Bookish in the Mitten

Book reviews, book recommendations, book talk, and a little knitting

Big changes are in store for this blog over the coming weeks. While I work on those changes I will be posting less frequently this summer – but I will commit to posting at least once per week. You can always find my page on Facebook: @MittenBookish.

See you soon!

Sunday morning edit: I wrote and published this at 3:00 AM, which is apparently a bad idea from a spelling perspective. All fixed now, hopefully.

Marbles, jump-ropes, paper dolls. For the child Elaine they are the props of a childhood marked by anxiety as she navigates the playground with its baffling rules of engagement, at the mercy of “friends” who smile for the parents while whispering cruelties in her ear.

Margaret Atwood has mastered the art of time travel in Cat’s Eye; this novel is not a reminiscence. Although grown-up Elaine opens the story, it is the child Elaine who describes her first meeting with Carol, then Grace – and then with Cordelia.  As the narrative shifts among the different Elaines –  Elaine in her teens, college student Elaine, wife and mother Elaine, and Elaine in her fifties, there is never a hint of any other age; events recounted clearly by the child Elaine are vague and suppressed when we listen to the voice of Elaine in junior high. Toys that are very important to the child Elaine, described in loving detail, are shrugged off by adult Elaine when seen again with no memory of their importance.

There are so many themes one could explore in this book – motherhood, sibling relationships, wealth, marriage, infidelity, loss, grief – and I suppose we could do that with enough time to dissect it thoroughly.  At its essence though, in addition to being beautifully crafted, this story is eminently readable.

I have no suggestion for where to read this or what music to play in the background; this book transcends those suggestions.  Just read it. You won’t be sorry.

Haven – based on Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid, about an FBI agent assigned to a small town with strange happenings. I saw a few episodes; I don’t think I read the novel.

Bones – based on Kathy Reichs’ crime series featuring main character Temperance Brennan.  I’ve read a couple of the books and seen several episodes of the series, and enjoyed both.

M*A*S*H – you all know it.  M*A*S*H was a spin-off of the movie by the same name, which was based on the book MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors, by Richard Hooker. I might be convinced to read the book if I found a copy lying around.

Dexter – the debut season is based on Jeff Lindsay’s book Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the first in a crime series about the serial killer who just needs a little affection. Like so many others, I was sucked into the dark TV series, but I haven’t read any of the books and don’t plan on reading them.

Outlander – this series has run four seasons, each season based on a book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The only show in the list that’s still in production, its fifth season will be based on the fifth book in the very well-written and engrossing saga. I haven’t seen the show and don’t plan on watching it.

Deep Living with the Enneagram – A Discovery Review

June 9, 2020


You may recall that a few weeks ago I agreed to write reviews for a British book site called Reedsy Discovery. Below is the complete text for my first review; the book is unlike anything else I’ve discussed in this blog. You can see the review in its natural habitat here: https://reedsy.com/discovery/book/deep-living-with-the-enneagram-roxanne-howe-murphy-edd

And here is the review:

If you’re looking for an Enneagram personality type quiz, you’ve got the wrong book.

If you seek a tool to help you identify and address your patterns of thinking, feeling, behavior, and interacting with others – in a compassionate, affirming way – keep reading.  

Deep Living With the Enneagram: Recovering Your True Nature is a revised and updated version of Dr. Roxanne Howe-Murphy’s 2013 book titled Deep Living: Transforming Your Relationship to Everything That Matters Through the Enneagram. The main body of the book is divided into three parts and an Appendix (don’t skip the Appendix!) along with valuable resources for further exploration.

In Part I we are introduced to new terminology and concepts that run counter to every “quick-fix” self-help book out there. Don’t rush through this section; it’s not light reading. As you make your way through its pages, you may find that specific concepts or phrases tap you on the shoulder. Have your highlighter ready.

Part II is devoted to a detailed description of the framework used to explain the blueprint of the human personality – a framework then applied to the nine personality types of the Enneagram. Each type is described in depth, using terms and concepts that have been introduced earlier in the book. The graphics in this section are simple and clear, providing a comprehensive visual snapshot of each type’s characteristics and dynamics.

Part III, “Change for Life,” provides concrete, practical steps for effecting personal change.  The reader will enjoy this section and can implement these strategies immediately.

There is more practical advice in the Appendix, which guides us through an exploration of the use of presence for healing.   Be sure to take advantage of the additional helpful resources following the Appendix.

The author refers to the Enneagram as “ancient,” which piques one’s curiosity, but there is minimal mention of its ancient origins prior to its introduction to the Western world. While mildly disappointing, this does not diminish the book’s message or value.

