Thursday, December 31, 2020

the not top ten best books of 2019 (part 1)

So, hey!  Happy New Year!  So you may be thinking "Oh, it's the last day of 2020, so this must be the favorite book list of 2020, right?"  Nope... I have had this draft, half-written, in my drafts for 8 months, so I thought since 2020 is not officially over yet, it would be a good time to finish it...

So here is my report on books read in 2019:

Every year, I list my Top Ten Fave books of the year, and while they can be from any year, they have to be first time reads for me.  In 2019, I actually only re-read two books, both I've read several times through the years, leaving the rest as brand new.  Of course, when I say "read", I do mean audio, because that's reading too... to the tune of 344 hours listened to via Audible.

So let's look at the books I read that didn't make the top ten... and I'll number them - not by the order in which I read them, but just to keep track of how many (for my own purposes because I'm bad at math)


These are a handful of books written by actors and stand up comics, usually telling their story with lots of jokes and such

I was all in on the first season of "The Unbelievable Kimmy Schmidt" on Netflix.  The star, Ellie Kemper, I found to be just flippin' adorable, and so when she released (1) My Squirrel Life, a memoir of sorts, I had to grab it. In fact, it was the very first book of 2019 for me... and I was delighted. Its short, its sweet, and it's fun... though I cannot tell you that I remember much about it. I just remember liking it.

When my friend Amarylis (by morning, up from San Antone) said she had read David Spade's
(2) Poloroid Guy in a Snapchat World, I nodded. I had been circling that one for a while on Audible, and was trying to decide if I wanted to read it.  I finally pulled the trigger, and liked it. He's got another, Almost Interesting, and I'm undecided. Perhaps.

Another comedian I enjoy is Greg Fitzsimmons, and had heard Fitz discussing his book (3) Dear Mrs Fitzsimmons on the Adam Carolla podcast.  The book is somewhat of a memoir of sorts, told through a series of letters filled with funny stories of growing up.  I found it amusing, but it wasn't my favorite.  It was a well done book, just not my jam.

Finally, Annabelle Gurwitch, who I've always loved from the old school Dinner & a Movie program on TBS, put together a collection of monologues and essays called (4) "Fired! Tales of Jobs Gone Bad", as she, plus comedians like Taylor Negron, Paul F Thompkins, Dana Gould, Paul Feig, and more tell tales of how they were kindly -- and unkindly -- asked to leave various jobs. Hilarious.



Might as well toss these in... the two books I re-read this year are Richard Paul Evans (5) "The Christmas Box", a short but lovely little story of a family moving in with a well-to-do matronly saint of a woman, to assist, and discovering that family is the most important thing. It's a great story to help that Christmas spirit.

Another re-read is one that I read once every 2-3 years, so I'm likely on my 4th or 5th reading of (6) "Salem's Lot" by Stephen King. Its one of my all time favorite books, and while somewhat dated (it takes place in the fall of 1975), its thrilling. If you didn't know the main villain of the book going in, it's a masterful way of slowly unspooling the horror of the story. 

Speaking of Stephen King...



My unspoken, unconscious vow to read all Grisham novels continued in 2019, as I read the older classic (7) The Chamber, about an idealistic law student who is trying to save his racist grandfather from the electric chair. Grisham books are never bad, but this one was a little sluggish... I also watched the movie of the same name, starring Chris O'Donnell and Gene Hackman, aka, "The movie where Hackman destroys O'Donnell in every scene he's in".  So, I can say that The Chamber part of my life is closed for good.  Not so with (8) The Reckoning, however, which tells the story of Peter Banning, who one day long ago drove into a small town and shot in cold blood the local preacher, then gave himself up.

The power that Stephen King has on me is pretty ridiculous, as I do read -- and always have read -- anything he releases.  It's a little personally unnerving, as he politically hates me, but I'm still a fan.  One book that had previously eluded me, and intimidated me, was (9) Four Past Midnight, which contains four smaller... and smaller is a relative term, as this sumgun is just under 30 hours on audio... novellas, including "The Langoliers", about a very unfortunate, dark flight into madness... "Secret Window, Secret Garden", about an author who's own characters are driving him into madness... "The Library Policeman", about a library who's secrets are simply madness... and "The Sun Dog", my favorite of the bunch, about a very sinister Polaroid camera. And yeah, madness.

I dug the book as a whole, and it skirted my Top Ten, as did The Reckoning, but both authors have books in my Top Ten of 2019 already.



Read two books on the fake sport that I love so much... and yes, I realize that while it's fake, the injuries are very real and so on and so forth. but nonetheless, first up was (10) Best Seat in the House, by former WWE and now current AEW announcer Justin Roberts. One of Roberts lifelong goals was to be a wrestling announcer, so it gives his take on his pursuit of, and finally achieving that goal -- and as all know, sometimes that goal isn't all we wanted it to be.  It's got some great stories, and I believe him, though it does come across as a little whiny in a few spots.

