Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cheesy Christmas Letter 2010

We sent out Christmas Cards last week, and of course, wrote our annual Christmas Letter. There won't be many surprises for those of you who've read my blog once or twice before, but for those who didn't get it, here's our annual Christmas letter:

December 2010

It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by and it’s time to write our Christmas Letter again. 2010 has been a year of ups and downs, and has left us a bit numb.

Our year began with a visit from Rob’s parents and sister, Sofia. His parents were with us for Christmas 2009, and stayed into the new year when Sofia came down to join them in a beach vacation while we watched their dog, MacGregor. We’re very happy that they spent the holidays with us last year, and Tolliver missed his play buddy when they left.

After a winter of record cold weather, March saw Scott onstage in the Moonlight Players production of The Odd Couple, which introduced us to a bunch of new friends. We soon found ourselves joining those friends in starting a comedy performance troupe called “Team Chelsea,” and have really enjoyed working with them on some projects; most notably a couple of well-received interactive murder mystery dinners. In July, Scott was featured in a local production of the musical Ragtime, and in October he performed in The Insanity of Mary Girard; while Rob returned to the stage for the first time in 15 years in a production of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. We’re really enjoying all the time we’re spending doing theatre; and are looking forward to more of the same next year. In fact we’re already in rehearsals . . .

In July, Rob’s mom and sister returned for a visit and a trip to Universal Orlando’s new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter”. We had a great time with them, and are very happy that they were able to make the trip out to see us. We managed to make it to Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian with them, which has always been a favorite activity when they’ve been in town.

In August, our friend Cat moved in with us, and will be our roommate for a little while. It’s been great fun having her and her dog, Wolfie living with us.

Sadly, on November 3rd, we suffered a devastating loss. We lost Rob’s mom to a heart attack while she and Rob’s dad were vacationing in Mexico. We flew to Lubbock to be with Rob’s family for the memorial service and to spend some time together. It’s been a very rough time for all of us. She will be missed every day, and remembered with love and laughter.

After a spending Thanksgiving with our “Florida Family”, as has become our tradition; we’re looking forward to a quiet and low-key Christmas and New-Year holiday.

Here’s hoping that this letter finds you well, and that 2011 will be a good year for all of us.

We send you warm wishes for Happy Holidays!


Rob, Scott and Tolliver

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Reflecting on the people in my life, and what my life means in the grand scheme of things.

While the loss of my Mom is still weighing very heavily on me right now, I've been reflecting that beyond that sorrow, I have a lot to be thankful for.

I know it's not terribly original this time of year, but this blog post is about those things for which I'm grateful.

Firstly, I'm thankful for Scott. My better half, my partner in crime, my husband, my best friend. Words can't describe how Scott has saved me. He made my life complete, and he filled a gap in my soul. He takes care of me, and he lets me take care of him. He is the love of my life, and he makes me happy. There isn't any situation that can't be improved with his smile, his touch, his laugh. I can't imagine my life without him.

Next, I'm thankful for my Mom. You had to know this was coming. I miss her so much that it hurts, but every second of that grief is tempered with the knowledge that I was very lucky to have her in my life. I'm thankful that the only regrets are that I don't have more time with her. We enjoyed every minute we had together, and she knows that I love her. Nothing but happy memories.

And I'm thankful for the rest of my amazing family. My Dad is the one that I measure all other men against. He's strong, smart, caring, and funny. There are few people from whom I've learned as much, and fewer still that I respect as much. My brother, Dennis, and sister, Sofia, are individually two of the most remarkable people I know, for completely different reasons. I am in awe of them. My cousin and her daughter are a bright ray of light, and I love being Daya's Uncle Rob, as much as I imagine Dana's dad enjoyed being my Uncle Robert.

And my friends. Wow, am I a lucky guy. I've got amazing friends in so many places. The support from so many different directions over the last few weeks has been overwhelming. It's been said that friends are the family we choose. Apparently I've got REALLY GOOD taste, because the friends I've chosen are a dizzying array of incredible people. That they all care for me as much as they've shown lately, humbles me no end. I'm very lucky indeed for all of my friends, and I love them all dearly.

