Monday, May 31, 2021

First Lines: April 2021 edition


Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in April 2021. 



Book 1

Thinking with Jimmy

I arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, on a hot Saturday morning the day after leaving Newark, New Jersey.  This was the beginning of my stay at Heidelberg University as the 2018 recipient of the James W.C. Pennington Award.  


Book 2

Biblical commentaries by their nature tend to concentrate on the meaning and significance of individual sections.  However, it is important that we also see what are essentially close-up or limited-range pictures in their wider context.

Along with

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.


Book 3

The first time our father brought Andrea to the Dutch House, Sandy, our housekeeper came to my sister’s room and told us to come downstairs. “Your father has a friend he wants you to meet,” she said.


Book 4

Part One: 1939

Chapter I : February 22nd

The moment that Miss Morrison woke up she felt that something pleasant was going to happen to-day.


Book 5

“Why can’t we have nice things?”

Perhaps there’s been a time when you’ve pondered exactly this question.  And by nice things, you weren’t thinking about hovercraft or laundry that does itself.  You were thinking about more basic aspects of a high-functioning society, like adequately funded schools or reliable infrastructure, wages that keep workers out of poverty or a public health system to handle pandemics.


Book 6

Lacey used to have these Black history checks. Each check had a different Black hero on it. MLK, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass. So Lacey was at a store chatting with the cashier and they’re having fun. After she’s all rung up, Lacey handed the young white cashier a check with a picture of Harriet Tubman on it and the cashier said, “Wow! You have checks with your picture on ’em?” 


The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1


Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.  © 2020.   272 pages.

Glaude offers us an overview of Baldwin’s evolving outlook on humanity, and Glaude’s own deep insights.  I recommend this book.


Book 2

I finished the 1 Samuel part of  1 & 2 Samuel (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series) by Mary J. Evans  © 2000.

Alongside, I read the biblical book of 1 Samuel, probably first written in the period 630–540 BCE, about events and people ~500-600 years before that.

King Saul is a tragic figure.  God decides that government under the “judges” system is unworkable, but also is not enthusiastically for the inherited monarchy form of government.  King Saul gets caught in the middle of it all. Democracy is not mentioned.


Book 3

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett.  © 2019.  337 pages.  Whip-smart kids in financially rich but spiritually poor family circumstances.  Good writing, and very interesting portrayal of sibling relationship. Read for book club.



Book 4

 Nothing to Report, by Carola Oman.  © 1940.  222 pages

This is on a list of books that the publisher has labeled “Furrowed Middlebrow” books.  I liked this one a little less than the first Furrowed Middlebrow book I read. 

A couple quotes I like:

At Willows, Westbury-on-the-Green, for instance, it was absolutely impossible to say or do anything in the parlour that was not thrillingly audible in the bedroom exactly above.

“I have told Rose that there will be a chauffer for dinner,” she ended, frowning slightly at the cannibalistic sound of her sentence.


Book 5

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGhee.  © 2021.  395 pages.  A revealing book.  All of us incur a cost from racism.



Book 6

You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism, by Amber Ruffin, Lacey Lamar © 2021.  240 pages. A comedian and her sister write about racist incidents they have experienced.  When learning about racism, many tend to focus on the truly horrific events that result in killings or beatings.  This book shows us the everyday occurrences of racism in our society.

Not finished

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (© 2019.  352 pages).   Read for book club.  Did not finish.  But did get 50% of the way through.  This is a horror novel, not a genre I can usually read even in the best of times.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Committed to Cake

My mother was a woman of commitment.  When she married my father in December 1955, she promised her life to him (and he to hers) and they lived out that commitment.  Together with my Dad she committed to work in the civil rights movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  She committed to do her best to raise her family.  She committed to be the best teacher she could, and fulfilled that commitment by teaching science and by pushing for education for gifted students in the city public schools.  She lengthened her commitment by teaching thinking skills to new teachers.  

One of the things she was committed to was home baking.  She did not insist on special ingredients - no expensive butter nor particular type of flour for her.  But don’t you dare bring a manufactured pie crust or store-bought cake into her presence.    

Mom was famous for her pound cake.  It was actually Joyce Hatch’s Pound Cake, since Mom got the recipe from the pastor’s wife when we lived in Columbus, Mississippi for a year.  Thank you, Joyce Hatch, for giving our family the enduring tradition of this cake. 

When I decided yesterday to recreate her pound cake, I found out just what level of commitment is required - this cake takes 1 ½ hours baking time, and that’s not including the mixing of the ingredients.  I cancelled my plans for the morning.

It also requires a heavy investment of sugar.  After Mom’s online funeral, we the family distributed some of her recipes to those who attended.  One person said there must be a typo in the pound cake recipe - does it really call for 3 cups of sugar?!  

I was astonished that it calls for 1 tablespoon of vanilla.  My husband likes vanilla everything, so he is pleased with this discovery.  

My father called it “Joyce Hatch’s ½ pound cake,” because the recipe calls for only half a pound of butter (two sticks).  Let’s not neglect the 1 cup of sour cream, 6 eggs, and 3 cups of flour that also contribute to its heft.  When it’s all put together, I think it weighs 3 or 4 pounds.  It is a substantial cake, a cake of commitment.  

My Mom’s recipe is missing a key detail, which the baker is just automatically supposed to know - bake this cake in a tube pan, buttered and floured.

Mom’s birthday was last Friday; she would have been 89 years old.  

Mom, I made your signature cake in your memory.  I miss you.  Thank you for being a woman of commitment.

Joyce Hatch’s Pound Cake 


½ pound butter                 

3 cups sugar                              

6 eggs

1 Tablespoon vanilla

3 cups flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sour cream


Cream butter and sugar well.  Add eggs, one at a time. Alternate dry ingredients and sour cream.  Bake 1 ½ hours at 325 degrees.

Only 8 ingredients!

1.5 hours later, the cake is done.

Delicious with fresh fruit, or 
juicy strawberries (like
for shortcake) or with ice cream

And we turned it into emergency cake!
16 slices being stored in a 
freezer in an undisclosed location.

Friday, May 21, 2021

History of These United States, the month of May

Selections from the Equal Justice Initiative History of Racial Injustice calendar.  I’ve chosen historical items from after 1900. 

From the month of May

May 7, 1955

In Belzoni, Mississippi NAACP member Rev. George Lee is fatally shot after angering local white people by attempting to register to vote.

May 8, 2009

Members of the Ku Klux Klan burn a cross in an African American neighborhood in Ozark, Alabama, to intimidate Black residents.  (One of the people convicted of this crime broke his parole.)

May 15, 1916 - note - multiple trigger warnings on this history

Mob of 15,000 burns alive African American teenager Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas.

May 18, 1980

After four Miami police officers are acquitted in brutal beating death of Arthur McDuffie, violent protests erupt, leaving 23 dead and hundreds injured. Here is a long article from 1980 (which I admit I have not read all of) about this incident, which seems horrifyingly familiar in today's news stories.

May 24, 2013

Federal judge rules Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, illegally targeted Latinos during raids and traffic stops based on their race

2009 article: (ACLU) Lawsuit Charging Sheriff Arpaio Illegally Targeted Latinos In Maricopa County Can Go Forward

2011 article: U.S. Finds Pervasive Bias Against Latinos by Arizona Sheriff

2016 article: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Accused of Targeting Latinos, Is Charged With Contempt

2017 article: What you need to know about former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s record on illegal immigration

2017 article:  Trump pardons Arpaio

May 25, 2020

A white Minneapolis police officer kills George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by pinning his neck to the ground and choking him, sparking global protests against police brutality.