Bookish in the Mitten

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

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.  

I am now reviewing books for Reedsy Discovery, a UK-based platform that brings together authors, editors, reviewers, and readers of self-published titles. I’m sure I’ll post more about that later, but to celebrate this new adventure, which I hope will enhance the blog, I am sharing five five-star self-published books from their web site.  Disclaimer: I have not read these books; I am sharing them based on their rating and the number of up-votes they have received.  I am not including individual links for each book; you can search for them at http://www.reedsy.com/discovery or visit Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes & Noble online to search for them.

  • Time Rep – Peter Ward – Sci-Fi. Protagonist is recruited to be a tour guide to time travelers, his main qualification being that he is so insignificant that hanging out with him will not change the future in any way.  25 upvotes.
  • Hardened to Hickory: The Missing Chapter in Andrew Jackson’s Life – Tony Turnbow. History.  Read about a little-known chapter in the life of our 7th President. 10 upvotes.  
  • Every Grain of Sand –David Wichman. Explicit. Memoir (LBGTI2). Author describes himself as an author, speaker, sexual healer, and entrepreneur. This is his story. 85 upvotes.
  • Dakota Black or “The Dragon” – Nathaniel Matthews – Magical realism takes a stab at a retelling of Moby Dick.  Bonus: the author lives in Michigan. 34 Up-votes.
  • The Baba Nyonya Paranakans – Alex Wong.  Part history, part memoir, part cookbook.  56 Upvotes.

Be well friends!

Ernest Hemingway.  I knew he had spent some time in Michigan – a good amount of time. What I did not know is that a lot of his Nick Adams short stories take place in northern Michigan.  I’m a little embarrassed by that knowledge gap.

Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, but his family bought land on Walloon Lake, near Petoskey, and built a cottage now known as either the Ernest Hemingway Cottage or Windemere.  As recently as 2015 it was still in the family, owned by Hemingway’s nephew.  There is so much material out there on Hemingway – provided by himself, his contemporaries, and his biographers – that I won’t say much; his thoughts and material are very accessible and I don’t want to deprive any of you of the pleasure of discovering them on your own; the simplest google search will turn up tons of stuff.

I remember drawing a line from Hemingway’s name to “The Nick Adams Stories” in a matching quiz in high school – but I have no memory of the Michigan connection.  I’m sure our American Literature teacher didn’t neglect to tell us, and I am also 100% sure I would not have cared one little bit at sixteen.

Now I’m not sixteen, and I’m interested.  Be prepared to see Hemingway and Nick Adams in a Sunday Classic coming soon. 

Betty Smith’s story of Francie Nolan’s growing-up years is the story of Francie’s mother Katie, her father Johnny, her brother Neely, and her aunts, uncles, and neighbors – but it’s also the story of Brooklyn in the early 1900’s as seen through the eyes of a child, a teen, and finally a young adult. Like the other characters, the city is gritty and hard-edged, but still well-loved.

Francie is eleven when first introduced, and is old enough for college at the story’s close.  Brooklyn is semi-autobiographical, and perhaps this explains author Betty Smith’s knack for drawing the reader into the story. I was pulled in so deeply that I forgot my own presence; there was only the story.  This doesn’t happen with every book I read, but it’s always the goal.

Brooklyn was shipped to US Troops in World War II in an Armed Services edition, meeting with wild success. It was the basis of movies in 1945 and the early 1970s, a musical, and even a comic strip.  Smith has written several other books; you can find links to most of them HERE.

In the 1945 movie adaptation, Dorothy McGuire plays Katie Nolan. I saw this film many years ago. McGuire happened to resemble my maternal great grandmother; Katie Nolan and my great grandma share similar personality traits as well, which endeared Katie to me. Grandma Elsie and Katie Nolan would have been contemporaries, had Katie been a physically real person; alas, neither would have had met the other because they would have been too busy keeping households afloat. But that’s neither here nor there.

I recommend reading this book with coffee or tea at hand. If you can manage, try sitting on a fire escape or a balcony, and pay attention to the sounds of the city around you as you read.

I seldom have luck finding a great book just by browsing the shelves at the bookstore; I tend to look past the current New York Times Bestsellers display as I search for authors and titles that have quietly stood the test of time. At the library, if I am not looking for an author or title I have already selected, I wander aimlessly. So many books!

Since you are reading this blog, I suspect you might agree. Here are five suggestions to find a book that will be a lasting favorite.  

  • Create an account on www.goodreads.com, if you haven’t already done so. Then search for your favorite genre – or search for Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize, or National Book Award winners and nominees. You can also find friends and see what they recommend or even just get ideas from their reading lists. (Look for me if you want; I will accept your friend request.)
  • Visit your library’s web site and view online resources. Sign up for their newsletter so recommendations will come right to your mailbox.
  • Join a book group, whether it’s virtual or in person. You can find groups through your library, Meetup (www.meetup.com), or your local bookstore.
  • Visit www.schulerbooks.com. Their home page includes new releases, staff recommendations, and preorders.
  • Read my older posts and visit all the pages on this blog.  You can also email me (mittenbookish@gmail.com) or submit a comment if you have a specific request; I will respond to all legitimate requests.

Stay well friends!

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