Christmas in New York

Joseph Bottum writes about The Big Apple’s transformation under a Christmas snowfall.

But New York cannot play for long at being the New Jerusalem. The ultimate time-bound place, it cannot step outside the rush and rattle of commerce. The supreme City of Man, it cannot pose as the City of God. With their town bright and almost pretty, New Yorkers act for a few moments as though things have changed—or rather, as though these few moments don’t count, as though the apocalypse of falling snow has lifted them out of time and the storm had left them for an instant clean and unhurried. Last winter, I saw an old-fashioned toboggan—ten or twelve feet long, the wooden slats curling to a two-foot swoosh in front—being drawn along 14th Street, filled with laughing children. Who has room to store a toboggan in Manhattan on the off-chance of snow? Someone, clearly. Someone who has been waiting years for the white apocalypse.

But the city cannot hide its own in the snow, especially when they herald themselves with their cell phones. He says, “I saw the screaming woman for a moment framed by the giant candy canes and white Christmas garlands soaped on the window of the storefront behind her. It’s . . . not . . . my . . . fault.

(via World Mag Blog)

Books as Decor for Strong Impressions

Here’s an article on buying intellectual books for home decorating, giving visitors the impression that the buyer has a formidible mind or at least keeps very good literary company. This reminds me of a story, which I believe Ravi Zacharias tells, of browsing a used bookstore and overhearing a man in overalls ask for a certain length of books, say 35 feet. He didn’t know what books to order. He just wanted to fill a 35′ long shelf so that his union boss would appear to have the intellect to negotiate with management.

Merry Christmas

Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood,

Each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas,

Doth bring redeeming grace.

O tidings of comfort and joy,

For Jesus Christ our Savior

Was born on Christmas day.

God bless the ruler of this house,

And send him long to reign,

And many a merry Christmas

May live to see again;

Among your friends and kindred

That live both far and near.

from “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” a traditional carol

Random salad

Brother Baal and one of his sons will come in tonight and sleep here. The rest of the kith will gather here tomorrow. I have every confidence that this will be a Christmas that will be remembered long after I’m dead as one of the most disastrous my nieces and nephews ever experienced.

As you’ve probably noticed, it’s my policy to always expect the worst. I figure it’s a way of cheating the malevolent forces of the universe. I like to think there’s a good chance they’ll choose to get their kicks out of disproving my prophecy, and so let the events turn out OK.

This policy hasn’t worked with the predictions in my novels, so I don’t know why I cling to it.

Yes I do. I cling to it because I’m neurotic.

I listened to Michael Medved driving home from work tonight, and heard part of his interview with Chris Gardner, the guy Will Smith plays in the new movie, “Pursuit of Happyness.” I don’t know how the movie will be, but I’ve rarely heard a guy on the radio I just liked so much, so quickly.

Good news via Libertas: Ennio Morricone is finally getting his Academy Award. There’s a vestigial remnant of justice somewhere under heaven after all.

Also, I’ve been informed by way of the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America that my old publisher, Baen Books, is making books available to the disabled:

“Baen Books (, a publisher of science fiction, will provide its

books to fans who are blind, paralysed, or dyslexic, or are amputees, in

electronic form free of charge, effective immediately.”

My novel Wolf Time is one of those books in electronic form, unless they’ve dumped it (always a possibility).

The Ghost of Orson Wells Strikes Belgium

On Wednesday night the Dutch-speakers of Belgium, which amount to 60% of the country, broke with their German-speaking countrymen and declared independence! The monarchy is on the run! Will there be blood? Will there be famine? And have we told you that we made this all up?

State-owned television ran a bit of make-believe as a special news report, saying, “‘Flemish parliament has unilaterally declared the independence of Flanders’ and that King Albert and Queen Paola had left on the first air force plane available.” After 30 minutes, they let their audience in on the fantasy.

“It’s very bad Orson Welles, in very poor taste,” Didier Seeuws, a spokesman for Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, told the national news agency Belga, recalling the 1938 radio adaptation by Welles of H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” which caused widespread chaos when thousands of Americans believed that Martians had invaded the United States.

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Merry Christmas

Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:

Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new

Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a Gospel true.

Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:

Christ the Babe was born for you.

Tra­di­tion­al carol

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Privileged Information by Stephen White

A while back I read an article (in National Review Online, I think) that recommended mystery authors conservatives might like. Among them were Jonathan Kellerman and Stephen White, both writers of books featuring psychologist detectives. I took to Kellerman right off. White delighted me less, but I’ve run through the Kellerman in paperback now, and I’ve decided to move on to White. Privileged Information is the book that kicked off White’s Alan Gregory series. Having completed it, I think I may have underrated him on the first book.

Alan Gregory practices in Boulder, Colorado. He is separated from his wife and lives with his dog. He has a healthy practice and likes to take long bike rides for recreation.

One of his patients, a seductive and sexually troubled woman, commits suicide. Somehow her father, a rich, powerful man, gets his hands on information that leads him to believe that Gregory has violated professional ethics by sleeping with her. He calls for an investigation aimed at getting his license revoked.

