Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Books of the Year 2012

Today I want to celebrate New Year's Eve by listing the best books we've read in this, my peak reading year.  Never before and never again will I be able to read so many books in a year.  We've already posted our best 2012 Books On Books and Best Western Novels.  Here are the overall best in the other award categories:

Winner of the Best Memoir/Fiction Tandem Read of the Year Award was the duo of Pico Iyer's The Man In My Head and Scott Hutchins' A Working Theory of Love.  These two books were especially remarkable for their reflections on father/son relationships.

A Working Theory of Love also shares the award for Best Artificial Intelligence Novel of the Year along with Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.  Coincidentally I read the latter book right after posting about I Dream of Jeannie/Genie and electronic books (see this link).

The four best Music Books we read this year were:

1.  The First Four Notes: Beethoven's Fifth and the Human Imagination by Matthew Guerrieri.  The author connects the notes to many cultural icons, including Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech.  Guerrieri got me listening to several associated musical renditions including the disco "A Fifth of Beethoven," the rap rendition, a piano solo arrangement, etc.  He discusses the Morse Code "V" but not the derivative pregnant pauses in the opening of the Dragnet theme ("Y" in Morse Code).  Oh, well, a very nice book, and Best Music Book of the Year.

2.  The Holy Or The Broken by Alan Light.  Because "Hallelujah" has the enduring and conflicted spirituality of so much of Graham Greene's fiction, I was compelled to listen to the song while reading Pico Iyer's memoir as well as when reading this interesting volume.  I naturally made a CD with different versions of the song, starting with Cohen's own, then covers by Jeff Buckley, Regina Spektor, and other vocals and instrumentals. 

3.  Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie.  Last year it seemed like every book on music concerned folk songs, but this year it was classical music.  Timeless stuff.  I enjoyed his earlier book about four Catholic authors.

4.  Carole King: A Natural Woman was the best musical memoir of the year (link to my review).

Best Literary Novels of the Year:

1.  A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois.  A breathtaking novel about the persistence of love as a candle in the vast darkness.  I'm surprised that this novel does not appear on more best lists.  I read it twice.  Here is the thing that matters most: humanity's perseverance even against the Orwellian psychopaths, the enduring better angels of our nature to which William Faulkner referred in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

2.  A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins.  Once into the novel, the author wows you with the potential of his ideas.  A flawed protagonist we can root for despite his flaws.

3.  The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  The first time through this novel I was only mildly impressed.  The second reading revealed a zen interpretation which I blogged about at this link.  And I blogged about my interpretation of the bookjacket art here.
4.  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.  The author takes a novel to say what gets shouted down if plainly spoken.

5.  The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer (see my review here).  Mid-life crisis tale of the year. 

The Six Best Thrillers of the Year:

1. and 2. Cold, Cold, Ground by Adrian McKinty (link to review) and Target: Lancer by Max Allan Collins (link to review).  A tie between the top thrillers, both of which rise above genre. 

3.  Shake Off by Mischa Hiller.  Another nicely paced thriller that rises above convention.  Those in power use true believers for their own ends.

4.  HHhH by Laurent Binet.  The author makes us think about hype and history and the trouble with personally engaging the subjective past.

5.  Prague Fatale by Philip Kerr.  An interesting tandem read with HHhH.  This had a different feel from his other books in the series, but Kerr is always trying something new.  Earlier in the year, I reread Kerr's A Philosophical Investigation and reviewed it at this link.  

6.  Vulture Peak by John Burdett.  One of the best in the series, though I loved them all.  Quirky, picturesque novels with an ethical voice.

This year's Track of the Cat Award goes to Nelson Demile's The Panther, which, although not as funny as some of his other novels, showed a greater human complexity.  The Runner-Up Awards in this category went to A Smile on the Face of the Tiger by Loren Estleman and I Am An Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran.

In the Baseball Book of the Year categories, Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding won for Best Baseball Novel and  Damn Yankees: Twenty Four Major League Writers On The World's Most Loved (And Hated) Team, edited by Rob Fleder, won for the Best Baseball Non-fiction.

The Best Book On Economics 2012 was The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer (link)If you haven't read it yet, you should do so.

The Best Cosmology Book of the Year was Jim Holt's Why Does The World Exist?  The Best Philosophical Book of the Year was Cheryl Mendelson's The Good Life: The Moral Individual in an Antimoral World.  The Runners-up here were Daniel Klein's Travels With Epicurus and Shimon Edelman's new volume, The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About The Good Life.
We also enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich's Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, as well as Oliver Burkeman's The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking.

