Dracula’s Coffin


Last Of The Summer Wine
Series 3, Episode 7: “Isometrics and After” (1976)


A Christmas Story

“Our family always had its Christmas on Christmas Eve.  Other less fortunate people, I had heard, opened their presents in the chill clammy light of dawn.  Far more civilized, our Santa Claus recognized that barbaric practice for what it was.  Around midnight great heaps of tissuey, crinkly, sparkly, enigmatic packages appeared among the lower branches of the tree and half hidden among the folds of the white bed-sheet that looked in the soft light like some magic snowbank.” (page 31)

Christmas traditions… every family has their own unique way of celebrating the holiday.  Some come and go over the years while others stand the test of time.  In my family there has always been two traditions that we can count on each year: opening the presents early (Christmas Eve at the latest!) and watching A Christmas Story.  These days we usually watch it once on Christmas Day but it wasn’t too many years ago that we eagerly sat through a great part of the A Christmas Story 24-hour marathon on TV.

A Christmas Story

This year I decided to read the book too.  The movie is based on Jean Shepherd’s short stories from In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories.  Five of the stories that inspired scenes in the movie have been republished in A Christmas Story.  It’s a very quick read and one of the advantages of having seen the movie so many times is that it was easy to imagine Jean Shepherd narrating the book like he did in the movie.


“But over it all like a faint, thin, offstage chorus was the building excitement.  Christmas was on its way.  Each day was more exciting than the last, because Christmas was one day closer.  Lovely, beautiful, glorious Christmas, around which the entire year revolved.” (page 10)

While I prefer the movie to the book (a rare thing indeed!), I wouldn’t mind adding it my holiday reading list each year!

From The Cover: The holiday film A Christmas Story, first released in 1983, has become a bona fide Christmas perennial, gaining in stature and fame with each succeeding year.  Its affectionate, wacky, and wryly realistic portrayal of an American family’s typical Christmas joys and travails in small-town Depression-era Indiana has entered our imagination and our hearts with a force equal to that of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.

This edition of A Christmas Story gathers together in one hilarious volume the gems of autobiographical humor that Jean Shepherd drew upon to create this enduring film.  Here is young Ralphie Parker’s shocking discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine; his mother and father’s pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; the unleashed and unnerving savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the show with the odious bullies Scut Farkas and Grover Dill; and, most crucially, Ralphie’s unstoppable campaign to get Santa—or anyone else—to give him a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle. Who cares that the whole adult world is telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”?

The pieces that comprise A Christmas Story, previously published in the larger collections In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, coalesce in a magical fashion to become an irresistible piece of Americana, quite the equal of the film in its ability to warm the heart and tickle the funny bone.

This Edition: Hardcover published by Broadway Books (2003)

You Might Also Like: Fading Into The Limelight by Peter Sallis

Murder By Death

You are cordially invited to dinner… and a MURDER

Dense fog, sudden storms and screams in the night… the perfect setting for a murder.  But when you add in a blind butler and five of the greatest detectives ever it’s hard to keep your diabolical plot on course.


“It just isn’t good enough. The millionth mystery I’ve read, and a damned silly, unlikely solution, just like all the other nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine. No. No. No! This just cannot go on.” – Lionel Twain (pages 5-6)

I read (and watch) a lot of mysteries and there have been plenty of times when I can relate to this. Either the mystery is solved by some hidden information produced right at the end or the solution is rushed and not very clever. I think that’s one of the reasons I like Neil Simon’s Murder By Death so much! It is one of my favorite movies but I also enjoy reading Henry Keating’s novelization. It’s a funny, fabulous spoof of the murder mystery genre and in particular five of the great detectives: Jessica Marbles (Miss Marple), Milo Perrier (Hercule Poirot), Sydney Wang (Charlie Chan), Dick & Dora Charleston (Nick & Nora Charles) and Sam Diamond (Sam Spade).

“The five greatest criminologists ever, assembled in one room. Someone is going to leave this house as Number One. And over somebody’s dead body, that’s going to be me.” – Miss Marbles (page 91)

murder by death

About The Book: The world’s greatest detectives have been invited to dinner. But when murder is on the menu, who will make it to dessert? The isolated mansion of eccentric millionaire Lionel Twain is the setting for the twisted puzzler. Twain informs his guests that one of them will be murdered at the stroke of midnight. The pay-off: $1 million to whoever lives through the night. Murder By Death neatly lampoons both the mystery genre and the characterizations of the instantly recognizable gumshoes. Match wits with the super sleuths, but remember, you can’t win if you end up dying from laughter!

This Edition: Paperback published by Warner books (1976)

You Might Also Like: Murder Racquet edited by Alfred Hitchcock


So I’ve been reading The Princess Bride again.  How many times have I read it?  Probably as many times as I have seen the movie (too many to count).  I have the 30th Anniversary Edition which includes the Introduction to the 30th Anniversary Edition, the Introduction to the 25th Anniversary Edition, The Princess Bride, Buttercup’s Baby: An Explanation, Buttercup’s Baby, Chapter One: Fezzik Dies and a Reading Group Guide.  I read all of it every time (well, except for the Reading Group Guide) because basically you’re getting two stories in one.

The Princess Bride


I’ve never been quite able to figure out which character I like the most.  William Goldman did such an excellent job on all of them!  But, if pressed for an answer I say:


What’s your favorite character from The Princess Bride?