If there is one column from the entire year, which I would prefer not to fall through, it would be the week before Christmas.
But there is an old saying, that if something can go wrong, it will, and here we are with a column planned since late September, no longer possible to write.
However, one of my very favorite art forms is literature, and I certainly read, every single day of my life, which is more than I can say about performing orchestral music or opera or delighting to sculpture.
So, let me begin by describing a film which I especially enjoyed, and then we'll talk a bit about some really interesting books:
LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS
They say that since the advent of television programs such as the multi-faceted ''C.S.I.'' series, that some law courts have been troubled by jurors who think that in every case, the prosecution can present a single hair which proves the defendant was in the room when the murder took place, or some similar miraculous piece of evidence. Certainly the characters in the television series always manage to do it.
In researching to write this column, I've read a number of reviews by writers who attack the film ''Love and Other Drugs'' because it is an entertaining film, and not a documentary of spotless background.
Personally, I found it a beautiful film, containing some genuine elements of serious situations which deserve public attention, and yet, entertaining and stimulating. Full disclosure: the film was entirely filmed in Pittsburgh, and it added a world of pleasure for me to recognize Squirrel Hill, Mellon Square or the William Penn Hotel, and dozens of other familiar sites from my home town. Even when the film's action moves to Chicago, in fact, they're still on the familiar streets of Pittsburgh.
The central character of the film is a young man named Jamie Randall. Jamie is an unusually good looking young man, whose parents have established for him a very plush lifestyle which has exposed him to opportunities to develop the ability to operate smoothly in a wide variety of styles of life.
We're soon told that Jamie's parents have always expected nothing but success from him, from which he has rebelled by taking a number of well-paying but not professional jobs, instead of going to medical school, as they had hoped.
At the opening of the film, Jamie is exercising his oily charms on a variety of customers and upon fellow employees of an electronics store, where he earns big commissions, selling flat screen televisions.
A number of critics went rogue on proclaiming that the film takes place in the mid-1990s, and the very first flat screened television went on the market in 1998, so he couldn't possibly have a whole showroom full of them, from which to sell.
But really, while the error is worth noting, the product Jamie is selling isn't the point. The point is that he has a gift for telling people what they want to hear, to get them readily to commit to actions which may not be in their best interests, but which certainly are in his best interests.
Found by a supervisor to be seducing an attractive saleswoman when he was supposed to be tending to customers, Jamie is fired, but he soon gets a new job as a sale representative for a major pharmaceutical company.
Now, his job is to drive from doctor's office to doctor's office, trying to convince each doctor that he or she should prescribe his company's products, instead of similar drugs which are made by his competitors. Charming and even bedding the receptionists in the various offices helps Jamie to get in to see the doctors ahead of other, less attractive salesmen.
Once he's in, he is not above sneaking into store rooms and discarding the samples presented to the doctors by rival companies, thus making it less possible for them to prescribe the rival companies' medications.
In 2009, the Chautauqua Theater Company produced a play called ''Rx,'' by Kate Fodor. A former employee of a big pharmaceutical company, Ms. Fodor filled her play with similar situations, and especially with the charge that because the companies which create prescription drugs are profit-driven businesses, they center their research and establish their priorities according to which pills can make them a profit, and not according to what diseases they cure or how much suffering they can prevent.
Jamie soon learns that his company has discovered a little blue pill, called Viagra, which enables men who are no longer able to achieve sexual satisfaction to return to the more successful conditions of their younger days. More people want that new drug than might need a pill which cured cancer or dissolved blood clots before they caused heart attacks, so he abandons the other medicines in his car's trunk, and focuses entirely on the new profit-maker.
One day, Jamie is in the midst of winning over one of the most influential doctors in his sales area, when he encounters one of his client's patients: an absolutely lovely young woman named Maggie. Maggie is in the office to renew her prescriptions for medications to help her deal with Parkinson's Disease.
Jamie is immediately won over by Maggie, and especially by the fact that while she notices his good looks and smooth charm, she only wants a short-term relationship. All of his other women were hoping to tie him into a permanent relationship. After an evening of sex, she throws him out of her apartment and tells him not to come back.
Maggie becomes a challenge, and that leads him to find himself wanting to establish a more permanent connection to this particular girl.
Up to this time, the film is a fast-paced and very funny romp of a film. That changes when the young couple, still uncertain about their future, attends a conference for victims of Parkinson's. Maggie finds herself delighted to be surrounded by people who understand what she's suffering, who are full of advice about ways to deal with it more successfully.
Jamie, on the other hand, sees for the first time how his beloved's condition will impact on their future together and on his future life. Now Maggie is interested in a more permanent relationship, and Jamie is looking for the nearest exit.
The film is too pretty, and the ending is much too pat. Much has been made in the press, of the substantial amount of time which Anne Hathaway's Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal's Jamie spend in conditions of serious undress. In fact, while the nudity factor exceeds that in most films from major studios - in fact we see quite a bit of Ms. Hathaway's breasts and Mr. Gyllenhaal's bottom - neither goes as far as actors in independent films often go.
