Month: December 2019

Top Ten Posts of 2019

December is the month of the “Best of…” lists. I’ve already seen the year’s best editorial cartoons; the year’s best rappers (yes, that exists); and the ten best new restaurants in DC in 2019; along with a dozen reasons why the Republicans’ impeachment defense makes no sense. (That last one really isn’t a “Best of 2019” story, but I just wanted to include it.) As I noted the other day, there is already a “Best Books of the 21st Century” list. One slightly longer list I strongly recommend is Lit Hub’s “20 Best Works of Nonfiction of the Decade.” I’ll jump on this bandwagon by highlighting the Top Ten Posts on More to Come as selected by you—the readers—in 2019.  Here they are, in chronological order: My 2018 Year-End Reading List actually dates from December 29th of 2018, but the majority of the views came in this year. I have provided a short synopsis, with links to the longer posts, from the 21 books I read last year. Given that this one topped my list of views …

Saturday Soundtrack: Joe Bonamassa

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I was listening to a live performance by blues guitarist  Joe Bonamassa from Madison, Wisconsin, on the SiriusXM B.B. King’s Bluesville channel. In between songs, Bonamassa recounted a story from the band’s current tour, noting that they had recently found themselves with a rare couple of days off while staying in nearby Chicago. Instead of going to their customary Days Inn, the band decided to treat themselves to two nights at the Four Seasons. Bonamassa said the accommodations were just what you’d expect from a luxury, four-star hotel, with the only downside being the 1200 “yuppies” who were attending a financial convention in the hotel. He ran into a group of these young, well-paid professionals at the elevator, and with his “street person” appearance and guitar case in hand, he became an instant target for a bully who clearly had more money than brains. Here’s how Bonamassa told of the interaction: Yuppie Bully: “Hi. What’s in the case?” Bonamassa: “‘It’s a guitar,’ I replied. ‘I wasn’t going to tell him that …

Naming Rights and Bowl Games

Welcome to the 2019-20 college football bowl game season! Try to contain your excitement. The only college football bowl game I ever attended was back in 1968 when Terry Bradshaw and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs beat the Akron Zips (now there’s a great sports team name!) 33-13, in a cold and sparsely attended Grantland Rice Bowl in my hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In fact, it was the last Grantland Rice Bowl played there, as the sponsors moved the game to Baton Rouge the following year. I vaguely remember getting free tickets as a member of the 8th grade football team (yes, that was my one and only foray into the sport) and going with some friends. We knew that Bradshaw was good, but we may have paid more attention (and kept our ticket stubs) had we known that Bradshaw would be the #1 selection in the NFL draft the following year and go on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period. As for the bowl’s name, Grantland …

More to Consider

I’ve long been a fan of the pithy proverb that contains truth in 20 words or less. Perhaps my love for the short and to-the-point adage came from my Grandmother Brown, who was known to say things such as, “The graveyard is full of people who thought the world couldn’t get along without them.” I admit I might have heard that particular one when she thought I was getting too big for my britches. To capture some of my favorite sayings without having to write an entire blog post about them, I created a feature on More to Come that I labeled More to Consider. (Clever, huh?) Every other week or so I update these quick bursts of truth. This section of the website is easiest to see on a laptop, where it resides near the top of the right hand column. But most people read my posts from their phones, where you have to scroll almost to the bottom before finding the saying for the week. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the more …

Saturday Soundtrack: Sierra Hull

Sierra Hull has been playing music professionally since before she reached her teens. Her debut on the Grand Ole Opry came at age 10, she brought her exceptional mandolin skills to Carnegie Hall at age 12, had her first deal with Rounder Records at age 13, and at age 17 became the first bluegrass musician to receive a Presidential Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music. As a 20-year-old, Hull played the White House. The way I best remember how young she was when she burst on the music scene is from her performance at the Merlefest music festival in 2012. When introducing the band, she noted that the bass player was a good musician, but he was also “the only one of us old enough to rent a van.” I’ve heard Hull play over the years at both the Merlefest and Red Wing festivals, and she’s always had the chops to play amazing bluegrass and traditional music. Her first album post-Berklee hinted at new directions, but it wasn’t until 2017’s Weighted Mind (produced by …

