Merry Christmas

They went, the Ghost and Scrooge, across the hall, to a door at the back of the house. It opened before them, and disclosed a long, bare, melancholy room, made barer still by lines of plain deal forms and desks. At one of these a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire; and Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be.

Not a latent echo in the house, not a squeak and scuffle from the mice behind the panneling, not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in the dull yard behind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs of one despondent poplar, not the idle swinging of an empty store-house door, no, not a clicking in the fire, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softening influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.

The Spirit touched him on the arm, and pointed to his younger self, intent upon his reading. Suddenly a man, in foreign garments: wonderfully real and distinct to look at: stood outside the window, with an axe stuck in his belt, and leading an ass laden with wood by the bridle.

“Why, it’s Ali Baba! ” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’s dear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy! And Valentine,” said Scrooge, “and his wild brother, Orson; there they go! And what’s his name, who was put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don’t you see him! And the Sultan’s Groom turned upside-down by the Genii; there he is upon his head! Serve him right. I’m glad of it. What business had he to be married to the Princess!”

To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed.

“There’s the Parrot!” cried Scrooge. “Green body and yellow tail, with a thing like a lettuce growing out of the top of his head; there he is! Poor Robin Crusoe, he called him, when he came home again after sailing round the island. “Poor Robin Crusoe, where have you been, Robin Crusoe?” The man thought he was dreaming, but he wasn’t. It was the Parrot, you know. There goes Friday, running for his life to the little creek! Halloa! Hoop! Halloo!”

Then, with a rapidity of transition very foreign to his usual character, he said, in pity for his former self, “Poor boy!” and cried again.

“I wish,” Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: “but it’s too late now.”

“What is the matter?” asked the Spirit.

“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.”

(from A Christmas Carol, chapter 2 – “The First of the Three Spirits”)

An Ear for Editing

Speaking of, author Joe Clifford Faust writes about criticism of his current playwright project. IN short, hard criticism is good.

I have even been asked to speak in classes specifically about the need to edit one’s own writing simply because the participants thought that one draft was all that was needed and that their work was perfect, say Amen and close the door.

But it’s not. It’s the very nature of our closeness to a work that we sometimes get blinded to its faults. . . . Besides, if you’re serious about writing, you understand that your work is going to come under scrutiny at some time or another. Better that you give it your own beforehand. There’s no guarantee you won’t get an unflattering review, but how much worse will it be if you realize that it addresses dumb, stupid things you did in your draft that you would have fixed had you only known about them? Besides, if the mistakes are that dumb and stupid, they will likely prevent your work from getting into print in the first place. . . .

Author David Brin has an approach to using outside readers that I think should be a model for how we all approach criticism. He recruits readers to look at his work – and if they don’t have any criticism of the manuscript at all, he does not use them again.

Nancy Pearl’s Book Community Site

Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust and More Book Lust, has a community site (if that’s the right term) for readers and book lovers. Her book recommendations are given throughout the site, including a page for what she’s reading now, and there are several pages of lit blog links. Could be an interesting site. I don’t know that it will have influence in the world at large than the literary blog network, but how can we compare blogs objectively? Site traffic? Pshah!

“What is the greatest commandment?”

I’m eating up leftover pumpkin pie from our Christmas feast, one slice a day (one more slice after tonight).

It amuses me to think back when I was a kid, when my parents sternly commanded me to finish my pie crust, including the fluted strip that sticks up and doesn’t touch the filling. I grumbled and ate it, but it seemed to spoil the pleasure of the thing.

Today I don’t mind pie crust, and would be perfectly happy to eat it. But health experts inform me it’s better to leave it behind.

So the question for me is, is there greater pleasure to be had from defying my parents posthumously, or from defying the experts?

A story my dad told me came to mind last night.

It was about one of his cousins. This cousin was the son of an uncle Dad was fond of, a fellow who owned a small earth-moving business. The uncle’s wife was a harder person to work up warm feelings for. She was a stern woman who believed The Rules Are There For a Reason. All their children rebelled—and rebelled hard—in their teenage years.

This cousin (I’ll call him Cliff) had gone to California and become a musician in a dance band.

You know about that Fundamentalist “No Dancing” rule? It was big in our church. Equal in every way to “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Dad was closing up our house for the last time the last time he saw Cousin Cliff. It was 1979. Dad had sold the farm, and most of his possessions had been auctioned off, including the house furnishings. Mom and Dad had decided to save just a few things, and Dad was packing some of them into a pickup truck he’d just bought (a moving van had already collected the rest). The next day they would drive south to Florida for good.

As Dad was finishing the job a car pulled into the yard. The man who got out was Cousin Cliff from California. Pretty much by accident, he’d chosen just that day to come and visit.

Dad didn’t have any furniture to invite him to sit on, so they sat on the cement front step, looked out over the flat landscape, and talked a while.

Cliff told him a story about his father, who had died a few years before.

His father had taken a trip to California to visit him. Cliff had done all he could to make his father comfortable and to give him a good time.

He’d even bought him a gift—an expensive wristwatch.

His father had seemed to enjoy himself, and they had parted on good terms.

But when his dad had gone home and Cliff had gone to the guest room to clean it up, he’d found the wristwatch lying in an empty dresser drawer.

For all his good will, his dad just wasn’t able to accept an expensive gift purchased with money earned playing dance music.

It still bothered Cliff. And Dad spoke of it to me more than once, so I guess it bothered him too.

Draw what conclusions you will.

Interview with Andrée Seu

In case you didn’t see the comment left on an earlier thread, Mindy Withrow has posted an interview with essayist Andrée Seu.

Have you always wanted to write, or was it an unexpected development in your life?

It was never my goal to be a writer. My debut in the writing world was a providential fluke (to coin a phrase God may only be half pleased with): One day I wrote a little essay for my own amusement and sent it to my brother. He sent it to WORLD and the Lord had mercy on this soon-to-be widow and gave me favor in the eyes of the editor. Easiest job I ever got.

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A day at the races

I know you’ve been losing sleep, waiting to learn how my Christmas bash went. It went just fine.

We were ten in all at the table, three more than Thanksgiving, which seemed pretty crowded at the time. But ten didn’t seem to crowd the place any more. The youngest niece, who was in Tanzania at Thanksgiving, was with us now, and the oldest niece brought her boyfriend (who passed inspection with flying colors) and his adorable little daughter. Large quantities of food were consumed, and many presents were opened.

Deprived of any disaster to agonize over, I am agonizing over the mistakes I must have made which, I’m confident, people must have kept quiet about, to spare my feelings.

I was going to say something more about the flap raised by talk show host Dennis Prager. Prager has stated that he thinks Congressman Keith Ellison (a Muslim and my soon-to-be congressman, as it happens) ought to have a Bible present at his swearing-in, in recognition of the basic values that have shaped our republic. I’ve already said I disagree with him on this. As far as I understand his argument, it seems he considers the Bible (in that context) a symbolic object, like a flag. I find it hard to take that view.

But former New York mayor Ed Koch has publicly labeled Prager a bigot. This is, frankly, infamous. If there’s a public figure in this country who deserves the label of “bigot” less than Dennis Prager, I can’t think of one offhand.

Prager is my favorite talk show host. And that’s odd in a way, because of all the talk shows I listen to, I probably disagree with his most (except for Michael Savage, but I only listen to Savage while getting ready for bed, as an alternative to lonely silence). I disagree with him on theology (he seems to me a Pharisee in the best sense of the word, understood in its historical context). I disagree with him on “gay” civil unions. And I disagree with him on the issue of heredity.

He was onto heredity today. His view seems to be that, aside from genetic diseases, biological heritage means nothing whatever. Perhaps he’s one of those Jewish people who don’t believe they’re actually descended from Abraham. Or maybe he believes he is and just doesn’t care.

It might be a reaction against the racialism that brought about the Holocaust. It’s easy to understand how a Jew might prefer to hear nothing more about race forever.

But, although it’s a fashionable idea in our time, I do wonder in my secret heart whether race is actually nothing.

Classic racism, it need hardly be said (but I guess I’d better), is complete hogwash. To think that one racial group is “better” or “higher” than another is nonsensical as far as I can see. If experience teaches us anything, it’s that nobody is unqualified for anything in the world on the basis of their race.

But is it purely and solely cultural that Asians, given broad opportunities, still tend (generally) to excel at mathematics and music? That black people run marathons faster than anybody else in the world? That Scandinavians are the world’s chief purveyors of suicide-inducing books and movies?

I have an idea that our current ideas on race stem from a belief, held as a dogma by many, that racism is the root cause of all the evil in the world (just as the Communists used to believe—some still do—that greed is the real source of the poison). I think that’s inadequate. Throughout human history, large portions of the world’s population never saw anyone of a different race in their lives. That didn’t stop the Irish from hating the English, or the Bosnians from hating the Serbs.

And I still don’t understand how the brave new world everyone seems to want—the one where all the colors are mixed and everybody looks Brazilian—will be more beautiful and diverse than the one we’ve got, where you can actually fly to a different country and see people who look different from the folks at home.

Of course, I probably only think these things because I’m a racist.

I’ll go and do my penance now.

Merry Christmas

Now, something completely different from Theodore Watts-Dunton.

CHRISTMAS knows a merry, merry place,

Where he goes with fondest face,

Brightest eye, brightest hair:

Tell the Mermaid where is that one place,


Raleigh. ‘Tis by Devon’s glorious halls,

Whence, dear Ben, I come again:

Bright of golden roofs and walls—

El Dorado’s rare domain—

Seem those halls when sunlight launches

Shafts of gold thro’ leafless branches,

Where the winter’s feathery mantle blanches

Field and farm and lane.

This is the first of the “Wassail Chorus at the Mermaid Tavern,” by Theodore Watts-Dunton. Read on to see how Michael Drayton, Thomas Heywood, Ben Johnson, and a friend of Shakespeare’s answer the tavern crowd’s call to tell of a merry, merry place.

Merry Christmas

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence,

And with fear and trembling stand . . .”

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 3-11 ESV)

“King of kings, yet born of Mary,

As of old on earth He stood,

Lord of lords, in human vesture,

In the body and the blood;

He will give to all the faithful

His own self for heavenly food.”

from “Let all mortal flesh keep silence,” a carol adapted from the li­tur­gy of St. James.

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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Book Reviews, Creative Culture