I'm thankful for Tolliver. Pets provide us with some unnameable thing that makes life more fun when times are good, and more bearable when times are hard. Smart, sweet, obstinate, vindictive little Tolliver never fails to make me smile. He makes us into a family. I love him to pieces.

I'm thankful for my job. They way things have been going lately, this is a day to day thing. So many co-workers are out of work now, and we all fear that we'll be the next one to go. Still, I'm thankful to have it for as long as it lasts. It's been a good run, and I look forward to new challenges; either under new ownership or in other sandboxes.

While thankful that I have an occupation, I'm more thankful that I've returned to my avocation. This year I returned to doing theatre. I missed it more than I realized, and I'm thankful beyond words for my friends at Moonlight Players and my family members in Team Chelsea for helping me remember how much I need this, and how good I feel about myself when I do.

And of course, there's so much more. I've never had to worry about food, shelter, or clothing. The basics of survival that so many struggle to maintain, we're lucky enough to have in enough quantity that we really don't lack. I know that this can change at any time, so I'm grateful for it while we've got it.

I'm a very lucky man, with a very good life. A happy life. It sounds so trite and sappy to say it, but wow, there it is. "Happy". What more could anyone really ask for?

So, while I'm sorry that Mom isn't with us anymore, and I grieve for the happiness I won't be able to share with her from here on; I'm grateful that she got to see me happy. She got to witness the amazing thing that is my life with all that I've described above.

Those are my reflections for today.

Thank you all for sparing a moment to read my ramlings.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What in the GAY HELL . . . er . . . . Afterlife?!?!?!?

Okay, there are lots of gay stereotypes out there. Some are based in fact more than others.

The one that always makes me chuckle, however, is "Gays have excellent taste."


Yeah . . . but no.

Frankly, there are some seriously tacky queens out there. We practically invented "camp" and "kitsch" for crissake! Which is fine. To each his own. I don't judge . . .Much . . . Outloud . . . To their face . . .

Every now and then, however, along comes a couple of queens who up the "oh, god, you've got to be shitting me" quotient to new heights of tack-o-rama.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those times. Introducing the newest product that all the queers will be dying to get into . . . at least that's what the creators are hoping:

Gay Coffins.

Seriously. Two guys in Germany have created gay-themed caskets and urns. They're covered with pictures of scantily clad men.

Really? REALLY?

Apparently there are "rainbow" caskets and urns available too.

Yeah, because THAT wouldn't be tacky.

Some days, I wonder why I bothered to come out of the casket . . . er . . . . closet.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Puppy Size

This was the last email Mom sent me before she passed away. It's one of her favorites.

I know that I have sent this before, but this story just touches my heart so much. Having you in my life makes me sigh, so thought I'd share it again.

-Dorothy Or Mom as the case may be.

Puppy Size

This is one of the neatest stories you will ever hear. You will know precisely what this little girl is talking about at the end (you'll want to share this one with your loved ones and special friends)!

'Danielle keeps repeating it over and over again. We've been back to this animal shelter at least five times. It has been weeks now since we started all of this,' the mother told the volunteer.

'What is it she keeps asking for?' the volunteer asked.

'Puppy size!' replied the mother.

'Well, we have plenty of puppies, if that's what she's looking for.'

'I know..... we have seen most of them, ' the mom said in frustration... Just then Danielle came walking into the office 'Well, did you find one?' asked her mom.

'No, not this time,' Danielle said with sadness in her voice. 'Can we come back on the weekend?'

The two women looked at each other, shook their heads and laughed 'You never know when we will get more dogs. Unfortunately, there's always a supply,' the volunteer said.

Danielle took her mother by the hand and headed to the door. 'Don't worry, I'll find one this weekend,' she said.Over the next few days both Mom and Dad had long conversations with her. They both felt she was being too particular. 'It's this weekend or we're not looking any more,' Dad finally said in frustration. 'We don't want to hear anything more about puppy size, either,' Mom added.