The Best Tandem Read Novel/Science Award goes to Don Winslow's novel, Savages, read with John Coates' The Hour Between Dog and Wolf.  I blogged about it here and here.  Winslow had a prequel out this year but I haven't yet obtained a copy of it.

Last year's Best Awards lists are here and here.

Thanks to Largehearted Boy who includes us in his aggregate best lists at this link. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Top 16 Best New Books on Books 2012

This year's Best Books on Books are:

(1) Books To Die For edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke.  Hands down the book I've most often gone back to this year.  Crime writers recommending their favorite crime novels.  I reviewed it earlier in the year, but here's the Michael Dirda Washington Post review at this link. 

(2) The Man Within My Head by Pico Iyer.  Wonderful autobiographical essays on Iyer's personal relationship with his father and Graham Greene's life and works.  I liked it so well I had to then reread some of the other Graham Greene crit-lit we've accumulated, starting with John Baxter's essay on collecting Greene's books in A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict.

(3) One for the Books by Joe Queenan.  A delight, crank that he is.  He couldn't finish Moby Dick and he hates Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, both of which we love, but the man is fun to read and right about many things.  Atlas Shrugged is his worst book ever.  Listen to this, from the interview at this link:

"The book is elegiac. Books, I think, are dead. You cannot fight the zeitgeist and you cannot fight corporations. The genius of corporations is that they force you to make decisions about how you will live your life and then beguile you into thinking that it was all your choice. Compact discs are not superior to vinyl. E-readers are not superior to books. Lite beer is not the great leap forward. A society that replaces seven-tier wedding cakes with lo-fat cupcakes is a society that deserves to be put to the sword. But you can’t fight City Hall. I also believe that everything that happens to you as you grow older makes it easier to die, because the world you once lived in, and presumably loved, is gone."

(4)  My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop by Ronald Rice.  Nostalgia in a couple of decades hence, perhaps, but a very nice book.           

(5) Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet.  A bit thin, but it has some good things to say.  I especially enjoyed this quote from James Salter's introduction:
 "A tide is coming in and the kingdom of books, with their white pages and endpapers, their promise of solitude and discovery, is in danger, after an existence of five hundred years, of being washed away."

"The physical possession of a book may become of little significance. Access to it will be what matters, and when the book is closed, so to speak, it will disappear into the cyber. It will be like the genie--summonable but unreal."

(6)  Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto.  A lite humorous typing of individuals by what they read.  In paperback.

(7Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece by Michael Gorra.  A substantial work, which should be read in tandem with David Lodge's excellent The Year of Henry James:  The Story of a Novel, and perhaps also with Colm Toibin's The Master: A Novel.

(8)  New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families by Colm Toibin.  Henry James is here as well, along with Sam Beckett, James Joyce, and the usual suspects.  Horrible grandma-got-run-over-by-a-reindeer title, but the book is pretty good.

(9) Monsieur Proust's Library by Anka Muhlstein.

(10)  Farther Away: Essays - Jonathan Franzen.  One of Franzen's essays in here prompted me to read and review The Laughing Policeman (see this link)  For which I am forever in his debt.

(11)  To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion by Philip Greene.  It's all firewater to me, but I enjoy reading about it.

(12)  Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores by Hans Weyandt.  Hey, booksellers can be booklovers too.  Usually hype is merely hype, but sometimes it can be the honest expression of a personal if eccentric literary opinion.

(13)  How To Do Things With Books In Victorian Britain by Harvard professor Leah Price.  There is some nice stuff in here, but the book I really want to recommend is Price's Unpacking My Library: Writers And Their Books.

(14)  My Ideal Bookshelf   by Thessaly La Force.  Coffee Table Bookish Book of the Year.  "A bookish book," in case you didn't already know, is a book on books.


(15)  Book Was There: Reading In Electronic Times by Andrew Piper.  More on the state of the book and reading, but you should see all of Piper's other works on books too.

(16) And one more:  YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE WHAT WATCHES, edited by Rick Wallach.  This volume contains the most insightful crit-lit on Cormac McCarthy's semi-autobiographical and brilliantly imagined masterpiece, Suttree.  I reviewed it at this link.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Best New Western Novels of 2012

It was a banner year for western novels, both literary and genre.

The best included:
(1) Bruce Holbert's Lonesome Animals; quirky novel based upon some quirky personal family history with some fine language and attitude.  I reviewed it here.  An inspired literary novel.  I'm not sure that we can trust what the author says about it.  As Michael Didbin says, the author writes with the one inspired "I," but it is another "I" who critiques the book.  One way or another, Lonesome Animals is a very unique western and one I am not likely to forget soon.

