December 2005 Archives

Rebecca

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Click for availability and more information Rebecca

Rebecca is hands-down my favorite movie of all time. It's a great story and the performances are spectacular. Dame Judith Anderson is perfect as Mrs. Danvers, but my absolute favorite is George Sanders as the sleazy "cousin" Jack Favell, who adds a welcome touch of humor. The only flaw in this movie is that Joan Fontaine is far too beautiful to be the mousy "second Mrs. deWinter," but other than that, this is a perfect film. There's something in it for everyone: suspense, romance, comedy, and a good story.
-Annie

The Outer Limits

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Click for availability and more information The Outer Limits

The original 1963-65 Outer Limits television series was one of the coolest & scariest SF/horror anthology programs ever produced. With stark, brooding black & white photography, bizarre creatures & situations, and a sense of morality tinged with cynicism, the "Limits" created a world of mystery & suspense all it's own. Episodes such as "The Galaxy Being" (where an intelligent but radioactive alien is accidentally brought to a hostile Earth), "O.B.I.T." (about aliens spying on & undermining morale at a government research base) and "The Sixth Finger" (a scientist's efforts to advance Man's evolutionary process almost ends in tragedy for the planet) both entertained audiences and provoked thought about how our lives really run. The 32 first season episodes have been collected on four DVD discs for interested audiences. Yes, there are clunkers ("Tourist Attraction" & "ZZZZ" come to mind), but you won't be bored. AND you get to see up-and-coming unknowns like Robert Culp, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Sally Kellerman, Bruce Dern, Robert Duvall and a very young Martin Sheen appear.
-Ed

Bill Maher: I'm Swiss

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Click for availability and more information Bill Maher: I'm Swiss

Bill Maher: I'm Swiss is without doubt one of the funniest standup comedy acts I've seen in a long time. Full of witty observations about the sad state of our Nation, Maher's sharp tongue and biting sarcasm will make you laugh as well as think. If you enjoyed Bill's TV show, you should enjoy this DVD even more - there are no commercials or corporate sponsors to get in the way of the comedy and social criticism.
-Rick

Billion Dollar Brain

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Click for availability and more information Billion Dollar Brain

Billion Dollar Brain was recently added to the Library's collection and suddenly found itself with 22 requests placed on it. Not bad for a 1967 film that very few people have ever heard of !! It is the third of the Len Deighton Harry Palmer spy sagas after IPCRESS FILE and FUNERAL IN BERLIN. What sets this apart is the brilliant direction by the British filmmaker Ken Russell. This was Russell's first big feature after a series of highly acclaimed BBC-TV documentaries on the lives of composers and artists. It was followed by WOMEN IN LOVE which really made people sit up and take notice.
The intricate Cold War plot follows MI5 agent Harry (Michael Caine) into Latvia and Helsinki, Finland to track down a series of double agents while also delivering a thermos of deadly toxins. Harry has an amorous liaison with Francoise Dorleac and mysterious encounters with fellow agent Karl Malden. Two more colorful characters in the person of a Russian General Oscar Homulka and a fanatic right-wing Texan General Midwinter (Ed Begley) stir the pot. It culminates in Begley's invasion of the Soviet Union with the help of computers ("I've got enough information here to program communism from the face of the earth"). This last sequence is a masterful parody of Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky.
This film was finally released to DVD after 38 years in limbo and is a joy to watch for the beautiful camerawork (includes breathtaking winter vistas in the snow), for the intricate plot, and for the subtle humor that pops up all the time.
-Wayne

The 40 Year-Old Virgin

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Click for availability and more information The 40 Year-Old Virgin

It may be lowbrow gutter humor but...at least it's extremely well-done lowbrow gutter humor. What makes this movie so great, among other things, is a great, very funny script and Steve Carrell's performance as the title character. He doesn't overdo it and comes across both as believable and likeable. It also features Catherine Keener, one of my favorite actresses, as Carrell's love interest. Not only does she also give us laughs but it is crazy to see how brightly she fuels the story. This movie gives hope to obsessive toy collectors and video game players everywhere (no...that wouldn't be me.) So, please, set the Masterpiece Theater DVD's aside for a night and give yourself a naughty treat. You won't be sorry.
-Stephen