The other was by a guy named Sean Oliver, who has been around wrestling for a long, long time. In this book (11) Kayfabe: Stories You're Not Supposed to Hear from a Pro Wrestling Production Company, he does in fact tell some stories, though I'm unsure of whether I should have heard them or not.  The book is more of a history of his production company, Kayfabe Commentaries, which does extensive interviews with past and present wrestling superstars, and releases them on DVD and digital. The book does chronicle stories from the world of WWE, WCW, ECW, and more, and though I enjoyed the stories, it did come across as a long advertisement for his studio.

For the uninitiated... "Kayfabe" (kay-faybe) means "in story". As in, when wrestlers are in a match, they are in character, and you stay in character before and after a match. You never "break kayfabe" unless it's something major, like a serious injury, or you are "shooting", which means you are talking real life in a ring. When someone breaks kayfabe, and shoots, it's always entertaining. See CM Punk's "Pipebomb" or Nash & Hall's big hugs before they left WWF in the 90s.

While not Wrasslin, it has nowhere else to go, so I'm sticking Jeff Pearlman's (12) Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL here. The subtitle explains it all, and it's an excellent bit of sports history, and the words "crazy rise" and "crazier demise" are right on point. It's a wild story, and yes, Donald Trump added to that second part.  



Does it count if there is only an audio book, and not a tangible book?  Well, I'm counting it anyway, so there.

Author Curtis Sittenfield wrote and released a short book called (13) Atomic Marriage, about a hotshot Hollywood writer who is sent to a small Alabama town to interview a pastor who has written a book about marriage. A 12-step process, actually, on how to stay together physically, emotionally, mentally and so on. Of course, Heather, the writer, has her doubts on what this Alabama hick can teach her (and honestly, I was a little timid on how it would treat the South) but to my, and the reader's, delight, that's not at all what happened.  It's a wonderful little book, even with the ending that seems to just... well, end. I liked this quite a bit, and I wished it was actually longer.

In all my years of listing my Top Tens, the first time I ever listed a book purchased at a book fair was... well, right here. (14) "Where is Walt Disney World", part of a "Where Is..." series, this one by Joan Hulab. It's pleasant, written on a kid level, giving general history and location of The Most Magical Place on Earth.  



I'm a huge fan of stage plays and screenplays. I have a few on my bookshelf, and I like the way the word is presented, as opposed to a narrative (much like "Harry Potter & the Cursed Child" is done, but I just can't bring myself to read it yet.)

So I knocked out several of these, including (15) I Love Lucy: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom by Gregg Oppenheimer, about the creation of the classic television show by way of Lucy and Desi. Enjoyed it, though wanted more from the story.

David Mamet is one of my favorite playwrights and so I found (16) Speed the Plow to read. It's about a Hollywood producer's who's influence is tested when he's torn between a promising script and a hot chick. If I had a dime for every time I had to make such a decision...

(17) The 64th Man, by Bryan Tucker and Zach Phillips, is about a washed up athlete trying to get back in the league while dealing with his own love life and family. I found it... boring. 

Neil Simon is one of my favorites, and I've been picking his plays up all along for the last few years, and in 2019, I liked (18) Lost in Yonkers, a Pulitzer & Tony Award winning play about two teens living with their grandmother in Yonkers during World War II.  The other Neil Simon play I read in 2019 will be coming later.

Another drama that I didn't enjoy as much, though still was drawn into, was (19) Dinner with Friends from Donald Marguiles, a Pulitzer Prize winning story of two couples, their secrets, divorce, and friendship. It's heavy. 

Finally, there was (20) Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, by Geoffrey Cowans and Leroy Aarons, about the struggle the Washington Post had to release the classified US documents about the Vietnam War.  It was engaging and tense, even though I knew the outcome.  

And then Check out the TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2019

the not top ten books of 2019 (part 2)

Make sure you check out part 1 of the books I read last year that didn't make my Top Ten... and then be sure to check for my Top Ten Books of 2019.

The numbers continue from the previous post -- again, not in the order I read them, but just to keep up with what I've listed. Also, again, bad at math and all that. 


While I'm not necessarily into "self help" books, I do read some if I really like the concept and the author.  I'm a big fan of Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in "Star Wars: the Clone Wars", and a legend around Star Wars circles, and while I did enjoy (21) It's Your Universe, I recognize I'm not the target audience.  But, even not being a chick, this book still is good for everyone. 

It's her story of becoming a voice over artist, and eventually becoming the voice of Ahsoka Tano (though Rosario Dawson is playing her in The Mandalorian, and I'm excited about this, because I love Rosario Dawson hey boo).  It's a book about setting a goal and going after it, and I aligned with it nicely.

I'm also always looking for great books on the clean up process, because... well my house needs a good clean up. Hence reading Robin Zasio's (22) The Hoarder in You. Zasio is known for being one of the main people in the "Hoarders" series on A&E, and while nothing here is revolutionary, it's still a good reminder of how truly easy it is to get organized, it's just having a plan and doing it.

