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THIRD QUARTER 2020: Suggestions from What I Read

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Super good reads: 5 Stars

52. The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories, by Mark Twain

53. Socrates, by Paul Johnson (NF)

55. The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
56. Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick (NF)
58. The Ugly American, by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick
61. 1776, by David McCullough (NF)
62. Leonardo, by Frank Zöllner (NF)
64. The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver
65. The Rim of the Prairie, by Bess Streeter Aldrich
66. Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
67. The Sixteen Pleasures, by Robert Hellenga
68. Monet, by Christoph Heinrich
69. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
76. Lord Peter Views the Body, by Dorothy Sayers

Also very good: 4 stars
52. The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories, by Mark Twain
54. Echo Burning, by Lee Child
57. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
70. The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
73. Love Among the Ruins, by Robert Clark
79. Inferno, by Dan Brown

Selected Notes:

52. The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories, by Mark Twain
The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories includes “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” (the story that launched Twain’s career) and several other short stories such as “The 1,000,000 Bank-Note,” “The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg” and “Was It Heaven? Or Hell?” This latter one explored the folly of

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Mr. White’s Confession

After reading, Love Among the Ruins, I decided to try another of Robert Clark’s novels, this time Mr. White’s Confession. Now, having read two of his novels, I probably won’t read more until I’ve been in such a happy, joyous state of mind and until our culture has become a magical and wondrous state of Arcadian optimism and civil cooperation, that my therapist tells me that I need a reality check; some-one who can dampen my enthusiasm and remind me of the dark days in which evil happens, killers are not apprehended and law enforcement is corrupt. Then, I will pick up Clark again. I enjoyed this novel immensely — at first. The premise is interesting. There are some bad guys (crooked cops), and there is a protagonist whom I’m sure will be proven innocent. So, I’m confident the killer of two beautiful models and aspiring actresses will be caught, that the eccentric Mr. White will be exonerated and that good will triumph over evil. Then, as the book moved into the second half, I got the feeling that this would not happen, that Clark would need to remind us of what we already know: that the world is a manifestly dark place where corruption exists, where good does not always win out and where hopes and dreams often crumble to dust under the weight of bad luck or bad choices.

3 stars

Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis

Since I had come to a new section of The Last Lion by William Manchester, I interrupted my reading of it to read a murder mystery by Cara Black, Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis. This book is about the fifth or sixth book in a series featuring Aimée Leduc, a private detective in Paris. In this story, a baby is left in her care, a woman pleads for help, a couple of people are murdered and it’s tied to an eco-group trying to stop the signing of an accord between the government and an oil company that would pollute the North Sea. The group is set up, and there are bombings, dark operatives, corrupt CEOs, a blond killer, book-sellers, Polish aristocrats, hit men, and a homeless woman who talks to her long-lost daughter, Paulette, who was put on a train for Auschwitz in 1942. In fact, there are a lot of characters, including her business partner, a dwarf, René. The whole thing was dense, with the specific gravity of lead, and fast — careening toward a conclusion, difficult to see signposts along the way since the reader is suffering from whiplash. This is one case in which the movie will no doubt be better than the book.

2 stars. Find this review and all my reviews on Goodreads.

Black and Blue

Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen

I read One True Thing a number of years ago and just came across this book which somehow found its way into my library. The theme is domestic violence. Oprah selected it as a book of the month or something in 1999. Fran, after years of abuse, takes her 10-year old son, and flees to Florida where she has a new name, new job and a new life. The plot is not complicated: She cannot let her husband, a cop, know where she is. She finds a new friend and there’s a love interest. But of course Fran (now Beth) does stupid things, like calling her sister and getting herself in the newspapers and on TV when she came to the aid of an accident victim (she’s a nurse).

None of this is imaginative, and rather predictable. Spoiler alert: The ending, indeed the book itself, is not taut with fright as say, the narrative in Sleeping with the Enemy. In fact, it’s relatively tame. Her abuser is not brought to justice and gets the kid. So the book is depressing, joyless — which may be the point. Quindlen inflicts on the reader the abuse she describes: We may not be black, but at the end, we’re definitely blue.

3 stars. Find this review and more of my reviews on Goodreads.


The Sixteen Pleasures

Enjoyed this novel very much, although the ending could have been more decisive than it was, but I was satisfied. Was not able to predict some of the turns and developments. Not formulaic in any way. The story involves a young woman signing on to help restore books in Florence after a devastating flood. She comes across a rare book of erotic poems and drawings, and it’s got to be worth a fortune. The volume, found in a convent, just might save the convent and its library from an overreaching bishop. Along the way, the author treats us to a lot of art history, and the heroine becomes a figure in the art of her own life including several romances. Those who enjoy art lit books such as Artemisia by Alexandra Lapierre, The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Falling Angels and The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, will enjoy this. Sadly, Robert Hellenga died only last month (July 2020). I would like to read another of his novels.

Keep on Shoulding

Halo Top Creamery got its start in 2012 when former attorney, Justin Woolverton decided that he needed to find a lower calorie alternative to traditional ice cream. Another attorney, Doug Boulton joined him in the quest.

Today, Halo Top lite ice cream is sold in pints around the world. According to Wikipedia, “In July 2017, [it] became the best-selling ice cream pint at grocery stores in the United States, surpassing in popularity the Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs brands, which previously held that distinction for years.”

