Book Column: Twinkle, twinkle, so few stars

The Christmas catalogs are pouring in and I’m in a quandary over what to put on my personal wish list. It’s the colors of the clothes that confound me; I don’t know how to choose among the stupendously imaginative choices that are offered. I was leaning towards a coal jacket, gunmetal pants, a rust shirt, a graphite tie and shale socks but didn’t want to look like I’d just emerged from some West Virginia mine shaft — in a quarry, not a quandary. Maybe a birch, willow, sprig, twig and hickory presentation — uh-oh, here comes the Southold brush pickup truck; better not.

Something in cheddar? Petrol? Thunderstorm? Boy, I’d love the job of naming all the colors of all the sweaters and all the blouses and all the pants and all the ties and … What would you think of a Windex, Pepto-Bismol and fried egg ensemble ?


Many Christmas cards feature the Star of Bethlehem, which the ever-romantic scientists have probably pinned down as Guacamole’s Comet, which vaporized in mid-May of 1187. I prefer the guiding star legend and, as a matter of fact, I like stars in general. I still might look up and do the “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight …” thing (hey, you never know), and it was surely my mother who first sang “Twinkle twinkle, little star” to me.

Actually, that quatrain is the first of five in “The Star,” a poem written by Jane Taylor (1783-1824), well before Hallmark. Here’s the second stanza:

When the blazing sun is set,
When the grass with dew is wet,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

The familiar part is sung to a melody written by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I looked for other songs with “star” in their titles and found surprisingly few. “Star Dust” and “Starry, Starry Night,” surely, then those opportunities to wish upon one, to swing on one and to watch them fall on Alabama.

While it’s strange that star appears in so few notable song or movie titles (“A Star is Born,” “Star Wars”), it’s even more star-tling how few book titles contain the word. Of all the books listed on the three “100 Best…” lists I have, granting many repeats, there are none. Bupkus. “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”  by Douglas Adams was No. 72 on the Radcliffe College list — close, but no cigar. Curious, I went to the library’s catalog and scrolled through nearly 300 “star” entries. I found lots of Star Trek and Star Wars, many sports star biographies, too many Hollywood bimbo bios, countless children’s books and three let’s say significant entries: “A Star Called Henry” (Roddy Doyle), “A Shooting Star” (Wallace Stegner) and the terrific “Son of the Morning Star,” Evan Connell’s account of Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at the Little Big Horn.

So hey, all you nascent authors out there, brighten our lives with a “star” title; the sky’s the limit.

Finally, whatever name your December holiday goes by, I wish you a happy/blessed/feliz/nzuri/humbug one. Peace in the valley.

Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press and a former member of Southold Free Library’s board of trustees. He can be reached at [email protected].