Then another recent female patient of Gregory’s is killed in an auto accident.

And another female patient is murdered.

A police detective begins to look closely at the psychologist’s life.

Meanwhile Gregory starts dating a local prosecuting attorney who has intimacy issues. And one of his male patients begins to act in a bizarre, threatening manner.

None of this is coincidence. Someone is working out a plan, and Gregory’s life (along with his girlfriend’s) will depend on his ability to analyze the workings of a very dangerous mind. Because the rules of privileged information prevent him from telling the police about certain things he knows. And the killer knows that and uses it.

I can’t think about Stephen White’s books without comparing them to Jonathan Kellerman’s. And in terms of plain fun, for me there’s no contest.

Kellerman’s world is California bright. I picture his scenes in vivid colors and sharp definition. White’s stories leave me with a darker feeling, evening in an impressionist painting. I have a harder time imagining what his characters look like.

To me, White seems more realistic. Alan Gregory isn’t an optimist like Kellerman’s Alex Delaware. He practices psychology more in the manner I’d practice it if I had gone into the field (which would have been insanely wrongheaded). Gregory has trouble leaving his work at the office. He agonizes over minor failures, the sort that lead patients to leave therapy, to say nothing of the big ones where patients kill themselves.

I think that’s the main reason I enjoy Kellerman’s books more. White’s books are uncomfortably close to home.

I haven’t really discerned the conservative elements the National Review promised me. There was a gratuitious swipe at the Reagans in this book. However, one plot element did satisfy my prejudices. A female character turns out to be wrong about a serious matter, and apologizes at the end. When was the last time you read a book where something like that happened?

So I think I’ll carry on with White. I think Alan Gregory may grow on me.

Books 2006: Did You Happen to Read These?

The Literary Saloon links to a list of “most overrated and underrated” books in Prospect, which claims to be “the most intelligent magazine of current affairs and cultural debate in Britain.” Of course, the Saloon notes a few of its own.

On the overrated list, Everyman, by Philip Roth. “A slickly written, shallow and predictable novel of American self-regard and deserved decline.” and The God Delusion. Playwright Samantha Ellis nominates On Beauty,by Zadie Smith, saying it is “massively overrated. Why read a tribute to Forster when you can just read him?”

On the underrated list, Why Truth Matters, by Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom, Alentejo Blue, by Monica Ali, and The Human Touch, by Michael Frayn. Writer Allan Massie states, “William McIlvanney is the finest Scottish novelist of my generation, but Weekend, his first novel for ten years, received less attention than it deserved. This account of a university study-group meeting at a faux-baronial castle on a Scottish island, is wise, funny and often moving.”

Vince Guaraldi

“In 1963, Lee Mendelson was a young San Francisco filmmaker working on a documentary about Schulz, whose “Peanuts” cartoon strip was fast becoming a national craze. He needed music for a two-minute animated segment of his film. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, he heard a catchy jazz tune on the radio called ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind,’ which was written and performed by Guaraldi, who also lived in the Bay Area.”

This Washington Post feature on a great jazz pianist and composer notes that “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” was “one of the last instrumental jazz tunes to be a crossover hit — and earned Guaraldi a Grammy Award in 1963 for best original jazz composition.” This piece lead to Guaraldi composing the music to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” among other classics.

(via Cranach)

By the way, how many things on God’s green earth are better than good piano jazz? Probably just a dozen or so, wouldn’t you think?

Merry Christmas

And our eyes at last shall see Him,

Through His own redeeming love,

For that Child so dear and gentle

Is our Lord in Heav’n above,

And He leads His children on

To the place where He is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,

With the oxen standing by,

We shall see Him; but in Heaven,

Set at God’s right hand on high;

Where like stars His children crowned

All in white shall wait around.

(from “Once in royal David’s city” by Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der)


Evil in Fiction and Ukraine

SR pointed out Peter Kreeft’s website, and today I noticed a lecture called, “10 Uncommon Insights Into Evil from Lord of the Rings.”

I haven’t listened to it yet, but I heard a coincidental news report today on the real evil in Ukraine. “Healthy new-born babies may have been killed in Ukraine to feed a flourishing international trade in stem cells, evidence obtained by the BBC suggests.” Killing unborn children isn’t enough for some hospital staff in that country. Newborns have been stolen from their mothers by their nurses so that their bodies can be mined for stem cells.

Is this the result of viewing children as non-persons or of viewing the human body as an organic machine, separate from spirit within it?

Linking today

Linking: the last refuge of the uncreative. Got some good ones today though.

Ed Veith at Cranach passes on some information about possible evidence that Jesus may in fact have been born on December 25. Probably too good to be true, but few things would satisfy me more than poking a finger in the collective eye of the Scroogeist Church.

Aitchmark sent me the following link which he describes as a “wonderful, amazing timesink”: How Products Are Made.

And finally, continuing in the comprehensive mode, novelist Michael Z. Williamson alerted me to every guy’s dream knife.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture