no one knows you’re a dog

This updated and expanded edition is a must-have for readers.

by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers

The first hardcover edition of The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker was published in 2004 and included two CD-ROMs with digital images of the cartoons. The new paperback edition published earlier this fall is updated and expanded with more cartoons, and this time all of the images are crammed onto a single DVD-ROM.

Frequently topical and timely, the cartoons have set The New Yorker apart from other weekly culture magazines. One can easily spend a half an hour or more flipping through the pages of each issue to see the cartoons. With 400,000 copies of the first edition sold, there is no doubt that there are plenty of New Yorker cartoon readers willing to fork over the cash to own a new compendium of them.

The cartoons are grouped together by decade and provide an insight into the culture of each time period. Each decade grouping is given an introduction by one of the prominent culture commentators from that time. Only about 2,083 of the cartoons are included in this 10×11.5×1.5 inch paperback, but all 70,363 images are on the DVD-ROM.

As the editor’s note comments, one could consider the DVD-ROM to be the director’s cut. The cartoons selected for the book are not necessarily the best ones, but they were chosen as the cartoons most representative of the times. The book includes an index of artists that can aid in finding a particular cartoon, but the real search aid is the companion DVD-ROM. The cartoons are grouped by topic, in addition to being indexed by date and artist.

Now that they have published an edition with eight complete decades of cartoons (1925-2006), one has to wonder if the publishers will wait another decade for the next edition, or if they will provide “upgrades” each year? In any case, this edition is well worth the price tag for any dedicated reader of The New Yorker who has not already purchased the 2004 edition. In fact, I plan to give a copy to my father, whose subscription to the magazine in the early 90s provided me with hours of entertainment.

celtic woman

If you are looking for a Christmas album with dramatic orchestration and dulcet vocals, then you have found it.

by Celtic Woman

Celtic Woman is the creation of composer and director David Downes and producer Sharon Browne. They pulled together four young Irish female vocalists (Chloe, Lisa, Meav and Órla) and a fiddle player (Mairéad) to create the production. And this is very much a production entitled Celtic Woman, rather than a group of Celtic women, which may confuse unaware listeners.

In addition to their eponymous release in 2005, each member of the group is featured on a solo album. Just in time for the holidays, they have released their second collective album, A Christmas Celebration.

Aside from the members and composer being Celtic themselves, there is very little about this album that sounds Celtic to this American ear. If you are looking for an album of Christmas or winter songs sung in Gaelic, or even with a noticeable brogue, this is not the album for you. However, if you are looking for an album with dramatic orchestration and dulcet vocals, then you have found it.

A Christmas Celebration is a collection of traditional Christmas hymns and carols. It begins with the quiet and reflective songs "O Holy Night" and "Away In A Manger," but the excitement picks up spectacularly on "Ding Dong Merrily On High." The choir singing a "ding dong" descant behind the vocals of the women sends shivers of joy down my spine every time I hear it. This effect is replicated on "Carol of the Bells," which is generally guaranteed to make me tingly when I hear it. The percussive element in the vocals on the chorus "Christmas Pipes" makes that song stand out, as well.

Christmas publicity photo of Celtic Woman"Silent Night" is a song destined to be translated and sung every spoken language. Meav sings it sweet and clear in both Gaelic and English.

The a cappella arrangement of "The Wexford Carol" is another spine tingling track from A Christmas Celebration. The blend and tone of the vocals are so perfect that at times it seems almost supernatural. When the last note is sung, one is left sighing in pleasure.

Then all hell breaks loose with the first crash of the cymbals on the jazzy arrangement of "Let It Snow!" that closes out the album. This is the only track that feels out of place, although it is understandable that the producers would want to emphasize that Celtic Woman has a broader range of styles than what one might think. However, it still feels wrong to me, and is likely to be regularly skipped on shuffle, or removed entirely from rotation, depending on the mood of the listener.

On the whole, A Christmas Celebration is a fine addition to the assortment of seasonal music. I highly recommend it to anyone who is weary of hearing tired pop/rock renditions of carols and is looking for something fresh yet reverent.

midwinter event planner

I’m going to ALA Midwinter this year, and it will be the first ALA conference I have attended since the 2002 Annual. Is it normal for them to be so late in getting the Event Planner up? I’ve been checking it periodically since I registered, and every time the message is some variation of “coming soon.” At the moment, it says, “We are currently preparing the Planner for release, and will post the link this week.” I think it said that last week, too. Nice how they didn’t put a firm date or anything useful.

lions and witches and wardrobes, oh my!

Disney’s version strays a bit from the books, but for the most part does so with good intentions. The extras make this set a must-have.

by Buena Vista Home Entertainment / Disney

When I was eight years old, my parents gave me the Collier Books paperback box set of The Chronicles of Narnia. It is the first collection of non-picture books I remember reading that were my own and not hand-me-downs or borrowed from the library. I still have them on my bookshelf, in spite of their worn and battered spines. Every so often over the past twenty-odd years, I have read them again and again. Sometimes I will read them all in order — mine are numbered in publication order — and other times I will read one or two of my favorites, depending on which was my favorite at the moment.

On the surface, The Chronicles of Narnia are children's books. However, they have enjoyed a broader appeal that spans all ages. Whether C. S. Lewis intended for the books to have a deeper meaning than simply providing entertainment is a topic of considerable debate. Regardless, my personal experience has been that each reading of the books brings some new aspect or meaning to light that I had not thought of before, which is generally not the case in most children's literature.

