Friday, May 19, 2006
Hellenga Appears at OFTA and Library
Bob Hellenga, long time professor of English at Knox College and nationally recognized author of four novels, made appearances at the Buchanan Center for the Arts and the Warren County Library in the past week. Over thirty people at each venue were treated to readings from his latest book, PHILOSOPHY MADE SIMPLE. Its main character, Rudy Harrington, is a retired produce seller who has lost a wife and is now seeking answers to the mystery of life by purchasing a Texas avocado grove. It is a superbly written, thoughtful, and delightful book that should resonate with anyone--but particularly with retirees. Rudy, like many aging Americans, has given up his job long before his mind or his feelings have stopped. In the course of getting his new farm into production, Harrington meets a series of fascinating characters, but his relationship with a remarkable elephant named Norma Jean is the one that stands out. Local Monmouth folks know that Norma Jean was a real circus elephant whose grave lies about fifteen miles from here in the Mississippi river community of Oquawka,IL. There is no evidence that the real Norma Jean created abstract art paintings like the one in PHILOSOPHY MADE SIMPLE, but according to Hellenga there is ample evidence that elephants have done so. For his final reading Hellenga read a part of a chapter where Rudy sings a Blues melody to the sad elephant whose Russian master has disappeared. The frosting came when the author got out his guitar and sang the song for us.
Bob Hellenga is a charming and talented guy. If you can't spend an evening with him for real, do get a copy of his book. You'll enjoy it.