The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw:
While, tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.

-- Robert Burns, from Winter - A Dirge

23rd of January, 2005

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Is it really almost January 25th again? It must be, because the Kitchen staff is bustling with preparations for our Burns Supper. They'll be setting a table with finnan haddie, roast Angus beef, salmon, forfar bridies, colcannon, bannocks, and an assortment of fine Scottish whiskies. Haggis? Of course there'll be haggis, but that's not something our own cooks are willing to attempt. No, for the central character in our Burns Suppers we go to McKean's of Scotland, haggis makers since 1850. Just one whiff of their smoked venison haggis made from Balmoral estates elk will have the staffers lined up outside the dining room hours before the meal is to be served.

If you're truly unfamiliar with Burns Suppers in celebration of the great Robbie Burn's birthday, let Burns Country explain it:

With a little bit of planning anyone (well, almost anyone) can enjoy a Burns Night celebration. All that's needed is a place to gather (gracious host), plenty of haggis and neeps to go around (splendid chef), a master of ceremonies (foolhardy chairman), friendly celebrants (you and your drouthy cronies), and good Scotch drink to keep you warm (BYOB). With these ingredients, at least a few celebrants will be able to make prattling fools of themselves, trying to do justice to the words and spirit of Robert Burns. And if everyone brings along a wee dram and a bit of poetry, prose or song then each, in turn, may become an object of mirth and amusement to the gathered throng. Be prepared to enjoy yourself beyond all expectation. With good cheer and gay company we all may, in short, be able to ring in the Bard's birthday fou rarely.

So we'll be reading from the poet's works, singing his songs, and toasting each other with whisky or sparkling cider. The Chief will read Address to a Haggis before we dig in...someone has threatened to corner Maria Nutick and embarrass her with Complimentary Epigram on Maria Riddell...we may even convince some of the lads to get up and do a Highland Fling for us. So stop by if you're in the neighborhood and lift a glass in honor of Scotland's national treasure.

Lenora Rose has our featured review this week, with Susanna Clarke's much discussed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This enormous volume has fantasy fans all a-dither. Animated discussions are taking place in bookstores, book groups, and across the Internet. Some love it, some hate it...what does Lenora say? 'Susanna Clarke's novel is superb. There's no other one-word summary for it.' And so is Lenora's review, for which she receives an Excellence in Writing Award.

Craig Clarke says 'I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a graphic novel aficionado. To begin with I've never even seen a Sandman or anything by Alan Moore, and when I read Road to Perdition recently, it was the film novelization which, although by the same author (Max Allan Collins), doesn't offer near the same experience absent the artwork by Richard Piers Rayner. In fact, the last illustrated narrative of any kind that I read -- other than newspaper comic strips -- was Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth which, with its intensely depressing storyline, was apt to turn someone like me -- who seeks hope, not despair, in his escapism -- off of graphic storytelling for good.' So why did we send him The Barefoot Serpent, by Scott Morse, and more importantly what did he think of it? Read his review to find out.

Cat Eldridge takes a look, not at the story, but at the books themselves with his review of a special printing of Neil Gaiman's American Gods: 'I repeat -- I am not here to review American Gods. I am here instead to talk with you about not one, but two, of the finest editions of a novel ever printed. I do not say that lightly as I've seen many fine limited editions ranging from the affordable works of Golden Gryphon such as Kage Baker's Black Projects, White Knights -- The Company Dossiers to one by Gaiman himself that Biting Dog Press issued, Murder Mysteries: Two Plays for Voices. That was both of the coolest art objects I ever held in my hands and is quite possibly the most expensive book I've ever actually owned. Now I'm not saying that mainstream publishers such as Tor, Penguin Putnam, and HarperCollins don't do fine quality work as they most assuredly do, but the really cool stuff comes from publishers who do relatively small runs of a given title. The trade off is, of course, that it often costs more to do it this way, but the result in the case of American Gods (Author's Preferred Edition) is well-worth the price.'

