Tag Archives: University of Wisconsin Press

Mornings and Mindfulness

CBR_Logo2The Morning Hour
by Richard Quinney

Born in 1934 in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, Richard Quinney has been a Sociology professor, photographer, Delegate of Crime Prevention for the Eisenhower Foundation, husband, father, Buddhist meditation practitioner, and author of more than a dozen books about Sociology, nature, and photography. Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that his latest work, The Morning Hour, which comprises a series of reflections on his personal life, covers such a wide range of topics.

the morning hour quinneyIn the preface to his book, Quinney reveals the origin of its title. Every day for decades, the morning hours have been his time “for contemplation and of the writing a few words to the day.” He fills his journals with thoughts about things he finds most interesting and dear: family, work, the beauty of the natural world, what it means to die. Now in his eighties, Quinney has completed more than fifty years’ worth of journal entries. The Morning Hour contains a selection of these writings, organized thematically, each one no more than a couple pages long. Despite their brevity, the reflections are impressively erudite, evidence of a curious mind that has devoured a lifetime’s worth of literature, from Homer’s epics to The Great Gatsby to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. From these books he’s derived questions—and a few answers—about what it means to live mindfully and with intention.

His reflections are perhaps most insightful when he connects his existential musings to smaller, more personal moments. In one particularly moving passage, Quinney describes his experience of standing in front of Georges-Pierre Seurat’s painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute of Chicago, squinting so “the dots of paint make new colors.” His mind drifts to thoughts of his daughter, who lives in Paris, and what it means to be her father and a grandfather to her children. The passage is both touching and provocative, a lovely reminder that great art is more than the sum of its formal aesthetics: When considered thoughtfully, it can evoke some of life’s most important insights.

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Author Richard Quinney

The book also shares the author’s insights into death. When he was a child, writes Quinney, his religious mother made him recite the Lord’s Prayer every evening before bed, the last two lines, he reminds us, centered on dying: “If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take.” For most of his adult life, Quinney did not recite the prayer. But now in old age, he finds himself thinking of it often. As depressing as this preoccupation with dying may sound, Quinney’s view of death, we learn, is informed by The Diamond Sutra and other Buddhist writings, which describe the process of dying not as an end to life but as the ongoing, natural state of all living things. Here he illustrates the Buddhist concept of death by comparing it to the act of looking at photographs:

There is a difference between the portrait of the ancestor living at the instant of the photograph and my viewing of the portrait after the ancestor has passed away. […] And there is the realization that there is a fine line, and only a fine line, between those who once lived and those of us who live today. The separation between the living and the dead vanishes readily with time. The vastness of our time of being unborn makes our living, our existing, but a drop of dew, a flash of lightning, and a dream. Unborn is our primary natural state.

The book’s frequent focus on death does not detract from its uplifting messages about living well. When considering life beyond family, the book brims with images of blooming gardens, birds in flight, and majestic mammals, which together form a vital and animated view of the natural world. The juxtaposition of bountiful life with death is striking but important, it seems, to Quinney’s overarching philosophy. By insisting that life and death are worth pondering in equal measure, Quinney creates a vision of existence that enlightens and comforts—impermanence, he seems to say, is a part of being human, and in our impermanence, we become both precious and beautiful.

Three-Star Review

April 2016, Borderland Books/University of Wisconsin Press
Nonfiction/Mindfulness & Meditation
$24, hardcover, 176 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9965052-1-5

—Reviewed by Amy Brady

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A Tangled Web in Door County

CBR_Logo2Death at Gills Rock
A Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery
by Patricia Skalka

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”

Sir Walter Scott wrote it hundreds of years ago. Patricia Skalka shows it is still true with Death at Gills Rock, the second in her Door County mystery series. The plot originates during World War II when U.S. troops battled to keep the Japanese out of the Aleutian Islands. Another anniversary of Pearl Harbor is coming up December 7. How many U.S. citizens are aware the Aleutians figured in that war? Some old-timers in Door County, Wisconsin, know it because their Coast Guard played an important part in delivering troops to the Aleutians, rescuing them after battle and from horrendous weather and returning them home.

skalka death gills rockDeath at Gills Rock centers around the apparent accidental deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning of three life-long friends, veterans of the Coast Guard’s Aleutian war effort. It features Dave Cubiak from Skalka’s first mystery, Death Stalks Door County. In that story, Dave was a Chicago homicide detective working in Door County as a park ranger while trying to recover from grief over the deaths of his wife and daughter in an accident. After playing a major role in solving a crime that occurred then, he was elected Sheriff and became a permanent resident. He was called to the scene when the bodies of the three victims were discovered. They were successful businessmen, popular supporters of community activities, admired as military heroes and about to be honored at the opening ceremony for a display of war memorabilia. The deaths were originally assumed accidental due to a flaw in the heater in the building where they were playing cards. That feeling changed when a letter arrived saying, “They got what they deserved,” and the building where they died was smeared with red paint. Sheriff Cubiak is drawn into a complicated “tangled web” as he tries to figure out what actually happened.

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Author Patricia Skalka

Patricia Skalka is a former freelance writer for Reader’s Digest, specializing in medical and human interest stories. She has also been a magazine editor, ghostwriter, and writing instructor. A native of Chicago, she lives in the city and takes time off at her cabin in Door County. Skalka has spent a lot of time there, and she knows and understands the area, often called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, very well. This was evident in her first mystery in the series; and in the second, she is careful to touch on appropriate references and connections related to the first title. This will be recognized and welcomed by readers familiar with the first book, but reading the first is not necessary to enjoying the second. Skalka is a skilled writer, evidenced by the realistic, charming way she covers the experiences a big-city homicide detective encounters adjusting to his new life style—his adopted dog presenting him with a litter of six puppies, helping a friend renovate an antique sailboat, and learning to navigate the waters of Lake Michigan.

The path Sheriff Dave follows to the conclusion of Death at Gills Rock has a multitude of twists, turns, and backstories plus multiple confessions. The reader needs to stay alert in order to keep up, and, in the end, may wonder if the outcome is believable or right. Actually, Sheriff Dave has some of the same concerns. His debut as the real sheriff will give mystery lovers food for thought along with the pleasure of reading a well-crafted book.

Four-Star Review

June 2015, Terrace Books
Fiction/Mystery
$26.95, hardcover, 248 pages
ISBN 978-0-299-30450-8

—Reviewed by Betty Nicholas

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