Friday, December 11, 2015


I am pleased to announce the publication of my first novel, Walkabout.

As most of you know, I have previously published a number of non-fiction and short fiction books on Amazon, but this is my first foray into full-length novel publishing.

Walkabout is actually the fifth novel I've written, but for a variety of reasons, I decided to make it the first one to publish (my next project will be to edit and publish one of my other previously written novels).

I first completed Walkabout in 2004.  After failing to find representation for it, I sat it on the metaphorical shelf, where it's been ever since.  At the beginning of this year, I decided to pull it out and completely re-write it from beginning to end.  Once I completed that process, I again attempted to find representation for it.  Unfortunately, despite several "close calls" from a couple of agents, I again failed to find representation.

So I have decided to self-publish it through Amazon, offering it in both e-book and paperback formats.

The cover above is the cover for the e-book.  This is the cover for the paperback version:

I'm absurdly proud of this book - "absurdly" because self-publishing is a bit like going into a trophy store, buying a big huge trophy, having your name inscribed on it, then taking it home and showing it off to everyone and saying: "Look at my trophy guys!  I'm number one!"

Despite that, I am proud of this book: proud because I think it's a good story, and proud to see my name and my work on an actual ink-and-paper book.

I'll be even more proud if you and your friends and family all buy it :)

Walkabout is a thriller set in Australia.  The main character is an American who fled to the Outback in the mid-1990s after committing a crime in the States.  Since then, he has taken an Australian wife and has been working as a cattle rancher and part time tour guide.

While on a job with a client doing archaeological research on an Australian island in the Indian Ocean, he discovers that the FBI has finally caught up to him and is on his trail.  He escapes capture, returns to the Australian mainland, and a manhunt ensues as he attempts to meet up with his wife, who is also being pursued by American agents.

I researched the hell out of this book, and it involves a lot of exotic locales, rich description, and action and suspense.

The e-book version will set you back $4.99.  If you prefer the paperback, it will set you back $9.99.

I can purchase copies of the book myself for wholesale cost, so if you have your own website or blog, and are willing to read the book and write a review for me, I would be glad to give you a free copy of either the e-book or the paperback (on a first-come, first-serve basis, of course).

Regardless of how you come by the book, if you DO read it, I would be much obliged if you would leave me a review on Amazon, and tell your family and friends about it.

Here are the links:

Walkabout in E-Book and Paperback

The B. Scott Christmas Author Page, which has links to ALL of my books

If you have your own website and would like to do a write-up of the book for me, contact me and I will get you a free copy.  You can either contact me through the comments section on this post, or through email/Facebook/Twitter/face-to-face, etc.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Notes from the Cave: Dining Room Edition

It's been a bad year for blogging.  I'm not sure why my productivity in this regard has slacked off so much.  Perhaps it's because I've been working on novels again this year, and that's taken the place that used to be used by blogging.  If so, then it's not such a bad thing that I haven't blogged as much.

In any case, this edition of NFTC is coming to you from the dining room, where my computer has been camped out for the last month or so.  It's a little more cramped in here than normal, as we are storing some Pottery Barn furniture that my parents have bought for their new house (which won't be finished until March).  We wouldn't have Pottery Barn furniture in our house otherwise, that's for damn sure.  We prefer cheap and hand-me-down.  Okay, we don't actually prefer that, but she's a teacher and I'm an X-ray tech.

As you can see from this picture I just took of myself in the dining room, I'm doing No-Shave-November.  For me, that means also doing No-Shave-September-and-October.  I can grow facial hair, unlike my sad, pathetic friend Mike, but it grows very slowly.  So this year, I decided to start early on not shaving, so I could have a manbeard by November.  Some have described my beard as a dead muskrat, but I'm still proud of him.  My beard's name is James, I prefer for you to call him by his first name.  Thanks.

If you're wondering, he's named after my beard hero, James Garfield, the 20th president of the United States.

Maybe one day, I'll have a beard like this guy. Hopefully, I won't get shot by an assassin, like he did.

It wouldn't be Notes from the Cave if I didn't make a political statement, and I have to say that I am super bummed by Jack Conway's decisive loss in the Kentucky governor's election.  The polls had him leading throughout the entire campaign, including a 5% lead in the last poll before the election. This is actually the second election year in a row (last year's involved Mitch McConnell's re-election to the Senate) in which the Kentucky polls have been totally wrong.  I'm not sure who is in charge of conducting polls in Kentucky, but they aren't doing a very good job.  Matt Bevin, a tea party right winger who has vowed to undo everything his Democratic predecessor did, won by 9 percentage points.  That's a swing of 14 percentage points from what the polls said.  Bevin ended up with almost 53% of the total vote; the final poll had showed him earning 40%.  Unbelievable that a professional political poll could be that off the mark in the 21st century.

In any case, I hope his term as governor isn't as awful as I fear it will be.  The last Republican governor Kentucky had (we'd only had one since the early 70s prior to Bevin being elected) had a term plagued by minor scandals and he lost his re-election bid four years later (to the guy who just left office).  Of course, that guy (Ernie Fletcher was his name) wasn't a far right winger like Matt Bevin is.  I fear Kentucky is going to get exactly what it voted for.

Well, enough of that.  I'm really excited about the start of cold weather this year (amazing, I know) because all my favorite winter beers are starting to come out, particularly my beloved porters, which you can hardly find in the summer.  I'm drinking a Leinenkugel's Snowdrift Vanilla Porter as I type.  I recently had another called Diesel Punk that was pretty good (and nicely priced, for a craft beer, as well), and then there's my favorite, the porter made by my local Cincinnati brewery Rhinegeist, called Panther.  In a past life, I clearly worked as a porter (someone who carries stuff for people) in 18th century London (which is where this type of ale was invented; it was named after the porters working the London dockyards, who had a particular affinity for it).

I know I've been promising it all year, but I'm going to be publishing some novels pretty soon on Amazon.  One is a thriller set in modern day Australia, and the other is a historical thriller set in 1920s Europe.

Very glad that college basketball is finally under way again.  Kentucky has easily won its first two games against small programs.  The first big test will be this Tuesday against Duke, who is ranked 5th.  Kentucky is ranked 2nd to start the season.  Like other years, they have a bunch of highly-rated new players, but unlike some other years, they also have a fair amount of upperclassmen.  This could definitely be a championship-caliber team.  I have to qualify all this, however, by admitting that last March, after Kentucky's devastating and soul-crushing loss in the Final Four to ruin a perfect season, I swore I wasn't going to get as emotionally attached this year.  And I'm not.  I didn't even watch the first two games, although I have to admit that was only because I had to work.

