For Black, a stand-up comedian who’s carved out a healthy chunk of fame with his angry rants, Christmas might seem an odd choice of topic for his third book of humour. Odder still for a Jewish comic who’s not overly sentimental about the holiday season: “we Jews [at Christmastime] . . . are like the spectators who stand outside the fence and watch those idiots who have chosen to run with the bulls.”
Not to worry, though; Black offers a thorough explanation of how the book came to be (mainly due to needling by his editor, whom he calls “a crack dealer for my self-esteem”). He also includes a cautionary note for those to whom Christmas is sacred: Black Christmas will offer little in the way of holiday cheer and is unlikely to make them “s–t fruitcakes and gingerbread men.” His book, he warns, is “for the rest of us.”
Then he gets down to work, doing what Lewis Black fans expect. He rails against such injustices as kids at seaside resorts (“Why is he screaming? Is the perfection that surrounds him not enough?”), the earthquake in Haiti (“a hideous cosmic joke”), and the tree erected every holiday season in Manhattan (“the hooker at Rockefeller Center”). The funniest material in the book—an account of a USO Holiday Tour in the Middle East with Robin Williams, Lance Armstrong and Kid Rock—is unfortunately tacked on in an appendix.
But among all the wisecracking, Black sneaks in something truly shocking: honesty. As he takes us through how he’s spent his last 10 Christmases—writing cheques to charity and consuming copious food and drink at the homes of two of his closest friends—he opens up about a topic most comics won’t touch with a 10-foot candy cane: loneliness. Black, 62, with a disastrous marriage far behind him (there was DNA testing involved, which revealed that he had been cuckolded), admits that being alone at Christmas “pounds relentlessly on my psyche.” But he’s done the baby math generally reserved for women of a certain age, and knows a family isn’t likely in the cards. By book’s end, he makes a sort of peace with his life, and has a renewed appreciation for his friends. Peace and gratitude. Sounds like a bit of the Christmas spirit.
- Jen Cutts
They’ve dominated social discourse and public policy throughout their youth and adult lives; now they’re about to cut a swath through retirement and old age. Will the golden years survive the baby boomers?
With the first boomers turning 64 this year, Canadian pollster Michael Adams takes a timely look at how this demographic juggernaut will retire and die. It is familiar territory for Adams, who first parsed the generation in his popular 1997 book Sex in the Snow. Then, as now, he argues the boomers are not a monolithic group, but rather a conglomeration of four distinct “tribes” born between 1946 and 1965. These tribes vary widely in their social values: the largest tribe actually has a fond regard for the life of its parents, while some aging hippies are still fighting the battles of the sixties.
Despite their tribal differences, over past decades a vast tsunami of adult boomers swamped society and government with certain values that have become dominant: celebration of the self, rejection of religion and traditional hierarchy, and an emphasis on education, equality and the environment. These trends will continue into old age, says Adams. Boomers will remain enthusiastic adopters of new technology and plan to stay fully engaged in politics, particularly when it comes to their health care and pensions.
What will change is the nature of retirement. “Just 16 per cent of this generation aspires to do ‘no work whatsoever’ after they punch the clock at their full-time job for the last time,” writes Adams. Most boomers will seek out part-time or charitable work to keep busy and maintain their sense of significance as long as they are able.
And when the end finally does come, boomers will continue their rejection of tradition. Adams reports all four tribes show a marked preference for cremation over burial and little interest in any strong religious component to their funerals. The big question, according to Adams, will be how and where to scatter all those ashes in ways that allow the boomers to “do their own thing” in death as they did in life.
- Peter Shawn Taylor
A book about a 91-year-old man on the brink of senility may seem like a departure from the hard-boiled crime novels for which Walter Mosley is best known. But the prologue to Ptolemy Grey—a letter written by the title character to a 17-year-old—promises plenty of action. “If you were 20 years older and I 50 years less I’d ask you to be my wife,” it reads. “You deserve the best I can offer and that’s why I’m sitting here with a pistol under the cushion and a gold doubloon on the coffee table.” Mosley deftly tucks mystery into what is, above all, a love story.
It begins with Ptolemy picking up the phone in his vermin-infested Los Angeles apartment and confusing the caller’s voice with those on the radio and TV. A relative arrives to take him to the bank, which Ptolemy mistakes for the “Negro tenement” where, as a child, he visited his beloved uncle. Next, Ptolemy finds himself at a wake for his cherished grand-nephew, Reggie, shot by some character named “Drivebee.” A sad event indeed, but also, for Ptolemy, a lucky one—for it is here that he meets orphan Robyn, 17, whom he later adopts and holds responsible for the unmuddling of his mind.
She clears the detritus from Ptolemy’s home, then brings him to meet “the Devil”—a doctor who prescribes a potent but poisonous drug that miraculously restores his memory. Suddenly, a murky notion that’s been haunting him about “something he needs to do” comes clear, and it involves a pot of gold, an ancient lynching and Reggie’s death.
For all its magic and murder, the story’s true charm is in the bond between Ptolemy and Robyn, as unlikely as a shot in the arm that reverses dementia, yet rendered true in Mosley’s prudent prose. A soul, Coydog once told Ptolemy, is the part of a person that feels “there’s somethin’ in the world bettah than they lives.” Call it a fairy tale, but Mosley’s message is clear: when two souls join together to work toward that somethin’, anything is possible.
- Dafna Izenberg
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