If you are kicking yourself for not accomplishing all that you wanted in 2019, or even 2020, though that's an entire other discussion, then... well, (23) In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It, the book by Lorelei Gilmore herself, Lauren Graham.  Lauren, a Gilmore, a Braverman, and eternal hotness, gave this speech to her high school in a commencement speech, and we got to enjoy it book form. It's worth the brief time it takes to read it.

It's always fun to be reading a book by an author who winds up sitting about five feet away from you as you read. Thus, the situation I found myself in in a Embassy Suites lobby as I was reading (24) Get Weird, while author CJ Casciotta sat nearby. He was there to speak at a conference, and I was there to listen, and it was all around a good time. It's a book about not fitting in, about using your creativity to the fullest, and about being weird and embracing that weirdness. I felt seen.

Lee Cockerell, a retired VP of the Walt Disney Company has a series of books, and this one spoke to me the most... (25) Time Management Magic was some magic I could really use.  Let's be real, nothing here is mind-blowing -- it's all basic concepts, but like Zasio's book about not being a hoarder, its advice we need to be reminded of frequently. Plus, it helps that he also has a background in the Happiest Company on Earth, which really spoke to me.

As a sidebar, he's pretty liberal in his politics and legit came after me in a thread where I wasn't addressing him nor responding to something he'd said. It was bizarre. 

Finally, one of the most popular podcasts around, The Popcast, saw one of it's hosts write and publish a book in 2019. (26) The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions is by Knox McCoy, and is a solid book. Knox, a Christ Follower, weaves boy bands, reality television, current musical artists and more around a number of spiritual and Biblical quandaries with God and the Christian Walk.  Believers would likely enjoy this and Knox's take -- he's quite brilliant, actually. Barely missed my Top Ten. 



An author I always check on for new material is Kathryn Casey, who is based in Texas and seems to be covering every major murder and sensational court case in the state -- her book in 2019 was (23) In Plain Sight: The Kaufman County Prosecutor Murders, telling the tale of Kaufman County Assistant DA Mark Hasse, executed in broad daylight, the massacre that followed, and the couple who did it. I enjoy most of Casey's stuff, and while I haven't really like the style of the last few, this was somewhat of a rebound. Good, not great.

Bryan Burrough's (24) The Demon Next Door tells how he learned that a high school classmate of his, Danny Corwin, ended up becoming a serial killer. The book is just okay.

Amanda Lamb's (25) "Love Lies: A True Story of Marriage and Murder in the Suburbs" (true crime subtitles are long) tells of how Nancy Cooper's strangled body was found in a ditch in North Carolina, while her husband claims she went out for a jog and never came back. You might know where this is headed.

(26) "Twisted: The Story of Larry Nassar and the Woman Who Took Him Down", by Mary Pilon and Carla Correa, is the first of several books & films I consumed about the Nassar, the douchebag doctor for the US Gymnastics team, and how the women he sexually assaulted found the bravery to come forward. Takes you through the first few women to speak up, then the women who followed, and Nassar's world that crashes around him. Very informative and very detailed. This is where I toss in that trigger warning thing. 



Final three books on this "outside the Top 10" list all fall under the entertainment and pop culture category list. 

(27) Best.Movie.Year.Ever: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery essentially just looks at a pivotal 12 month period in cinematic history -- some of the biggest movies and pop culture touchstones came out that year.  Fight Club, The Matrix, The Sixth Sense, American Pie, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Magnolia, and so many more are all discussed, with interviews and soundbytes from Sofia Coppola, Reese Witherspoon, Taye Diggs, Matthew Broderick, and loads more. Any movie fan would love this -- in fact, while I did my list and ranking in January of 2020, I'm not even sure why this isn't in my Top 10. But I'll go with what I have, though I may re-read this one soon.

I read two books about the making of, and behind the scenes of, the show Friends. Both are excellent, but the one I liked 2nd best of the two is (28) I'll Be There For You: The One About Friends  by Kelsey Miller. Like the other (which you can guess will be in the Top 10), it's an indepth look at the creation, the casting, the premiere, and the seasons -- good, excellent, and mediocre -- that followed. If you are a Friends fan, you can't go wrong with I'll Be There For You, but I like the other just a little more. 

And then, (29) Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stetler, is another who's subtitles give you the sense of the book. It concentrates mostly on the battle between The Today Show on NBC and ABC's perpetual 2nd place "Good Morning America", and how the latter slowly chipped away at the former's decades long dominance. The book was written in 2013, years before the (deserved) fall from grace of Matt Lauer, but you can see just in his actions and words that, knowing now what we know about his douchecanoery with his female coworkers, things were not well.  It does paint a rosy picture of how NBC treated Ann Curry, and I can believe it. 



Finally... books 30 to 33... 