(2) Olen Butler's The Hot Country. The near-kin of the narrator here is Jack Crabb of Thomas Berger's Little Big Man. I like a story by a good liar, even if sometimes the stretchers are obvious. Some of these lies are history which is not the same thing as the truth.  Pulitzer Prize winner Olen Butler has written the western novel of the year, or damned close.

 (3) The Wilderness by Lance Weller.  A very good literary novel.  It felt longer than its 304 pages, almost epic, and in this case, that's a good thing.  It has been compared to Cormac McCarthy's fiction, but it is more like the work of Jeffrey Lent and Jim Harrison.  Charles Frazier, perhaps.

(4) The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin.  I grabbed this thinking it might relate to the Cormac McCarthy's Edenic parable, The Orchard Keeper, and I was not far off, at least as I read it.  The book won me over with its ending, which worked for this reader on all levels.  This takes place in the historical west, with western motifs, but it is not a genre western.

(5) Louise Erdrich's The Round House, which won the National Book Award this year.  I liked it, but not nearly as well as I liked some of her others, starting with her novel, Tracks.  She deserves the Pulitzer Prize for her entire series of American Indian tales.

(6) Juliet in August by Dianne Warren, one of my favorite westerns this year, is one of those quiet small town novels where character is more important than plot. Each chapter might well be a short story, but the stories and characters interconnect and the plot lines converge. Juliet is a town in Saskatchewan and the events take place in the tail end of August.

My favorite plot line in here is suggested by the picture on the dustjacket, as it involves a stray horse, a runaway on a moonlit night in August from the campground at Ghost Creek. His history begins in the second chapter and there are interesting revelations as the novel continues.

This fine, low-keyed modern western won the 2010 Governor General's Award, having been previously published in Canada under the title Cool Water.

(7) Hard Country by Michael McGarrity.  An ambitious novel from McGarrity, something of an epic.  A large cast spread a bit too thin, too shallow, but the author still writes a damn good historical novel.  He could win a Spur Award next year.

(7) As The Crow Flies by Craig Johnson.  It was a big year for Johnson, with many of his novels adapted to the television series.  They're worth watching, but too rushed and choppy for our taste.  Lou Diamond Phillips plays a pretty good Standing Bear, but I prefer the luxury of reading the books.

(8) Margaret Coel's Buffalo Bill's Dead Now.  A solid entry in her American Indian related series about an intertribal Arapaho feud (over the recovered relics of "Arapaho Chief Black Heart")  which mirrors the Lakota feud over the remains of Black Wolf, who died in England while traveling with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.  I wrote about the dispute back then and presented the genealogy of Black Wolf's family in one of my books.

(9) Force of Nature by C. J. Box.  This is a Nate Romanowski novel, and a good one.  Joe Pickett's friend, the falconer, has always been a marginally wild character and here we learn of his troubled history.  One of my favorites in the series.

(10) The Rope by Nevada Barr.  A fine prequel to Track of the Cat, her first novel.  I've blogged about her series before, but the book that I most often recommend is her autobiographical work, Seeking Enlightenment: Hat by Hat.

(11)  Old Gray Wolf by James D. Doss.  The last book in a great genre series of modern western mysteries.  Perhaps the author knew he was dying, for in this book he ties up all of the loose ends for the longtime series characters.   His American Indian-related mysteries resemble Tony Hillerman's, but with more humor.

(12)  Trickster's Point by William Kent Krueger.  Another American Indian-related series and a good one.  I reviewed Heaven's Keep at this link last month and will be reviewing Trickster's Point here soon.  

 Before I list the 2012 Spur Award winners, I should point out that none of my favorite westerns will be on the list.

True, the Spur Awards now run a year behind, not that it matters, for last year my best western list included Susan Froderberg's Old Border Road, Craig Johnson's Hell Is Empty, Patrick Dewitt's The Sisters Brothers, and Denis Johnson's Pulitzer Prize-nominated Train Dreams.  None of them made it to the Spur Awards, or even to a nomination.

 The Spur Awards have often been irrelevant.  Early last year in this blog, I went year-by-year on Wednesday's Western, listing the best westerns of each year and giving the Spur Award winners side-by-side.  The results were simply amazing.  Not that this year's Spur Award winners aren't good, it's just that the selection process isn't geared to actually name the best westerns of the year.