The first published book in the series is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and in my opinion, it really should be the book that introduces readers to Narnia. Chronologically, The Magician's Nephew comes first, and it does provide a good back-story for the characters and events that take place in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it was written as a prequel, and therefore often assumes that the reader already has a familiarity with the events that were to come later. Therefore, it is no surprise that Disney chose The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the first production and plan to follow it with Prince Caspian in 2008.

Continue reading “lions and witches and wardrobes, oh my!”


A few weeks ago I watched the episode of Battlestar Galactica with the Galactica doing the free-fall drop through the atmosphere of New Caprica. I was quite impressed, and not nearly as freaked out as I was after watching the miniseries and first episode. I now have “The Story So Far” sitting in my iTunes folder and a few more episodes, um, recorded and waiting to be watched. Haven’t had the time or energy to actually watch them yet, but I plan to.

In related news, I hope everyone saw today’s Dilbert with the BSG reference.


by C. S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes

I re-read this in anticipation of reviewing the deluxe four disc DVD set for Blogcritics Magazine this weekend. My copy comes from the old paperback box set from 1982 that has the books numbered in published order rather than chronological order. These are the first real books I remember receiving as a gift from my parents. I think I was eight years old.

As you can see, I’ve managed to read only twenty-two books so far this year. I’m hoping to make it to twenty-five before January when I will be re-starting the count on the fifty book challenge. I blame DSL and general laziness on my part.

winter carols

A Renaissance rock take on traditional Christmas hymns and carols, with a few other seasonal tunes thrown in.

by Blackmore’s Night

In the late 1990s, British rocker Ritchie Blackmore decided he wanted to create a Renaissance rock band. Along with his fiancée, vocalist and songwriter Candice Night, he recruited a band of talented musicians from around the world. The end result is the creatively named Blackmore's Night, and they have recently released their eighth album, Winter Carols.

The album is a mix of traditional Christmas hymns and carols, with a few other seasonal tunes thrown in. For example, the Hanukkah song "Ma-O-Tzur" makes an appearance, as well as the non-seasonal but still appropriate "Lord of the Dance/Simple Gifts." I think the instrumental "Winter (Basse Dance)" is a Blackmore's Night original, along with "Wish You Were Here" and "Christmas Eve."

"Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Come All Ye Faithful" opens the album with a fairly traditional orchestral production of the first tune and features Night's dulcet vocals. Blackmore comes in after the first verse and chorus with a classic rock electric guitar solo that leads into the second tune. The rendition of "Come All Ye Faithful" is given more of a classic rock treatment than "Hark," including plenty of keyboard flourishes and a driving rhythm.

"I Saw Three Ships" drops the classic rock element entirely and is presented in a Renaissance style. Following this is the "Winter (Basse Dance)" instrumental, which is performed on an acoustic guitar with a hint of orchestral strings and flute in the background. The next few songs are given much the same treatment, and it is not until the last few songs that the wailing of an electric guitar is heard again, and even then it's only there to add a bit of texture to "Wish You Were Here" and lead the song out.

I highly recommend adding Winter Carols to your Christmas music collection. It is a pleasant change from the cheesy grocery store checkout lane selections and mall muzak that consumers are subjected to every year, and it will fit in nicely with your more traditional Christmas albums. I know my copy is going into the five disc shuffle along side albums from Kim Robertson, Kathy Mattea, Amy Grant, Anonymous 4, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

pretty little stranger

This album is a tasteful blend of soulful vocals with Americana instrumentation and arrangements that are guaranteed to not disappoint.

by Joan Osborne

As one of the icons of the late 90's Lilith Fair cadre of female singer-songwriters, Joan Osborne came to national attention through her soulful vocals and contemplative lyrics. Pretty Little Stranger is her first album of original music in six years, and this time around she is exploring her roots with a collection of country songs.

Born and raised in a small town outside of Louisville, Kentucky, Osborne had not really explored country music until she moved to New York City for film school. While her songwriting in the past has drawn on country and soul music, she says it was far more challenging to focus on the direct simplicity of country and not get sidetracked by abstract imagery.

The album is a collection of original tunes, either written by Osborne alone or with co-writers, and classic songs written by renowned songwriters such as Jerry Garcia, and Roy Orbison. Osborne is able to pull them all together and build a cohesive album that retains an intimate connection with each song, whether they are her own or not.

publicity photo of Joan OsborneTaken out of context, Pretty Little Stranger can be a bit of a shock to listeners who are expecting an album like 1995's Relish. The country emphasis of the album finally sinks in about half-way through with Osborne's interpretation of Kris Kristoferson's "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends." Dan Tyminski's vocals add just the right amount of high lonesome to the song.

On the whole, the album points in a different direction from Osborne's 1990s hits, but there are occasional hints of the style that set her apart from the flood of solo female vocalists of the time. For example, "Shake the Devil" is reminiscent of "St. Teresa" or "Pensacola," but the banjo skirting around the edges ties it back into the country/roots/Americana theme of the album.

Along with Tyminski, Pretty Little Stranger gets quite a bit of help from accomplished Americana musicians. Bluegrass chanteuse Alison Krauss provides a hint of backing vocals on "Holy Waters," and Vince Gill gives his vocal blessing to "Time Won't Tell." With Eddie Bayers on drums, Michael Rhodes on bass, and Steve Gibson on electric guitar, the core rhythm section of the album provides an appropriately balanced stage to showcase Osborne's vocals. Kudos to producer Steve Buckingham for making sure the background stays there and does not overwhelm the focus of each song.

There is not a single dud among the twelve tracks of this album, making it well worth the sticker price for Americana fans and others who appreciate good music of any genre.