Sure enough, they were the first ones in the shelter on Saturday morning . By now Danielle knew her way around, so she ran right for the section that housed the smaller dogs. Tired of the routine, mom sat in the small waiting room at the end of the first row of cages. There was an observation window so you could see the animals during times when visitors weren't permitted. Danielle walked slowly from cage to cage, kneeling periodically to take a closer look. One by one the dogs were brought out and she held each one. One by one she said, 'Sorry, but
you're not the one.' It was the last cage on this last day in search of the perfect pup. The volunteer opened the cage door and the child carefully picked up the dog and held it closely. This time she took a little longer. 'Mom, that's it! I found the right puppy! He's the one! I know it!' She screamed with joy. 'It's the puppy size!'

'But it's the same size as all the other puppies you held over the last few weeks,' Mom said.

'No not size... The sighs. When I held him in my arms, he sighed,' she said. 'Don't you remember? When I asked you one day what love is, you told me love depends on the sighs of your heart. The more you love, the bigger the sigh!'

The two women looked at each other for a moment. Mom didn't know whether to laugh or cry. As she stooped down to hug the child, she did a little of both.

'Mom, every time you hold me, I sigh. When you and Daddy come home from work and hug each other, you both sigh.

I knew I would find the right puppy if it sighed when I held it in my arms,' she said. Then, holding the puppy up close to her face, she said, 'Mom, he loves me. I heard the sighs of his heart!'

Scott and I got home from Lubbock late on Saturday night. It was a long week, but it was good to be with my Dad, Dennis, Sofia, Dana, and all of the rest of the family. Sorrow shared is sorrow halved, after all.

The tears finally caught up to me on Friday night, and I fell apart while looking through some of my things that Mom had stashed away. And I've been crying off and on since then. This is going to take some time to get used to. Considering that I still get emotional thinking about missing my Grandma, and she's been gone for 23 years, I don't really expect that it's ever going to go away completely.

So, yesterday I returned to work, found out we'd had another round of lay-offs while I was gone. Oh, joy! And of course everybody wanted to come in and give me a hug and ask how I was doing and say "I'm so sorry." I appreciate it. I really do. But it just kept dredging it all back up to the surface of my thoughts. Needless to say, it was a rough day. Just another in a long line of many rough days. They're starting to get old.

While I was at work, Scott picked up Tolliver from the vet, where we had boarded him while we were away. They're closed on Sundays, so we couldn't pick him up before yesterday. I'd really missed him while in Lubbock. Watching Dad's Westie play with Sofia's two Cocker Spaniels made me homesick for my little doxie.

So last night, I got home from work, and Scott headed off to rehearsal, and I got to have some Tolliver time. We played and then he got a treat while I ate dinner and watched TV. Then when dinner was over, I crawled down onto the floor to play with him some more; but he didn't seem interested in fetching a toy. He crawled into my lap, settled himself down, and heaved a big sigh.

Somewhere, Mom smiled at the puppy sighs in my lap. I am loved. I'll be okay. And sometimes the best company when you're sad is your dog.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Things I learned from my mother . . .

My Mom's memorial service was this morning. After a hellish week, we finally had an opportunity to say goodbye. But I couldn't. I didn't cry. I wasn't able to. The speakers were very moving, and I'm happy to know that my Mom touched so many people in so many wonderful ways. I got a little teary-eyed at times, but no more than I would have if I'd been sitting next to my mother at a party in her honor and held her hand while people said nice things about her.

But I sat there feeling a bit detached. I was very worried about my Dad, and my brother and sister. And Scott. I'm not sure if it just isn't real to me yet, or if this is all too much to process, so my mind shut down the emotions so I could get through it. Scott cried more than I did. Which isn't surprising. He loves her as much as she loved him, which is to say, quite a lot.

Whatever, I couldn't cry. It'll come in time. I know that.

In the meantime, as a bit of a tribute, I'm going to share some of the things that I learned from her.

So here it is: The Things I learned from My Mother . . .

"Eat something, Baby, it'll make you feel better"

Don't feel good? Drink some water . . . or have some protein . . . or try and have a bowel movement.

Read. Reading is fun.

Nothing is as important as family.

It's okay to cry. Tears lubricate the soul.

"The more you cry, the less you have to pee"

Sometimes the only appropriate response to a situation is "Well, SHIT!"

Love shared, is love multiplied.

Sorrow shared, is sorrow divided.

Don't worry about what other people think. Be yourself and do what makes you happy.

