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Holiday Reading 2004

Truman Capote, the Battle of the Bulge, Hollywood, the Antichrist, and more.

11:00 PM, Dec 22, 2004 • By TWS STAFF
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Here's the story: The Antichrist is born on Earth. But due to a mix-up in a nursery manned by Satanic nuns, he is raised by a perfectly normal British family in the village of Lower Tadfield. He gets fond of humanity and is thus understandably reluctant to bring about the End Times. Crowley--a fallen angel assigned to lay the groundwork for Armageddon (a task he begins spectacularly as Crawly, serpent in the Garden of Eden)--and his heavenly counterpart, Aziraphale. race around and try to set things right before their respective bosses find out that they botched the Apocalypse.

To get the general idea of what the prose in Good Omens is like, imagine two of the smartest, funniest writers around today holding a (possibly drunken) Ouija séance to channel Hitchhiker's Guide writer Douglas Adams, and then transcribing the results.

Now go buy it.

--Katherine Mangu-Ward

Joseph Epstein's recent review of Gerald Clarke's Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote inspired me to read that book, and also some of Capote's stuff which somehow never found its way onto my college reading list. I couldn't find a copy of his masterpiece In Cold Blood at a nearby bookstore, so went with the Modern Library's edition of the equally famous (thanks to Audrey Hepburn) Breakfast at Tiffany's, which also includes three of his best short stories. Breakfast at Tiffany's is not an especially cheerful story and the plot as a whole is not what makes the book so worth reading. It's the descriptions, the revelations about human nature, and the characters that make it sparkle.

Also, the book's last story "A Christmas Memory" is sweet, sad, and appropriate for the season.

More literary fiction: The names and generations of the characters in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights get tricky, but read it for the romantic and eerie plot, perfect for the cold, dark winter. The book is even better than its best movie adaptation, the 1939 version with Laurence Olivier.

--Rachel DiCarlo

Arthur Herman's new story of the British navy, To Rule the Waves, is a book for buffs: history buffs, Britain buffs, empire buffs, nautical buffs, and lovers of all things swashbuckling. It's also a remarkable piece of scholarship and a darn good read. And there are plenty of surprises. (Did you know, for example, a bunch of limey seamen ended the Atlantic slave trade?) Herman deserves the hearty thanks of us Anglophiles--and of everyone else, too. Would that more historians were like him!

Also check out James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans, a comprehensive portrait of George W. Bush's foreign policy team. Learn about the life and times of Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Wolfowitz, and Armitage.

Finally, Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy. There are so many reasons to read this book. Not least is the fact that Sharansky, an ex-Soviet dissident, is among the Great Men of the 20th century. He's also a masterful lyricist of liberty. But leave that aside. President Bush read Sharansky's book. And if it's worth Bush's time, it should be worth ours.

--Duncan Currie