I was glad to see that Feast's Day of Fools, from James Lee Burke's modern western/mystery series, received a Spur nomination.  And on the other hand, Robert Flynn's Echoes of Glory, which won the Spur Award and nothing else, was my Best Novel of the Year a couple of years ago.  They have been doing much better in recent years, but they still have a long way to go.

 2012 Spur Award Winners and Finalists

Stephen Harrigan. Remember Ben Clayton, Alfred A. Knopf

Thomas Fox Averill, Rode, University of New Mexico Press
James Lee Burke, Feast Day of Fools, Simon & Schuster

Winner:  Johnny D. Boggs, Legacy of a Lawman, Five Star Publishing

Joe Henry. Lime Creek, Random House
Alan C. Huffines, Killed by Indians 1871, Texas Wesleyan University Press

Johnny D. Boggs, West Texas Kill, Pinnacle Books/Kensington

Cameron Judd, The Long Hunt, Signet/Penguin
Dusty Richards, Between Hell and Texas, Pinnacle Books/Kensington

Meg Mims, Double Crossing, Astraea Press

Tammy Hinton, Unbridled, Roots & Branches/AWOC Publishing
Stephen B. Smart, Whispers of the Greybull, High Mule Publishing

Thursday, December 13, 2012

TARGET: LANCER by Max Allan Collins: A Review

TARGET: LANCER is a stunning tour-de-force:  the memoirs of a private detective, both thriller and historical novel, written in a high humorous style and, the topping on the cake, with an eye-opening afterward by the author explaining his use of sources.

This is NOT just another fictional take on the conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.  I've read over a dozen of those in the past dozen years, some of them quite good.  But Target: Lancer sets the bar beyond what I had imagined was possible.  It is, in a word--stunning.

It took me some time to read, not because it is difficult, but simply because I slowed down and took time to relish the pleasures of the story, stretching them out.  If you're like me, the style may take some getting used to, with the narrator's hyperbole used both for comic and period effect.

Nate Heller's lady friend, Sally Rand

The protagonist likes to compare almost everyone he meets with some then contemporary celebrity, like some eccentric uncle.  The overall effect of these references puts the reader back into the year 1963, a somewhere-in-time authenticity that includes the most elaborate descriptions of clothing this side of dedicated chick lit.

And Nate Heller's wry comments quite often make me laugh, bookmark my place, and go walk around a while, mulling over the deliciously humorous asides and plot twists, while grooving on some jazz piece by Henry Mancini or Dave Brubeck.

I'm not going to tell much about the details of the plot other than to say that it involves a little known but historically accurate plot on President Kennedy's life in Chicago and takes place in the fall of 1963.  I'm glad I found this without reading the reviews--I didn't even read the dust jacket flaps, and neither should you.  Let the narrator reveal the story.

Concerned about the boomerang effect?

The plot and pacing are excellent.  The novel starts more slowly as the historical characters are introduced and tensions developed.   An unexplained murder drives the plot around which the greater historical plot is unraveled and illuminated.   Not that the real history is free of such McGuffins.  Collins gives the astonishing real history at the end of the book.  Our government was then chock full of people who believed in the reality and the preferability of a James Bond universe.

There's a passage in the novel where Attorney-General Robert Kennedy and Nate Heller are discussing the circus nature of the attempts on the life of Fidel Castro.  Heller asks him a pointed question:

The James Bond Fantasy in 1963:  Black Ops, Gadgets, and Non-stop Women

"You guys do know that Ian Fleming is a fiction writer, right?"

To which Kennedy replies, "Actually, he was a real-life spy before he became a fiction writer.  Maybe you didn't know that."

The James Bond-like black-ops favored by the Kennedys touched the death of Marilyn Monroe and the murders of their fellow-Catholic heads of state in Vietnam at the time.  The recently published accounts of the White House recordings, edited in part by Caroline Kennedy, show how blithely the President promoted that CIA coup.

Last year, in November, I reviewed Stephen King's 11/22/63, and mused on how King's novel shows that, if one were to go back in time and prevent the Kennedy assassination, American history might have taken a much more tragic turn.  Karma.

You don't have to be a buddhist to see how the general policy of assassination is bad karma and can boomerang.  The second epigraph of Collins' novel alludes to this boomerang effect.  Or at least, I read it that way.  A mirroring seen in the novel's conclusion, years later.   

This is not a partisan argument. 
The fictional Nate Heller, like the author himself, is naturally a rather cynical Democrat.  But we know that power corrupts, and if you believe the arguments in Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, the positions of power in this country--corporate, political, and religious--are mostly held by psychopaths, manipulative people who have mastered the art of masking their lack of compassion.