'Rock Posters took on a new, more mainstream look.  The Golden Age was over, but as the children of the 60s grew up and became successful members of society with disposable income the posters became collectible, originals (and even copies) started fetching big bucks.  In recent years young artists influenced by those posters have started using those 60's influences to revitalize the rock poster and to turn it back into the art form it had become so many years ago.  Paul Grushkin and Dennis King had celebrated the original posters in a large and beautiful retrospective book called The Art of Rock in 1987.  Now, nearly 20 years later, they have created a sequel, 13'x11' in size, nearly 500 pages, full colour, beautifully designed and printed, weighing in at a whopping...okay...I don't know how much it weighs...but it's heavy.  You'll want to browse this one on a desk.  Don't take it to bed with you...could be dangerous!' David Kidney muses on The Art of Modern Rock in his Excellence in Writing Award winning review.

David also looks at a book credited to Paul McCartney: 'Okay, okay, okay...It appears that Paul McCartney did not write this book.  Nevertheless, it is his name whach appears in big white letters on the dark front of the dust jacket.  A careful reading of the credits page shows that the editor in charge of putting it all together was Caroline Grimshaw, and the pictures were taken by Bill Bernstein.  Roger Huggett designed the volume, and another half dozen or so writers, and editors had a hand in.  It WAS, however, Paul McCartney's idea, and he provided all access to those involved during the 2002-2003 World Tour.  It seems like a pattern is emerging in the McCartney world.  Release a studio album, tour the world recording the shows, release a DVD showing the making of the album (thereby keeping interest in the album active), continue touring, release a DVD of the tour, and release a double live CD of the tour.  Then...a couple of months later issue a big beautiful book of photographs taken during the tour.  I have, in my collection, memorial VHS-tapes, DVDs, CDs, programmes, and big books documenting his tours since Wings Over America in 1976.  This one, though, is a beauty!  Oh, and Macca wrote the foreword!' This time it's Each One Believing: On Stage, Off Stage, and Backstage.

Gary Whitehouse looks at a trio of books about Bob Dylan. As Gary says, 'In 2004, it sometimes seemed like it was 'All Dylan, All the Time.' In addition to his best-selling memoir, Chronicles, Vol. I, several books were printed or reprinted, including these three, the first newly arrived early in the year, the other two reprints with additional information.' Gary takes an Excellence in Writing Award home for his collection as he looks at a whole lot of Dylan.

Tim Hoke here. We've had quite a bit of nasty weather lately. Now I've long held the opinion that bad weather affords the best time for watching film. Apparently some of our staff agree with this. I have a stack here to watch as soon as I've told you about some new reviews.

J.J.S. Boyce was impressed by the two-disc DVD set Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Live at Montreux, 1982 and 1985. He notes, 'Vaughan is a legendary guitar player . . . . There were times in his performance where I felt like I was watching Scott Joplin reincarnated, playing his hardest, translating his fast and complicated piano rags into guitar form, and never missing a note.'

Cat Eldridge was captivated by The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, Set One. Cat observes, 'Nothing is amiss here -- and keep that in mind as it becomes important in a minute -- with the acting perfect, the scripts well-written, and the setting (which appears to be London just after the Second World War) wonderfully realized...All four tales here proved to diverting watching on a cold winters night. No complaints from me will be forthcoming as I am eagerly awaiting the final four episodes to be released by Acorn!'

'Just what do you expect a live DVD to accomplish?' David Kidney asks, after viewing Los Lobos: Live at the Fillmore. 'Drama. It's all about drama. There is very little visual drama in Live at the Fillmore. Los Lobos do not move, not even their facial expressions.' Yet David goes on to describe the DVD as 'Awesome!' Read his review to find out why.

David's a blues fan, and he didn't pass up the chance to watch The American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1969, Volume III. 'This is essential footage,' David says. 'These blues artists rarely appeared on American television, but while they visited Europe on annual pilgrimages German promoter Horst Lippmann ensured that their performances would be saved on film. The transfers are beautiful . . . and the performances are fundamental.'

Anton Strout confesses, 'I'd love to be a criminal because I think it would be a pleasure to be caught by Poirot, ever inventive and charming as he draws a crime to a close.' Anton has been watching Agatha Christies' Poirot: Collector’s Set 11 & 12, six hours of the legendary detective. He says, 'Without giving away the whodunit, this set has all the twists, turns, and misdirections you'd expect topped off with a lead character portrayed by an actor born to play this role.'


Have a great week, dear readers, and enjoy your reading, watching, and listening. If you can't attend a Burns Supper, you can always browse around the Scotweb and have your own tribute!


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Updated 23 January 2005, 07:30 GMT (MN)