One of the joys of being a dude who works from home is that I am able to attend school functions with my kid -- including showing up and shopping with him at the yearly Book Fair (here's to hoping 2021 will bring this back to us. Who doesn't love a good book fair?  Back in my day, I'd show up with $15 in my pocket, I'd walk out with a Beverly Cleary book, the latest Bill Wallace novel, a Star Wars read-along, a poster of a Ferrari, a Trapper Keeper folder, and some pencil erasers shaped like West Indies Komodo Dragons.  Now?  $15 might get a two books from the pre-school section and a sheet of glitter stickers.

I said earlier that "Where is Walt Disney World" was the first book I've ever listed purchased at a Book Fair... I should have said "purchased FOR ME", as these were books I bought at my kid's book fair, that I read, and that I count on my list -- you'll see why in a second.

Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Rusker... Mighty Mighty Construction Site, also by Rusker... Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury... and Me & My Dad by Allison Ritchie.

All can be read in 3 minutes or less.  So why would I put these four kids books on the list?  No, not to pad my stats. I think I get credit for these books because I read all four, every night, out loud to Campbell at bed time, and I read them every night for around six or seven straight months -- and that ain't even hyperbole.  So these count. 


So there is my list of books that didn't make my Top 10...

The three that I would say were on the edge -- Knox McCoy's "The Wondering Years", Kelsey Miller's "I'll Be There For You" and Raftery's "Best.Movie.Year.Ever".  Toss in  "Football for a Buck" by Jeff Pearlman and Pilon & Correa's "Twisted" and there is the next five after the Top 10.

That's the Outside the Top Ten List... onto the Top Ten

the top ten books of 2019

If you haven't read the rest, make sure you catch up on The Not Top Ten of 2019 (Part One) and The Not Top Ten of 2019 (Part Two)

Without further scribble dabble scrabble, on the microphone I babble... here are my fave book that I read for the first time in 2019...

My 10th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Goodbye Girl by Neil Simon (1977)
As I mentioned, I'm a fan of plays and screenplays, and this is probably my favorite of Neil's... the story centers around Paula and her daughter Lucy, who gets deserted by Paula's boyfriend. Enter Elliot Garfield, a neurotic but kind actor, who shows up because the landlord has now rented the apartment to him... much to Paula's dismay, because she and Lucy are still living there. And you can see the conflict... and of course, romance coming at ya. The movie version was wonderful as well, garnering Richard Dreyfuss an Oscar for his portrayal of Elliot, and became the first RomCom to cross $100 million in box-office gross.

My 9th Favorite Book of 2019 - What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell (2009)
I tend not to read authors who are way smarter than I am... not just smart, but super smart -- but I am always drawn to certain authors like Michael Lewis, Randall Munroe, and of course Gladwell.  This is a collection of 19 essays first featured in the New Yorker. Each was handpicked by Gladwell himself for the book, all bearing a running theme of seeing the world through the eyes of others -- even a dog. Because, you know, What the Dog saw.  Right?

Broken into three parts, it discusses people who are experts but not known, the issues with predictions and basing actions on those predictions, and the failure of intelligence, spending a chunk of time on the fall of Enron, and finally, personality and sociological discussions on random topics (I know this book sounds crazy boring, but trust me, it's well written and well read.)

My 8th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Oracle by KB Hoyle (2012)
The first narrative of our Top Ten sends us back into the mythical land of Alithia, a place that Darcy and her friends discovered -- and saved -- a year prior. This time, pushed by the princely Tellius, they set out on a quest to discover the truth of a prophecy, something that will impact her life, for the rest of her life.

If you like Narnia, with a little Lord of the Rings quest, shaken and poured over some Harry Potter, then The Gateway Chronicles is worth investing time into. I did a more comprehensive write up a few yeas ago, when Book 1 ended up in my 2018 Top Ten.

As I mentioned before in that article I just linked to, mad props to KB, my friend and a writing idol, as she has successfully done world building... which the more I read and learn, the more I understand ain't easy. 

My 7th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Run of His Life: The People vs OJ Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin (2015)
As the 20th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ronald Goldman hit in 2014, there was a glut of TV specials and books and retrospectives on the whole thing -- everything from OJ & Nicole's relationship to the murder itself to the infamous White Bronco chase.  

While I watched both American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson, a narrative with everyone from Cuba Gooding Jr to John Travolta to David Schwimmer (!?), and the superior, incredibly good ESPN 30for30 documentary that tops out around 7 hours and 45 minutes (watch it in parts), it was this book that really filled in the gaps -- the background of all persons involved, what led to the murder, the suspicions that Toobin has about what OJ did and didn't do (by the way, I had no idea that Goldman and Nicole weren't together -- he was truly in the wrong-place-wrong-time), and the trial itself... and the absolute circus it became.  Yes, OJ got away with murder... Toobin doesn't push you one way or another, but the evidence is pretty stacked against OJ.

Also, 2020 was a difficult year for Jeffrey Toobin... he and Zoom are not the best of friends. Don't let his touching dismissal from NYTimes keep you from reading this book if you are interested in.