Some scientists say that this is a more common physiological disorder than generally believed, and that most psychopaths are not dangerous--at least not in the conventional way.  In Target: Lancer, Nate Heller seems to pick up on this:

Dana Andrews in the movie, Boomerang

"Suddenly his expression carried a remarkable lack of human emotion, and it came to me that his Dana Andrews-ish features had probably never worn any actual human emotion.  He was one of those guys missing a small but vital part of the machinery we call humanity--an alien from Planet X who could only imitate human feeling."

Over at the Max Allan Collins' blog, link, he says, among other things, that some readers object to the sex in his novels.  I can't speak of novels I have not yet read, but in Target: Lancer, the sexual elements were neither too frequent, too ridiculous, nor too distracting.

Again, this is an important novel, a landmark novel in the genre of detective-novels-which-surpass-genre.  I can't speak of the entire Nate Heller series as I have yet to read them, but do yourself a favor:  Get this one.  Get Target: Lancer.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Henry Mancini's PETER GUNN Jazz

I haven't seen any numbers, but my feeling is that jazz is less popular these days.  I can remember when it was the rage, back in Henry Mancini's heyday.

The name recognition of Mancini himself fades more each year.  Ask young people to identify the Peter Gunn theme from the first few bars and you'll see.

The soundtrack to the Peter Gunn television series was once a bestseller.  Rock guitarist Dwayne Eddy also made a popular rendition of the theme song, using electric guitar for the driving backbeat and a wailing saxophone for the mid-song jazz solo.

I hadn't listened to the entire Album/CD for decades, when I picked up Max Allan Collins' superb novel, Target: Lancer, and was drawn into it with the album as a natural soundtrack.  The novel's protagonist says he listens to Mancini, so it is a natural.

Mancini also did a latin jazz rendition of the Peter Gunn soundtrack, and Ray Anthony and his Orchestra did a stripper or burlesque version of the theme.  The Blues Brothers movie revived it briefly.  The Ventures, Bill Black's Combo, and Johnny and the Hurricanes all did less popular rock versions, and the theme song was recorded by a capella groups, such as the Swingle Singers.

Not many people now realize that vocal versions of the theme song were recorded with the title "Bye, Bye."  Sarah Vaughan's jazzy version has a solid, catchy, almost-disco beat, and the lyrics make it a brush-off song--think of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" or Linda Ronstadt's "Different Drum."

Karen Murphy also does a torchy jazz vocal rendition, and Roger Cairns does a straight male vocal cover which also features a spectacular jazz trumpet solo.  Terrific stuff.

I'm not a Mickey Spillane fan, and I'm afraid I've been ignoring the works of his heir/associate Max Allan Collins, despite his Shamus Awards, because of this bias.  His new novel, Target: Lancer, took me by surprise and drew me in with its wit, wordplay, and general excellence.  It certainly makes my Best of 2012 List.  I'm still in the glow of it, but I'll post a detailed review shortly.

I immediately sent for the previous novel in the Nate Heller series, Bye, Bye, Baby, and am now wondering if the title was taken from the Peter Gunn lyrics:

Every night your line is busy
All that buzzin' makes me dizzy
Couldn't count on all my fingers
All the dates you had with swingers

Bye, baby
I'm gonna kiss you goodbye
And walk right through that doorway
So long
I'm leaving
This is the last time we'll meet
On the street going your way
Don't look surprised
You know you've buttered your bread
So now it's fair
You should stare
At the back of my head
If you write a letter to me
My former friend
Don't you end
With a R.S.V.P.

I'm going bye, bye
I'm moving
Tomorrow I may be splittin' to Britain or Norway
I'm saying bye, bye
Bye, baby
Now that I heard all that jazzing
Whereas I have had it
I've had it
I'm through now
With you now
So baby it's au revouir
Ciao ciao

The youtube link to hear Sarah Vaughan's version is here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ray Bradbury, Crime, and Christmas

Today is "Ray Bradbury Day" over at Patti's Friday's Forgotten Book site, link.  Links to other relevant posts are there, as always.

Previously I've discussed his rather noir cross-genre mysteries including Death Is A Lonely Business, here.   One of the greatest hits of this blog, to judge by pageviews, is the blog I wrote on Bradbury's memoir, Green Shadows, White Whale at this link.  More on that in a minute.

Bradbury died in June of this year, at the age of 91.  He was active and writing for most of his life, even during his last illness.  You can read three of his unpublished poems at this link.  They touch on his ideas about science and religion.