What else?  I'm currently reading two very long books: a 600-page nonfiction book called The Fall of the Roman Empire, by a British historian named Peter Heather (which is partly for enjoyment and partly for research for a novel I plan to write in the future), and a 1200-page novel called Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons, about "mind vampires" - people who can occupy other people's minds and force them to kill.  I'm enjoying both immensely.

I currently have 40, yes 40, books on my Amazon wish list.  Just in case you want to get me a gift card.

Construction has finally gotten started on the house my parents are building in Hebron.  Pretty excited about them moving up here.  Dad already retired and Mom retires December 30.  They have to be out of their house down there at the end of November, so they'll be staying in a hotel through December.  They leave New Year's Eve for England, where they will stay for 3 weeks.  They then return to Houston, get in their car, and drive up here, where they will go between my aunt and uncle's house in western Kentucky, my aunt and uncle's house in Indianapolis, and us, until their house is finished in March.  Their stuff will be in storage in Houston until they move.

Hopefully they've delivered the wood by now and will be starting soon on the actual structure.  I know none of you really care about this, but it's my blog, so.

Okay, I guess that's enough for now.  Merry Christmas if I don't blog again before then.  And I probably won't.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Notes from the Cave

I really hate Facebook.  I've been wanting to get off of Facebook for a long time, but simply don't have the balls to do it.  I'd hate to lose that platform for getting in contact with people when I want to get in contact with them.    

However, I have recently removed the shortcut to the app on my phone and it has made a big difference.  Now, if I want to get on Facebook, I have to open my application manager and get to it. That's typically way more work than I'm willing to do in passing, so I end up hardly ever getting on Facebook.  

If you're like me, and want to get away from Facebook, but don't want to disconnect completely, I highly recommend this option. 

If you're like me, Facebook has caused you to change your opinion about way too many people that you otherwise like because you've found out they have political and/or religious beliefs that piss you off

I'm coming up on the end of a nice little run of days off at work, due to some scheduling switches I made with a coworker.  I switched to 3rd shift a few months back, working three 12-hour shifts each week.  Because of Labor Day and the switches I made, I've had a string of only working 3 shifts in 15 days.  Unfortunately it all comes to an end on Friday.  I go back to work Friday night and I've got 5 shifts in 6 days.  That's 60 hours in 6 days.  So I'll have to pay for all my time off, but I think it's still been worth it. 

As many of you know, I love listening to classic country music.  I despise modern country - pretty much anything since the year 2000, and I'm picky about 80s and 90s country, but anything prior to 1980 I pretty much love.  As a result, my favorite SiriusXM station in Willie's Roadhouse and over the last couple of years I've become pretty familiar with all the country classics. 

Some of my favorites.  From top to bottom, left to right: Tennessee Ernie Ford, Lefty Frizzell, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., George Jones, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson

Anyway, one thing I've noticed about old country music lyrics is the way that the meaning of certain words has changed over time.  Take for instance the following sentence:

My daddy and I are swingers and we love to go out and get stoned.  

Here, in the 21st century, this sentence would be eye-opening at best, and cause for a phone call to the authorities at worst.  

But in the old days of country music, you would simply have been asserting that you and your boyfriend/husband like to party and drink.  

When I first started listening to classic country, I remember being surprised how often they talked about "getting stoned."  Then I came to the realization that they were referring to drinking, not doing drugs or smoking pot.  And "swinging" was a reference to partying.  A"daddy" was, obviously, a sugar daddy - a male romantic partner.  

A daddy's partner, by the way, is his baby, or, more creepily, his "little girl."  

For those of you who are curious, my novel Walkabout, which I spent the summer pitching to literary agents, is currently under consideration by two different agents who asked to see portions of the manuscript.  I am waiting to hear back from them.  If neither of these opportunities pans out, I will likely go ahead and self-publish the novel through Amazon.  If I do that, I intend to make the book available in both e-book and paperback formats. 

I'm currently working on another novel which, like Walkabout, is an old novel that I am cleaning up. I don't plan on pitching this one to agents; as soon as I'm finished with the overhaul, I'm going to self-publish it.  

Of course I'll let everyone know when these books are available.   

We just finished watching Under the Dome on Amazon Prime.  This was a CBS series that just ended last week after three seasons.  It was based on a Stephen King novel.  The first season was pretty good.  The second season was okay.  The third season got super weird and more or less jumped the shark, but we went ahead and finished it out anyway because each season was only 13 episodes and we knew it was probably going to be ending after this season anyway.  We're now starting a "new" old series called 4400 which originally aired on USA starting in 2004, but is now on Netflix.  We've watched the first episode and it seems decent.  We'll see how it pans out.

Of course, everything, by necessity, must always pale in comparison to Lost, the Greatest TV Show of All Time. 

For those of you who have been closely following my life for the past 25 years (so like, all of you, amiright?), you may be interested to know that my parents are retiring and moving back to Kentucky from Texas, where they've been living since the early 90s.  Dad has already retired, and Mom will be retiring at the end of the year.  They've already purchased a lot here in northern Kentucky and the builders should be breaking ground on the new house any day now.  It probably won't be finished until late winter/early spring, so it's still a few months before they move, but the plans are all in motion. 

For me, it's going to be very strange having my parents nearby (literally walking distance from us) for the first time in my entire adulthood.  I was 16 when Dad moved to Houston, and 18 when Mom joined him there after I finished high school.  So I have never had my parents close by in my adulthood.  I've actually lived more years since they left than I ever lived with them here.  It will be an adjustment having them so close, but I am looking forward to it.        

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Annie Get Your Gun

Most people who know me well know that I'm an anti-gun guy.

I won't deny it: I hate guns.

Unfortunately, I live in a country where that puts me in a distinct minority, and that's not likely to change any time soon.  I accept that.

I've been wanting to write about guns for a long time, but have wanted to add something different and unique to the discussion about gun laws, gun rights, gun control, etc.  After all, if you just want to read a hard-hitting anti-gun rant, there are plenty of sources you can find besides Serene Musings.

So I thought a simple review of the facts might be instructional for both pro- and anti-gun people.  Of course I'm going to put my own perspective into it, but regardless of your own position, what follows are well-attested facts from reputable sources.


The United States has more guns per capita than any nation on earth. 

In fact, it's not even close.  The U.S. has almost 90 guns per 100 people - almost one gun per person, from newborns to centenarians.  The next closest country - which is Serbia - has about 70 guns per 100 people.  That's right, Serbia.

Only three nations have more than 50 guns per 100 people - the U.S., Serbia, and Yemen.

Yes, that Yemen.

Yemen, like the United States, loves its guns.

The United States has more than twice as many guns per capita than all but three nations on earth (Serbia, Yemen, and Switzerland).

We have three times as many guns per capita as our northern neighbor Canada, and six times as many as our southern neighbor Mexico.  We have roughly 160 times more guns per capita than Japan.