The Way Home

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click here for more information The Way Home by Kevin Braheny

Musician Braheny made the transition years ago from jazz and rock to electronic music. In the 1970s he worked on designing and playing improved models of synthesizers; one of his specialties is the Steiner electronic woodwind, featured on this album. It consists of two pieces, "The Way Home" and "Perelandra", the latter inspired by the C.S. Lewis novel.Both are examples of space music at its best: haunting tapestries of tone and melody which can be enjoyed whether you want to watch the patterns or simply float with the music.
-Richard

Kicking Television

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Click for availability and more information Kicking Television, by Wilco

Wilco's first record "A.M" was a run of the mill, overly earnest attempt at straight-up alt-country. Fortunately, after that, head honcho Jeff Tweedy began taking the band into more adventurous territory. But, it wasn't until 2002's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" that the band entered the realm of greatness; jettisoning their traditional rock stylings and making an amazing record of head music. Since that time, Tweedy and the band have been on a roll. I am usually no fan of live records but this one, recorded in Chicago last spring, finds the band at the top of their game. Focusing on the band's later, more complex material it offers the first recorded document of Wilco's new (and best) line-up. While many of the songs featured here sounded cool and mannered in the studio, here they gain new muscle and force. Guitarist Nels Cline complements Tweedy's songs perfectly and this record puts their songs in a new perspective. It also shows that this already great band is just getting better.
-Stephen

11 Tracks of Whack

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Click for availability and more information 11 Tracks of Whack, by Walter Becker

Walter Becker's 1994 release, 11 Tracks of Whack, never managed to attract as much popularity or critical acclaim as The Nightfly, by Becker's Steely Dan co-conspirator, Donald Fagen. Nevertheless, I prefer the former and listen to it more often than the Fagen solo album, partly because The Nightyfly's production is ultra-clean, almost to the point of sterility. Not so, 11 Tracks of Whack (henceforth ETOW). ETOW also seems more human in its lyrical concerns, which may reflect a particularly harrowing time for Becker, following the breakup of Steely Dan, struggles with chemical overindulgence and his removal to Hawaii. I hasten to point out this is only conjecture on my part; deriving from vague hints in interviews with the reunited Dan principals. The album is also a departure from The Nightfly and most Steely Dan records in that, with the exception of Dean Parks on guitar, studio musician A-Team players are absent. The result: an idiosyncratic blend of musical styles (rock, fusion, country, jazz, some cheesy drum machine tracks) with an oddball charm, consistently fascinating lyrics and more heart than the entire Steely Dan oeuvre, and I'm a huge SD fan. One listen to "Little Kawai", ETOW's final song, takes you to a warm fuzzy (though not saccharine) place, not encountered in any song by Becker's regular band. Caveat: Becker's singing may take some getting used to.
-David

Click for availability and more information The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, by James Surowiecki

Author James Surowieckiuses several real-life examples to explain how a wide sampling of individuals acting with their own interests at heart very often come to better decisions than even the smartest "experts" when addressing problems of cognition, coordination, and cooperation. Backed up with plenty of data, but written in plain English, this book shows just how important it is to promote diversity of opinion, and avoid the pitfalls of "groupthink" - where minority opinions are drowned out by a single strong opinion - an all too common phenomenon in our hierarchical business and political organizations.
-Rick

Tony and Me

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Click for availability and more information Tony and Me, by Jack Klugman

Whenever I watch re-runs of the Odd Couple on television, I am always struck by the chemistry between Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. They appear to be truly concerned for the welfare of the other. This was true of the two actors off the set. In Tony and Me, Klugman talks about how each got involved with acting, how they ended up working together, and how their unique relationship evolved. He relates anecdotes that help us to understand their real personalities. Klugman admits he never trusted anyone until Randall helped him with a personal crisis. Although it's a quick read, this book covers a lot of ground and is very entertaining.
-Carl