Don't regret the mistakes and pains of your past; they helped to bring you to where you are now, and who you are now. Sometimes we have to go through the shitty stuff to make it to the happily ever after.

Never miss the opportunity to try new foods. You might find a new favorite. If not, you'll at least get a good story to tell later.

See as much of the world, and learn about how other people live as you can.

Throw the words "in-law" out of your vocabulary. They're not needed. Family is family, and we're happy when it grows.

Never miss the chance to smile, laugh, and enjoy time with the ones you love. Embrace the moments you have with each other and cherish the memories forever.

Say "I love you" to each other frequently. End every conversation with it, that way you know that when the "last time" comes, you've said it, and they know it in their hearts. There are fewer regrets later that way.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The end of the world as we know it

Today, begins a new and frightening time.

Today begins my life after Mom.

My Mom died suddenly of a heart attack while on vacation at my Uncle's Condo in Mexico yesterday morning. At 12:20pm my world changed forever, as my Dad's voice broke when I answered the phone and he let me know that nothing would ever be the same again.

I freely admit I'm a Mama's Boy. My Mom is . . . . was . . . . one of my best friends. There are very few things that I didn't discuss with her. And good or bad, when something happened in my life, I called my Mom to talk about it.

Nothing. Not one thing prepared me to face the worst day of my life . . . and not be able to call my Mom to talk about it.

She'd been in Mexico for a month. I'd only had a couple brief conversations with her while she called to check in on her phone using international roaming. I was saving up a month's worth of discussion to share with her when she got home.

I never get to have that conversation with her. Or any of the multitudes of conversations that I will want and need to have with her in the future. My only small comfort is knowing that my last words to her were "I love you" and that I heard "I love you, too" back.

I do not know how to live in a world where my Mom isn't in it.

Which isn't to say that I'm not close to my Dad. Far from it. He's the best Dad in the whole world, and it tears me up inside thinking that he had do deal with all of this alone so far from home.

Scott and I just finished making arrangements to fly to Lubbock, so we'll be there when Dad gets home with Mom's ashes. There are lots of things to do, and I'm sure lots of people to see. The one I want to see most won't be there, though. And she never will be again.

Yesterday, I grew up. Yesterday morning, I had a mommy. Yesterday afternoon, I was calling family and friends and letting them know that she was taken from us far too soon. For the first time in my life, I was the one who was making the phone calls. My Mom and Uncle Robert used to make macabre jokes about "the family death knell", because there was always one person who called and told the family when someone had died. Yesterday that became me and my sister. Yesterday my childhood ended.

Today was the first day without my mom. And what will follow is the awful year of firsts. The first Thanksgiving without my Mom, the first Christmas, the first New Year, the first Birthday, the first time that we don't celebrate HER birthday, and lastly, the first anniversary of her death.

I loved my Mom more than I can express. And I have nothing but happy memories, that will comfort me for years to come. I am very thankful to have had her in my life, and I am thankful that she knows I loved her, and that I have no doubt that she loved me and my partner as if he were her own son.

I love my Dad and my siblings as much as I loved my Mom; and I am grateful to still have them. They are such amazing people, and we will depend on each other more now and in the next year than we ever have before. And we've been through some serious shit before. We're there for each other, we always are. We love each other, and we know it. My mom made sure that we tell each other all the time, so we don't ever have to worry about the "I should have said it more" regret.

There will be good times too. And I have dealt with enough loss before to know that life goes on, and that she wouldn't want us to dwell on her passing, but on the wonderful happy life she had and that she made for us. The pain of this loss will never go away, but in time it will become a part of daily life, so that it won't be as debilitating as it is today. I know this, but right now that doesn't help.

There's only one thing that will help.

There's only one thing I want.

I want my Mommy

Monday, October 18, 2010

15 years and 1500 miles . . .

I'm tired. Really tired. I'm trying not to get a cold/flu sort of thing. And I've been dealing with some ongoing dental issues, too. Just sort of "blah".


It's been years, and years since I did any theatre at all. Almost 15 years, actually. Not since the Phoenix Theatre closed it's doors in Lubbock, Texas back in the mid-nineties. Ah, the Phoenix. What fun we had! I loved working with that group of people in that old dry-cleaner's building! (and later in the strip-mall storefront). And on top of having loads of fun, we routinely turned out some really REALLY good shows.

And before that, it was the American Southwest Theatre Company and Opportunities for Creative Theatre Students, both based at New Mexico State University. Wow. Lots of fond memories of doing great (and sometimes not so great) theatre with really fun, talented people.

After the Phoenix closed, I moved to Dallas and got a job working Monday through Friday, eight to five. And I discovered that I REALLY liked having my evenings and weekends free. I looked into working with a couple of the theatre groups in Dallas, but they really didn't seem interested in what I had to offer at the time. So I just put the idea aside, and kept on enjoying those nights and weekends, and sometimes I enjoyed them by seeing theatre.

And then of course, in 2003 I met Scott, and by 2004 we were living in Central Florida. After a couple years, Scott auditioned for some local shows, and got cast. So I started to go see him perform and got to meet some of the people he was working with.

Recently, Scott introduced me to a group of people that has that same feeling that we had at the Phoenix. Sort of a family, sort of an eclectic cocktail party, sort of a learning experience; all kinds of fun. I kind of jumped in with both feet. I'll be returning to the stage this week with a couple small roles in Shakespeare's MacBeth with the Moonlight Players. My first time performing Shakespeare, by the way. And once MacBeth opens, I'll be stage-managing a production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (in which Scott is playing the lead!) which opens in January, and it looks like I'll be assistant directing All the Great Books . . . Abridged next summer.

In the meantime, some of the awesome people we've met at Moonlight have started an Improv/Sketch Comedy troupe called Team Chelsea, and we'll be doing a murder mystery dinner at a local pub in November, and are submitting an application to do an original show which I'll direct at the Orlando International Theatre Fringe Festival in May.

No wonder I'm tired!

So there it is. 15 years and 1500 miles later . . . it feels like I've found my way home.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Recent Teen Suicides . . . and October 1, 1988

October First, 1988.

That was the day . . . the night, actually . . . that I didn't kill myself.

That was the night, however, that I tried.

I was a mess. I was a fucked-up not wanting to be gay, trying to come to terms with who I was mess. I was twenty years old.

The recent spate of well publicized suicides by gay teens has definitely stirred up a lot of emotional "stuff" for me recently.

Here's the thing. Suicides by gay teens are not "on the rise". They're just recently being publicized. Young gay and lesbian people kill themselves in numbers far, far greater than any of us can imagine.

Unlike the young people whose suicides have been in the news of late, I wasn't bullied. Not in the traditional sense. I had (and still do have) one of the most amazing, loving, and accepting families that there is, and I had a supportive group of friends who wouldn't have given a second thought to me being gay. But I was suffering at the hands of a society that hadn't prepared me to be a functional adult gay man; and I was suffering at the hands of the most brutal bully there is: myself.

I had convinced myself that I was a freak. That no one would ever want me. That I would be better off dead. I'm not going to lie, there was a considerable amount of rum involved in some of those thoughts that night; but alcohol wasn't the problem. The problem was that society sends a message to gay kids that they're not as good. That they'll never be happy. That they should hide who they really are, lest they be shunned by everyone that's important in their lives. And the message even got to kids like me, kids with awesome, loving, and accepting families; kids with positive gay role models; kids with friends who wouldn't care, but would stand by us no matter what.

We're taught from a very young age that boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy kisses girl, boy and girl have sex, girl gets pregnant, boy and girl get married. That's the way it works. (okay, so sometimes there are slight variations on the theme, and they don't get pregnant first). But the normal dating pattern is taught to us via school dances, and social gatherings. 1. You meet. 2. You get to know each other. 3. You fall in love. 4. You have sex.

What happens to gay kids when they start to venture out of the closet, is that they go to the places that they've heard about. You know. The places where "the fags" hang out. The parks, or bookstores, or gay bars. They're scared shitless that someone they know might see them, and they're so full of hormones that their impulses get the better of them, and they do things they regret. And the pattern is all wrong. 1. You have sex. 2. You meet. 3. You run home and hope that the shower will wash away the shame and regret. It's fucked up. And gay guys can take years before they get past this stage and move on and become functional adult gay men capable of a healthy relationship with another man. And some never do, preferring to stay in the closet and venture out to those skeevy places for furtive encounters, all while hoping that no one finds out and exposes them.

