Category Archives: Bibliotherapy

Posts about books to read

The cat that walked by himself

Last weekend I was having a “deep and meaningful” with a buddy. You can’t really put the two of us together without this happening. Though there’s something about both of us that means a D&M rarely gets too heavy (unless copious amounts of red wine are involved and then nothing’s sacred and no-one’s safe.)

At some point I mentioned how confusing I find it to know who my people are … what sort of ‘milieu’ I belong to.

Who cares?

Well, if you’re dating this gets VERY confusing. But if ever I blog about dating please shoot me, so let’s leave it at that.

In reply to my identify confusion, my good friend replied,

“But, it’s obvious! You’re the cat that walked by himself”

“I am?”

“You are.”

At which point I lost her for a bit as she frenetically googled on her iPhone looking for the source of her reference … the story that led her
to say this …while I sat there sipping my latte pleased that there appeared to be a well-documented report on my condition, involving a cat no

The point of her point was to congratulate me on my independence even if it does cost me a sense of belonging. Had she simply used these words
there’s no doubt I’d have felt far less consoled than I did when I learnt that I am a cat. A cat written of in legends!

So if ever you want to cheer someone up that they’re not just a stray or a freak or an outcast, I highly recommend sending them The Cat That Walked By Himself.

Thanks to my friend for giving me this story.
“The Cat That Walked By Himself” is from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. Here are the lines my friend had in mind, a 5 minute video of extracts from the story and the full Kipling text.

… and when the moon gets up and night comes, he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him. Then he goes out to the Wet Wild Woods or up the Wet Wild Trees or on the Wet Wild Roofs, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone



Filed under Bibliotherapy, Books etc., Identity, Relationships, States of mind, Words

When things get tough, it’s time for TV

Lately — well, say since about September (so, is that more than lately?), things haven’t been going so well in several of life’s major departments. Nothing drastic, just not-so-good. And how have I responded? By turning on the television.

I once lived without television for 5 years. Not out of some sort of superior attitude, but because I get lazy when things break. The television didn’t break, but the antenna on my roof did. After about 2 years of accepting this situation, I attempted to fix it. A friend of mine came over to hold the ladder and to oversee my potential death (because what could be worse than dying on a roof and no one finding out about it for ages.) So I did try. I did climb up a very steep ladder and I did wander about on the not-so-stable roof and pick up various pieces of debris that just might be my aerial (or is it an antenna?) and I did yell down to my friend as I moved bits of metal around to see if my interventions were having any impact on the ET-phone-home TV screen in my flat below.

Several years passed before I moved home and re-entered a life that included some television.

In the intervening years I’d spent substantially more time book-bingeing and singing into the mirror with my hairbrush for an evening’s entertainment than is normal for me. I’d also struggled at social occaisions. Without shared neighbours to gossip about, it’s amazing how much chit chat is devoted to X-Factor or 24 or … I don’t know … I can’t remember what else was on television in those years that went over my head — but I did find out the socially awkward way that TV accounts for a great deal of small talk. All I ever had to contribute was “No, my television is broken.” Which rarely proved the perfect conversation starter.

But I digress. The point I was going to make is that I’ve been reaching for the television lately. It’s become my comfort food. And not just any television — in fact, not even the actual television — me and my MacBook have been climbing into bed together. Yes. And what have we been doing? Downloading “Death in Paradise” from BBC iPlayer.

Which leads me to the subject of this weekend’s blog: crime dramas and murder mysteries in particular.

If you haven’t seen “Death in Paradise”, it’s a LOT better than Midsomer Murders (which is one of the only murder mysteries that I don’t particularly approve of and will only watch if there’s no other on offer… because of the ridiculous number of murders that take place in this sleepy part of England in every single episode and the generally beige tone of the central characters ) — but is a bit like it in its similarly very gentle handling of cold-blooded killings. I haven’t checked but am sure that the critics will just despise Paradise for its silliness and all those cliches about Caribbean laid-back-ness but I for one really hope it lasts a few more seasons… far worse things, have.

