News of the Week: 7 Minutes of Terror, 1 Person of the Year, and 5 Books You Should Buy for Christmas

In the news for the last week of November 2018 are a Mars landing, television lies, bad gift-getting manners, the next Virginia Woolf (not), and much more.

Artist's conception of NASA's InSight lander approaching Mars

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The Red Planet

If you’re as sick and tired of all of the political talk that dominates cable news these days as I am, you were happy to see something on those networks that was actually worth watching this week.

NASA’s InSight spacecraft landed on Mars! They weren’t sure if it was going to land safely. The waiting period for the descent and the landing was dubbed “seven minutes of terror,” which would be a more accurate name for that party game teens have been playing since the ’50s.

It’s not going to rove around Mars like other landers have done. It’s just going to sit there, poke into the ground, and send back information on what it finds about the red planet. NASA is interested in earthquakes, the temperature of the planet, and what exactly is at the center of Mars.

I just hope they find Matt Damon.

Person of the Year

Time is once again asking readers for their “Person of the Year” picks. There are many people who you know are going to be on such a list — presidents and world leaders and celebrities — but there are a few choices that make you go “hmmm.”

The choice will not be made by public opinion. The editors of Time will still make the final decision, but they want to know what the public is thinking too. If enough people vote for the guy behind the deli counter at your local supermarket, maybe he’ll win!

My vote would be for the intern given the task of taking the microphone away from CNN’s Jim Acosta at that press conference a few weeks ago.

Christmas Reading

In our current issue, Amazon editor Chris Schluep has his picks for 10 books you should read. I wanted to add a few to the list. They’ll make for great Christmas gifts, assuming the person you’re buying it for is interested in grammar, charm, or birds.

  • The Infinite Blacktop, by Sara Gran. Gran is the author of the Claire DeWitt series of mysteries, as well as standalone novels like Dope and Come Closer, and this is her latest. It’s the third novel in the DeWitt series, and if you like mysteries with clever characters and offbeat plots, you’ll really like this.
  • The Point of It All, by Charles Krauthammer. The Washington Post columnist and conservative commentator died in June, and this collection of some of his most important writings was put together by his son Daniel.
  • The End of the End of the Earth, by Jonathan Franzen. The controversial novelist caused a social media stir recently with his 10 rules for novelists (a lot of people really don’t like Jonathan Franzen). That’s one of the pieces included in this collection of essays. Franzen is a good writer; just be aware that there’s a lot of talk about birds here.
  • Charm, by Joseph Epstein. Epstein is one of our great essayists, and this is like a book-long essay on charm: what it is, who has it, who doesn’t have it, and why it’s a disappearing luxury. It’s a really entertaining read, even if he is completely inaccurate in what he says about John Daly and What’s My Line?
  • The Joy of Syntax, by June Casagrande. This is a book for all of the grammar and punctuation nerds out there (you know who you are). Casagrande has written several books on the subject and runs the Grammar Underground I read these books the same way I read books of essays or novels. They’re fun. (Yes, I used fun and grammar in the same sentence.)

Dumb Things You See on TV

This is a picky, trivial thing, but I wanted to mention it, because I like picky, trivial things. Why do people on television lie during the holidays?

I’m talking about when the hosts on shows ask how someone’s holiday went when the show has obviously been taped before the holiday. Case in point: the Today show, or more specifically the Kathie Lee Gifford/Hoda Kotb hour of the Today show, last Friday. It was taped before Thanksgiving — it even had the “recorded earlier” text in the corner — and Hoda still asked Kathie Lee how her Thanksgiving went. (To her credit, Kathie Lee didn’t answer.)

I see this on shows all the time. Why go through this charade? They know the episode was taped before the holiday, we know the show was taped before the holiday, and we know they know that we know the show was taped before the holiday. So why even bother with it?

Okay, rant over.

It’s Better to Give Than … Oh, Never Mind

Dear Prudence is the name of the Dear Abby/Miss Manners-ish column over at Slate. She often tackles some sticky subjects, but one question in particular got a lot of attention this week: Is it okay to buy someone a gift with the gift card that person gave you? (Scroll down to the second question.)

Here’s the scenario: A woman’s daughter-in-law loves to knit and crochet, so the woman and her husband give her a gift card to a yarn shop. The woman takes the card and buys yarn and supplies with it. She then makes a bedspread and gives it to the in-laws who gave her the gift card, for their anniversary. The mother-in-law is furious! She thinks that because the materials were bought with the gift card they gave, the in-laws “in effect paid for our own present.” Now they’re not speaking, and the mother-in-law is asking Prudence if it’s okay to write a letter to the daughter-in-law explaining why it was such an “improper and stingy” gift.

These people must be a joy to be around during the holidays.

Prudence’s (actually Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s) answer is more restrained than the one I would give, which is probably why I don’t write an advice column for The Saturday Evening Post.

RIP Ricky Jay, Bernardo Bertolucci, Nicholas Roeg, Stephen Hillenburg, Gloria Katz, Ray Chavez, Jane Maas, and Wayne Maunder

Ricky Jay was not only one of the best sleight-of-hand magicians in the world, he was an author of 18 books and articles for The New Yorker and an actor as well, appearing in many movies and TV shows. He died Saturday at the age of 72.

