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Happy New Year

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 2, 2007

We boxed up the Christmas decorations yesterday, and today I return to the office with a mental list of things to do. So vacation's over.

I tried to make it a real one this year, focusing on family time and avoiding work as much as possible. To a certain extent I succeeded. I did basically nothing work-related except a couple of ''Pop Quiz'' questions early in the break, and opening a bunch of mail that accumulated at the office.

Not that the pause was easy. I thought about work every day. Can't help it. Entertainment, media, popular culture -- whatever you want to call it, it's more than just my job. It's what I wallow in, talk about, read about.

I did a lot of reading over the holiday -- one of the nice things about the break was having the time for a lot of reading -- and it concentrated on popular culture and politics. I was determined that, by Christmas, I would finish ''At Canaan's Edge,'' the third and final volume of Taylor Branch's biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (and of America in his time); as much as I admire Branch's work, it had been a gift a year ago, and I didn't want to end up fighting for attention in a fresh holiday pile. But I made my deadline, thanks in part to the long airport waits that accompany travel this time of year.

Other reading: Donald Bogle's ''Bright Boulevards, Broken Dreams: The Story of Black Hollywood,'' Alicia C. Shepard's ''Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate,'' John Dickerson's ''On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star.'' Right now I am about halfway through ''Hello Americans,'' the second volume of Simon Callow's biography of Orson Welles.

They -- and other books that await  -- will end up in the stew where my work comes from. (For one thing, I've been thinking about the bowdlerized version of ''The Sopranos'' coming to A&E in the context of the mangling of some of Welles's work -- the whole issue of what matters in making entertainment, let alone art.)

So will, I suspect, the music I've been listening to: Ray Charles's Atlantic work, Sinatra in Vegas, Springsteen's Seeger sessions, Pretenders over the years. And some movies I caught up on: ''X3,'' ''The Last Kiss,'' ''The DaVinci Code,'' ''Syriana,'' ''Happy Endings.'' All right, so I didn't entirely catch up on ''Happy Endings''; was not involved enough to watch until the end. Some TV crept in there, too -- poker, a big gulp of football, even a mini-marathon of ''Next'' yesterday morning.

It's all meat and potatoes and carrots and tomatoes. We'll be dining together.

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