Now, I used to blame my mother for this habit of reaching for the nearest murder mystery when life got tough. She raised me to believe that a nice Agatha Christie was the best cure for imaginary worries (real ones were best handled by ice-cream.) But I’ve come to realize that mom cannot be held responsible for what appears to be a more universal phenomena. Beyond Poirot and Ms. Marple, consider Morse, Taggart, Cracker, Prime Suspect, Silent Witness. I know I’m dating myself — but then there’s The Killing and what about Wallander!! I know I’m also locating myself as clearly not in America. Which leads me from my first question, why are murder mysteries comforting to so many of us? to my second … Doesn’t this tradition seem particularly strong on the British Isles (which withstood the temptation for real-life crime drama for a long, long time.)

So, I ask you — can anyone out there explain to me why nothing makes me happier these days than curling up to watch Detective Poole talk to his teeny green lizard?


Filed under Bibliotherapy, Therapy

Abraham Lincoln meets Oprah

The story I told yesterday about my friend who lost her dad got me wondering about the connection between grief and gratitude … which through the magic of following Google leads down warrens brought me to the work of Dan McAdams.

A psychologist by trade, McAdams has compiled a social history of the sorts of stories that Americans tell themselves. These reflect the deep–down optimism that, as far as I’m concerned, marks the American attitude to life more than any other quality.

According to Publishers Weekly, McAdams analyzed hundreds of American stories — the Horatio Alger success stories, the early, middle and latter-day self-help classics, the writing of Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln and good old Oprah. He looked at confessions from the Puritans and he read the narratives of slaves. He checked out all the back copies he could find of People magazine.

And what he found was this — that Americans tell redemptive stories.

Stories of deliverance from suffering. And that these stories help us on multiple levels. In one piece of research patients healed faster if they had a redemptive story to tell themselves. The kind of people who say things like “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” have a much higher chance of surviving than the rest of us.

The interesting thing is this — redemptive stories are not happy tales. They are not glossed over, upbeat, superficial approaches to dark times. The deeper the trouble, the harder the toil, the longer the suffering, the more power a redemptive story has in equipping us with the perseverance to make it through such hardship.

All we have to believe is that Good can come from Bad.


Filed under Bibliotherapy, Books etc., Identity, Not in London, States of mind

Dead-tree journalism

As I mentioned yesterday, within hours of each other I came across two different stories where the central character wasn’t a person but a newspaper.

On the plane I noticed BA starred Page One, the documentary about The New York Times as a “hidden gem” and so I watched it. And when I arrived to my holiday destination I started on the novel I’d brought with me, The Imperfectionists, which revolves around an imaginary international broadsheet based out of Rome.

Both are better described as portraits as opposed to stories in the classic sense since both leave us with a sense of unresolved struggle. Both were satisfying in different ways and with both it was impossible for me not to revisit the fantasy I once had about becoming a journalist — they reaffirmed just how ill-suited I am to that profession.

Since the tension driving The Imperfectionists doesn’t rely on the fate of the newspaper, but rather the characters connected with it, I don’t think I’m spoiling things by revealing that the paper does indeed collapse. But how and why and when is well worth reading. More on that in the next post.

The Page One reality piece is interesting for a different reason — the characters are colourful, but we’re more gripped by the integrity of the paper itself and whether it can continue.

The film introduces us to an old hack, a new idealist and a tweeting pragmatist (read or listen to this short review by NPR if you don’t think you’ll get a chance to see it for yourself.) We get an insight into new vs old media as the movie offers us a New York Times investigation into the potential end of The New York Times.

Watching Page One I didn’t get choked up like I did when a colleague of mine insisted that the Kindle had come along to kill the book, but I was reminded of all the reasons why I’d once thought journalism if not the most noble, at least the most romantic job in the world.

I remain hopelessly intimidated by the sort of writers with the ferocious ambition, never mind talent, fearlessness and occasional personality disorders who go get the news for us. After the recent phone hacking sleaze and all the usual questions about who really owns the press, Page One is an on-time reminder that plenty of people still try hard to do the right thing. However much they might disagree about what that is.

But that’s all a bit preachy …. what I really got out of watching it was a nice big fat armchair fix.