The United States has the highest firearm-related death rate among all First World, developed, and industrialized nations on earth. 

First World countries are those countries considered to be "high income, industrialized nations."  They are frequently compared with Third World countries, which are generally low-income, non-industrialized, or semi-industrialized nations.  These nations are sometimes called "developing" nations.

Among all nations where data is available, the U.S. ranks about 13th in total firearm-related deaths each year, with roughly 10.5 deaths per 100,000 each year.  The twelve countries ahead of the U.S. are all developing, largely Third World nations like Honduras, Venezuela, Columbia, Jamaica, and Guatemala.  Indeed, the only countries in the top 15, besides the U.S., that aren't in Central or South America, are South Africa and Swaziland in Africa, and Montenegro in central Europe.

If you count only homicides (and not suicides or accidental deaths), the U.S. drops just two places from 13th to 15th.


The United States has the third highest firearm-related suicide rate on earth. 

Only Uruguay and El Salvador have higher firearm-related suicide rates than the U.S.


Among First World, developed, and industrialized nations, only Luxembourg has a higher rate of accidental gun deaths.  

Overall, the United States is 17th on this list, but among industrialized nations, only Luxembourg has a higher rate of accidental gun deaths.


The only two industrialized nations in the top 10 for gun ownership rates also have the two highest percentages of gun homicides.

The U.S. and Switzerland, #1 and #4 respectively in terms of gun ownership rates, also have very high percentages of murders by guns.  72% of Switzerland's murders are committed with a firearm, while 67% of U.S. murders are committed with a firearm.

The main difference between the two countries is that Switzerland's gun-related murder rate is only about 0.8 per 100,000, compared to the U.S. with 3.2 per 100,000 (roughly 4 times higher than Switzerland).


A 2013 study published with the National Institutes of Health found that, among 27 developed countries on earth, there was a direct correlation between gun ownership rates and gun-related deaths. 

From the study's conclusion: "Among the 27 developed countries [that were studied], there was a significant positive correlation between guns per capita per country and the rate of firearm-related deaths." 

In other words, the more guns that existed in a given society, the higher the gun-related death rate.  

A 2003 study, also published with the NIH, came to similar conclusions: "The US homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that were 19.5 times higher." 


State-to-State, gun ownership does not necessarily equate with high gun-homicide rates.

Wyoming has the highest rate of gun ownership among the 50 states - nearly 60% of Wyoming residents own guns.  But Wyoming has the 9th lowest rate of gun-related murders in the U.S.

Similarly, the District of Columbia has the lowest rate of gun ownership in the U.S. - less than 4% of people in the nation's capital own guns.  Yet D.C. has the highest rate of gun-related murders at a staggering 16.5 per 100,000 people each year (more than twice the rate of any other state).

Yet in other states, such as Mississippi, there are high rates of gun ownership (6th highest in the nation), but also high rates of gun-related murders (8th highest).

Similarly, Rhode Island has the fifth lowest rate of gun ownership, and 15th lowest rate of gun-related homicides.  

The facts indicate that gun-ownership rates within the U.S. don't seem to have any affect on the number of gun-related murders in a given state. 


A 2005 study published in the Journal of Criminal Justice found that states with the weakest gun control laws also had the highest number of gun-related homicides.  

From the study's abstract: "Results of statistical analyses indicated that States with less stringent 
background check policies also had higher rates of firearms homicides.  This finding remained significant after controlling for economic and social conditions."  

So while gun ownership rates within the U.S. don't seem to correlate with gun homicide rates, the strictness of background checks does correlate with the number of gun deaths.  


According to the same FBI data, handguns are used twice as often as any other type of weapon to commit murder in the United States.  

The second most common type of homicide weapon is a non-handgun firearm.  Knives, blunt objects, and other types of weapons are used in only about 30% of U.S. homicides.  


Most gun-related murder victims in the U.S. are killed during arguments with people they know, rather than during the commission of a felony by a stranger.  

According to the above-mentioned FBI data, the only age group of Americans who are more likely to be murdered during the commission of a felony (robbery, rape, burglary, etc.) than during an argument with people they know, are people over the age of 80.  

For people aged 18-65, less than 30% of murder victims are killed during the commission of a felony by a stranger.  


So what do all these facts mean?  Quite simply, this: 

The notion of needing a gun to protect yourself from dangerous criminal strangers is largely fictional.  

Of course terrible things happen sometimes, but you are far more likely to be murdered by someone you know who has a gun handy than you are to be murdered by a gun-toting criminal.  

If you feel like you need a gun to feel safe, then by all means, take advantage of your constitutional right to purchase and own a gun.  But just be aware that more people die of measles every year in this country than by violence.  

Think about that for a second.  

Do you really need that gun to be safe?  

The other take away from all these facts is that there is an undeniable correlation between high gun ownership rates and high gun homicide rates.  While this correlation is not always seen state-to-state within the U.S., it holds true on a national level.  The simple fact is, when a nation has a large number of guns per capita, they also have a large number of firearm-related deaths.  This is true for every single nation on earth that has a high number of guns per capita.  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My Two Cents on the Confederate Flag

Does this picture offend you?  I can't imagine why it would.  

This picture is of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, pointing assertively to heaven, reassuring us that he has gone there - as the Bible promises - to prepare a place for us, his followers.  

To me, this picture stands for my Christian faith, and thus I want to proudly display it wherever I can.  

Does that sound to you like ridiculous nonsense to you?

Well, that's because it is.  Obviously no self-respecting Christian would look at an image like the one above and see it as representing their Christian faith.

No, this image is simply offensive to most self-respecting Christians.  If some Christians find this picture to be representative of their Christian faith, that doesn't change what it stands for to the vast majority of Christians around the world.  To those people, it's ugly and even blasphemous.

Yet this is precisely the kind of argument that waivers of the Confederate flag have been making.  "It doesn't stand for hatred and racism and slavery and treason, it stands for Southern Pride!"

No matter what the Confederate flag represents to a given Southerner, it represents hatred and racism and slavery and treason to the vast majority of Americans.

And that's why it needs to come down from every public installation, from every state flag (yes, that means you Mississippi), and from any other place (besides a glass case in a museum) where it is displayed.

It simply doesn't matter that you, dear Southerner, view it as a symbol of Southern Pride, States' Rights, or whatever other catchphrase you can think of.  After all, when you display it publicly, you're displaying it for other people to see.  And other people find it offensive.

That's reason enough to put an end, once and for all, to the display of this despicable symbol of hate and treason.    

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Why Donald Trump is So Popular and So Totally Not Going to Win His Party's Nomination

A lot of people - mainly Republicans - seem worried and perplexed by Donald Trump's apparent popularity right now.  (Democrats, of course, are just sitting back, shaking their heads, saying "Go Donald!")

