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Friday, May 29, 2015

Chalk and cheese: #17 and 18

I love that old British expression, "as different as chalk and cheese." Apparently, it goes all the way back to the 14th century, although no one knows exactly why chalk and cheese were chosen as the two items used to express comparative differences. One theory says that it's just because they are snappy, alliterative words. Another says it's because some cheese can look like chalk on the outside, and vice versa, but oh! what a surprise you would get if you tried to bite into chalk, or write with cheese.

In any event, the next two books on my list were quite the chalk and cheese. The first, #17, was a short, silly, fluffy little novel named Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn. It actually is about exactly what it sounds like: a bored, slightly addled Queen Elizabeth II wanders out of Buckingham Palace and takes the train to Scotland. She's feeling somewhat under attack, unappreciated, and nostalgic, so she decides to go visit a place that will remind her of happier times: the former royal yacht Brittania, now moored near Edinburgh. There are other characters, a slight romance, a friendship between palace servants, but the whole thing is so fluffy and undercooked that it literally leaves your brain as you are reading it, like disappearing ink of the mind. I read it just a couple of weeks ago, and I can't even tell you the name of a single character, other than Elizabeth. Duh. I don't mind a good mindless read, but this is so mindless you can't get much benefit from the escapism. It's like empty calories that don't even taste good. 

Book #18 was the chalk, or the cheese, whichever one would be more substantial and nourishing. Let's say cheese. Going Clear:  Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (a Pulitzer Prize-winner) is one terrifying book. Scientology has always fascinated me, as well as exploring what is the difference between a religion and a cult -- and even whether or not all religions are cults at their core. But this book made the difference quite plain. Scientology is a cult. A scary, scary cult. Some of what the book reported is hard to believe, but Wright is a highly respected author, and everything he reports has been verified and re-verified. It left me feeling shocked and appalled. I am not surprised by people's willingness to forego skepticism, even to give over the reins of their own lives. I am more surprised what this organization has been able to get away with untouched by law for decades. Extortion, threats, kidnapping, bribery, physical and emotional torture...if Scientology were a foreign power they would be on the terrorist watch list. I vote we go the way of Greece and ban Scientology. 

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