Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Michael Henningsen and Dorothy Cole

DECEMBER 14, 1998: 

anta & Pete
by Christopher Moore and Pamela Johnson
(Simon & Schuster, cloth, $14.95)

Based on an obscure Dutch legend, Santa & Pete reveals in well researched detail, that the myth of St. Nicholas was perhaps one of the first testaments of multicultural understanding. As legend has it, Santa Claus was traveling Europe a thousand years ago performing miracles and giving gifts to children. When he crossed into Moorish occupied Spain, he was arrested and sentenced to death. While in prison, he met a Moor named Pete and the two became friends. On the morning of the execution, prison guards were astounded to find Santa and Pete missing. According to "eyewitness" accounts from the time, an elderly white man and a black companion were often seen delivering gifts to children.

Coauthors Chistopher Moore and Pamela Johnson weave the tale in and out of their own memories of Christmas and documented research that traces the legend of Old St. Nick as far back as 290 AD. It's a wonderful, inspiring book--melding fact, fiction and fantasy with the possibility and hope that has kept the legend of Santa Claus alive in children young and old for centuries. (MH)

The Physics of Christmas
by Roger Highfield
(Bulfinch Press/Little Brown and Co., cloth, $20)

Leave it to science to try and take the fun out of everything. Fortunately, though, and not for a lack of trying, Roger Highfield's sinister plan has backfired into an altogether interesting and enlightening holiday book. When it comes to Christmas, if you've got questions, Highfield's got answers. All of them. Science editor of London's Daily Telegraph, Highfield went about the bold, laborious task of researching and compiling data on every aspect of the Christmas holiday imaginable--from likely candidates for the Star of Bethlehem to the scientific probability of a virgin birth and how Santa Claus manages to get between each of the 842 million households he visits in just over two ten-thousandths of a second.

The Physics of Christmas is as weird as it is interesting. It's painfully detailed, but also painfully witty and delightful. Highfield doesn't try to use science to debunk Christmas or any of its adjoining legends and myths. Instead, he uses science as a tool for unlocking the many magical mysteries of the holiday season, providing sometimes surprising evidence and explanations for events and people that have long had only faith to rely on for survival. (MH)

Las Christmas
edited by Esmeralda Santiago and Joie Davidow
(Knopf, cloth, $22)

This collection combines the Christmas and Hanukkah memories of 25 of today's most respected Hispanic writers (including Las Cruces native Denise Chávez) with traditional songs and recipes. Each of the stories exquisite in its own right--richly painted memories of uncles, aunts, grandparents and others who seemed to shine a little brighter around the holidays--Las Christmas captures and conveys the countless emotions evoked by the season.

The true stories here are infused with the spirit of the holiday season from deeply personal perspectives, offering short, sweet glimpses of family traditions--how they originated or were adopted and translated across cultures throughout the Americas. Las Christmas is an extraordinary collection of writings by some of today's most talented writers, bound together in a timeless, unparalelled holiday offering. (MH)

by Elizabeth Hardwick (Random House, cloth, $26)

Elizabeth Hardwick knows a lot about American fiction, and she wants to be sure we all recognize that. These reviews--more like meditations--cover the work of most of the best-known writers in the American tradition, ranging from Edith Wharton's New York to Norman Mailer's equally vast and well populated ego. Great on gossip but soft on specifics, Hardwick can't stay on a single subject. Her piece on Wharton is really mostly about Washington Square, which was written not by Wharton but by Henry James. Another review, supposedly about a certain biography, features a lengthy digression on the attitudes of biographical scholars in general. You often have to go back and check the title to see who she's really talking about. This could be illuminating if all you were looking for was context on the literary life, for instance, or the differences between two particular authors. The titles and introductions, however, promise something else. It's like walking into a party where all the guests are extremely well read. None of the conversations make sense: the answers are great, but the questions are missing.(DC)

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