A friend of mine noted today on Twitter that, though he's a Republican, he'd vote for any of the candidates from either party to ensure that Trump didn't win the White House.

Let me give a bit of reassurance to my Republican friends and readers, from someone who has studied and written extensively about presidential elections: Donald Trump is going to get about as close to the White House in the 2016 presidential election as I am.

I haven't been to a circus since I was a kid, but you know how, before the main events get going, the clowns come out first to warm up the crowd?

That's what Donald Trump is to the circus that is the 2016 presidential election.  He's the clown (or, more accurately, "ass clown") who's warming up the crowd before the actual circus gets going.

By the time the main events begin in earnest, Trump and his antics will be a footnote to the 2016 presidential election.

"But Trump is leading in the polls right now!!" you might say, wringing your hands in consternation.

Indeed, according to, the most recent USAToday/Suffolk poll (from July 14), shows Trump leading all other Republican candidates, earning a total of 17%.  Jeb Bush is next with 14%.  Similarly, a Fox News poll just released today (July 18) shows Trump with the lead among all Republican candidates at 18%, with Scott Walker second at 15%.

So what is one to make of this?  Let me paraphrase John McCain and simply point out that the reason Trump is leading among the Republican candidates right now is because he has stirred up all the crazy right wingers in the Republican party, of whom there are, sadly, quite a few.

Among the approximately 273 Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential nomination, Trump is the only one representing the "right wing bigot" faction of the Republican party.  For that reason, all of the Republican party's right wing bigots are solidly behind him.

The remaining 272 Republican candidates are much closer in line, ideologically, and therefore each have their own little, mostly regional, group of supporters, which numbers way less, for each of them, than what Trump is able to gather to himself right now.

In short, when you see Trump getting the most support among the candidates right now, keep in mind that, using the latest numbers from the Fox poll, 82% of likely Republican primary voters are not supporting Donald Trump!  And that's among registered Republicans!  Once the debates get going and more and more polls start getting taken and candidates start dropping out of the race, Trump will very quickly fade into obscurity.

Quite simply, the 17 or 18% support he's got right now is all he's gonna get!  Because, again, that represents the strongly united "right wing bigot" faction of the Republican party.  No other Republicans are going to flock to Trump when their own favorite candidate drops out of the race.

No, they're going to flock to Bush.

Because in this country, in this era of our history, money and name - especially when those two things are combined - make all the difference, and Bush has the edge in both those categories.

That's also why Bush is going to be running against Hillary Clinton.

Not eager to see a Bush-Clinton rematch?  Sorry, it's gonna happen, because corporate America decides our elections and our candidates.

And why does corporate America decide our candidates?

Because we decided they could.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Love Wins

Earlier today, I had the misfortune of reading the following tweet from an Alabama evangelist because it was retweeted by one of my evangelical Christian friends (not really a friend, an old acquaintance from college).  

"Of this, be sure: No declaration by a government can change a definition from God. (Gen. 2:24)"

I thought it was funny, because it reminded me so clearly of a quote I once read from a Baptist preacher named Richard Fuller from 1845.

Reverend Fuller was a Harvard educated preacher in Beaufort, South Carolina, and in 1845 had a debate-by-letter with the president of Brown University, Francis Wayland. These letters were later published. They debated slavery, with the northerner Wayland arguing against it, and the southerner Fuller arguing in its favor.

At one point in the letter, Wayland asserted that the institution of slavery was a sin. Reverend Fuller responded with this statement:

"What God sanctioned in the Old Testament, and permitted in the New, cannot be a sin."

It should come as no surprise to discover that Reverend Fuller was one of the leading voices in the creation of the Southern Baptist Convention, which broke off from the regular Baptists over slavery, and Fuller was the Convention's first president.

But this argument from Fuller (and it was a common argument among southern Christians at the time), that slavery was perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God because God, Himself, had ordained it and permitted it in the Bible, is so similar to the arguments made against gay marriage today that it sometimes floors me how little fundamentalist Christians really change.  

The issues change, but the attempt to use the Bible to support systemic discrimination remains the same.

Guess what? The Bible does treat slavery as an acceptable human institution, and God does "sanction" slavery in the Old Testament. Similarly, the writers of the New Testament accepted slavery and did not condemn it, but instead simply urged slave-holders to treat their slaves with love and justice.

But in the 21st century, and indeed for the last 150 years, we haven't cared about that. We've accepted that slavery is no longer an acceptable human institution, regardless of what the Bible has to say about it. We simply write those perspectives off as outdated and no longer relevant. And we don't think twice about it.

Similarly, the Bible does condemn homosexual acts, and the Bible does understand marriage as an institution between a man and a woman.

But even though we disregard Biblical perspectives on issues like slavery (and a host of other things, like the rights of women**), we still cling to them on issues like gay marriage.  We don't consider them outdated and no longer relevant.

Rest assured: as with slavery, women's rights, and countless other social issues, future generations of evangelical Christians will write Biblical perspectives on homosexuality off as outdated and no longer relevant.

And, as with slavery, they won't think twice about it.  It won't affect their ability to be a Christian, and they will wonder why evangelicals of our generation were so out of touch.  They'll simply say that "it was a different time," and "attitudes were different," and then they'll go on with their lives and think nothing of having gay friends, gay fellow church members, gay clergy, and attending gay weddings, and they won't think God has any different perspective on it than they do.

It's just sad that it has to take evangelicals so long to get there.  

** As a fun exercise in how attitudes have changed, even among fundamentalist evangelicals, on the rights of women, go read "The Test for an Unfaithful Wife" from the Old Testament book of Numbers, chapter 5, beginning with verse 11 and going through the end of the chapter.  I'll even give you a link to it: here.  Remember, God sanctioned and ordained this in the Bible!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Notes from the Cave

I'm happy to report that the reason for my dearth of blog posts is not due to total uselessness on my part, but because I've been spending the last three or four months working on a novel. 

It's not a new novel, but is one that I wrote about ten years ago.  In preparation for a writer's conference that I attended in February, I decided to do a major update and reworking of the novel. This involved things as simple as changing my characters' cell phones from circa-2004 flip phones to modern smart phones, and things as complex as adding entirely new characters and rewriting whole chapters and sections.  

I've finally finished the rewrite, and now have only the final read-through/edit to complete.  That shouldn't take me long.  

I've already submitted the book to two agents who I met at the writer's conference, and I plan to submit it to numerous others once the final edit is complete.  If I am not able to get any attention from agents, I will self-publish it on Amazon, making it available in both print and e-book format.  

So one way or another, faithful reader, you will be able to buy this novel. Hopefully you won't think it sucks. 