Here’s a great remembrance of Jay from his friend Tracy Newman, and here’s Jay doing one of his most famous tricks, The Four Queens:

Bernardo Bertolucci was an acclaimed director of such films as Last Tango in Paris, 1900, and The Last Emperor. He died earlier this week at the age of 77.

Nicholas Roeg was a director as well, of such films as Don’t Look Now, Bad Timing, and the David Bowie film The Man Who Fell to Earth. He died last week at the age of 90.

Stephen Hillenburg was the creator SpongeBob SquarePants and a writer/producer for Rugrats and Rocko’s Modern Life. He died Monday at the age of 57.

Gloria Katz was a screenwriter known for her work on such films as American Graffiti (for which she shared an Oscar nomination with her husband William Huyck), Radioland Murders, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (and, well, Howard the Duck). She also was the script doctor who gave Princess Leia more strength and independence in Star Wars. She died Sunday at the age of 76.

Ray Chavez was the oldest survivor of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He died last week at the age of 106.

As a woman leader in a male-dominated industry, Jane Maas was a groundbreaking advertising executive and creative director responsible for the “I Love New York” ad campaign in the late ’70s and ’80s. She died last week at the age of 86.

Wayne Maunder was an actor who starred in the ’60s Westerns Lancer and Custer and appeared in many other TV shows and movies. He died earlier this month at the age of 80.

Quote of the Week

“I’m like Virginia Woolf writing letters, only with emojis, and nobody cares.”

—writer and actress Lena Dunham on texting, in this interesting yet very worrisome interview at The Cut.

This Week in History

Dale Carnegie Born (November 24, 1888)

Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold to millions of people, but the Post wasn’t a fan of the book, as this 1937 piece shows.

Woody Woodpecker’s Debut (November 25, 1940)

The lovable (or annoying, take your pick) woodpecker first appeared in a cartoon titled Knock Knock. Take a look.

This Week in Saturday Evening Post History: Franco-American Spaghetti and Meatballs Ad (November 26, 1955)

Ad for speghetti

Two things about this ad. One, if she’s using a just a spoon, she’s going to have a mess in a few seconds. Two, there’s no way all that spaghetti came out of that can.

Pasta Dishes

If canned spaghetti isn’t your thing, maybe you can try one of these pasta dishes, like this Spanish Pasta, which features saffron, olives, and capers; this Fettuccine with Shrimp and Fresh Tomato Sauce from the Post’s Curtis Stone; or this Spaghetti and Meatballs recipe from Rachael Ray.

By the way, if you make any of these dishes for your in-laws with ingredients bought with the gift card they gave you, just keep your mouth shut.

Next Week’s Holidays and Events

Repeal Day (December 5)

This marks the day in 1933 when the 21st Amendment was ratified, ending 13 years of Prohibition, when it was illegal to produce or sell alcohol. You can read more on the history at

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7)

The Post has had extensive coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor over the years, including this remembrance from a pilot who accidentally got caught in the air above Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a podcast focused on the days before the attack, and a 75th anniversary special collector’s edition of the magazine.

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  1. That mother on law must be an ornery self absorbed jerk. The daughter in law could have spent the money on the gift card for herself. Instead she bought material and hand sewed a special item. Mom in law should be grateful that she took the time. But she sounds like the Mother in law from hell who wants to find fault with her daughter in law. If I was writing an advice column i’d Tell Mom she is WAY OFF BASE.

  2. Seven minutes of terror for NASA the other day, and now a 7.0 earthquake in Alaska this morning. Extremely violent, terrifying and destructive. January 17. 2019 will be 25 years since the equally violent Northridge quake. Hopefully what will be learned on Mars can be applied here, if there is anything to learn that is.

    The TV example you gave was from ‘The Today Show’ on NBC, without question the worst network of all. Interestingly enough, that show is NOT the romper room mess of ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’. The only shows that are worse (in these regards) are the ‘Tonight Show’ and ‘SNL,’ which goes without saying.

    Talk about no good deed going unpunished, the mother-in-law in the Dear Prudence situation is COMPLETELY in the wrong. First of all, what the daughter-in-law chooses to make or not make with the materials she bought at the yarn store with the gift card is none of the mother-in-laws business!

    The fact the daughter-in-law loved her in-laws enough to make them a bedspread with her own hands, and the time and effort she put in to do it, is beautiful, and extremely rare in THIS day and age. What a wonderful, thoughtful, from-the=heart gift this is, and it’s met with SUCH a thoughtless, misguided, perception/interpretation from her mother-in-law!

    I can tell you right now the daughter-in-law had to have been in COMPLETE shock as to her mother-in-law’s reaction and what she said to her. Now Mom wants advice from Prudence on how to explain why is was such an
    improper and stingy gift?! My reply would include some of what I said, and a tongue lashing as well for her ingratitude! I also have to wonder what the son-in-law and father-in-law’s reactions were here. They have big roles in this fiasco as well whether they like it or not in how they handle it. I’d have some great damage control suggestions to implement for the desired results.


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