Click for availability and more information Rip it Up and Start Again: Post-Punk 1978-84, by Simon Reynolds

In the book's introduction Reynolds states "As I recall it now, I never bought any old records. Why would you? There were so many new records that you had to have that there was simply no earthly reason to investigate the past. There was too much happening right now."
That was exactly the way I felt during that time. My family was a drag, school sucked but... there was the music. I was 14 in 1978 and missed out on punk but eagerly devoured the new wave and post-punk music which followed.
Reynolds critiques, deconstructs and revels in the music he listened to in his formative music listening years. The coverage is incredibly broad, and the sheer fascination of the music really comes alive through his writing. This book is an almighty slab at over 500 pages but it never gets tired or repetitive although the chapters on British bands are stronger than those covering American bands. Maybe that's because those bands, for the most part, were far better than their American counterparts. But...reading this sent me back to my vinyl collection to rediscover the gems from that time. PIL's Metal Box, my Fall records, my Orange Juice records! There is one major problem with this book: I should have written it.
-Stephen

Return to Modesty

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Click for availability and more information Return to Modesty, by Wendy Shalit

An absorbing account of the difficulties of being a girl/young woman today in the face of the societal pressures to become sexually active by the age of 12-14, and the social stigma suffered by those who try to resist. The author argues that the ultimate result is many unhappy girls/young women and a less civilized society. "what women will and will not permit does have a profound way of influencing the behavior of an entire society". "our capacity to discriminate is what built civilization. Should it really come as such a surprise that when we began to tolerate everything, our society becomes less civilized".
-Nancy

Reading Lolita in Tehran

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Click for availability and more information Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisis

While this may have been reviewed here before, this reviewer found this book to be fascinating, timely, very readable and encourages all those interested in reading and the Middle East to discover its many pleasures. The actual story concerns a reading group Nafisis organized in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution to discuss the works of many authors. While the first discussion is of Nabokov's Lolita, the books of Austen, James and others are included. She uses those works as the backdrop of exploring life, particularly for women, in the newly formed Islamic state of Iran. Yet the reader gets so much more - the turbulence of living through the revolution, life in Iran during the Iran - Iraq War, adapting to living in a totally religious state and how educated people deal with the traumatic change in their lives and country after this revolution. In addition, it made this reviewer want to read those authors Nafisis chose to write about.
-Roy

The Lincolns in the White House

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Click for availability and more information The Lincolns in the White House, by Jerrold Packard

I just finished The Lincolns in the White House by Jerrold Packard. I enjoy reading books about Lincoln but I found this book filled with many intesting facts about Mary Todd - her many tragedies in life - treatment to her by the women in the cabinet - her overspending - her temper tantums Now for Lincoln - - his depression - his poor health - his sadness with the war - his fight to abolish slavery - his secret trips to the battlefield - the loss of his sons The Civil War was going on and they still had lots of parties in the White House. Its a good read.
-Mary

Click for availability and more information Just off Main Street: A Naturalist's Almanac, by Steven Mulak

Click for availability and more information The Rural Life, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Cabin fevered, I've been relaxing with two recent nature books. Just off Main Street: A Naturalist's Almanac is Steven Mulak's year-long observations out his own backdoor. His new year dawns with the vernal equinox as he starts in spring and tracks the seasonal lives of animals, plants, farmers, the skies; all promise rebirth. His thoughts turn to fixing an old shovel with a branch of well chosen ash. He notes there was a time when homemade was the best way, and not only because it was the only way. Usually, he says, the maker carved his name and often the date is his work of craftsmanship. He spends a good deal of time studying the sky and its seasonal changes, noting that once everyone knew what the Milky Way was. It hung above Main Street as clearly as it does over Moosehead Lake where he camps each year. Verlyn Klinkenborg celebrates the rigors and wonders of nature in The Rural Life. The farm of his Iowa childhood, excursions out west, and the gratification he derives working his upstate New York farm fill his pages. His writing is poetic and almost magical. And you believe him when he says "it's tempting to think of winter as the negation of life, but life has too many sequences, too many rhythms, to be altogether quieted by snow and cold."
-Susan

