Category Archives: Non-Fiction

‘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.”

‘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.”

‘Why Young Men: Rage, Race and the Crisis of Identity’ by Jamil Jivani

This is an important book about the hopelessness that many young men in Canada feel when they grow up with absent fathers, suffer from racial profiling and aggressive policing, and find themselves in a crisis of distrust. When young men are hassled by police and marginalized in society because of the way they look, it affects their self-esteem and makes it very hard for them to find healthy affirmation and be able to point their life in the right direction. They become vulnerable to destructive ideas. When we wonder why young men fail to thrive at best and become radicalized at worst, it helps to have someone tell his own story and we should listen to it. Jivani almost bought a gun when he was a teen. He went home and cried, because he realized his life was headed in the wrong direction. He did not buy the gun, turned his life around, and ended up at Yale.

Jamil Jivani went to Brussels to study a community called Molenbeek, where the Paris bombers originated from. While he was there, the Brussels airport was bombed as well. He went to find out why this kind of place seems to breed some terrorists, but he mostly focused on how many, many more are living there, feeling misrepresented and lumped into the same category, making it even harder for them to participate well in society.

Jivani was recently diagnosed with a serious cancer which has made the achievement of writing this book even more meaningful but he is not without hope for a path to a better future, for himself and for society’s understanding of “why young men.”

Link to The Star article called: He wrote a book about the life choices that young men face. Then he got diagnosed with cancer.

‘Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things’ by Jenny Lawson

“When we share our struggles we let others know it’s okay to share theirs. And suddenly we realize that the things we were ashamed of are the same things everyone deals with at one time or another. We are so much less alone than we think.”

Jenny Lawson, author of a famous blog called, The Bloggess, writes with flagrant humour about mental illness. She herself suffers from a few things: rheumatoid arthritis, depression, anxiety, phobias, insomnia, panic attacks, self-injury, avoidant personality disorder, autoimmune disease, and mild OCD. Yikes! Her work is undoubtedly fearless and honest, whether you find it laugh-out-loud funny or annoyingly irreverent. When she portrays herself as weird and unbalanced, she gives anyone else permission to be weird and unbalanced too (and certainly not as bad as she is), thereby busting the stigma of mental illness.

As you skip through the lightheartedness of this memoir, you do come up against the terror and tragedy that mental illness can bring, and her voice is clear and helpful. Lawson says, “I’ve been there. I’m broken too. I hear you. You are enough. Live your life as best you can, while striving to be furiously happy. Do what you can but don’t settle for less.” When she goes on speaking tours, Lawson’s audiences burst the venues–clearly she is hitting a nerve.

Lawson’s reference to Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory* towards the end of the book, was particularly helpful–we all have a limited number of spoons that we start each day with. Some of us have more than others. Just being aware can make a big difference.

*The spoon theory is a disability metaphor and neologism used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. … A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished.


‘The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World’ by Christina Crook

“My focus is less on setting limits than it is on creating the positive conditions in which technology becomes less compelling and different kinds of engagements thrive and flourish.”
Albert Borgmann

So we all know about FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but what about JOMO? Is it possible in today’s digital world to reach a point where we find enough balance and perspective to actually find joy in being less than 3 meters from our smartphones? especially for young people who have never known a world without one? How do we maintain a health relationship with technology for ourselves and our children? How do we teach our kids that technology is a privilege, not a right?

This is a thoughtful book that draws on collective wisdom about human development and interaction and uses that as the starting point. Even though communication has improved with technology, we are all too aware of how all-consuming our devices can be and how advertisers and software developers exploit us and want us to become hooked. It’s not that screens are inherently bad–they are an amazing tool.  It’s just that we may have lost our perspective in keeping them in their place. We need to control them, not be controlled by them.

The focus needs to be on humanity. If technology enhances our human connection, that is good. But if it replaces or hampers it, or alienates us from others, then we need to think again and perhaps take a step back. Crook actually starkly points out on a timeline how technological advances and cases of anxiety and depression have marched ahead together hand in hand over the years. Ironically instead of technology saving us time for other things, we seem lost in a maze of ‘never enough time’ and being anxious about it to boot!

The big push of our age is to consume. More information, more products, more communication. How then do we push back? To slow down, be present, and draw closer. The author does a great job of stressing the importance of face-to-face communication, physical activity, and hands-on creativity.  I was happy to find no preaching in this book, just a reasoned discussion of the issues and suggestions for a healthy balanced perspective. Finding balance is important in so many areas of our lives, this is an excellent contribution to that goal!

‘Precious Cargo’ by Craig Davidson

With tickets already secured for the second day of Canada Reads 2018, I want to try to read as many books on the short-list as possible before March! This year’s theme is: One Book to Open Eyes.

Precious Cargo is a memoir of a young man’s temporary job as a bus driver for special needs kids. Davidson’s book is inspirational and funny. He is honest about his initial fear at spending so much time with a bus full of students with so many physical and emotional challenges, and admits he took the job just because he needed the money. But Davidson’s journey ended up being much more significant than the drive to school and back. Those kids taught him about ‘self-acceptance’, a lesson he needed to learn to have the courage to be a writer after all.

I applaud this story because our society needs to support those who have special needs and not to stigmatize them.  So many amazing people and their families achieve great things against the odds despite a special need of some kind. And yet those kids want to be treated just like any other kid.

Although I appreciated Davidson’s journey and commend his compassionate approach to his job and the entertaining way he tells us about his year on the bus, what I did find disappointing was not hearing from the kids themselves. It was a story about them, not from them. So even though I struggled a bit with the book being more Davidson’s journey than the kids’ journey, I’m glad those with special needs will have a voice at the Canada Reads 2018 table. Let Canada’s eyes be opened to this very important topic and our behaviour as a society. Let acceptance and support be what opens our eyes!

‘Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration’ by Ed Catmull

Need a Christmas gift for the ‘business/leadership’ person in your life? I really enjoyed this memoir by the head of Pixar Animation Studios. Catmull’s personal story is engaging and well written. It is full of great advice about how creativity and excellence can be fostered in the workplace. As head of Pixar (later bought out by Disney Studios), Catmull was a good friend and partner of Steve Jobs and other great talents in computer technology. He had an intuitive sense about how to give storytellers and filmmakers the freedom to develop ideas and make mistakes, and how to get these diverse people to work together, thereby arriving at the creative culture that brought us great films like Ratatouille, Up, Toy StoryFinding Nemo, and many more.

Even though there are lots of background reveals about the makings of these much admired animated films in the book, the focus is primarily on how the business evolved. There are amazing insights and sound advice along the way for leaders in any business or industry, who are interested in being intentional about managing innovation.