in front of me on my tablet within five minutes. Now, Risbridger is my kind of food writer. She is lazy, she is hungry, and she is not afraid.

The sublime Nigella sang the praises of Risbridger's lentil miso soup, and let me join in: it is breathtakingly delicious on these cold spring evenings when winter still lingers. Risbridger has a beautiful way with words. She describes how she mourned her grandfather's death by baking challah breads. You immediately want to make a batch and reflect on the old man. Ella is my new best friend.

Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger was published by Bloomsbury and costs R264 at Exclusive Books.

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.