I'm on vacation this week.  It's the girls' spring break, so I took the week off too.  We went to the lake for a few days and came back on Tuesday.  The boat's not in the water yet and the hot tub at the house is broken, so there wasn't a whole lot to do down there; however, we went primarily just to get away.  The weather was nice, at least, and I was able to walk every day, although I ate and drank like a total glutton.  I watched Kentucky's heart-attack-inducing Elite Eight win over Notre Dame down there.  I think I lost a few Twitter followers after the game, thanks to my profanity-laced tirades.  

If the Final Four game this weekend against Wisconsin is that bad, I'll probably have to turn it off.  I seriously think it's probably not good for my heart.  :| 

Anyway, how about them CATS?!?!?  

I actually bought my first ever UK apparel last week.  As much as I love Kentucky basketball, I've never been one to buy sports apparel.  I've had some baseball-related stuff bought for me in the past, and I do have a Reds cap and  UK toboggan, but I've never really been into advertising my favorite sports team on my body.  

But last week I caved and spent thirty dollars on a UK shirt, which I then wore all day Friday at work at my Cincinnati hospital. I walked into one patient's room and he groaned and said, "Aw, you are not gonna wear that shirt into this room!"  Clearly a sad, pathetic UC fan.  :)  After I got done taking his X-ray, I dunked on his ass.  

I felt like there was more for me to say, but I have the feeling it was probably mostly political opinions, and you don't really want to read those anyway.  

Peace out.  

Friday, February 13, 2015

One Day I'll Be a Guardian Angel in Some Old Mother's Story

So I do a lot of things - I raise two girls, I husband like crazy, I edit company newsletters, I take high-quality radiographs, I do laundry and dishes, I grocery shop, I take care of the trash.  Hell, I even sometimes clean a toilet.

I also occasionally save kids' lives.

Today, Sophie and I were on our morning walk in the bitter cold of a February morning, when I looked to my right and saw a very young toddler in nothing but PJs waddling around in front of a house.  I did a kind of double take, looking around briefly for a parent, but saw none in sight.  The front door of the house was firmly shut.

Looking back on it now, I don't know why I didn't stop right away, but I think it's because I've been taught by society not to be too attentive to children I don't know.  After all, to a random mother, I'm just a strange man on the sidewalk.  In any case, I kept on walking, assuming that a parent must be around somewhere and I just didn't see them.

I didn't get more than a few steps from the kid when I saw, up ahead at the next house, a mother running out a door, clearly looking for her kid, but heading in the wrong direction.  She very quickly disappeared around the far corner of her house.

At this point, things got interesting.

A large Enterprise Rent-A-Truck  had passed me several moments earlier (before I saw the kid), and the driver had gone down to the end of the cul-de-sac and turned around.  He was now heading back up the street, diesel engine roaring.

After seeing the mother going the wrong direction, I turned back to the kid, who was now toddling towards the street, literally on a perfectly-timed collision course with this huge rented box truck, which showed no evidence of slowing down.  I ran back to the kid and got in front of him to sort of block him.  He was only a few feet from the street at that point.

Moments later, the rental truck roared past behind me.

Being that it was a large box truck and a rental, I'm sure the driver isn't used to driving them, and this kid was so small - no more than a year-and-a-half - I honestly don't know if he would have seen him, had the kid made it into the street.  The driver certainly didn't appear to slow down at all as he passed us standing just a few feet away.

The kid was a cute little redhead, and although he looked up at me with an expression of "Who the hell are you?", he immediately reached his arms out for me to pick him up.  I was trying to control my dog and keep her off of him, and I wasn't about to pick him up anyway (that whole strange men with kids thing again), so instead I picked up the dog and then took his hand and started walking back towards where I had seen his mother.

She came running towards us about that time, panting and half-crazed with fear and scooped him up into her arms.  I think she was embarrassed that he'd gotten out of the house.  She said something like, "I guess I'm going to have to start locking the doors!"

I said something about being surprised when I saw him walking down the driveway, she thanked me, practically in tears now, and I continued on my walk.

It was just really strange that I happened to be there right at that time, with that big truck barreling down the street, and this kid - old enough to walk, but not old enough to sense danger - literally toddling right on a collision course with it.  It's disturbing to think about what might have happened if I hadn't been there at that particular time.

And of course, it will probably come as no surprise to you to discover that this was the first time I had walked down that street in months.  In the winter, I don't normally walk far enough to get to that street.

In any case, considering how I just happened to be in the right place at the right time - this unfamiliar man with a UK toboggan and a little white dog on a pink leash - I figure that this mother, in future decades, will tell the story of when the strange man appeared out of nowhere, saved her kid from being flattened by a truck, and then disappeared down the street, never to be seen again.

This is how those goose-bump-inducing guardian angel stories begin, I think.  

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Pirate Looks at 40

Dear Scott: 

Hey there kid, it's me writing.  Me, your older self.  We turned 40 today.  Can you believe that? Remember when the guy next door turned 40, and his family hung that huge banner on the garage that said "Lordy, Lordy, Harry's 40!"?  Well, that's us today, man.  We've hit the big Four-Oh.    

I'm writing to you because I wanted to tell you some things.  Sort of prepare you for what you've got coming up.  You're 13 right now and, to use a phrase you've never heard before, shit's about to get real.  Before too much longer, your grandfather is going to die.  Mom and Dad are going to meet you at the bus stop that sunny Friday afternoon and you're going to get in the car, wondering why they're not at work and are picking you up, and even though you're going to have known he was sick, you're going to be completely blindsided by his death because you're still too young and naive to realize that he wasn't going to get better.  You're going to sit there in stunned silence for a few moments after your Dad says "Your grandfather died today," and then your Mom will turn around and ask if you're okay and you'll just stoically nod and say yes but you won't really be.  You'll hold it all in for several days until the end of the funeral, when you will totally break down in uncontrollable sobbing as you stand there with the other pallbearers while everyone files out and you see your Mom and Aunt hugging each other and crying.

Unfortunately, it's not going to get much better after that, although, thankfully, no more deaths for a while.  A few months after Grandaddy dies, you all are going to move. Not just to a new house, but actually leave Louisville and move up to Cincinnati.  I know, hard to believe, right?  It's going to really suck because you will have just finished 7th grade and will be 13 and will have to leave all the friends and familiar places you've always known.  You'll have to say goodbye to Russell and Osborne and all your friends from church and move up to a new place in a different state.  To make matters worse, you're going to go to public schools for the first time, starting in 8th grade, and pardon my French but it's going to be fucking awful for a while.  You're not going to be emotionally prepared for this new environment and you're going to be awkward and shy and kids are going to be cruel to you for the first few years.  They're going to make fun of how you dress and your Kentucky accent and no one is going to give a flip about UK basketball or the Kentucky Derby or any of the other things you and your friends in Louisville liked.

Thankfully, you'll get really involved with your youth group at church, and they will become your core group of friends throughout high school, and they'll accept you and love you and care about you as friends should.  

You'll meet people like Kurt and Renee, Allen and Bill, Randall and Fred, and Janet and Joanne (yes, they will all come in pairs), and they'll all be really good friends.  You'll also meet this girl at church named Melanie and you all will start dating in 10th grade, and she'll love you even though you're awkward and goofy and quirky.  

You're not going to go to UK like you'd always planned.  You're going to end up going to Georgetown College, because that's where your girlfriend plans on going.  You'll never regret this decision. I know it sounds crazy, but you are going to join a fraternity there and get really involved and make a ton of lifelong friends.  

You're going to reach adulthood there and later consider it to be, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best 4 years of your life. 

Unfortunately, you're not going to apply yourself very well academically, and while you'll still get by with B's, it will be way less than you are capable of.  I know, I sound like Mom and Dad.  Sorry man, turns out they were right.  You should work harder.  Should care more.  

After college, your young adulthood isn't going to be all that glamorous.  Sorry, but it's the truth.  You and Melanie are going to get married and live in Lexington where you were born, but you are going to start suffering from generalized anxiety and panic attacks, and you're going to be really unhappy and unfulfilled in your job.  You're going to pursue a career as a novelist, writing for hours in your spare time, but it's not going to get you anywhere, at least not professionally.  You will manage to get a few stories published, but nothing on the scale of what you are hoping for.

Things are going to get worse and worse until you and Melanie get divorced.  Your friends are going to treat you like shit for a while and you're going to lose a few friendships for good.  One of your best friends will end up not even inviting you to his wedding.  A year after that, you're going to lose your job right before Christmas and just two months before your 30th birthday.  You're going to learn a tough lesson that corporate America is made up mostly of dicks and assholes.   

The good news is that you and Melanie are going to get back together and have another daughter.  The bad news is that over the next few years, you're going to drink a lot and work several jobs that you hate even more than the last one, and then you're going to apply for graduate school in Creative Writing and be devastated when you don't get accepted anywhere.  Then you're going to go to X-ray school instead.  Sort of a consolation prize, I guess.  

While you're in school things are going to be really awful.  You're going to start gaining weight and being pretty unhealthy and money is going to be tight.  You're going to be glad you are working towards a stable and well-paying career, but secretly you are going to be embarrassed that you've had to go back to school to get an associate's degree after already having earned a Bachelor's.  You're going to feel like a failure.  You're going to react badly to the stress and start smoking and eating a lot, even though you've never smoked before.

Thankfully, things are going to get better after you graduate.  You're going to move to Cincinnati and get a job, and things are going to improve financially.  But your health is going to continue to suffer from a string of really bad lifestyle habits that the previous five or six years created, and I don't want to scare you, but you're going to end up having a heart attack when you are 38.  

Thankfully it's going to be a small one and you are going to get yourself to the hospital and get a stent placed.  But it's going to scare the shit out of you and you are going to totally turn your life around.  You're going to lose weight and get healthy for the first time in a long time and you are going to end up actually being thankful for the wake-up call.  It's going to totally change your perspective on life.  

Over the course of the first 20 years of your adulthood, you're going to change a lot.  Everything you believe right now?  You'll give it all up and pretty much rebuild your beliefs from the ground up.  These changes won't come without some bumps along the way, and you'll have some problems with friends and even family members because of it, but you'll ultimately be pointed in the right direction.

Your political perspectives are going to change and you are going to become a huge reader, devouring books left and right.  Crazy, right?  You're going to love learning and your adulthood is going to be a journey of discovery and self-education.  Some people will think you are weird for that and you'll find that most people don't keep learning very much after they get out of school.  This will set you apart from other people, and sometimes it will make you feel lonely.

Sometimes you will feel like an outsider among your friends and family and neighbors and co-workers.  As a result, you'll have a lot of different masks you wear, depending on who you are around.  There will be a home Scott, and a work Scott, and a family Scott, and an out-in-public Scott, and an online Scott, and a with-friends Scott.  Sometimes you'll wonder which one is the real one, but in reality they're all you; they're all just different aspects of who you are and who you've become over the course of 40 years of experiences.

So that's where we are now, kid.  A lot of people say, when they are looking back over their past, that they wouldn't change a thing.  I think that's a lot of bullshit.  I'd change a lot of things, if I could.  But life isn't like that.  You don't get to go back and change things.  It's an old cliche, but what's done is done.  What you do instead is grow and learn and make mistakes and grow and learn some more and just do the best you can.  I can't give you any better advice than that.


P.S.  At the age of 40, I've learned to be immensely thankful for what I have.  That's probably the biggest lesson I've learned, kiddo.  In the month of November, sometimes you'll see people listing on Facebook (yeah, don't even'll figure out in time what that is)...listing on Facebook things they're thankful for each day of the month, which I find a bit annoying - it comes off like bragging.  Others will simply use Thanksgiving as an impetus for reflecting on what they are thankful for.  Me personally?  I don't wait for November or Thanksgiving anymore.  As part of my daily meditation, I try to reflect on all the things I'm thankful for.  It helps to keep me grounded and helps to remind me, each and every day, that I don't need anything else - I already I have more than I could ever reasonably need or want.  Learning to be thankful is a vitally important skill, and I am thankful (excuse the pun) that I've finally learned to be thankful.  Wish I had learned it earlier, but grow and learn and make mistakes and just do the best you can.  It took until 40 to figure it out, but at least it didn't take me until 50, or 60, or never.        

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fare Thee Well Marcus Borg, 1942-2015

Having just mentioned him two days ago in my 2014 Reading List (I read two books by him last year), I learned late last night that my favorite Christian scholar and theologian, Marcus Borg, died yesterday at the age of 72.

There's not yet much information about what happened, but one Episcopal blogger, who is also a personal friend, said that Dr. Borg had died after a "prolonged illness."  This doesn't make much sense, since Borg was blogging himself as recently as December without any mention or indication of an illness.  

Either way, I am heartbroken to hear of his passing.  Here's what I wrote about him in a blog post last year:  

Marcus Borg is my favorite Christian scholar and writer.  To me, he's a modern-day Christian Bodhisattva.  Just reading his books gives me a sense of peace and tranquility.  He's also a brilliant scholar of the bible and the historical Jesus.  Unlike many academic biblical scholars, however, he's also a Christian theologian.  I had the pleasure of hearing him preach one Sunday morning in Lexington, Kentucky, a few years back.

Among my favorite scholars and theologians, he's the only one I've ever heard speak in person, and I've always regretted chickening out of going up to him after the service that day and introducing myself.  I especially regret it now that he has died. 

Borg was well-known as a scholar and theologian, a university professor in Oregon, a prolific and best-selling writer, and a major voice in the field of historical Jesus scholarship.  I've read a number of his books.  "Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary," published in 2009, is hands down the best book on the historical Jesus I have ever read.  I awarded it the Serene Musings Book of the Year Award in 2010, one of only two non-fiction books that I've ever given that title to.  I always tell people that if you are interested in getting beyond the Jesus of Sunday School and learning more about the Jesus of history, how he lived, why he lived, what motivated him, and what he was really trying to teach, this is the first book you should go to.  And that's true whether you are a progressive, conservative, liberal, traditional, evangelical, or an atheist.  Certainly if you are a traditional evangelical, you won't agree with everything you read in the book, but one of Borg's gifts was not just the ability to effectively communicate his ideas, but to do so in a gentle, compassionate, and inclusive way.  Of all the biblical scholars I read, I think Borg is the one best able to bring people together from all ends of the theological spectrum.  His kindness and gentleness towards ideas and beliefs contrary to his own are what sets him apart from most religious writers, in my opinion. 

Having grown up in moderate Southern Baptist churches, and having attended a moderate Southern Baptist college, I found myself, in my mid- to late-20s, having a sort of spiritual crisis.  Like a lot of reflective and cerebral people, I started questioning a lot of the things I had grown up believing.  Somewhat opposite of those stories you frequently hear in church, or from religious people, about experiences that "proved" to them that God is real, I had some experiences that, at the time, I could only view as more or less "proving" that God was either not real, or was, at the very least, totally different from what I had always believed.  

After a few years of struggling and questioning some things, I found myself in 2004, 29 years old, divorced, living alone, and questioning whether I could really believe in God at all anymore.

It was then that a therapist I was seeing suggested the books of Marcus Borg.  Specifically, he suggested Borg's book "The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith."  

I can say beyond any shadow of a doubt that, if not for this book, I likely would have lost my religious faith all together - something I have seen occur to a number of people around me.  This book, quite simply, allowed me to continue to believe in God.  And it set me on the path of religious discovery that I have been on ever since.  It's what started my now decade-long interest in religious scholarship, theology, and history.  I even considered, briefly, applying for graduate programs in the field of religious studies.  Though I obviously never did that, I did embark on a course of self-study that continues up to the present day.  For several years, this blog was basically my classroom, where I posted dozens of essays on religious scholarship, many of which are still among my favorites.  All of that, ultimately, goes back to "The God We Never Knew" and Marcus Borg's profound influence on my own spiritual path.  

Regardless of where you stand on life after death, one thing is undeniable: you continue on, here on earth, beyond your death, through the influence you've had on other people.  Your words, your actions, your behaviors...these are the things that continue to be real and tangible beyond your natural life.  In that sense, Marcus Borg will live on for a very long time in the countless lives, including mine, that his work and teachings have enriched.  Godspeed, Dr. Borg.

Well done, my good and trustworthy servant.  Enter into the joy of your master.      

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2014 Reading List

It's that time of the year again.  That's right, time for me to reveal my previous year's reading list.  This has become a January tradition here at Serene Musings and given the dozens and dozens of responses I get every year to these posts, I know you, Dear Reader, have been patiently waiting for this year's installment.  (That's a little joke, by the way.  I don't think I've ever had a response to any of these posts except possibly from my sister or father, and they don't count.)

I read 31 books this year, down 15 from last year's 46.5, but well more than the 20 I read in 2012.  This year's total was less than last year's primarily because I read so many lengthy novels this year that simply can't be read in just a week or ten days.

As usual, at the end of the list, I will choose a Serene Musings Book of the Year, which will then be added to the gallery at the bottom of the main page.  This is a highly coveted award, and this year's competition has been fierce.

So let's get to it.  Italicized titles are non-fiction books.  Books with an asterisk (*) are nominees for Book of the Year.  


Speaking Christian – Marcus Borg

This is a great book by one of my favorite religious scholars, but since I wrote a whole blog post about it in January, I won't go into it here.  In a nutshell, this book was about the language of Christianity, how it has been distorted by centuries of theology, and how we can reclaim it in genuine and honest ways.  

Watership Down – Richard Adams  

This is a classic novel from the 1970s about the adventures of a group of rabbits who migrate to a new warren.  I wrote a whole blog post about this book as well.  

The Dark Monk – Oliver Potzsch

This was the second book in a series by a German writer, translated into English.  The novels are mysteries set in Bavaria during the 17th century, and I really wanted to like the series, but I gave up on it after this book.  It wasn't that the story was terrible, although it was just okay, but it really boiled down to the fact that the books are translations.  I've read a number of translated novels over the years, and I've basically never read one that didn't seem choppy and awkward in places.  That, taken together with just okay plots and premises, spelled the end of this series for me.  Which is unfortunate, since I'd already bought books 3 and 4!  Oh well, they were only $2.99 apiece on sale (which is why I'd bought them to start with).  

The Power of Parable – John Dominic Crossan 

Another great book by another of my favorite religious scholars.  This one discussed how the parabolic teachings of Jesus influenced later Christians to write parabolically about Jesus.  

The King’s Hounds – Martin Jensen  

Another historical mystery series, another translation (from Danish, I think), and another decision not to continue with the series.  The only reason I tried this one was because it was cheap and it was set in 11th century England during the reign of the King Cnut, which I thought made for a really interesting setting.  Unfortunately, it was pretty much the same situation I encountered with the German books...choppy writing caused by translation from another language, and just okay plotting.

The Greatest Prayer* – John Dominic Crossan   

Another religious book, this one took a very close look at the Lord's Prayer, breaking it down line by line in order to better understand the overall purpose and core of Jesus's teachings.  It was a fascinating book and has become one of those that influenced my own spiritual practice.  Since reading this book, I have started routinely reciting the Lord's Prayer during my meditation, applying and meditating on the deeper meaning to the words that were illuminated by Crossan.  Highly recommended to those seeking a deeper understanding of Jesus's teachings.

Vicious Circle – Wilbur Smith

The latest offering from the greatest adventure novelist in the history of the English language.  He's in his 80s now, and this book wasn't a 5-star offering, but it's still Wilbur, and Wilbur's always gon' be Wilbur.  

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think – Brian Wansink

Mindful Eating – Jan Chozen Bays

I read these two books in the early spring in an effort to rekindle my dedication to eating healthy.  It wasn't that I had started being a slob again, but I felt that I needed a boost after the winter.  The first book, about mindless eating, was really fascinating, going into details about various studies done on people's eating habits.  The author showed how marketing and packaging and even pricing can have such a profound influence on not just what we eat, but how much we eat.  The second book, about mindful eating, was written by a physician who is also a Buddhist nun, and the book taught a really sensible method for slowing down, savoring your food, and ultimately eating less, while getting more joy from the foods that you do eat.  She talked at length about different kinds of hunger, including things like eye hunger and mouth hunger and nose hunger, ultimately arguing that we need to listen more to our cells, rather than to our nose or mouth or eyes, when determining when and what to eat.  It made a lot of sense and I have been using her ideas and methods in my own eating habits ever since.  Between these two books and the changes to my eating habits that they engendered, I was able to drop another ten pounds by April of last year (sadly, I've gained that weight back since the holidays and now need another rekindling, I think).

