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Friday, December 19, 2003

Last-minute stocking stuffers.

No, not my book. At least not this year.

These are a few of my favorite things:

1. Musical.

a. John Berry. A country music singer who has enjoyed too-modest success in proportion to his talent, Berry has started to make a seasonal niche for himself with respect to Christmas recordings. Verdict? This man can flat-out sing. I have one essential criterion for being a good Christmas singer--the ability to belt out the penultimate "divine" in O Holy Night. Michael Bolton can't do it--Berry can.

b. Gary Hoey. Picture axe-master Joe Satriani hitting the Christmas circuit, doing covers of everything from You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch to Feliz Navidad, and you have Gary Hoey. Hoey's holiday series, appropriately entitled "Ho! Ho! Hoey," now stretches to three volumes. It's different, but I enjoy it immensely, and I say this with utter seriousness: Hoey has the least obnoxious version of The Twelve Days of Christmas you will ever hear.

2. Reading for the kids.

a. St. Francis and the Christmas Donkey by Robert Byrd. A winning introduction to the popular saint and the Christmas story from the perspective of the beast of burden, along with a sly lesson about pride and humility, it is an ideal tale for the season and beyond.

b. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. My two year old daughter has insisted that I read it every night for the past month. No breaks for the weekend. My mother's laughing, as apparently my brother and I were equally insistent that she read it.

Consequently, someone else should join me. Before they cart me away. In a box. With a fox. To a house. With a mouse....

Also available in Spanish (which we have, but Maddie prefers the Anglo version) and Latin (don't have it yet).

3. Reading for adults.

a. On Being Catholic, by Thomas Howard. In my opinion, the most consistently underrated work on the mindset of Catholicism, engagingly written by a former fundamentalist and Anglican. A personal note: it was absolutely instrumental in my conversion--so if you're looking for someone to blame, address the bulk of your correspondence to Prof. Howard.

b. Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, both by Orson Scott Card. The first is deservedly acknowledged as a science fiction classic, and the second tells much of the same story from the perspective of a different character in the first novel, and will be regarded as a classic. Essentially, the stories focus on a school established for child prodigies as part of an effort by a desperate Earth to find the military genius it will need to lead the planet to victory against a deadly alien foe. Different, and very worthwhile.

c. A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller, Jr. The tragic Miller's only completed novel (avoid St. Leibowitz), it tells the tale of a Catholic order of friars dedicated to preserving what remains of the technological knowledge of man following the Flame Deluge (nuclear war) and the Great Simplification (the survivors' frenzied reaction against the science that they think brought destruction upon them). It spans a period of several centuries, focusing on various monks of the order, as humanity slowly rebuilds, and starts making the same (or worse) mistakes. At once funny, tragic, sardonic and hopeful, it is timelessly Catholic to its core--but I liked it as a non-Catholic, so don't let that deter you. The last section's argument against euthanasia is unnervingly relevant to our time. Read it. I do, once a year.

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