So why? Why do gay guys do that? Why don't they follow the pattern? Why don't they learn to date in school, or at church socials like their straight counterparts do? Because our society won't let them. Our society tells them that being gay is a bad thing. It tells us that gays don't form lasting, loving, relationships. It tells us that exposure to gays harms children. To be fair, the message isn't that blatant (well sometimes it is, right wing religious fanatics abound). We're told that because gays can't serve in the military; because they can't marry or adopt; because it's legal to discriminate against them in housing or employment; because crime based on sexual preference isn't classified as severely as crime based on race, religion, or gender.

The message to our young gay people is very, very clear. You're not good enough, you're never going to be good enough, and you're never going to be happy.

Is it any wonder then, that some of us, after another sleazy hookup at a filthy adult bookstore drink a bottle of rum, and sit in a corner with a razor blade to our wrist? That we're pissed as hell when our brother comes home, and finds us? That he tells our parents?

And what about the message to straight kids? The message they hear is that being gay is an awful thing, but that persecuting gays isn't so bad. After all, it's not as bad as persecuting someone because of their race, or their religion. If it were, they'd be protected equally under the law. So those who are prone to bullying, find the targets that our society points them toward. That's not surprising, either, is it?

They tell me that it's a lot easier to grow up gay now, than it was for me. That kids are out of the closet and dating in high school in some places. And I applaud those kids. I applaud them for demanding the chance to learn the pattern the right way, and with whom they are meant to learn it. They've begun to overcome the messages our society sends.

Now we have to make sure that our society stops sending those messages.

Yes, bullying, is a terrible thing, but it's only a symptom. The messages have to change. And the only way to do that is to remove the second class citizen status of millions of Americans.

We have to ensure full equality for all Americans. We must demand it, and we must demand it now. It's time to call for the end to housing and employment discrimination. It's time for crimes against gays and lesbians to be federal hate crimes. It's time for all Americans to have the right to civil marriage to the person they love. It's time for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. It's time for gays and lesbians to raise families of their own.

It's as simple as that. Full Equality for All Americans, NOW! Nothing more than what we're promised in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

By the way, that college kid sitting in the corner with the razor blade? Well, he's since forgiven his brother for finding him "too soon". Thanked him for it, even. He's gone on to become a productive, if second class, citizen who pays his bills, and his taxes, and votes, and loves his country. He's gone on to fall in love with the most amazing man named Scott, and they're living their dream of "Happily Ever After" with a sweet dachshund named Tolliver and the most amazing family and friends that anyone has ever imagined. That kid grew up, and has no regrets. He wouldn't trade his life with anyone else's. It gets better. It really does.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Books, Number One

Number One: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

This is it. And while I said that the rankings on this "Top Ten" varies with my mood, this one is always on the top of the list. It is without a doubt the best book I've ever read, and my absolute favorite. While I learned valuable life lessons from Herbert's Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land changed the way I think; about life, about religion, about politics, about human nature, about everything. Perhaps it's because I was introduced to Heinlein as I began college and was young and idealistic, and this book appealed to my broadening horizons, but I think that in addition to that, this book really does encourage acceptance of other points of view. The story of Michael Valentine Smith, the Man from Mars, as he learns what it is to be a human, is an amazing and ultimately emotionally gut wrenching tale. Beautifully crafted and engaging, this one is another that I think should be required reading for high schoolers everywhere. Most importantly, however, this is the book that introduced me to Heinlein's work. I freely admit to being an avid Heinlein fan, having read all of his published fiction and several of his essays. I could easily have done a list of "Top Ten Heinlein" novels and had a difficult time narrowing it down to just ten titles. The man was a genius and undisputed Grand Master of Science Fiction.

This book is both of it's time (it was published in 1961) and decades ahead of it's time. Hell, it this book had been written today, it would STILL be decades ahead of it's time. Truly a magnificent piece of literature.

So there it is. My top ten list (plus some close runners up), culminating in the best book I've ever read.

What do you think? How does it measure up to your top ten list? What books to we have in common? What books did I exclude that you'd have listed instead?