My 6th Favorite Book of 2019 - Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Bob Iger (2019)
One of the few non-King books I read as soon as it was released... ironically, I didn't even want to read it, I felt as if it might be a progressive manual for running a theme park. But Iger is the guy who brought Lucasfilm (aka Star Wars), Indiana Jones, Pixar, Marvel, and 73 billion dollars worth of 20th Century Fox to Disney, plus oversaw the creation of Disney+, among other things, so I figured it might be worth a glance.

It was.  It totally was. From his early days in production and management to working way to the Walt Disney Company, succeeding Michael Eisner (who was not in his save-the-company save-the-animation era, but in his ego trip, Imma get Walt's nephew Roy out of the company era) to basically become Mickey's 2nd in command. The book is surprisingly candid, spelling out both victories and mistakes, and he speaks with openness and honesty at major events like Shanghai Disney's opening (after it was well overbudget and sort of a disaster), the Pulse shooting in Orlando, and the alligator attack that took the life of a little boy right on the beaches of the Grand Floridian. 

Sprinkled along the way is leadership advice and bits of wisdom, but it was truly the Disney history stuff that really drew me in.  I would hope that the 10th anniversary will feature a chapter on how he resigned, then came roaring back to assist with the company as the parks shut down entirely due to COVID.

My 5th Favorite Book of 2019 - Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era by Saul Austerlitz. (2019)
Much like "I'll Be There For You" from Kelsey Miller, this book also goes in-depth with the shows creation, the hiring and casting, the production, and the opening, middle, and closing seasons of the show. 

Why did I like this book better? More in-depth. In-depthier, if you will. Is that word?  Could it BE any more fake sounding?

Whereas Kelsey Miller's book hit the highpoints of many topics, I felt as is Austerlitz really dove deeper on things, from contract disputes to controversies to personal lives of the actors (without being schmaltzy or gossipy) and I just got more out of it.  

But either book will satisfy you. 

My 4th Favorite Book of 2019 - The Guardians by John Grisham (2019)
I'm an avid JG guy, though I have my criticisms of much of his work... many of his stories build to a great crescendo then just drop you cold with no real resolution.  Some start meh, get good, end meh. And then some start with a bang, build to a great climax, and then really give you the ending that leaves you satisfied. Thus is "The Guardians"

With a lawyer killed in his own office, a black young man named Quincy is arrested for the crime, even though we as the readers find it quite obvious he didn't do it. The one person who listens is a guy named Cullen Post, who runs Guardians Ministry, a non profit that can only take a few innocence type projects per year -- and of course, non-hilarity ensues.

Well written, riveting, and could actually qualify as a "page turner". One of Grisham's better novels in recent years (he did two at 2020 and both are great. We'll get to that on a 2020 list)

My 3rd Favorite Book of 2019 - Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (2018)
Sometimes you find news stories and you kinda just become obsessed with them... truthfully, the US Women's Gymnastic team battle against Larry Nassar and Michigan State felt a little like that, as I read and watched multiple books and movies.  

And another story like that for me?  The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos. This story blows my ever lovin' mind. Holmes, charismatic and beautiful, even with the (possibly fake) deep voice that became one of her trademarks. Basically, a drop of blood can get test results back in minutes, using these incredible new machines and processes, courtesy of Theranos... and they struck multi-million dollar deals with Wal-Greens and Safeway... Holmes became a billionaire.

And it was all a sham.  

You'll read this with your mouth open, wondering how in the world someone could actually pull this off, even temporarily.

(You can also check out The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, an excellent documentary on HBO Max.  The doc and book together make for a great pair)

My 2nd Favorite Book of 2019 - The Institute by Stephen King (2019)
Pre-Covid, it would take me a week or more to go through a book, especially if the book tops 15 or 20 hours. This one, however, I knocked out in two days, falling behind on podcasts and other things that I had to do.  But it was worth it.

The story starts with a guy name Tim, who leaves his job and find himself working for the sheriff's department in small town South Carolina.  Then it shifts to a 12 year old boy named Luke who is kidnapped out of his room in Minnesota and taken to a place called The Institute -- a secret shop that does experiments on kids, then when the kids are run through, they are put into the "Back Half", where the kids never return from.

Luke is a crafty little lad, though, as the story progresses, you'll find he isn't one to take orders. He and his merry band of other kids trapped at The Institute decide to fight back. And of course, Tim from South Carolina finds himself in the middle of this same story. 

I was caught up in this story and saw it through to the very end, one hour after another, and when it was over, I put down my earpods, sighed deeply, and smiled. Because that's what a good book should do.  

My Favorite Book of 2019 - The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M Graff (2019)

I've spent the last 9 years thinking that "102 Minutes" from Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn was the best book ever written on 9/11.  And to me, it was. Until I read "The Only Plane in the Sky"

First, know that I'm a fan of oral history in books, as I love hearing the stories from the people themselves (even if they don't narrate the book itself in audio version), and in this one, it starts from early on that Tuesday morning, carrying you through the entire day and beyond.