They Thirst – Robert McCammon    

A run-of-the-mill vampire novel by another of my favorite writers.  It's an older book of his and was just okay.  A lot of "just okay" novels at the start of 2014, unfortunately. 

In Cold Blood* – Truman Capote

A classic narrative non-fiction book about a brutal murder in Kansas in the 1950s and the subsequent trial of the perpetrators.  Capote spent several years in Kansas investigating the crime and interviewing the suspects, and it allowed him to write a remarkably detailed account of the events.  This book is routinely listed among the greatest in the 20th century, and frequently appears on lists of "must-read" classics.  

The Terror* – Dan Simmons

I don't remember how or why I discovered this book and Dan Simmons in general, but I did, and I'm glad I did.  This was a huge novel set in the 1850s and dealing with the real historical mystery of the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin to discover the northwest passage.  It's a combination of historical thriller and horror novel, and I really enjoyed it.  Interestingly enough, just a few months after I finished reading this novel, the Canadian government announced that they had finally, after almost 170 years, discovered one of the ships from the expedition, resting on the ocean floor.  

Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm – Thich Nhat Hanh

You Are Here – Thich Nhat Hanh

How to Raise the Perfect Dog – Cesar Millan

The Wolf’s Hour – Robert McCammon

This was a re-read of one of my favorite thrillers of all time, which I first read about twelve years ago.  Sadly, I wasn't quite as enamored with it the second time through.  I mean, it was fine, but I guess my tastes have matured a bit since I first read it.  

The Hunter from the Woods – Robert McCammon

The long-awaited sequel to the book above (long-awaited, as in, like, 25 years).  Rather than being a true novel, it was a series of short stories starring the main character from the previous book.  It was just okay.  

Plaster City – Johnny Shaw

Moving Day – Jonathan Stone

As a member of Amazon Prime, I get to choose from among four new-release books each month to download to my Kindle for free.  The books are always novels by mid-level authors and are published through Amazon's publishing house.  Each month, if one of the offered books sounds good, I'll download it.  These were the first two books I read from this program, and they were both pretty good.  Certainly nothing to go tell everyone at work about, but they were good escapist fiction, short novels that entertained me for a few days.  

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins  

This was a classic British novel from the 1850s, widely regarded as one of the first mystery novels ever written.  If you're up for 19th century British literature, it's a must-read.  

Dubh-Linn – James L. Nelson

The second book in a series about Viking-Age Ireland in the 800s by an author I first read back in the 1990s after he published a series of pirate novels.  I love pirates.  Anyway, these books are okay, although I haven't decided yet if I'll continue with the series.  Nelson used to publish with a regular publisher, but he's now self-publishing for some reason (I guess because he wanted more of the profits), but unfortunately he needs a better copy-editor.  There are a lot of typos and such in the text, which are distracting.    

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton  

A re-read, obviously. 

The Plantagenets* – Dan Jones

A really good history book about the Plantagenets, who were the kings of England from the 12th to the 15th centuries.  I loved it.  

Artful – Peter David

Another of the Amazon freebies, this one was set in Dickensian London and attempted to continue the story of the Artful Dodger, begun in Dickens' book Oliver Twist.  The "twist" (pardon the pun) in this novel is that the Dodger is a vampire hunter.  It was pretty entertaining.  

The Norman Conquest – Marc Morris

Another really good history book, this one about the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in the 11th century.  Like the Plantagenet book, it's a must-read for lovers of medieval British history. 

Fall of Giants* – Ken Follett

Winter of the World – Ken Follett

Edge of Eternity – Ken Follett

These were the three books of the so-called Century Trilogy by Ken Follett, novels set against the backdrop of the major events of world history during the 20th century.  They were all about a thousand pages, and I spent the majority of the last four months of the year reading them.  They were well worth it.  I liked the first one best, but that's primarily because it centered largely on World War One, which has always been my favorite era of the 20th century.  If you like historical fiction, I recommend them.  I think it's best if you do what I did and read all three of them right in a row.  It helps to keep the personalities and family histories straight.  

The First Paul – Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan 

One of several collaborations between these two scholars, this was a detailed look at the writings of Paul in the New Testament and what they can tell us about the most important figure in Christian history.  

ScreamFree Parenting – Hal Edward Runkel

A Facebook friend suggested this book and I really enjoyed it.  It gave very practical and sensible advice for how to change your parenting style and have a more fulfilling relationship with your kids.  I've taken its advice to heart and I can honestly say that I don't yell at my kids anymore.  I think more about how I parent these days and I feel like my relationship with my kids - and my family in general - has gotten better since I read this book.  The book does require making some basic lifestyle changes in how you approach parenting, and it won't work if you don't "get on board," so to speak, but I really think it offers a great alternative to the typical style of parenting that most of us do.  

Hell House – Richard Matheson 

Around Halloween I was looking online for scary books and several websites that I went to suggested this one from a well-known horror writer who died a few years back.  One blogger even went so far as to say that this was the scariest book they'd ever read.  Numerous people said this book terrified them.  After seeing a lot of people suggest this one, I bought it.  I ended up giving it 2 stars on Goodreads and it wasn't scary at all.  Frankly, I don't really understand how otherwise grown adults can actually get "scared" by a book.  I mean, a movie is one thing - the music and setting and lighting can affect your senses and induce dread, and stuff jumping out at the screen can startle you.  But a book can't really do those things.  It can be creepy, sure, but to actually "terrify" you?  Maybe I'm too much of a rationalist.  In any case, part of this book's problem is that it was written in the 1970s when parapsychology was still given credence by a lot of people.  This is basically a haunted house book where two mediums and a parapsychologist who doesn't believe in the supernatural go to a haunted house to try to uncover its secrets.  All in all, I found the book to be terribly dated, unrealistic, and not the least bit "scary."


So now it's time for picking a Book of the Year.  The nominees this year are:  

The Greatest Prayer
In Cold Blood
The Terror
The Plantagenets
The Fall of Giants  

And the winner is...

This was a down year for really great books.  I think I gave 5 stars on a few of these on Goodreads, but even the 5-star books weren't knock-your-socks off, Oh My God I Loved That Book, good.  I really enjoyed The Terror, but even it had its slow parts and some of the plot devices were a bit strange.  Also, Simmons' writing style can be plodding at times because of his tendency to write super-long sentences.  Still, he edged out Truman Capote's In Cold Blood primarily because I loved the setting and historical background of this book.