Regardless, the body of knowledge shared in this expertly crafted book is impressive, exceeding this reader’s expectations.  Dr. Howe-Murphy has produced a reference and healing tool that belongs on the bookshelf of anyone interested in real change, as well as on the shelves of those called to support others through that change. 

REVIEWED BY

Catherine Beeman


I am a reader with ten years of bookselling experience who is passionate about sharing my love of books with others. My goal is to be direct and relatable, with hopefully a little humor thrown in.

Words don’t come easily; reading this collection of short stories, I discovered beauty and I unearthed unpleasant attitudes toward others, both express and implied, which I can’t ignore. The book is not exclusively beautiful or exclusively ugly; it’s both.

The collection contains finely crafted scenes in which every bird, tree, or blade of grass is a meditation, and sometimes Nick Adams is characterized as a boy, youth, and man with strengths and insecurities, who loves and trusts his father, his little sister, and his friends very deeply. There are frequent references to Michigan cities and lakes “up north,” in Petoskey, Charlevoix and the Upper Peninsula. I recognized a discussion of the World Series (“he can hit . . . but he loses ball games”) as a conversation which could have occurred between members of my family of origin, all of whom spent the majority of their lives in Michigan.

This thoughtful writing is juxtaposed with explicit racism and implicit, pervasive misogyny, and the existence of beauty and repugnance in one volume is at the root of the struggle to express my thoughts cohesively.

People of color and Ojibwe inhabitants of northwest Michigan are depicted as stereotypes and referred to in derogatory terms.  With one or two exceptions, women are barely characterized at all; most of them are cardboard cutouts: sex workers (not the term Hemingway uses), mother, wife, sister. Nick Adams’ sister, age eleven, is the only female who has more than a couple of sentences of dialogue. In contrast to the lovingly painted nature scenes and the interaction between Nick and his sister, the passages demonstrating Hemingway’s bigotry flatten the story – because he is describing flat characters, reduced to a type rather than fully-developed individuals.

Would I read more from this author? No, I don’t think so.  I might revisit “Big Two-Hearted River” to reflect again on Nick’s hike in the wilderness between the burned-out town of Seney (I’ve been there) and a river which holds limitless trout – but that’s probably the extent of my time with Hemingway.

If you are interested in learning what others have to say about Hemingway’s attitudes toward people who were not like him (he was noted also for his anti-Semitism and homophobia), just google his name along with your word of choice – or maybe “xenophobia” would cover all bases.

I’ll be honest – I’m running out of fives right now.  I’m sure my brain will reboot at some point; it seems like the possibilities are nearly limitless. For now though, let’s take a look at five unrelated books with the word “five” in their titles. I only read one of these books.

Five Quarters of the Orange (2001) – written by Anglo-French author Joanne Harris, this title is classified as historical fiction but it feels more like women’s fiction to me.  The protagonist is the daughter of a woman who is infamous for being the cause of a tragedy that took place during the Nazi occupation of France.   Using clues written in her mother’s scrapbook of recipes, Framboise Simon puts the pieces of the past together and arrives at the truth. Honestly, I am unlikely to read this, as it falls into that category of WWII romance/drama/thriller that I avoid. However, its Goodreads rank is just barely shy of four stars – if this is your genre, maybe you will like the book.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003) – Mitch Albom – the only book in this list that I have read.  I was given a copy right after it was published, at my employer’s annual store managers’ conference. The week-long conference was held in Hollywood, FL, just north of Miami, and I finished the book in one evening in my hotel room.  It’s a book that evokes strong emotion, and when I finished I stepped out onto my balcony. My glasses completely fogged up as the tears on my cheeks tried to, but couldn’t, evaporate in muggy air that is a summer evening in Florida.

Five Children and It (1902, never out of print) – E. Nesbitt.  This is the story of, of course, five children, and a sand fairy.  It’s a children’s story, and I tried to read it to my son but he hated it and we stopped. I have no idea what happens.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (1998) – Patrick Lencioni. This sounds terrible. Nothing personal, it might be a great book with valuable insights, but wow – I do not like leadership books one little bit. 

The Five Love Languages (1990) – Gary Chapman. This was a huge hit when it was published as a relationship self-help book.  The theory is that each person has a ‘love language,’ and by learning and speaking your partner’s language you can make them feel valued and loved. This turned into a big franchise with multiple other Love Languages books, and the phrase has become part of our lexicon. “(Blank) is my love language!”

All of these books are on Goodreads; head on over and search on the titles that interest you.

Friends.

Be kind to your neighbors.  Be a force for good.  Promote justice. 

In place of a new survey for this Thursday, I thought I would share some results from the surveys I have posted to date.   

From the first survey, genres are listed from most popular to least popular:

Modern Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, and Memoir (tied)

Classic Literature

Women’s Fiction other than Romance and General Nonfiction (tied)

Science Fiction

Romance

Also of note from this survey: “It would be helpful to engage with other readers regarding their opinions about books (paraphrased).”  Combined with the response to the statement “Bookish in the Mitten is easy to engage with,” which had the lowest agreement percentage of any question on the survey, this could be a main focus of opportunity. Stay tuned.

From other surveys:

Audiobook, paper book, or eBook? Answers favored physical books over eBooks 2 to 1, with no votes for audiobooks. (Number of responses was small.)

What device to you use to access the blog? Cell phones lead with well over half of the respondents, followed by laptop. Tablet took last place.

What are you reading to get through this particular time? Suspense, memoir, and some professional reading.

What would you put in your suitcase when traveling to an cabin in the woods where you would spend a long time?  Only two responses, but The Bible was listed on both responses. Other books included in the responses were Jane Eyre, A Tale of Two Cities, Complete Works of Shakespeare, and a vegetarian cookbook.

Stay tuned for our next survey!

One of Michigan’s best known and most highly commended authors, Christopher Paul Curtis was born and raised in Flint and worked on an assembly line for thirteen years before moving on to other pursuits including college at U of M – Flint. 

Mr. Curtis worked on the line at GM’s Fisher Body Plant #1 for thirteen years; his job, hanging doors on cars, was very physically taxing.  He and his friend worked out a system that allowed each of them to rest for thirty minutes of each hour (instead of alternating cars, each of them would work every car for thirty minutes while the other took a break).  Luckily for his readers, while on those breaks, Curtis wrote.

Curtis now has an impressive body of work in children’s literature, including Bud not Buddy, the story of a young boy who travels on his own from Flint to Grand Rapids during the Depression, and The Watsons Go To Birmingham – 1963,  his debut novel about a Flint family who journeys from Flint to Birmingham, witnessing the bombings in that city first-hand.

Curtis, who as far as I can tell now lives in Windsor, Ontario, has written several other books for children and  can lay claim  to an impressive number of awards and nominations, including at least one Newbery Medal.  His works will likely show up on other posts as I work my way through them.

Please take some time to watch excerpts from an interview with Mr.  Curtis below.  He talks about some of the facts of life unique to the Rust Belt, a region which includes my hometown of Saginaw.  I guarantee that you will want to read his work after you listen to the interview.  There are many resources online; google him to learn more about his interesting life.

Travels With Charley (1962) chronicles John Steinbeck’s road trip from New York to California and back again, with his dog Charley as his travel companion.  

I read Charley about ten years ago, and refreshed my memory by reading the Wikipedia article HERE.  In my reading, I learned that Steinbeck seems to have fabricated many parts of his memoir.  There has been considerable scrutiny of the book, some if within the last ten years, comparing Steinbeck’s personal diaries and letters to events in the memoir, and it was judged by some contemporaries and even by his son to have been embellished or even largely fabricated – although Steinbeck did make a cross-country road trip.

As regular readers know, ever since James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (2003), which I loved, was alleged to be substantially fiction, I have taken memoir with a grain of salt. Frey’s book came out while I was a bookseller, and I personally recommended it to my customers based on my high opinion of the quality of the work and the courage of the author, so the 2006 allegations of forgery impacted me strongly.

I didn’t have as much invested in Charley, obviously. Steinbeck’s book was much less of a personal revelation; essentially it was a travelogue, of the late 1950s / early 1960s – my favorite literary vintage.  Had I read the book as a novel I would have enjoyed it no less, with the exception of one intriguing interlude with takes place near an unnamed lake in Michigan.  I speculated as to which lake Steinbeck would have visited on his pass through our state; he chronicled a conversation with a laconic farmer or fisherman, and I liked to imagine that farmer was one of my bachelor great-uncles who farmed in Alger, Michigan at that time. 

In the end, regardless of the level of poetic license taken by Steinbeck, who was, after all, a writer of fiction, this book is worth your time. Whether they are largely factual or highly romanticized, Steinbeck crafts interesting and engaging portraits of people and places in the United States during the middle of the 20th century. 

I recommend you read this while at a camp site, with a cup of coffee brewed on a camp stove or over a campfire.  

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