Soundbites from Rudy Giuliani (remember when it was okay to like him?) and George W Bush and reporters and policemen and firemen and those working in the offices of the towers and paramedics and so many more. You know what happened that day.. but yet, you'll still be engrossed in the words of those were in Manhattan and in Washington and sitting at home, awaiting their loved ones to call them from United 93. 

This book blew me away. 

Up next, in a few days... or weeks... hopefuly not months... the Top Ten Books of 2020 -- more King, more Grisham, some Psycho, a helping of Karen McManis, some Neil Simon, the wild west and dreamy former Fox News anchors and so on and so on and such... twas a good year to read books, even if it was a terrible year to do just about anything else.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

to campbell, on your 9th birthday

I was just taking a look and realized I've blogged just one single time in 2020, and it was my thoughts on a hate crime and tragedy.

May my words be much lighter and full of more love here.  

Here is my annual open letter to my son on his birthday. 

Riding with your Dad, cheesin, wearing
Mommy's vintage Leia shirt from 1983

Dear Campbell, 

My my what a year it has been.  As you get older, begin to understand pop culture and catch phrases and references, "2020" will be one for the books.  

So, there was this pandemic, see... basically, a virus came into our country, swept through the country, scared a lot of people, many people died, many more got it and were fine, and so on.  I'm sure you and I will talk about the finer points of all of this one day, but 2020 was the Coronavirus year. 

It didn't start out that way. January was a fine month, fine indeed, and I even got to go to Disneyland for my job and meet some really cool people -- I talked about you a lot.  Kobe Bryant, a legendary NBA player died in January from a helicopter crash, the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and the only music I really enjoyed from 2020 was a song called "Blinding Lights" from The Weeknd and music from a chick named Dua Lipa.  

There was also some song released called "WAP", but you aren't allowed to listen to it -- not so much because of the lyrics, but because I'm raising you to have taste.

It's hard to even talk about 2020 movies this year because so many of them came out on streaming services. Someone told me the other day "Can you believe 'Birds of Prey' came out THIS YEAR?!" and I actually had to go look that up to confirm, because this year has been so insane.

I keep going back to how crazy this year has been... in March, enough people had gotten this virus that basically the country shut down.  Movie theaters closed. Many restaurants closed, and the ones that did stay open only did drive thru or curbside. Wal-Mart decided it was going to close at 6pm instead of being open 24/7, grocery stores closed at 5 or 6, churches closed doors and went online, and when you came home for Spring Break, you didn't go back, as schools went virtual.

And it was really, really tough.  On our entire family. Your Mom started working from home, and we still had to get you up to try to do things online with your class -- and of course, you weren't really into that, so that was a struggle. Truthfully, I feel guilty sometimes because I feel like me not pushing you more may have set you back further, but I promise, we did what we could. 

This summer, we did our best to stay busy... we started riding bikes together, and honestly, that was a proud moment as a Dad for you. Yes, the training wheels are still on, but we'll get there. We hit Splash Adventure four or five times this summer, including once when you sat up on the 75 foot tall slide and nearly gave me a heart attack. 

You spent a little time with your friend Hillary, kinda your BFF, and watching your face the day Jack & Lily stopped by this summer was so amazing.  I hope your first instinct is always to give a handshake or a hug when you see your friends. 

2020 was the year you went all in on trains. 
Obsessed with Thomas, and in your Mom's
absence, we went on train hunts.

It's been fun to watch you at Next Levl too... I've watched you conquer those trampolines one by one, climbing up, falling backwards, failing to get back up to the ledge, whining, then trying it again. You persevere, Campbell -- its one of your attributes. 

You did get to go some this summer to a shortened summer school schedule, and you finally got to go back in September, albeit a crazy schedule. 

The Disney trip we had planned for March, the one where you saw the doctor in Florida was pushed back to May... then June... then September... then late September... but we got to go!!!

And you had your first waffles and pancakes (and syrup, which you dipped everything in, from your bread to your meat). And your first ham sandwich. And your first hamburger.  

And I'm proud to say, your first Blue Milk from Star Wars Galaxy's Edge.  And you loved it. 

Of course, you went all in on trains, including Thomas the Tank Engine -- our living room floor looks like a flippin stockyard. And all in on YouTube... by the way, you are obsessed, and probably need an intervention. 

Then... November came. 

And Campbell, this is where I have to brag on you and tell you how proud I am of you.  Every year when I do these online letters to you, hoping that one day you will read and absorb, I try to teach you a little something. Last year, we talked a little about kindness.  The year before, it was about Truth. And before that, it was Respect

This year? Adaptability.  And you showed all of us how good you are at it. 

I went away early in November for a few days, and Aunt Becky came to stay with us. And she was already not feeling great. Mommy had to take her home, to Aunt Becky's house, while you and I stayed here together... and no, you weren't happy that first night, but when we called to talk to Mommy and Aunt Becky, she (Becky) asked you "How much does Aunt Becky Love you??".  You replied "SOOOO MUCH" -- that was your thing with her, remember?  I don't know if you know, but that would be the last thing you'd say to her. And honestly, that's a good one to go out on.

Aunt Becky went to the hospital and didn't get better, then Mommy got sick with -- you guessed it, coronavirus.  And when Aunt Becky went to be with Jesus, Mommy and I fretted over how to tell you.  

On a Sunday afternoon, I finally just gave it to you -- Aunt Becky passed away and wouldn't be coming to see us anymore. You looked at me, then put on your shoes and were ready to go.  

Do you remember that day? I think you processed, and did so for much of the day. 

Your mom was gone for over two weeks... and you handled it like a champ. You didn't meltdown (much) you didn't freak out (much) and you didn't cry and scream because routine was so insane and upside down. You handled it. 

One of my fave pics of us, after getting soaked on
Splash Mountain, me losing my hat, and you having
just come down from a meltdown of epicness. 
Just the two of us. 

And I cannot tell you how proud I am of you for that. Had you had freak out moments, had you melted down every day, I'm not sure I could have handled it. 

But God took care of you, and me, and of course Mommy, who came back to us after 16 days, healthy and maybe a little tired.

Campbell, you adapted. You rolled with it, and kept on. And that is a huge trait to have. 

I know this letter is so much different from year's past, when I just gave you a recap and told you your accomplishments, but this year has been different, so it works somehow.

Welcome to 9 years old, my dear son. We love you more than you'll ever know... and still can't compare with the love that Jesus has for you. This year we began our nightly prayers together, and we'll keep praying for our family, for our friends, for our church and our pastor, for our country and our President, and that one day you'll find Jesus in your heart. Honestly, I've thought for a while now that you have your own conversations with God internally. He knows how to talk to you in ways we can't. Hopefully, you can tell me on your own one day if I was right. 

Finally, as I was driving the other day, I heard Will Smith's great remake of Bill Withers classic "Just the Two of Us"... from a father to a son, here are the lyrics I'll leave you with:

Feel the strife, but trust life does go wrong
But just in case, it's my place to impart
One day some girl's gonna break your heart
And ooh ain't no pain like from the opposite sex
Gonna hurt bad, but don't take it out on the next, son
Throughout life people will make you mad
Disrespect you and treat you bad
Let God deal with the things they do
'Cause hate in your heart will consume you too
Always tell the truth, say your prayers
Hold doors, pull out chairs, easy on the swears
You're living proof that dreams do come true
I love you and I'm here for you
With love,

Friday, May 08, 2020

thoughts on ahmaud

Ahmaud Arbery.

I don't speak about a lot of social justice, because I personally think much of it is political and for show, and it drowns out the real cases that need to be seen.

Full disclosure... I actually am a half minority -- Mexican dad, white mom, and grew up in a tiny south Alabama town who had a small, but not tiny, minority. And while my town wasn't racist, it was a byproduct of the south in the 80s, much like most other towns then... and unfortunately, with some places, now.  But I spent five years in a larger town in college, a much more diverse town, and then the last 22 in the big city of Birmingham.

Back to Ahmaud... this is something I had to work through. It's easy to say "didn't you see the video? what more do you need?" but give me a little grace on this, if you don't mind.

I'm someone who tries to look at everything and figure out what happened -- I'm usually not quick to comment on an event like this until some time has gone by for me to figure out my thoughts. And I did this same with this... I mean, I've seen the video... or at least what I could find. There are uncut versions of it, but I didn't search too hard... what I saw was enough.

So let's walk through this together.

A guy who was jogging and was killed.

This wouldn't be news in our country, because this stuff happens, right?

Then you pull back a little.


He was a black man jogging. And he was murdered by two good ol' boys in a pick up truck. This is news in our country, and yes, this stuff does happen.

(by the way, I use "rednecks" and "good ol boys" here very loosely, because I know both rednecks and good ol boys in my own life who are amazing people... its just a nickname I've given the three men in question. Don't read anything into it)

Then you pull back a little further, as much as we can at this point to examine what we know. A video of a Ahmaud jogging through a predominately white neighborhood. Ahmaud comes across a parked truck, he cuts right around it, and someone (the son, apparently) gets out of the driver side, shotgun in hand, confronts him as Ahmaud comes around the truck.

We see this video because a third man is filming on his cell phone from a car that was seemingly following Ahmaud. The video is a little shaky, and it catches both the son and Ahmaud in a struggle, shotgun between them. We hear several gunshots, and the video that I've seen cuts off before he is shot. Again, there is an uncut version out there that shows him being shot and falling to the ground, but I didn't see it and don't care too.

Despite this looking as cut and dry as possible, there are some lingering questions that need answering...

First, didn't these guys think he was a suspect in a recent string of break-ins?
Okay, let's go with that. So instead of running away fast, hiding, Ahmaud is jogging -- not running -- jogging in broad daylight. Plus, even if he had been spotted climbing out of a window and was running with a handful of diamonds in his hand, that's a call to the cops to say "Hey, we think this guy is a suspect, come get him".

