Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 reading: non-fiction

Of the 37 books I read in 2019, 14 were non-fiction.

Rather than review my favorites, as I have done in the past, I'm going to tell you about all the non-fiction books. Although there were some I liked better than others, and a couple that definitely rise to top as I survey them, it's too difficult to pick favorites this year.

For no particular reason than they came my way or piqued my interest, the majority of non-fiction I read this year was in the spiritual genre. I'm not going to separate them from the others in my narrative, but you'll definitely notice it.

I started the year with "Thirst," a superb autobiographical account of Scott Harrison's spiritual journey and his transformation from a fast-living nightclub promoter to the founder of one of the world's most successful non-profits that works to provide clean water to impoverished areas around the world. I was so taken with this one I gave a copy to all of my immediate family members last Christmas.

I continued with David Sedaris, who I discovered in 2018, this time with "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls."

Although some of my more conservative believer friends might raise their eyebrows, after reading and hearing quotes from him for years, I read three by Father Richard Rohr this year: "Immortal Diamond," "Falling Upward" and "What the Mystics Know." I have become a big fan, and I'll read more of his.

Renowned theologian Henri Nouwen is another I have heard quoted but have never read one of his books. I chose "Making All Things New" in which he explores the age-old theme of Christ's regenerative power in us. This one is heavy, and worth the effort.

Two unconventional Christian women provided some great reading for me this year. Nadia Boltz-Weber's "Pastrix" has some similarities to "Thirst," in that she describes her faith journey as she morphs from a stand-up to comic to a pastor, but it's largely the story of a ragtag congregation, much like her, she ends of leading. She reminded me some of Anne Lamott, though even edgier. Weber's story is not for the faint of heart. But if you read with an open mind and the conviction that God's grace is bigger than you can ever imagine, you'll find nuggets of beauty.

Similarly, River Jordan (yes that's really her name), a Nashville author, describes her own winding pilgrimage in "Confessions of a Christian Mystic." With humor and poignancy, she gave me much to think about.

I heard Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, as a guest on a podcast I frequent. Her "Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I've Loved)" is the story of her cancer diagnosis. The title comes from one of the many platitudes she heard from well-meaning people as she struggled to come to terms with dealing with this horrible disease and thinking about the possibility of leaving her husband and young daughter behind.

"Twelve Patients," by Eric Manheimer, is the inspiration of the NBC television show, "New Amsterdam." Manheimer was medical director at New York's Bellevue Hospital for 13 years, and his narratives of 12 different patients he comes to know give a glimpse into his thoughts on the health care system. I watched season one of "New Amsterdam," but for various reasons have not returned and probably will not. I put "Twelve Patients" in my Kindle library queue when I was watching the TV show and when it finally came up, long after I had finished watching the show, I decided to try it. I'm really glad I did, and it's better than the show.

This one even surprised me when I decided to read it, but when I heard Kathi Lee Gifford (who now lives just a few miles from me) describe her many trips to Israel, and the book she wrote about it -- "The Rock, the Road and the Rabbi" -- I was intrigued. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I have many friends who have made the Holy Land trip, and many who plan to. I have never had a lot of interest in going. But hearing from those who have gone, and reading this book, is slowly changing that.

(Although I'm not picking favorites, the next three were a cut above the rest).

"Maybe You Should Talk to Someone" is therapist Lori Gotlieb's account of how she became a therapist; her description of some case studies from her practice; and her own experience of going to therapy. Humorous and poignant, it almost made me cross the line and go for counseling myself. I loved this.

Scott Newport's "Digital Minimalism" is, in my opinion, a must-read for all of us who love the convenience and efficiency the computer age has brought us, but want to keep it in check. Even if you don't care about that, read this book for some of the fascinating facts and statistics. I can't do it justice here and if I could make you read two books from my non-fiction reading this year, it would be this one and the next.

"The Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning is perhaps the most beautiful narrative about grace I have ever read. Manning, who died in 2013, was a Franciscan priest. He was also an alcoholic. He also struggled coming to terms with how God could love him. This one blew me away, folks.

I hope you found something you might also enjoy here. As always, I'll be anxious to hear your thoughts and, of course, your own recommendations. I'll soon be back with my thoughts on fiction I read this year.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Eve from Cuba

It was another rollicking International Christmas Eve at our house.

For the 12th year, we celebrated the food and culture of another region and country. This year it was Cuba.

We choose the country mid-year, and Wife begins planning doing her research. One thing she learned this year was that, for many of the years (30, maybe?) Cuba was under the rule of Castro, Christmas was not celebrated. So finding Cuban Christmas traditions was not easy.

But finding recipes and d├ęcor to lend ambiance to the occasion? She came through in spades, as always, and she even found a playlist of Christmas music with a Cuban beat!

Here is a glimpse of the party last night. Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 20, 2019


In the early days of this blog, I wrote a fair amount about politics.