Both actors give believable, moving performances. The supporting cast includes experienced and very talented actors, including George Segal and Jill Clayburgh as Jamie's parents, Hank Azaria as a doctor willing to prescribe the drugs of the company which gives him the most payback, and Oliver Platt as an aging salesman who teaches Jamie everything he knows, only to have him surpass his teacher and steal his profits.
''Love and Other Drugs'' is an entertaining film, beautiful to look at, and yet it has a serious point about health care in our country, about which many people don't understand the realities whatsoever. If it doesn't document the practices of ''Big Pharma,'' at least it raises the issue.
The film is playing in Jamestown at the time of this writing. If it sounds interesting, there are a number of ways you can see it, even after it finished playing in theaters, in this area. I enjoyed it, and recommend it to you.
GOD TOOK HIS COFFEE BLACK
If you could meet, one-on-one, with God, what would you say, and what might you expect him to say?
''God Took His Coffee Black'' is a short novel by Gerard W. Drum, an author from Eldred, Pa. That's located not far from Jamestown, just south of the state line from Olean. It isn't far from greater metropolitan Shinglehouse.
Drum imagines that while sitting in the local diner, sipping coffee and waiting for a grumpy waitress named Trixie to bring his breakfast, God walks into the room, in person. Time stands still for the rest of the customers, while God promises that he will return to the diner 10 times, once per month. In each encounter, he will assume a different physical appearance, because he knows that the author can accept the things he has to say from people he recognizes and knows to have experience in the area of that particular conversation. The identities of the visitors are often startling.
Drum offers quite interesting answers to some of the big questions, such as these: What are Heaven and Hell like? What is the crucial factor by which God decides who goes ''upstairs,'' and who goes ''downstairs?'' Is death a horrible, painful experience, or a joyous experience to be anticipated with joy? There are many more.
A given reader may agree with Drum's answers, or he may strongly disagree, but I think most people could benefit from pondering whether they agree with them or not, and why or why not.
The writing itself is cleanly written, in simple terms. It moves along swiftly and makes sense.
The author can be a bit overly focused on ritual. Before each of the visitations, for example, he describes the additives he puts into his own coffee. Unlike God, he doesn't take it black. Probably few readers will care if he orders pancakes or English muffins for breakfast, but he tells us, each and every time.
After the visitations, God seems unable to depart until the author specifically picks up his coffee cup and takes a sip, and the author uses exactly the same sentence to describe the departure - a fact which I began to find really tiresome.
The author also can't seem to resist occasionally interjecting a rather juvenile observation about politics and social situations of today. Confronted with the facts on Heaven or Hell, for example, he names three people he thinks are certainly in or bound for the warmer location: Hitler, Attila the Hun, and Hillary Clinton. Of course, he's just kidding ...
Throughout history, there have been periods in which people who said or wrote different things than the beliefs of the majority were burned alive, pulled limb-from-limb, and even worse things. In some places, they're still stoned to death. Fortunately, at least for now, the worst thing we can expect in this country is herds of people waving ungrammatical and misspelled picket signs.
I enjoyed reading the book, and I learned some things about myself and my views of things, from it.
''God Took His Coffee Black'' has 173 pages. It was printed by Cool Moon Publications, in July of this year. It is priced for sale in paper bound edition for $8.95. There is one copy available for borrowing from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, and it is located in the Olean Public Library. Find the book with ISBN number 978-0-615-37757-5.
MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS
Probably my favorite living author is Michael Chabon. You can tell that this is true, by the fact that past columns have dealt with these works from his pen: ''The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,'' ''The Final Solution: A Story of Detection,'' ''Werewolves in Their Youth,'' ''The Yiddish Policeman's Union,'' and ''Wonder Boys.'' Several of those titles are recognizable as having been made into feature films.
Recently, the novelist has published a series of essays, in which he discusses a wide variety of subjects, most of which center on the fact that people come into life's important experiences with little or no experience, meaning that all of us are struggling to get things right, using tools which may or may not be the best ones for such an experience.
The title is ''Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son.'' There are 39 essays, mostly between five and 12 pages in length, divided into 10 chapters, although a number of the essays don't particularly seem to belong to one chapter more than another one.
Two things come to mind immediately when I think of Chabon's writing: He perpetually points out his own shortcomings and failings, and he notices things which the vast majority of us would never notice, but which usually seem utterly obvious, once they're pointed out.
It is possible for his readers to immediately identify with his subjects. He writes, for example, about his reactions to the celebration of Christmas, because he is Jewish. He loves it, by the way.
He writes about how his life has been changed by the fact that his parents divorced while he was fairly young. He describes with astonishment how a woman in the supermarket paused to congratulate him for being a good father, when his interaction with his children is substantially less than his wife's, yet she has never been congratulated on being a good mother.
He leaves his readers perpetually re-thinking their understanding of the world and of themselves.
Actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway play a young couple whose future happiness is all tied up in the greed and self-interest of the pharmaceutical industry, in the film "Love and Other Drugs.''