If I wasn’t built to go off and be a journalist that doesn’t stop me from feeling a thrill watching others who did. Sure that captivation is infused with an envy and a disappointment with myself, but in the end that’s soothed by watching people do things I’d never want to do even if I believed I could. I remember reading Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux’s intense account of travelling from the top to toe of Africa by land and water. I read the book from an infinity swimming pool in Turkey and when I put the book down I was beyond glad to be where I was and not where Paul had gone. I still feel that way about most of the news I read. On balance, grateful that someone else went out to get it.

1 Comment

Filed under Bibliotherapy, Identity, Work

Get better acquainted

In the 2nd part of today’s 9/11 post, a few words about fiction and community.

On fiction — many have commented that there’s been no “definitive” 9/11 novel and are asking themselves why. Fiction often helps us understand and process what reportage and facts fail to deliver. In this brief 5 minute conversation several authors talk about 9/11 fiction. Listen here 

And if you’re out and about and unable to tune in, here’s an interesting article on 9/11 fiction from 

On community — late last night I received an emailed announcement that took me by surprise. It was from the co-founder of

If you haven’t participated in a meet-up, check out the site. If you’re in London you could sign up to online marketing and social media events, “healing” nights, laughing clubs and impromptu gatherings of improving Spanish speakers — all taking place in the next couple of weeks. If you’re stuck working in a foreign city, meet-up’s are a brilliant idea.

I never knew that meet-up is a “9/11 baby” — born of a desire to get people talking to their neighbours again. The idea was to use the internet to get people off their computers and back out into the real world — spending time with like-minded souls and building off-line, in-the-flesh communities. Scroll down to read the email I received.

On getting better acquainted with other people — as squirmy as it feels to promote an hour of streaming Nat, since it’s just been published it would be weirder not to. And anyway, if you’re my Facebook friend you’ve already been bombarded with it earlier this week. So to wrap up on a weekend of podcast recommendations, this one involves getting better acquainted with me.

Brought to us by Dave-of-frequent-mention here at Panic Station, GBA (Getting Better Acquainted) is a weekly show about Dave getting better acquainted with someone. In this case — that person is me.
Listen to it here.

I’d also highly recommend getting better acquainted with Dave himself — Listen here for a very amusing collection of personal stories which he’s captured in the opening GBA podcast. Or if you’re short on time, start with this GBA sampler

Till next weekend, over & out — have a great week!

* * *

Email from Meetup Co-founder

To: Nathalie Hourihan
Subject: 9/11 & us

Fellow Meetuppers,

I don’t write to our whole community often, but this week is
special because it’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and many
people don’t know that Meetup is a 9/11 baby.

Let me tell you the Meetup story. I was living a couple miles
from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought
local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet
and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I
hoped they wouldn’t bother me.

When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors
in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to
neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally
ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each
other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being

A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring
people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was
born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and
grow local communities?

We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a
crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make
people distrust one another.

A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months
after 9/11.

Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s
working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Moms Meetups,
Small Business Meetups, Fitness Meetups… a wild variety of
100,000 Meetup Groups with not much in common — except one

Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to
neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me.
They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and
motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find
other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace
together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s
powerful stuff.

It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks
to everyone who shows up.

Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it
weren’t for 9/11.

9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to
strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new
community together!!!!

The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started
with these Meetups.

Scott Heiferman (on behalf of 80 people at Meetup HQ)
Co-Founder & CEO, Meetup
New York City
September 2011

Leave a comment

Filed under Bibliotherapy, Books etc., Current affairs, Not in London, Podcasts, Relationships, Self-help

Science, celebrity, self-help and above all, brilliant stories

Today I offer a shortlist of 3 podcasts I just love. And for those of you who are not on Facebook or who are but for some reason are not my friend (why not?!), I’ve cut and paste Dave’s comment from yesterday where he shares a list of podcasts he once gifted to me and has now made available to you. A treasure trove of excellent listening.

And what’s so great is that all these podcasts are absolutely free, so if you enjoy them, remember to subscribe to them.

