The Books Briefing: First Exercise, Then Write

Health for the body, the mind, and the world: Your weekly guide to the best in books

Neil Hall / Reuters

The vows to exercise and eat nutritiously that start off many a new year don’t only benefit the body. Many writers, including Haruki Murakami and Mohsin Hamid, find that running or walking helps stimulate their creativity. Others draw connections between individual health and the wellness of society.

While working on his book How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi received a diagnosis that forced him to fight for his life—and fueled his commitments to both writing and political change. Gandhi’s activism extended to his own diet; according to the historian Nico Slate, he believed that eating raw food was not only cleansing but also liberating, because of the money and time it could save.

Near the turn of the 20th century, anxieties about America’s expanding urban environments led physicians to diagnose a wide range of symptoms as effects of modern technology, a phenomenon explored in histories by David Schuster and Tom Lutz. And a recent book by Barbara Ehrenreich links prevailing ideas about preventive care to a cultural desire for control that may actually hurt patients’ well-being.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

The disease of living too fast
“Neurasthenia … took [the] age-old problems of happiness and comfort and medicalized them.”

📚 Neurasthenic Nation, by David Schuster
📚 American Nervousness, 1903, by Tom Lutz
📚 Wear and Tear, or Hints for the Overworked, by S. Weir Mitchell

Why Mohsin Hamid exercises, then writes
“My head cleared. My energy soared. My neck pains diminished. Sometimes I texted myself ideas, sentences, entire paragraphs as I walked. Other times I just floated along, arms at my sides, stewing and filtering and looking.”

📚 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
📚 How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid

What Ibram X. Kendi learned from cancer
“My focus on writing was perhaps my way of coping with the demoralizing severity of the cancer and the overwhelming discomfort of the treatment, furiously writing and fighting, fighting and writing to heal mind and body, to heal society.”

📚 How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

Gandhi’s vision of equality involved raw food
“Instead of equating cooking with civilization, he believed that raw food could make humanity more civilized.”

📚 An excerpt from Gandhi’s Search for the Perfect Diet, by Nico Slate

Your body is a teeming battleground
“Barbara Ehrenreich … argues that what ‘makes death such an intolerable prospect’ is our belief in a reductionist science that promises something it cannot deliver—ultimate control over our bodies.”

📚 Natural Causes, by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

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About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. She just finished Red Clocks, by Leni Zumas.

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