While the sheer number of material objects available for purchase skyrockets, it seems that people are finding it more difficult to choose among them. How else to explain the increasing popularity of gift cards? Now, I like giving–and, of course, receiving–them as much as the next person. But nothing beats the satisfied feeling you get when you find just the thing for a friend or family member–the perfect book, the movie you know she’ll love, something fun he’d never buy himself.
Here are some ideas. Conservatives and libertarians should find plenty of suggestions on this list for their like-minded loved ones. Like last year, books dominate the list–they’re easy to wrap and ship. And, depending on how fast your recipient reads, they can provide months of enjoyment.
Most of us know at least one writer. And whether aspiring or advanced, every writer is constantly trying to improve his craft. So he’d likely appreciate The Elements of Style Illustrated. Strunk and White’s classic how-to has been updated in a handsome red hardcover edition with cartoons by Maira Kalman. Kalman is a New Yorker illustrator who’s also designed accessories for the Museum of Modern Art. Her graphics don’t always make a lot of sense, but they’re usually fun.
A word of warning, however: Elements was revised after E.B. White’s death. This version includes some rather silly changes. For example, White found it absurd to bend over backwards to be gender-neutral: “The use of he as a pronoun for nouns embracing both genders is a simple, practical convention rooted in the beginnings of the English language. He has lost all suggestion of maleness in these circumstances.” Unfortunately, an editor found it impossible to leave this politically incorrect statement alone, adding, “Currently, however, many writers find the use of the generic he or his to rename indefinite antecedents limiting or offensive.” So keep that in mind if you’re buying for a traditionalist.
Most rebellious writers–and readers–have a great admiration for America’s greatest journalist, H.L. Mencken. A third biography of the “Bad Boy of Baltimore” has just been released. Marion Elizabeth Rodgers’s Mencken: The American Iconoclast is a sympathetic, thoroughly researched book. And anyone with a dark sense of humor will enjoy Scottish writer Muriel Spark’s latest novel, now out in paperback. The Finishing School skewers creative writing classes and the publishing world, among other things.
If your recipient hates bad boys, on the other hand, get him Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. British journalist Lynne Truss seems to be making a career of complaining about the trials of modern life. Her Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation was a surprise bestseller last year that bemoaned illiteracy. Talk to the Hand takes on modern manners. If your friend is one of the millions who enjoyed either book, get him The Lynne Truss Treasury. Following the success of her grammar book, Truss’ publisher has finally released stateside four of her previous works–three comic novels and a book based on her column of single life in London.
Highbrow lovers of chick lit may also like the collection. But it’s certain that women of just about all persuasions will enjoy the hours of guilty pleasure contained in the collector’s gift set of the complete Sex and the City DVD collection. The television show raised conservative ire almost as soon as it premiered, with its frank discussions of sex, laughing portrayals of casual encounters, and a fair amount of nudity. But it was obvious the main character, despite her complicated love life, was really a romantic at heart. And the show ended on a pretty traditionalist note.
If the woman in your life has already had her fill of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda, turn her on to something even better. E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady may be the original chick lit novel. (Although I constantly hear that it’s actually Pride and Prejudice.) The book is the very funny journal of a middle-class wife and mother trying to get the better of her snobby superiors while wondering if there’s more to life than watching her husband fall asleep behind The Times and hiring and firing servants. It’s a 1930s version of Bridget Jones’s Diary: “Query: Is not a common hate one of the strongest links in human nature? Answer, most regrettably, in the affirmative.” There are five books in the series, which would make a great gift for anyone who loves comic novels.
P.G. Wodehouse is one of the masters of that form. Friends who have exhausted Plum’s work–which would be very difficult, by the way–would appreciate being introduced to Kyril Bonfiglioli. His trilogy of comic crime novels about “a portly, dissolute, immoral and middle-aged art dealer” has been a cult classic since it was first published in Britain in the 1970s. Many of protagonist Charlie Mortdecai’s lines could come straight from a Jeeves and Wooster novel: “I mean, imagine getting up in the morning knowing that you’re not going to feel any better all day,” a teetotaler is told. The books, available separately or in a single volume, were just re-released here this year.
But perhaps you’re not sure if your recipient prefers comedy or drama. Get him both–Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda was just released on DVD a month ago. The director has made many movies in both genres, but this film marks the first time he’s told the same story as a comedy and as a drama.