Garbage Land

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Click for availability and more information Garbage Land, by Elizabeth Royte

Elizabeth Royte took the gripping subject of garbage to heart learning everything she could about where what we toss off goes. In Garbage Land, from her Brooklyn brownstone by the gowanus canal, once the area dumping, she tracked recyclables, trash, garbage, human waste, the works. Her trash trek led her from the waters off New York City to the California coast. It's hugely revealing. She found out in the end that nothing ever gets reduced to nothing, it just changes, occasionally for better, but mostly for worse. I loved this book. She spins her story with dramatic flair. It's full of colorful people, haulers, biologists, engineers, greens, scrap processors, and a cast of entrepreneurs, including those who have transformed sludge into gold. Her adventures in front stoop composting alone are worth the read. Waste is hazardous; despite plethoric regulations. We shouldn't be lulled by our domestic recycling efforts, they're a drop in the bucket-no pun intended-compared to industry's output. I will never think about the down and dirty subject in the same way again.
-Susan

Click for availability and more information Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of The Tramp, the Writer and the Lost Screenplay, by Jim Agee

A book I would like to recommend to movie buffs is Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of The Tramp, the Writer and the Lost Screenplay. Jim Agee was a movie critic who wrote for Time, Life and Nation magazines at one time or another. He was rebellious, unkempt and eventually descended into alcoholism, which greatly shortened his life. (He died at age 47). Yet, he was considered a genius who collaborated with John Huston on such screenplays as The African Queen. During the "Red Scare" of the 1950s, Agee was the only journalist to come to the defense of Charlie Chaplin, who was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. When Time assigned Agee to write a follow up to the bombing of Hiroshima, this greatly affected him, and he eventually decided to write a screenplay for Chaplin titled The Tramp's New World. It was a stream-of-consciousness work about a post-apocalyptic New York City that never reached the silver screen. The screenplay can be found at the end of the book. This work is not only an interesting study about a critic who befriended a star, but also provides some insight into the McCarthy era.
-Carl

Books of Interviews by David Barsamian

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Click for availability and more information Books of Interviews by David Barsamian

Founder and director of the widely syndicated weekly show "Alternative Radio", David Barsamian is known for interviewing guests not normally given time in the corporate-owned media. Among these diverse voices of dissent are two of the greatest intellectuals of our time, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Barsamian has interviewed them both so often that he has compiled one book each out of their radio transcripts. Imperial Ambitions: Conversations with Noam Chomsky on the Post-9/11 World and The Future of History are both books that I highly recommend to anyone interested in political ideas. Readers who have never been exposed to Zinn or Chomsky will find these books short, well-organized introductions to the thoughts of the interviewees. I was especially impressed with Barsamian's ability to transfer Zinn's sense of humor from the airwaves to the written page.
-Rick

War Trash

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Click for availability and more information War Trash, by Ha Jin

After reading War Trash, this reviewer wants to read more of this fascinating and articulate writer. War Trash, a novel based on historical fact, tells the intriguing tale of Yu Yuan, a 1949 graduate of a Chinese military academy after the Communists have seized control of China, who "volunteers" to aid the North Koreans during the Korean Conflict. The first part details his being sent to Korea and the harrowing time he and his comrades endure wandering around the Korean countryside and trying to survive as soldiers in a battle field. Yuan is captured by American forces and becomes a POW. Jin creates Yuan's life as a prisoner in gripping fashion as he suffers torture, brutality and hardship. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his confinement is the intense pressure Chinese prisoners suffered by their fellow countrymen to pledge loyalty to either the Communists on the mainland or Taiwan. In all, this well-written novel sheds much light on the Korean Conflict from a different angle - that of a Chinese soldier. Very highly recommended.
-Roy

The Subterraneans

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Click for availability and more information The Subterraneans, by Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) wrote The Subterraneans over three days & nights without sleep, and the novel's stylistic tone -run on sentences the length of a paragraph, wild & dizzy shifts in conversational prose, much like improvising in jazz music- does indicate the author's frame of mind at that time. However new readers shouldn't be intimidated by Kerouac's style, as the writing perfectly matches the protagonist's (Kerouac in disguise here as 'Leo Percepied') confusion, happiness, apprehension & finally heartbroken despair as he pursues a bittersweet, interracial love affair. Here is a true example of the "spontaneous prose" Kerouac often aimed for. You can almost hear jazz musicians play in the background while reading this. (Kerouac preferred Charlie 'Bird' Parker but you could play Miles Davis & John Coltrane in the background while reading this if you like.)
-Ed

Rimbaud Complete

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Click for availability and more information Rimbaud Complete, by Arthur Rimbaud

"I became opera; I saw that all living things were doomed, to bliss: that's not living..." Rimbaud Complete is the most recent collection of poems, essays, uncollected writings & prose by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891). Translator/editor Wyatt Mason has done a terrific job capturing the "metrical & musical rigor unique to French poetry" that made Rimbaud's works stand out over the past century and a half. Many American poets such as William Carlos Williams, Lawrence Ferlinghetti & Charles Bukowski, not to mention songwriter Bob Dylan, have been influenced by Rimbaud's style. Read, and speak it, for yourself. (Recommended poems: "Young Coupledom", "The Drunken Boat")
-Ed

Prince of Fire

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Click for availability and more information Prince of Fire, by Daniel Silva

As a big fan of Silva's series with Gabriel Allon (the art restorer who "doubles" as a secret agent for the Israeli government), this reviewer welcomes the fifth book of the series with Allon. In brief, he is pressed into service after a terrorist attack in Rome and proceeds on a chase to capture a Palestian terrorist. This terrorist may or may not have been behind the vicious attack on his wife that was described in earlier books. As usual, the action is fast-paced, the characters well-developed and the story is very timely. In fact, the reader gets an insight into the Arab-Israeli conflict that is very well balanced and educational. Another bonus is the developments in Allon's personal life that make his character all the more real. This is very highly recommended!
-Roy

The Penelopiad

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Click for availability and more information The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood

Are you looking for a new twist on a very old tale? Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad (The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus)is just the book! You needn't have read Homer's The Iliad & The Odyssey to enjoy the story as Helen introduces you to the characters, especially those devious gods and goddesses, who are constantly interfering in the lives of lesser beings. This very short but biting story has been updated. Poor Penelope is left alone in the palace (for 10 long years) with her 12 maids and a myriad of suitors eating her out of house and home. Meanwhile, her wondering husband, Odysseus, is out rescuing Helen of Troy and gets delayed on his way home. Sound familiar? Penelope explains her dilemma in terms that are not only innocent but quite laughable at times.
-Viki

The Final Program

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Click for availability and more information The Final Program, by Michael Moorcock

One of the advantages of running the library's Science Fiction Book Club is getting to read novels in the genre that I've either not come across before or rediscovered after a long time. In the case of British SF author Michael Moorcock's The Final Program, the first of his 'Jerry Cornelius' series, it was like being reunited with an old friend. Cornelius is a bisexual musician/scientist/adventurer who gets lured into...well to say more would spoil your enjoyment. "Program" can be found in Moorcock's Cornelius Quartet collection, along with the three sequel novels A Cure For Cancer, The English Assassin & The Condition of Muzak. (NOTE: The next SF Book Club meeting on January 30, 2006, will discuss "Program", beginning at 7:30pm. Call me at (203) 622-7918 for details.)
-Ed

Mindfield: new & selected poems

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Click for availability and more information Mindfield: new & selected poems, by Gregory Corso

"Budger of history Brake of time You Bomb" Gregory Corso (1930-2001) was one of the original "Beat Generation" figures alongside the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg & William S. Burroughs in the 1950s, when his jazz-accented works such as "Bomb", "Marriage" and "Greenwich Village Suicide" were published. Over the decades, owing to alcohol & drug addiction, Corso's subsequent output was erratic and he currently appears to be regarded as a footnote in American poetry. While fans like myself wait for Corso's status to improve in the field of letters, let me recommend the collection Mindfield: new & selected poems. Much of the author's best work appears here, as well as forewords by Ginsberg & Burroughs analyzing Corso's style. More recently, such writers as Patti Smith have begun openly acknowledging Corso's influence on their own works.
-Ed