Over time, however, the fire in my belly has subsided considerably. I'm still interested in government and politics, but candidates rarely excite me, and never to the point that I put a bumper sticker on my car or a sign in my yard.

I always vote, and I'm an independent voter. I never registered to vote as a Democrat or Republican. As far as I know, in the two states where I have lived (Arkansas and Tennessee), a voter is not required to name a party affiliation when registering.

You could go back and read some early blog entries and conclude I was a staunch conservative, and maybe at the time I was. I have probably voted for more GOP presidential candidates in my time than Democratic.

But today I am strictly independent. In the last presidential election, I voted for the Libertarian candidate. I was not going to vote for Donald Trump and I couldn't bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton.

If I had it to over again, I would vote for Hillary. Not because I am a big fan of hers (I'm certainly not), but because I think she would be a decent president. She's smart. She listens. And she's a good dealmaker, like her husband (thought without his charm, which was a contributing factor in her 2016 loss to Trump).

All of that is an aside to the subject at hand, which is the impeachment of one Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States.

He will now be known as the third U.S. president to be impeached, following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Neither Johnson nor Clinton were removed from office following a Senate trial.

Richard Nixon would almost certainly have been impeached and removed from office in 1974, but he resigned before it went through. He knew what was coming and he decided to avoid the embarrassment of it.

For students of the U.S. Constitution, it's an interesting process. Impeachment is discussed in three different sections of the Constitution. It is stated in Article 3, Section 4 that a president "shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Article 1, Section 2 gives the House of Representatives "sole power of impeachment" and Article 1, Section 3 gives the U.S. Senate authority to oversee the trial portion of the impeachment process, and to decide whether the president is to be removed from office based on the impeachment article(s) passed by the House. It takes a two-thirds majority vote to do so.

The House has now passed two impeachment articles concerning Trump, and a Senate trial will take place early next year.

Because there are not enough Democrats in the Senate to get a two-thirds majority, and not enough Republicans to join them to vote for a conviction, Trump is almost sure be acquitted just as Johnson and Clinton were.

You see, it's all about politics. The Dems have wanted to impeach Trump since the day he took office (or before, really), just as the Republicans wanted to impeach Clinton from the day he was sworn in in 1993.

With a vague term like "high crimes and misdemeanors," which does not bring with it the evidentiary requirements of a typical criminal proceeding, the Republicans were able to get Clinton when he covered up his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and perjured himself. Similarly, the Dems got the goods on Trump due to his "quid quo pro" conversation with the Ukrainian president and purposely stalling the congressional investigation of same.

But in Clinton's case, there were not enough votes in the Senate for a conviction, just at it will be with Trump.

It's interesting that it took well over 100 years for presidential impeachments proceedings to commence after it first happened to Andrew Johnson. Now it's happened twice in my lifetime.

The Democrats' ploy, in my opinion (because they know the Senate will acquit him), is to shame Trump so much that those swing voters who put him in the White House last time will change their minds and keep him from being elected again.

Based on recent history, however, Trump plans to turn this all back on his accusers, allowing as to how they tried to cripple him and keep him from doing his job, and waste a whole lot of time and money in so doing.

How can you not re-elect me, he'll say in not say many words, when you have Bozos like this wanting to run the country?

Less than one year from now, we'll know if the strategy of the Democrats worked, or Trump succeeded in having the last laugh (on Twitter, no doubt).

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Almost done with “the teens”

It only recently occurred to me that we are nearing the end of a decade.

Apparently the decade soon concluding will be known as “the teens,” while the one before that is “the aughts.”

Those are somewhat awkward labels and the decades will be easier to name for the remainder of this century, starting with the 20s.


Christmas is upon us. Wife and I got the tree up earlier than we usually do, during the week right after Thanksgiving, which I realize these days is considered late.

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, we are not sending Christmas cards. I’m the one who always does them for us, and I usually try to get a family picture taken to include, and I often write a letter.

But this year I released myself. It’s not like I’m any busier or more preoccupied than usual; I simply didn’t get them done.

We tried taking family photos at Thanksgiving and they were not very good, so I decided to punt. There’s a chance we might try again next week and I’ll send New Year’s cards, but I would say the chances are 50-50. I know life will go on, but I really did miss doing the cards this year.


We are still blessed to have everyone join us for Christmas. We will have our traditional international Christmas Eve celebration on the 24th (this year is Cuba!), and the married ones will spend Christmas Day with in-laws while Wife, Younger Son and I will spend a quiet day and go see a movie.

We will all gather back at our place on the 26th, which has become our day to celebrate Christmas. For the past several years that has worked well for us.


I’ll be posting my year-end book reviews — non-fiction first, then fiction — soon, if not by the end of the year, shortly thereafter. I’ve read so many good books this year, it’s going to be hard to pick favorites. If I had thought of it sooner, I might have tried to pick favorites from the past decade, or “favorites from the teens.”