If you’re buying for the politically inclined, get a DVD that couches its message in art. Just in time for Christmas, Serenity comes out on DVD on December 20. This science fiction film, based on the cancelled TV show Firefly and directed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon, was a big hit with libertarians. In a completely different genre is North & South. The new BBC adaptation of the classic (pro-Industrial Revolution!) novel by Elizabeth Gaskell was released on DVD last month to much acclaim.
For a more obvious politically themed gift, try ThoseShirts.com. The online t-shirt store caters to the right–Michelle Malkin and InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds are pictured modeling merchandise. Respond to the ubiquitous Che Guevara shirts with an anti-Che shirt of your own. President Ronald Reagan gets his own category. Reagan fans–of which there are many–might also like Steven Hayward’s new book, Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders. The short volume shows some interesting parallels between these two very different men.
Another conservative hero is British philosopher Roger Scruton. He’s composed music, written paeans to foxhunting, and developed his complicated views over dozens of books. Now he’s come out with something close to a memoir. Gentle Regrets (Thoughts from a Life) is a collection of autobiographical essays certain to be as thought-provoking as all of the philosopher’s controversial work has been.
Also thought-provoking is Penguin’s Great Ideas series. I first noticed these small books on a trip to London last year, and I was happy finally to see them in stores here this winter. They’re very beautiful little books; the design of each cover is in keeping with the time period in which it was written. Each book is a sampling of some of the great non-fiction classics. Titles include Michel de Montaigne On Friendship, George Orwell’s Why I Write, and John Ruskin On Art and Life. They make wonderful gifts at only $8.95 a piece.
There are plenty of readers who want beauty inside their book as well as on the cover. Notable art books from the last few months include two on the mysterious and influential Caravaggio. Francine Prose’s entry in the Eminent Lives series, Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles, is an excellent introduction to the artist. Jonathan Harr’s The Lost Painting: The Search for a Caravaggio Masterpiece is being hailed as one of the best books of the year.
In my view, one of the most beautiful sounds in the world is the pop of a champagne cork. So I’m hoping to receive Don and Petie Kladstrup’s new history, Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. I think it would make a very special gift packaged along with a collection of champagne cocktail recipes and a nice bottle of bubbly.
Along with drink goes food. The “it” cooking book this season is The Silver Spoon. This Italian Joy of Cooking has been translated into English for the first time, and features over 1,000 pages of mouthwatering recipes made by Italian mothers for decades. If the foodie in your life already has shelves overflowing with cookbooks, try Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. Julie Powell has turned her popular blog detailing her year of cooking every recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking into an engaging memoir.
Food, drink–don’t forget the music. The classical music lover on your list will certainly find Joseph Horowitz’s commanding book, Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall, a must-read. Those whose reading tastes run as voyeuristic as their music tastes run refined might like Blair Tindall’s Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, a salacious tell-all of the music industry. Each book in Conrad Wilson’s Notes on. . . series explicates 20 important works by a composer; entries include Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach. Books in Amadeus Press’ Unlocking the Masters series contain CDs to help listeners follow along as critics help readers form a deeper appreciation of composers’ oeuvres.
Those who appreciate fine living probably also enjoy travel. Give them inspiration with The Travel Book, a hefty coffee-table book that includes a profile of every single country in the world.
But perhaps your friend is more of a curmudgeon. Walking through stores, restaurants, airports, he’s sick of being bombarded with the noises and images of television, reminders of just how far gone the modern world is. He will absolutely adore TV-B-Gone, a device that allows one to turn off virtually any television.
If your friend is feeling curmudgeonly around the holidays for another reason–perhaps he’s recently lost a loved one–give him some words of comfort. Good Poems for Hard Times have been selected by Garrison Keillor.
Or maybe he could use a bit of fun. Who couldn’t, with the stress of the holidays bearing down? The Buzztime Home Trivia System brings bar- and restaurant-style trivia into your home. Play against your friends fair and square–no table of 20 competing with an unfair advantage here. While you’re playing, chew on some candy from your childhood. Candy Crate offers Retro Candy Gift Boxes by decade, from the 1940s to the 1980s. Pop Rocks and candy cigarettes are just the beginning.
Big books are always brought out for the holidays. The leading contenders this year? The Complete New Yorker includes every single issue of the magazine–ads and all–on eight DVDs. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes collects every strip of the only cartoon to be named after a couple of philosophers.
And what would a Christmas gift guide be without one extravagant entry that was out of the range of all but the wealthiest? Amazon.com is offering the entire 1,082 titles in the Penguin Classics line. It may cost $7,989.50. But hey, think of how much you’re saving with the free shipping!
Kelly Jane Torrance is arts and culture editor of Brainwash. Her Web site is kellyjanetorrance.com.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire