I pretty much have next week off from my other blogging gig, so I thought I would take advantage of my free time to hunker down with the 5-disc deluxe edition DVD of The Bronx Is Burning, ESPN’s adaptation of the Jonathan Mahler book about the 1977 New York Yankees. You couldn’t pay me to wear the Yankees “World Series Championship” hat that comes with it, but the extended interviews with Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner should be worth a look, along with all the ESPN promo clips. And, heck, put Oliver Platt and John Turturro in a miniseries and I’m pretty much sold.
Then, when my eyes get tired, I’ve still got most of the 8-CD unabridged audiobook of Christopher Lee reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin, imported from England to listen to. Which is funny, because—well, I loved the films and all, but I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest Tolkien fan in the world; read the books when I was in junior high, thought they were fine, never really looked back. But, come on—Christopher Lee. So that’s fun. And between that and the DVD, I ought to be suitably distracted until 2008.
Still have a few people left on your holiday shopping list? I don’t envy you this weekend, but Taylor Materne, one of the three co-authors on the Upper Class series of YA novels, can help. (Watch out for that link; it’s a MySpace page, and you know how those can set off your computer’s speakers with their soundtracks!) His tips will come in handy for any teenagers on your list—and more than a few adults, too.
If the eggnog and mistletoe are too sweet, and you need to cut it with some bitters, A Fan’s Notes is for you. It is a darkly funny and beautiful story. This is the American dream (or at least the East Coast version of it) dropped on its head. Sadly, it is a classic that’s often stuck in the back row of a double-stacked shelf. It’s a book you almost don’t want to meet, a man you don’t want to know, but who better to visit for the holidays? Frederick Exley is a brilliant monster, and in his fictionalized memoir we find a braid of truth and imagination as he laments his failed marriage, alcoholism and the 1950s notion of celebrity. If nothing else, it may just take your mind off the more tangible challenges of the celebratory season. So take a seat on the ratty couch with Exley and suckle on some stunning failure.
If Exley’s bitter-high-school-teacher virulence doesn’t strike the right chord, perhaps something else from the over-addressed world of prep school will suit you. There is no shortage of novels of late with Harry Potter, Gossip Girls, Prep, Academy X—and us, for god’s sake. But perhaps you would be better off visiting the classics. There are the obvious choices: A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye. Or you could look deeper at overlooked gems like the collectible Chalet School series, about a boarding school in Austria (subsequently moved) from the 1920s. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair begins at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies. Looking for something more relevant? Try A Good School, a sexually frustrated tale by Richard Yates—who himself went to Avon Old Farms, a boarding school in Connecticut.