About B Gourley

Bernie Gourley is a writer living in Bangalore, India. He is currently writing his first novel entitled CHASING DEMONS. He is a martial artist, yogi, and world traveler.

BOOK REVIEW: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and DreamsWhy We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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For a long time, the questions of why we sleep and dream remained unanswered — or answered speculatively in ways that proved without merit. One presumes the reasons are potent because there seems to be little evolutionary advantage in spending a third of one’s life unconscious of one’s environs and paralyzed (literally in REM sleep, but for all intents and purposes in NREM sleep as one can’t respond to changes in the environment without some part of one’s brain taking note of said changes.) The good news is that Matthew Walker’s book offers insight into what scientists have learned about why we sleep, why we dream, why we become so dysfunctional without doing both, and what it is about modern life and its technologies that has created an apparent crisis of sleep loss. Walker goes beyond the science to discuss what individuals and institutions can do to reduce the harmful effects of sleep deprivation.

The downside of this book is that it’s a bit alarmist, and in contrast to many books of this nature one doesn’t get a good indication of the quality of studies reported. Some pretty brazen claims are made and the reader doesn’t necessarily know if they are preliminary and unvalidated or if they are well established. Here, I’m speaking about the studies that try to isolate out the effect of sleep loss versus all other factors (which is a notoriously messy affair,) and not so much studies that report on the physiological effects of sleep and sleep loss (which I see less reason to not take at face value.) At any rate, any reader who doesn’t fall asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow and sleep straight through 7 hours and fifty-five minutes — waking 5 minutes before the alarm — is likely to feel doomed if they take this book too seriously. And if you ever engaged in shift-work (as I have) or had an intense travel schedule, you are likely to feel that your life is permanently and irretrievably wrecked.

I know this is a book on sleep, but I think it went a little too far in marginalizing all other elements of health and well-being. Walker said that he used to tell people that sleep, nutrition, and exercise were the trifecta of good health, but he ultimately concluded that sleep was more important because diet and exercise were adversely impacted by sleep loss. I don’t disagree that diet and exercise are harmed by sleep loss, but – of course – sleep quality is harmed by lack of proper diet and exercise as well. The author later discusses research confirming this two-way street. I, therefore, have no idea why he changed his initial balanced and reasonable view with one that suggests sleep is the 800-pound gorilla of health and well-being.

The book’s 16 chapters are divided into four parts. Part I (Ch. 1 – 5) lays out what sleep is, how rhythms of sleep are established / disrupted, how much sleep one needs, and how one’s sleep needs change throughout the course of one’s life. Part II (Ch. 6 – 8) explores the benefits of sleeping as well as describing the nature of the damage caused by lack of sufficient sleep. Part III (Ch. 9 – 11) shifts the focus to dreams, and delves into what they appear to do for us. The final part (Ch. 12 – 16) investigates the many ways in which modern life disrupts sleep from blue light in LED’s to arbitrary school and work schedules to cures that are worse than the ill (i.e. sleeping pills.)

There is an appendix that summarizes twelve key changes that an individual can make to get more and better sleep. There are graphics throughout the book, mostly line-drawn graphs to provide visual clarity of the ideas under discussion.

I found this book interesting and informative. I would recommend it for anyone interested in the science of sleep or how they might sleep better, with the exception of anyone who has anxiety about the state of his or her health and well-being. While I understand that Dr. Walker wants to drive changes regarding views and policies that have been wrong-headed or deleterious regarding sleep, I feel he went too far toward suggesting the sky is falling for anyone who gets less than a perfect night’s sleep every night of his life.

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BOOK REVIEW: Collected Poems by W.B. Yeats

Collected PoemsCollected Poems by W.B. Yeats
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This collection gathers about 300 poems from 12 poetry collections by Yeats. Most of the dozen collections are included in their entirety.