Seeking hope

Regrets and grief can plague us at any time of the year. But for some individuals, the holidays are a time when regrets are easy to recall and often hard to dismiss. At this time when people around us appear happy and full of joy, grief can suddenly arise in our souls. For too many, the darkness of the coming winter takes on personal overtones. We may have lost a loved one and feel that emptiness deep in our being. Broken relationships or health challenges can be exacerbated in a season when society calls out for gaiety. Those seeking employment see the over-the-top consumerism of the holidays while they wonder where they’ll find next month’s rent. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses can lead to an increase in suffering and grief because of the dissonance between one’s life and what one sees out in community. I’ll be the first to admit that I can struggle to get past the regrets in my life. Likewise, I find that grief is an all-too-familiar response to the sorrows …

My 2019 Year-End Reading List

As 2019 draws to a close, I’m sharing my annual list of the books I’ve read over the past twelve months. As regular readers of More to Come know, since returning from sabbatical early in 2016 I’ve committed to reading more, and to seeking out a wider range of works beyond my favored histories and biographies. With that in mind, here—in the order I read them—are the treasures I found on my reading shelf this past year. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations (2006)—Craig Nelson’s excellent biography of Paine captures the relevance today of the man who wrote three of the bestsellers of the eighteenth century, topped only by the Bible. Paine’s famous opening to The American Crisis—“These are the times that try men’s souls”—was written in the winter of 1776, yet it resonates today as much as it did when Washington’s small army was fighting for its life at Trenton and Princeton. The coalition that controls America today repudiates much of Paine in following the John Adams/Alexander Hamilton approach of …

Saturday Soundtrack: Kate Rusby

It was about 15 years ago when I first heard the beautiful vocals of English folksinger and songwriter Kate Rusby. I was walking through a small shop in the U.K., and the album that was playing on the shop’s sound system was her 2003 offering, Underneath the Stars. I walked out—with a copy of the CD in my bag—as a new fan, and I’ve been enjoying Rusby’s forward-looking traditional folk stylings ever since. Late last month, Rusby released a new album of Christmas music, Holly Head, which features tunes ranging from the traditional Lu Lay to the quirky Hippo for Christmas to Christina Rossetti’s classic Bleak Mid-Winter (Yorkshire). For non-seasonal offerings, check out her 2019 performance of Benjamin Bowmaneer at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. In addition to her vocal stylings, Rusby is also an excellent songwriter. Her work is covered by other artists, such as the international vocal group VOCES8 with their beautiful arrangement of Underneath the Stars. (VOCES8’s recent holiday concert in Georgetown was the subject of an earlier post this month.) From her breakout recordings in 1999 all the way …

Why Sentences?

I knew I was going to enjoy Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence when the first chapter included this little gem from John Updike: “It was in the books while it was still in the sky.” The sentence comes from Updike’s famous account of what it was like to see Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox hit a home run in his last at bat in Fenway Park on September 28, 1960. To refresh my memory, I just went back and re-read Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu in The New Yorker, and was reminded once again of how it has stood the test of time as an incredible piece of writing. Fish is right to call out this marvelous 12-word description of The Kid’s final home run as something special within the overall masterpiece. His breakdown of what makes it such a powerful piece of writing begins as he notes that the “fulcrum” of Updike’s description is the word “while.” “(O)n either side of it are two apparently very different kinds of observations. ‘It was in the …

The Importance of Being Interesting

Writer, editor, writing coach, France aficionado, and family friend Janet Hulstrand produced a delightful little book earlier this year entitled Demystifying the French: How to Love Them and Make Them Love You. Having just finished this advice manual for travelers and others interested in living more successfully with the French, I found Janet’s take on how to understand these sometimes curious, somewhat frustrating, occasionally mystifying, but always interesting people to be delightful, informative, and useful all at once. I also found that Janet had—either on purpose or unwittingly, I’m not sure which—captured some wonderful life lessons from her observations about the country she’s now observed and come to love as a visitor and resident for some 40 years. The book is written as if you are sitting by the fireplace with a wonderful French wine and a good friend who is giving you a crash course before you venture out on your first trip to France. Janet’s writing is clear and, as one reviewer put it, “breezy and digestible.” She begins with five essential tips for “even …