The March

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Click for availability and more information The March, by E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow's new book, The March is an account of General William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas, leaving , as one writer describes "a 60-mile wide trail of death, destruction, looting, thievery, and chaos." Amidst the blood and gore goes a touching storyline, featuring a southern nurse, a dedicated doctor, a 15-year old mulatto girl , and two deserters from the Confederate troops, who insinuate themselves into General Sherman's Union army, with their own agenda for revenge. This personalized approach to a horrendous chapter in our country's history forces the reader to rethink the lessons learned in American History 101... For instance: slavery was abolished but what were the newly free workers expected to do with this new independence? No money, no skills, no education - not likely. The effects of this abandonment of government responsibility have reverberated through the years. There is a very touching thumbnail sketch of Abraham Lincoln as seen through the eyes of the Army doctor. (Just when you thought you had read all you needed to know about him). E L Doctorow readers be assured this book is up to his usual excellent standards. To his new readers -welcome to the fan club of said author. You won't be disappointed.
-Janet

The Left Hand of Darkness

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Click for availability and more information The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Considered a classic of speculative fiction, this novel explores what it would be like to live in a society with none of our gender distinctions. A diplomatic envoy is sent to a world whose inhabitants are androgynous most of the time, only changing (randomly) into male or female during a brief reproductive season. LeGuin, the daughter of a famous anthropologist, imagines what this would mean to every aspect of society and history, in her unique style: plainly written, but highly evocative and layered with interlocked images and themes. Despite the serious themes, this is an engaging story with two main characters the reader comes to care about.
-Richard

Stephanie Plum, Bounty Hunter (series)

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Click for availability and more information Stephanie Plum, Bounty Hunter (series), by Janet Evanovich

This series is about the intrepid adventures of Stephanie Plum, Bond enforcement agent. She packs heat, hairspray, a gun-toting grandma and a quasi-partner who is a retired prostitute, and brings them along on her (mis)adventures in bond enforcement. Somehow, after blowing up a car in every book and almost getting herself shot at every corner, she still manages to get the bad guys and return home to feed the love of her life every night....a hamster named Rex. These books will have you rooting for Stephanie and rolling on the ground with laughter, all the while giving you a nice mystery/crime read.
-Sarah

The Historian

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Click for availability and more information The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

While this is a very long book, this reviewer found it a great, wonderful read. The story begins in 1972 as a young woman discovers cryptic letters of her father's that lead to a grand adventure across Europe. Her quest involves the unlikely prospect of determining if the Dracula of fictional fame is indeed alive and living as "the undead". And, the topper is the relationship between her father and Dracula. While this may sound far-fetched, Kostova has written a wonderfully detailed story with very interesting historical background about, among other topics, eastern Europe during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Readers with an interest in this time period might find this book more enjoyable that others. It certainly covers a subject that is different, but Kostova's first book shows she is an author of great and interesting promise.
-Roy

Cain's Book

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Click for availability and more information Cain's Book, by Alexander Trocchi

Scottish-born Beat author Alexander Trocchi's Cain's Book may just seem like another tale of a doomed drug addict's plight like Trainspotting , but the novel's tone quickly shifts to its own drumbeat. The book's main character, barge pilot & smack addict Joe Necchi (Trocchi in disguise), sifts through the seedy world of junkies & hustlers in New York yet despite the cost to his personal life somehow manages to enrich his artistic talents as a writer & artist. Necchi/Trocchi makes no apologies for his addiction (nor does he glamorize it either) and remains defiant to the end, a malcontent like the Biblical character Cain. No "cold turkey" redemptive/happy ending here. Compelling, brutal & raw, especially in it's scenes depicting drug use & sex. Not for small children.
-Ed

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