Read All Over book reviews, March 26

Health Literacy in Canada: A Primer for Students

By Lorie Donelle, Laurie Hoffman-Goetz and Rukhsana Ahmed


Health literacy should not be underestimated with regards to its importance to sustaining and improving the overall health of a population. In fact, the authors assert literacy is not only a determining factor in public health, but plays a significant role in social justice, and enhancing prosperity.

During a time when health-care costs continue to rise with an aging population in a climate of reduced funding, and the further integration of information technology both in raising awareness and personal health data collection, health literacy emerges as a vital public policy issue.

The authors detail a compelling case for the connection between poor health literacy and compromised public health. As ever more media disseminate health information, not everyone has prospered equally in navigating or understanding this information effectively.

Perhaps one of the more eye-opening chapters in this textbook would be on how health literacy functions as a social determinant of health, and how factors such as poverty and low literacy have a strong correlation with deleterious health impacts such as increased depression, diabetes rates and premature mortality. This is further exacerbated by a lack of provision in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would explicitly specify health as a human right.

The authors also provide concrete examples of how cultural and linguistic barriers have been overcome in part by the use of plain language and simple imagery, but that challenges still remain in understanding what may be the most effective policy in improving health literacy among a culturally and ethnically heterogeneous society.

This book proves to be of value to students, practitioners and policy-enthusiasts alike, with respect to health-care issues. It is replete with a glossary of terms and the writing is concise while avoiding jargon, thus making it extremely accessible to a wide readership.

Lorie Donelle is a Health Sciences professor at Western.


The Anglo-Saxon Psalter

By M.J. Toswell


Psalters are among the largest groups of text bequeathed to bibliographic history in the Anglo-Saxon world, and also unsurprisingly the most multi-purpose of texts. Beyond functioning as the laity’s book for private prayer and devotion, it also served the purpose of instructing oblates in polishing their Latin and understanding of Christian doctrine, as a spiritual reference guide on how to live the good life.

Toswell performs an admirable job in relaying these liturgical works not only played a significant role in the cultural conditions of the Anglo-Saxon world, but they also could be aesthetically marvelous cultural artifacts of their own that would come to reflect the cultural values of that world.

Anglo-Saxon England’s spiritual framework is, as Toswell demonstrates, not a simple, monolithic structure. There can be no better example of the complexity and overlapping values and perspectives than the humble psalter as emblematic of this cultural and spiritual heterogeneity. Apart from a fastidious tracing of the many roles occupied by psalters in this period, Toswell provides us with several mysteries and peculiarities while taking into account the production, uses, forms and broader context of psalters and the psalterata who inscribed them.

M.J. Toswell is a professor in English and Writing Studies at Western.