Wasn't one of those dudes law enforcement?
I heard it was former, but let's go with this too. Consider this - in our society, if you don't understand what a black man thinks when two rednecks in a pick up truck pull up and ask you to stop, you aren't paying attention.

I'm guessing they didn't say "Hey man, did you see The Last Dance?" or "Hey, can you tell me how to get the Super Walmarts?", rather I'm pretty sure they were yelling. From the video, I am presuming they were yelling at him as he approached. What do you do? You let him run right by you and then make a phone call -- "Hey, I used to work for you guys, I think we have a suspect, come get him." Right or wrong, racist or not, Ahmaud lives, and you are a douchebag racist for calling the cops on a black man because he looks guilty.

But wasn't it self defense?
If there was one guy, you might have a chance at that. We only see Ahmaud jogging, the truck stopped and the son fighting him over the shotgun. They shot him twice. If you want to subdue him, there are THREE country boys there - two in the truck, one filming -- to do so.

Yet, only the son went after him. And again, of course Ahmaud is going to fight back.


I'm no videologist, but my guy is wearing running shorts and a t-shirt and it's very, very obvious he's unarmed. If you argue he may have had a knife, remember there are THREE people to subdue him... or THREE people with phones to call authorities.

But no phone calls were made. They shot him twice.

Once, you can maybe MAYBE pass off as an accident... you back up, call the police immediately, and then give your story.

Far fetched, but maybe.

Twice, though... that's murder.

I'm even willing to believe they didn't initially intend to kill him -- but I am convinced they wanted to hurt him, maybe hurt him bad. And when they shot him once, they shoot him twice to make sure he doesn't talk. You can say I've seen too many episodes of Law & Order, but you can't keep him from talking unless you keep him from talking.

Aren't they innocent until proven guilty?
Yes they are. We see what the video shows us, it's what happened before and after that we don't see that is the question. But the fact is, these men shot and killed someone jogging through his own neighborhood because he looked like a suspect, so it's not whether they did it, it's the "why they did it" that will remain the question.

They had options. They had ways to subdue him if they felt like they should have, and then we are having a different conversation, one about assaulting a likely innocent black man and we get the fallout from that instead. And Ahmaud lives.

But you don't know what happened, what he may have done before you see this video?
This is true. We don't know. One side will portray Ahmaud as a choir boy angel, the other side will portray him as a gangbanger murdering drug addled criminal. Usually, I'd tell you the truth lies somewhere in between, but screw that. Not here. Not in this case. No "what you don't see" could truly justify lying in wait for someone to attack and then kill them.

It doesn't matter what he did, what his life was like, how he treated our rednecks in question. What mattered is if they truly wanted to capture him because they thought he committed a crime, there are 100 ways to do it where Ahmaud doesn't even get hurt. This was a murder.

For the record, I think Ahmaud was a regular dude with a regular life, a guy that most of us would probably hang out with...

This was a murder. A flat out killing. Would assassination be too strong a term?

Personally, I think they intended to get him, to hurt him. I think they waited for him, confronted him, and when just hurting Ahmaud wasn't enough, they murdered him. And it's abhorrent. It's disgusting.

We can also talk all day long about why this happened in February, and why the men were just now arrested here in May, and to that, I have no answers, mostly because I don't know those facts. I can give my thoughts on that later, when more of that part of the story comes out.

But right here, right now, these men murdered Ahmaud Arbery. Maybe they did it because Ahmaud was black, or maybe they did it because he just happened to be the guy they didn't like -- I lean towards the former - but make no mistake, these guys murdered him in cold blood. And its revolting. And disgusting. And this is a case that justice needs to be done with due process according to our laws -- and these men must be punished.

I've spent my life supporting the death penalty and over the last few years, have changed my thinking on it not because I don't support capital punishment but because I feel like we get it wrong too many times. But I don't think this would be getting it wrong. Sometimes the video doesn't tell the whole story. This video shows enough. The questions I've asked have no answers other than it was a premeditated crime.

I'm proud to see nearly everyone I know rise up for this. I surf Twitter and FB on the regular, and haven't seen one single instance of anyone supporting the rednecks in question (aside from a Facebook group that exists called Justice for The Rednecks -- they don't get the right of me mentioning any of their names) ... rather friends both liberal and conservative and in between all are behind this.

And let's be real here, whether you agree with this or not, or whether this statement makes you angry or not, the truth is that every death of a minority at the hands of law enforcement doesn't mean it's racially motivated, and in the case of law enforcement, doesn't mean it's unjustified... but anyone who agrees with that statement must also agree that sometimes it IS racially motivated and it IS unjustified.

By the way, this isn't an invite to send me a list of names that you think were innocent until they were murdered by authorities. I can write thoughts on those stories on another day. 

It saddens me that something like this either is, or will be, turned into a political statement by those who have the power to make changes, because sometimes it is a clear case of bad men doing bad things to an innocent man.

We as a culture, must be smart enough to recognize when the uproar is necessary.

In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, it's totally necessary. 

He deserves justice. And I think he's going to get it.