Yeats is considered by some to be the best poet of the 20th century and by most to be among the best. Most poetry readers will be familiar with Yeats’ more commonly anthologized poems such as: “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” “The Second Coming,” “Leda and the Swan,” and “Sailing to Byzantium.” However, many readers may not be familiar with the full scope of his work. Some may believe that Yeats work is antiquated, not because it isn’t approachable, but because Yeats favored traditional forms (i.e. rhymed and metered poetry) [though he did engage in experimental approaches.] By the time he was writing, there had already begun to be a shift toward free verse, and so his work may seem of a more bygone era than it was. Of course, as will be mentioned below, Yeats work included a lot of political poetry, and political poetry doesn’t tend to age well.

On subject matter more than form, Yeats was progressive and experimental. Yeats poetry drew heavily on mysticism and the occult. In his earliest collection, “Crossways,” he does as many 20th century poets and writers with mystic ambitions or interests did, and turned his attention eastward to India. However, Yeats soon decided to focus on his homeland of Ireland. Hence, one will see references to faeries and Christian mystic notions rather than appeals to Hindu mythos. Many will find Yeats’ appeal to mysticism intriguing.

Yeats’ poems were also often political in nature. He viewed himself as Irish to the core, but was among the Protestant minority. While he was an Irish nationalist who wanted an independent Ireland, he wasn’t so keen on the fact that the full expression of that would mean that his sect, whose power outsized its numbers — would suffer a shift from the ruling to the ruled. “Easter, 1916” is among his most well-known and potent political poems. His feelings about Ireland being yoked into Britain’s affairs can most vividly be seen in “An Irishman Foresees His Death.”

I enjoyed experiencing the full breadth of Yeats’ work from tiny amusing poems like “A Drinking Song” to clever lessons such as “Beggar to Beggar Cried” to more extensive commentary on social issues like “Lapis Lazuli.” I’d highly recommend this collection for poetry readers.

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BOOK REVIEW: Selected Poems, 1957-1981 by Ted Hughes

Selected Poems, 1957-1981Selected Poems, 1957-1981 by Ted Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of 150+ poems extracted from 15 works from Ted Hughes’ early career. Note: there is a second volume that picks up where this one leaves off and continues to 1994, as well as another volume entitled “New Selected Poems” that covers his entire poetic career from 1957 – 1994.

The selected poems are largely free verse. However, particularly among his early works there are many examples of rhymed and near-rhymed verse. As would be expected of a collection of selections covering more than two decades, the topics and themes are varied. However, naturalistic symbolism is the dominant approach across the collection, as seen in one of Hughes’ most famous poems, “The Jaguar.” There are poems that take Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” Greek mythology, or other human-centric subjects for their subject matter, but imagery from nature is the most common means used by Hughes to achieve his aim – even when that aim is commenting on human subject matter.

There are a couple pages of explanatory notes, but – otherwise – the book is all poems, and no forwards, conclusions, graphics, or other ancillary matter. It’s 222 pages packed with poetry.

I enjoyed Hughes’ poetry and am fond of his use of natural imagery. That imagery is vivid and evocative, but some readers may find it a bit arcane or obscure for their tastes. One has to ride it like a river, rather than excavating like an archeologist. I would highly recommend this book for poetry readers.

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DAILY PHOTO: Arikamedu

Taken on October 7, 2019 at Arikamedu. Arikamedu was a Roman trading post near Pondicherry. The ruins are much more recent, and the Roman and Greek artifacts from the site can be seen in the Pondicherry Museum. Regarding the mention of “Greek,” it was originally thought to first be a Greek post, but current consensus is that it started with the Romans (and later colonial powers as well as indigenous kingdoms had settlements there.)

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POEM: Hanoi Epiphany

I strolled the streets of Hanoi,

-past Starbucks, McDonalds, and American fast-food joints I thought had gone belly up decades ago.

-past young lovers on park benches sneaking affections,

-past vendor carts selling banh mi in brightly colored wrappers,

-past the stock exchange,

-past incense-wielding worshippers at the temple,

-past a dancing Minion selling electronics,

-past Christmas LED lights shaped like pine trees,

and I couldn’t help but wonder how it would look if we hadn’t sent 60,000 off to be killed, 2-and-a-half times that number to be shot, stabbed, mutilated, or fragged — not to mention the three million dead among civilians and enemy forces.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but I hope we do at least 50-50.