Monthly Archives: May 2018

‘Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance’ by Barack Obama

An interesting and unsentimental portrait of a man who was the first black president of the United States. I think we all remember the hope we felt at that time, now somewhat dampened by recent events. It was fascinating to learn about his childhood and what made him as a man and prepared him for leadership. He is a gifted speaker and this book shows that he is a reflective and highly esteemed writer as well. The book is enlivened by a narrative structure with dialogue and conversation.

A devoted father, husband and family man, even though his father was largely absent in his life, Obama received nurture and love from his mother, his grandparents and his Kenyan relatives. His community work in Chicago introduced him to many important issues and caused him to be fair-minded in his approach to politics. I ‘read’ the audio book version which is narrated by Obama himself! He even does fun accents for his Kenyan cousins. Audio books have never been my favourite for fiction because if I miss something it’s hard to stop and go back, but I realized that listening to non-fiction is really quite nice!

‘Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic’ by Alison Bechdel

This is the second graphic novel memoir I have read in the last year and I found it every bit as captivating as the first one by Roz Chast–she did a great job of tackling the topic of the difficult task of caring for aging parents in Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? I love the tragicomic approach which uses humour in cartoon to broach a sensitive and poignant topic with honesty and sensitivity. The same is true for this one by Alison Bechdel.

Fun Home is a coming-of-age story that talks about the cartoonist’s memories of her closeted gay father and the fraught relationship she had with him, and her own coming out story. It is raw, and real and explicit, but deeply personal, giving insight into a troubled family during a time when being openly gay was not acceptable, leading to some tragic and difficult circumstances. Her father died at a young age in a mysterious accident. The author says, “And in a way, you could say that my father’s end was my beginning, or more precisely, that the end of his lie concluded with the beginning of my truth.” The family’s business is a funeral home (thus the title), and themes of death and dying are frequent. The writing is quite intellectual at times, with multiple allusions to literary works. Bechdel later traced her mother’s relationship in Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama.

Fun Home has been adapted to a stage musical, which actually just finished in Toronto and had rave reviews. The Guardian has a great article about the musical and the author’s reaction to it.

‘Whistle in the Dark’ by Emma Healey

Lana and her mother Jen are vacationing in the Peak District, when Lana suddenly goes missing for four days. She is found alive, albeit bruised and bleeding, but won’t talk about what happened to her except to say, “I don’t remember.” The author, in this book and in her earlier debut novel Elizabeth is Missing, explores how relationships between mothers and daughters can be affected by mental illness. The novel has a great premise and explores a good concept, but for me it did not deliver.

I found it a slow burner bordering on boring and not nearly as insightful or intriguing as Elizabeth is Missing. That one was one of my all time favourites actually, because it was suspenseful, clever, engaging, and compassionate. I continued reading only because I was thinking that at some point it would grip me after all, and even though the last ten pages were riveting and came close to what I had expected from this author, it was too late.

‘The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-discovery ‘ by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile


The enneagram (any-a-gram) is an ancient tool for understanding human psyche through nine personality types. How we view ourselves, how we interact with others, and what our default tendencies are, can be instructive and hugely interesting. The way you discover your type is simply by reading descriptions of the nine types and discerning which comes closest to capturing you. Of course everyone is a unique version of one of the types and, unlike other personality tests, the discovery process itself is a journey.

There are a lot of resources out there on the enneagram. Someone I trust recommended this one, and it was an excellent place to start because the book is simple, clear and engaging. The authors do a good job of introducing the enneagram and I appreciate their perspective on its use. Self-awareness is a positive thing. I know I will be referring back to this book in future, and it has given me an excellent background. I was delighted to discover that Stabile has another book coming out soon about enneagram in relationships (The Path Between Us), and the authors have a  podcast: The Road Back to You Podcast

Though knowing your type and those of others can be helpful in a relationship like marriage or with colleagues in the workplace, it’s not something you can figure out for someone else.This is not a spectator sport! You can wonder and speculate for someone who hasn’t undergone the process, and even that may be revealing for you, but you can’t say, “oh you are such a three” or “stop being such an eight” or “I know exactly what number you are.” That’s not how it works. This is a personal journey.  Just like in The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia), Aslan says, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

‘The Cruellest Month’ by Louise Penny (Inspector Gamache, Three Pines Mystery #3)

Well, folks, we’ve just made it through the cruellest month, safely into May…yes, the cruel one is April, because anything can happen weather-wise, and sweet young plants that have just bravely burst through the soil often get snuffed out. In Three Pines it’s in any month, really that people get snuffed out, and regularly are. In this one someone dies of fright at a séance at the Old Hadley House! As always, Penny delivers a cozy, comfy, and cruel tale in this third instalment, and I think the series is getting better as it goes along.

