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Back from the brink

sane new world: taming the mind by Ruby Wax Hodder (2014; paperback) €12.85 ****

FROM the Priory to Oxford: Ruby Wax has truly been on an interesting trip, which is easy for this reader to conclude, since I didn't have to live it.

It's not overstating it to say that her experiences with depression were painful and hellish; neither is it overstating it to say that her willingness to joke about it is probably a large part of her ability to triumph over her mental illness.

It does take some time to adapt to the tone of the tome, though – and it helped to keep an open mind.

It's all about the mind, as it says in the title, and Wax's sojourn in Oxford, where she gained an MA in mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, had everything to do with her desire to help manage her depression.

Crippled by the condition, to the degree that she'd check herself out of the Priory to do a gig, and then headed straight back afterwards, Wax presents her life story in a jokey, scattershot way to start.

This seems to reflect the way in which her mind works, and is extremely helpful in putting across her thesis.

Without a doubt, trying to live with mental illness is all about 'trying to live', and her honesty not only makes the themes relatable, but also makes the presentation of her hard-won healing techniques even more triumphant.

She is truly in command of all the neuroscience stuff, and it's not just because of her fancy education: this is her lifeline, and it's one she is generously throwing out there to others. The final chapter is chock-full of easy, manageable, helpful exercises to aid the sufferer in reworking their thought processes, taking them out of victim status, and putting them in control of their minds.

There's a sense of helplessness that comes with obsessive thinking, and Wax has a way forward for everyone, from the spreadsheet enthusiast, to those who may like to use their senses to move their thoughts into the feel-good parts of the brain.

Like, when I smell fresh-cut grass, I am filled with hope and joy. It can be as simple as that. Above all, it's that honesty that really sends Wax's message, and honesty almost always goes hand in hand with bravery.

Doing Sixty and Seventy by Gloria Steinem Open Road Media (2014; eBook) €8.23 ***

FROM the first lines of this recently updated book, Steinem's direct, sane, and easygoing voice paved the way for her candid and informative thoughts on the ageing process.

This is short, and more of an extended essay, or a really long piece in the New Yorker than a book that exhaustively covers this pertinent issue, so two stars off for a cheeky price by eBook standards.

Yet! I must recommend, as Steinem has been such a vibrant touchstone for feminism, and here, has distilled both the fears and the privileges of ageing with insight and gentle humour.

Because she has lived so much in the public eye, her experience of the invisibility of becoming an older woman is particularly compelling.

A Man Called Harris: The Life of Richard Harris by Michael Sheridan and Anthony Galvin The History Press (2013) €21.45 ***

FANS looking for tales of the legendary bad boy's antics will have to go elsewhere – can't say it doesn't make a nice change.

Those who are more interested in Richard Harris' life and times as a Limerick lad will find much here to enjoy.

Throw in the actor's love of the rugby in particular, and it becomes a lovely, almost pastoral treatment of the biography of a person that many think they may have known everything about.

In fairness, though: Harris lived life large, and the titbits of terrible behaviour never get old, and several more wouldn't have gone amiss.

It can be slow going, and oftentimes feels as though we've come into the story in the middle of one of the author's thoughts, which in turn can feel like we're not one of the in-crowd, which is frustrating.

Great title, given the actor's lead role in 1970s A Man Called Horse.

Really clever!