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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:

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 —

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

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


Albert Camus and the Corona Virus — Final Post (6)

[6-7 minute read]

To say that The Plague is a novel about revolt is not, of course, to say that the concept of the absurd is not overlooked. Tarrou, after dies, and the reader does not want Tarrou to die, and in this, Camus fails to keep the reader at a distance from the characters he’s created. It would have been more reasonable somehow, more predictable, more satisfying if Joseph Grand had died instead of Jean Tarrou. It is not fair that Tarrou dies, and as in all calamities and natural disasters, nothing is fair — and we’re better off recognizing that from the start. Fairness has nothing to do with anything.

So how should one behave in an unfair universe? This is the question of The Plague. How to we live now that COVID-19 has upended — permanently — our lives. We still don’t know what the new normal is going to look like. But it’s clear we are not returning to the “normal.”

Albert Camus and the Corona Virus — Part 5

[6 minute read]

In his novel, The Plague, Albert Camus allows the characters to illustrate the revolt motif he has in mind. We have already considered the townspeople as a whole, Cottard, Joseph Grand and Pere Paneloux. Now let’s turn to Dr. Bernard Rieux and Jean Tarrou.

 Dr. Rieux, the central character and narrator of the book, did not share the theological concerns of Father Paneloux. He was interested, not in heroism or holiness, but in discovering how to be a man.

Albert Camus and the Corona Virus — Part 4

In his novel, The Plague, Albert Camus allows the characters to illustrate the revolt motif he has in mind. We have already considered the townspeople as a whole, Cottard and Joseph Grand. Now let’s look at Father Paneloux.

Father Paneloux is a north-African priest, and as such, is a modern reflection or clone of the other north-African theologian whom we know as the bishop of Hippo, Augustine. As the sack of Rome was to Augustine, the plague is to Paneloux.

Pere Paneloux meets the issue of the plague head-on in a widely publicized sermon. In true Augustinian fashion, he thunders from the cathedra in the basilica at Oran, “Calamity has come upon you, my brethren and sisters, and my brothers and sisters, you deserved it.”

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Copyright 2021 Timothy Merrill