The week when The New Yorker arrives carrying a centerfold vodka advertisement that plays a tinny version of "Jingle Bells" from a computer chip is the week to ... well, to celebrate the unexpected. Herewith a stockingful of same.
Evidence of Things Not Seen
Strange (P.O. Box 2246, Rockville, Md. 20852; four issues, $14.95) is compiled by "wild theoretical speculators ... cautious skeptics ... surrealist scientists who catalog the anomalous, the excluded, the exceptional." Among the articles in Vol. 1, No. 1, are a "report on state-of-the-art lake monster hunting techniques"; the first of a two-parter on "The Controversial Crystal Skulls"; a collage of data about blobs ("What is the most common variety of blob?" "The 'yellow and pulsating' variety"). Also extraterrestrial abductions, poltergeists, curses, conjuring, vampires, vortices and much, much more. The name of Charles Fort (1874-1932) and Fortean ideas and techniques appear with baffling frequency.
A La Carte
La Belle France (1835 University Circle, Charlottesville, Va. 22903; 12 issues, $47) is a monthly newsletter, now in its fifth year of publication, for Francophile epicures. In a style sophisticated but not obnoxious, it provides constantly updated and selective ratings and reviews of the best restaurants in France. The December number, as a special treat, offers a detailed itinerary for a 21-day gastronomic tour of France, with one week (14 significant meals) in Paris. The estimated cost -- with air fare and the standard hired Mercedes included -- is about $700 a day per couple.
Metamorphoses (386 Main St., Redwood City, Calif., 94063; four issues, $9) has no subtitle or apparent slogan, so it's hard to say what kind of magazine it is. It's published by a "personal and business development" company called the Summit Organization, and a theme of self-improvement runs in dignified fashion through the contents. The current (winter 1987-88) issue features a spirited interview with child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim and a dismayed look at the history of the "great white hope" movement in professional boxing. This is disarmingly thoughtful, well-intentioned, straightforward fare.
The Face (P.O. Box 500, Leicester LE99 OAA, England; 12 issues, $80 air mail, $40 surface) gives its U.S. readers about a six-hour jump on the latest trends, personalities and other cultural emanations from English-speaking Europe. The magazine oozes in-ness as only something British can, and there's a certain sass and vitality to its wide-ranging chatter. The December issue's "exclusive" cover-story interview with Robert De Niro, however, is long on the fundamentally uninteresting circumstances of the encounter, and short on the secrets of De Niro.
Other Good Books
Books & Religion (P.O. Box 3000, Dept. LL-2, Denville, N.J. 07834; four issues, $16) is an exceptionally intelligent quarterly review of current religious literature, tightly edited and crisply designed. Though it is published under the auspices of the Divinity School of Duke University in Durham, N.C., Books & Religion is nonsectarian, to put it mildly. The fall number includes an excerpt from a new book about the life and stories of a Protestant congregation, Mary McDermott Shideler's omnibus review of 44 -- count 'em -- books of detective fiction with religious settings or themes, and a regular feature, "First Impression," with tantalizing excerpts from four new books by such unlikely authors as anthropologist Gregory Bateson, novelists Robb Forman Dew and Robertson Davies, and Rabbi Lionel Blue. There is a handful of clever original cartoons in each issue.
Calligraphy Review (2421 Wilcox Dr., Norman, Okla. 73069; four issues, $32) is the appealing quarterly for people who still care about lettering and typography as form rather than function. The winter number has a marvelous photo essay on Irish sign painting, trends in French calligraphy, an argument about "the expressionist trap" and a tribute by his daughter to master calligrapher Maury Nemoy.
The Way West
Equator (285 Ninth St., San Francisco, Calif., 94103; six issues, $12) is a newsy, talky, arty, booky kind of magazine, if you can imagine such a thing. No. 4, the current bimonthly issue, has a great piece by Charles Rappleye on the Billionaire Boys Club maniacs -- no, not the rich kids who schemed and murdered for money and kicks, but the free-lance writers who connived and betrayed for rights and contracts to the story. And don't miss Mary Ellen Hannibal's hilarious imaginary talk-show conversation in which Philip Roth, John Updike and Donald Barthelme are asked why, in their version of feminism, "a man helps women individuate by passively accepting ministrations preferably from large numbers of them." A good column on Tama Janowitz, a fine interview with Paul Bowles. It's not perfect, but it's fun. How come Washington doesn't have a magazine like this?