The December, 1972, issue of Playboy Magazine carried Bradbury's rant on American apathy, war, and the space effort:

How often in the past years have we heard: Why spend all that money on the moon when we need it for jobs for people here on earth? This is dimwit, ten-watt-bulb thinking. It's like saying: Let's unemploy people in order to employ them. Let's fire people in order to hire them. But fire from what to hire for what?  The fact is, of course, that not a single penny has been spent on the moon. Not a mill. Not a whisper of a sliver of a dollar. Everything has been spent in Poughpeepsie and Muskegon and Houston and El Monte and East Tuskegee and West Waukegan. The money has been spent on black people and white people. And the money has bought jobs, jobs, jobs. All of the money for Apollo flooded earth and hired and enriched hundreds of thousands of people--who now, gunshot, walking wounded, rank as unemployeds.
Wouldn't it make more sense to unemploy the millions involved with the illogic of Vietnam? Where is the real money we can grab and use for cities, civil rights, ecology? It jingles in the pockets of the military. It clinks in the vest of black marketers in Saigon. It nestles in Swiss banks, seeded there by our friends the South Vietnamese. Where are our priorities?

But where does that money come from?  Taxes, of course.  A redistribution of the common wealth.

Ray Bradbury, the man, wavered between his materialism and his spirituality, but at bottom he was a spiritual man.  Some of the things he said make you think he was a materialist and a hard-core Republican, but in the final analysis, the Democrat in him always comes around.

In Ireland with John Huston, at first he went along with the director's assessment of the "Irish beggars."  But the humanist in Bradbury rebelled.  Just before Christmas, he began to see evidence of the compassionate message everywhere:

For in the week before Chrismas, the Dublin streets had teemed with raven flocks of children herded by schoolmasters or nuns.  They clustered in doorways, peered from theater lobbies, jostled in alleys, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on their lips, "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" in their eyes, tambourines in hand, snowflakes shaping a collar of grace about their tender necks.

It was singing everywhere and anywhere in Dublin on such nights, and there was no night I had not walked up Grafton Street to hear "Away In A Manger" being sung to the queue outside the cinema or "Deck the Halls" in front of The Four Provinces pub.  In all, I counted in Christ's season one night half a hundred bands of convent girls or public school boys lacing the cold air and weaving great treadles of song up, down, over, and across from end to end of Dublin.  Like walking in snowfalls, you could not walk among them and not be touched.

The divide between Bradbury and John Huston perhaps began over Huston's treatment of his wife and other women, but it developed into a Starbuck/Ahab divide, with the materialist Huston demanding that the blocked Bradbury produce a script without delay.  Bradbury's self-doubts increased until one night, when rereading the scene of the coin nailed to the mast, he suddenly became inspired and the final movie script then poured swiftly from him.

The most forgotten Ray Bradbury piece, the one that I most want to see, is the play entitled "Merry Christmas 2116."  It is set up like O. Henri's "The Gift of the Magi."  Listen, link:

In “Ray Bradbury’s Merry Christmas 2116,” an aging couple approaching the 40th anniversary of their married lives together each decide to give their spouse a present. As coincidence would have it, Mr. Wycherly and Mrs. Wycherly each separately approach a maker of realistic, lifelike robots, called marionettes although they have no strings. Mr. Wycherly requests that Mr. Marionette manufacture a highly customized younger, more vital version of himself to please Mrs. Wycherly. The Missus, for her part, asks the robot-maker to fashion a young, hot, sassy, saucy version of herself for her Mister. When the new marionettes are each delivered to their designated recipients, the fun really begins.

This musical was first conceived fifty years ago for two Bradbury friends, the husband and wife team of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, with director James Whale attached. With Whale’s sudden death, the project was set aside.

Now, with a brand new musical score, “Ray Bradbury’s Merry Christmas 2116” will be shown to theatre audiences, including his legions of fans. John Hoke composed the music, but the book and lyrics are by Ray Bradbury.            

A longtime session musician and singer in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York and London, Hoke has written music for commercials and for television. He has toured North America and Europe extensively with the John Stewart Band, and has recorded his own album, “Fortunato,” for Homecoming Records.

In addition to the links at Patti Abbott's blog, see this link for a Christmasy interpretation of Bradbury's story, "The Gift," and see this link for some notes on Bradbury's unpublished sequel script to "The Day The Earth Stood Still," which begins on Christmas Eve.  And for the complete text of Bradbury's Playboy essay, click here.