One of their TV adverts features a plus-size gal dancing in a way that leaves no one misunderstanding: This girl is a large. No problem with that. Far from it. In fact, the text that accompanies her dancing goes like this:

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Socrates and Jesus

In the 1966 spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Clint Eastwood as Blondie (or, The Man with No Name), says to Tuco, played by Eli Wallach: “In this world there’s two kinds of people: Those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”

It’s a common trope: “There’s two kinds of people in the world: Those who — and you can fill in the rest. For example:

  • Those who are PC; and those who are MAC.
  • Those who give; and those who take.
  • Those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world; and those who don’t.
  • Those who wear masks in public; and those who don’t.
  • Those who hate Trump; and those who love him.
  • Those from red states and those from blue states.
  • Those whose minds are set like a Home Depot post in Quikrete cement; and —

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Second Quarter 2020: Suggestions from What I Read

Super good reads: 5 stars!

25. Lily White, by Susan Isaacs

28. The General’s Labyrinth, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

31. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair

32. Laughing Boy, by Oliver la Farge

35. Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler

36. Too Late the Phalarope, by Alan Paton

44. Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain

46. Killing Floor, by Lee Child

Loved these books, too: 4 stars

27. Woman in the Window, by A.J. Finn

30. Memories of the Ford Administration, by John Updike

33. How to Make an American Quilt, by Whitney Otto

40. When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro

45. Breath, Eyes, Memories, by Edwidge Danticat

47. The Third Man / Fallen Idol, by Graham Greene


Thoughts about some of the books I read Second Quarter 2020

28. The General’s Labyrinth, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

I give it a reluctant 5 stars. It’s called a novel, but it doesn’t read like one. Not a page turner by any means. It reads like biography, and in this case the biography of the last days in the life of Simón Bolivar, El Liberator. Márquez narrates a story of Bolivar’s 7-month journey down the great river Magdalena from Bogota to

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Break Wind, Ladies and Gentlemen!

I begin with an apology for the metaphor below. Being doubtful, I talked to my wife Jeanie about it and she advised against it. “What are you?” she said. “In middle school?”

“Well, no …”

So against her better judgment, here is today’s story and morality lesson.

We’ve noticed Canadian geese migrating north for a couple of weeks here on the Oregon coast. We can hear them honking and when we look to the sky, we can see them in their famous V-shaped flight formation, winging their way to British Colombia.

This reminded me of when a visiting clergyman preached at my first little church in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, a small town on the Mississippi just north of the Twin Cities. He was a Swedish Lutheran from Skeppsholmen not far from Stockholm. He was visiting a friend who happened to be a member of the congregation, and one thing led to another and here he was preaching on a Sunday morning in the spring of 1968.

He had worked hard on his sermon, and had an adequate command of English having studied since his days in grammar school in Sweden. His Sunday morning topic was “Helping One Another,” and he used as his illustration the manner in which geese fly in formation — he had seen them himself since his arrival on their way to Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

Unfortunately, and not too surprisingly, he had not mastered the strange and wonderful American idiom for — well, shall we say, flatulence.

He referred continually to the way birds “break wind” for one another. The congregation maintained its decorum by sheer dint of determination. After all, he was a guest, and came from afar and of course the message was one that everyone could take to heart.

We should all help others in whatever way we can. We should fly out ahead of them to make their “flight” easier in the way Canadian geese do when migrating to the south or making a return trip north.

In fact, sometimes we feel as though we can’t do anything. We don’t have the money or the energy. Perhaps our health is not what it used to be. We may have limited time, making long-term commitments inadvisable. How can we help anyone?

There are many possibilities, but it’s quite simple. Be considerate and as cheerful as possible, because this helps others and ourselves as well. And pray for others. This, too, helps others and ourselves. We don’t need money or a lot of vim and vigor to tap the power of prayer.

Break wind for someone today, ladies and gentlemen.

Could the Holy Spirit Be Dangerous?

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-23

[This is the Gospel reading for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020]

The early Celtic Christians called the Holy Spirit ‘the wild goose.’ And the reason why is they knew that you cannot tame him ― John Elderidge

[2.5 minute read]

Nadia BolzWeber is an ordained Lutheran Pastor, founder of House for All Sinners & Saints in Denver, and something of a public theologian. She tells about a Holy Spirit moment at All Sinners a few years ago. “A local Lutheran church gifted House for All Sinners and Saints a full set of used paraments. My church is like every other church’s little sister, so we get a lot of hand-me-downs. As a group of us went through these beautiful altar cloths, we came finally to the red set and found one with an image of a descending dove with completely crazy eyes and claws that looked like talons. Yep. It was as though the Holy Spirit was a raptor.

“ʻMan,’ someone said. ‘We can’t use this one. It makes the Holy Spirit look dangerous.’”

Well … immediately when the Holy Spirit began to move at Pentecost, people start to believe in Jesus. And miracles happened. And then Stephen was murdered. Others were imprisoned. Paul and Silas were flogged and thrown into jail. Others were arrested. Eventually, most of the apostles died due to unnatural causes.

So, yeah, the Holy Spirit would seem to be dangerous. Following the guidance of the Spirit might make us uncomfortable.

Yet, the Holy Spirit is much more. One of the Greek words used to identify the Holy Spirit is παράκλητος (paracletos). It is a compound word bringing together “para” and “kalein.” These two parts mean “beside” and “to call.”

The Holy Spirit is one who is called to “come alongside” of us and to be this guiding presence at all times.

The word is rich in its meaning with subtle variations and nuances. This is why παράκλητος is sometimes translated Comforter (alongside to provide courage, empathy, support); Advocate (alongside to represent and advocate for us); Counsellor (alongside to provide wisdom and knowledge) and Helper (alongside to provide assistance).

In any case, as we observe Pentecost Sunday, let us be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. To live out our mission, we must turn to God through the Holy Spirit for our wisdom and strength.                                                                                                                                                                                                        —Timothy Merrill


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