Nat’s taster menu

  • On Being – a show hosted by Krista Tippett —  In her quiet campaign to support my attempt to embrace yoga, my mom sent me this interview with Seane Corn, Hollywood’s hottest yoga instructor. In part a discussion of the mystical and mental benefits of a yogic practice, we also learn about addiction, obsessive compulsive tendencies (i.e., Seane’s own story of escaping a damaging life) and some of the global projects Seane dreamt up to combat “psychic terrorism” and to help get kids off the street. Listen to it here
  • Fresh Air – one of radio’s best known interviewers – NPR’s Terri Gross. Search Terri’s interview library by topic — there are conversations with writers, politicians, TV show producers and chefs covering everything from book, movie and music discussions to hot political issues (like this week’s conversation about the top secret intelligence network that has exploded in response to 9/11).  One of my personal favourites is Terri’s conversation with actor Gabriel Byrne (Gabriel: if ever you stumble across this blog, please know that I sat two seats away from you in the Horseshoe Bar at the Shelbourne in Dublin last October and it was hard not to introduce myself and mention that I am available to marry you at any time). Listen to it here
  • I am sorely tempted to mention another RadioLab podcast on my top three (and ok, I will — Falling is a fantastic podcast which trips us through why life seems to go into slow motion if we fall from a great height, to why we talk about falling in love to the defenestration of cats) but on my official three-worth-tasting — I’m going to plug a lesser-known, up and coming series called …
  • I Like You — where each week a guy and a girl talk about “love, like, dating, and the opposites of those things.” Try this 7 minute sampler 

And now for Dave’s treasure trove:

These are some podcast series I’d recommend to you and people who like to read what you do:

Too Much Information

Jon Ronson On…

This American Life [also recommended by Nat’s mom]

WTF with Marc Maron

The Moth [also recommended by Nat’s mom]

Spark London

Slate Culture Gabfest

New Yorker Out Loud

I Like You [on my top 3 list above]

Common Sense with Dan Carlin

(RadioLab obviously)

Leave a comment

Filed under Bibliotherapy, Podcasts

Tune in to tune out

I’m working in New York this week and have been walking the 30 or so blocks from my brother’s apartment to the office. For several mornings it’s been raining hard.

This, however, hasn’t stopped several fellow walkers from reading on their way to work.

Londoners walk and text. New Yorkers can walk and read and juggle an umbrella and a cup of coffee. And sometimes a stroller.

On one level this is just an example of multi-tasking, but when people tune out of their environment in order to tune into a book or a radio show or a newspaper or their itunes, it’s also a bid for personal space.

These people are transporting themselves elsewhere. They’ve checked out of the hustle and bustle under their feet, over their head and shoving on past them.

We urban souls fight noise pollution and cramped body space by creating these sensory barriers (achieved through headphones or miniature video screeens or hard copy reading material) that shield us from sensory attacks from sources we cannot control (that siren, the contruction drill, that mother screaming at her child.)

I’m old enough to remember the outbreak of Sony Walkmans back in the 80’s. At first being surrounded by headphoned people seemed wrongfully anti-social, but then I got one and life no longer seemed complete without the ability to control my own soundtrack.

Creating our own experience amidst chaos feeds that most primal of needs — the urge to control our environment. The more anxiety ridden some of us are, the greater that urge.

These days I rarely ever listen to music on my way anywhere — but this is the subject of another blog … the way some of my life phases demand music vs times like now, when it just wouldn’t cross my mind and even if it did — I wouldn’t know what to pick.

Instead, in the past six months or so I’ve fallen prey to a different distractor — if I’m commuting to work or burning fat on the treadmill, I’m hooked into a podcast (once known as a webcast as in a broadcast published on the internet, now “pods” in a nod to Apple’s role in making this sort of media so popular.)

I can’t remember how and when I downloaded my first podcast, but I do thank both my mother and my friend Dave for routinely offering me excellent recommendations.

This weekend’s blog series will share some of those (and I’d love it if you replied with your own listening suggestions.) 

First up is a podcast from RadioLab which was brought to my attention by Dave in response to the recent Question of Sport blog-off with Charlotte.

Featuring stories from Freakanomics author Stephen Dubner,  Games discusses what it means to be a hero-worshipping fan, the nature of child’s play and why some games are better than others. Whether you’re on a long walk, doing the laundry, hitting the gym, pottering around the house, cooking up a storm or just trying to tune out from the noise around you to tune into something more meaningful and worthwhile, this is a great listen.


Filed under Bibliotherapy, Sport