Louise Penny is a literary mystery writer, although I don’t know what I exactly mean by that–some mysteries are fun but just not that well written, while others seem to be a cut above. I guess it’s because her turn of phrase is beautiful, the book is not merely plot driven, and there is some existential wisdom to be learned along the way. Gamache continues to be his same elegant, kind, and unflappable self, especially in this one because he himself is under attack. There is a cruel undercover plan to discredit and unseat him from the Surété du Québec so he will have to face some of his own ghosts as well.

‘How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem’ by Rod Dreher

This book demonstrates a wonderful thing in reading: how the right book can fall into your hands at the right time.

Rod Dreher is the New York Times bestselling author of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which I read not long ago. It was a sweet tribute to his sister who sadly died of cancer at an early age. Writing that book coincided with a return to his hometown, but that was not to be a happy ending to the story. Dresser spiralled into a depression that caused him to be completely out of sync with his family, his faith, and his health. Help came from an unexpected source: Dante’s Inferno. It was ‘divine timing’ with the Divine Comedy.

In a highly readable memoir, Dreher describes his journey back to health and restored relationship, especially with his father, in this companion volume to Ruthie Leming. If you have read one, you really ought to read the other.

No better words can describe the perspective in this book than with this quote from the author himself:
“This book is for believers who struggle to hold on to their faith when religious institutions have lost credibility. It’s a book for people who have lost faith in love, in other people, in the family, in politics, in their careers, and in the possibility of worldly success. Dante has been there too. He gets it. This is a book about sin, but not sin in the clichéd, pop-culture sense of rule breaking and naughtiness. In Dante, sin is the kind of thing that keeps us from flourishing and living up  to our fullest potential, and it’s also the kind of thing that savages marriages, turns neighbor against neighbor, destroys families, and ruins lives. And sin is not, at heart, a violation of a legalistic code, but rather a distortion of love. In Dante, sinners–and we are all sinners–are those who love the wrong things, or who love the right things in the wrong way. I had never thought about sin like that. This concept unlocked the door to a prison in which I had been living all my life. The cell opened from the inside, but I had not been able to see it.”

‘Press Here’ by Hervé Tullet

 

Following instructions becomes a delight in this ingenious picture book for young children. Brilliant! (3-5 years)

I love the simplicity and interactivity of this book. Who needs an iPad? Press Here is not quite a board book, but the pages are extra strong and thick. What a playful and fun adventure to embark on together with a child in your life!

‘The Shoe on the Roof’ by Will Ferguson

“Trying to explain human emotions and ideas by referring to their molecular foundations is like trying to explain a cathedral by holding up a brick.”

Canadian author Will Ferguson will be best known for his Giller Prize winner 419, a story of internet scams out of Nigeria, a book which I never read, but did get my husband to write a Guest Post about.

The Shoe on the Roof is Ferguson’s latest novel and it has a unique premise. Thomas Rosanoff grew up world renowned as “The Boy in the Box.” His father conducted experiments on Thomas and wrote a leading book on child development. Now Thomas is himself in medical school, and embarking on research of his own. There are three homeless men who all claim to be Jesus. For reasons that will soon become clear when you read the book, Thomas decides to bring them home and study them, and possibly also cure them from their delusions. Of course the whole caper soon falls apart and points to more sinister events at play. I loved the humour in this book, but the story was just ok for me and not as well crafted or suspenseful as I’d expected.

There are however, many interesting explorations of how faith and spirituality mesh with neuroscience in this novel. For example, one of the main characters is talking about a certain type of brain scan and says, “if I hook you up while you’re praying, the neuro-chemical pathways will light up like a map of God!” Another character is talking about finding empathy, reason, etc. in certain locations in the brain, but love? “Love is hard to locate in one particular area. It’s a bit of a mystery really.” 🙂

https://globalnews.ca/video/embed/3810709/