Society heaps shame on the last minute gifter. The holiday sales and Christmas commercials begin before the Halloween decorations have been taken down. Everywhere you look are big glittering reminders that this is the season of giving, dammit, so get out there and give!
As Black Friday recedes into hazy memory and the calendar turns to December, the pressure increases. Have you finished your shopping? Have you finished your shopping? Haveyoufinished yourfreakinshopping?!?
What’s a seasonal slacker to do? Eventually the Yuletide heat will reach its boiling point and you’ll be left with two choices: retreat from humanity altogether and go live among the trees and geckos out in Hana until the comfort and joy have passed and it’s safe to return to civilization; or, suck it up and go make some purchses.
Which begs the inevitable question—what to give? If you’ve waited until the last minute, you can forget doing the whole anti-consumerism, homemade, I-whittled-it-myself thing. No time. Also, toss those fancy, elaborate knick-knacks and whatnots right out the window. They’ve probably been bought up, and even if they haven’t, that’s just not you. Chances are you’re simple; you’re direct. You give the same kind of gifts for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries and Arbor Day. The timeless (read: easy) gifts.
Herewith, a few ideas to get you started (and remember, patronize local businesses whenever possible). Then you can go back to your undecorated home, crack open a bottle of non-holiday beer and watch It’s a Wonderful Life (but only to make fun of it, of course).
When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Sedaris has his detractors, and some of the criticism’s deserved. But his latest collection of musings is definitely worth tossing on the coffee table or the back of the toilet (and really, I mean that as a compliment). It’s got the requisite wit, but also an undercurrent of darkness and regret as the writer stares down his 50th birthday and wonders how fast the final years will fly.
America (The Book): Teacher’s Edition
If the people on your list already own the original, there’s not quite enough new material here to justify adding it to the collection. If, however, you’re buying for someone who has yet to flip through this scalding sendup of both American history and the clichéd classroom textbook, shove this in their stocking.
David Foster Wallace
The world lost a great talent this year in Wallace, a man who weaved sentences like roller coasters and achieved critical darling status, but in the end was consumed too quickly by the same demons that stoked his creative fire. Whether you’re looking to acquaint someone with Wallace’s work or merely give a reminder of his genius, this is the place to start.
Harps and Angels
For fans of “Short People” and “Political Science” whose hearts have been broken slightly by Newman’s career transition to Disney jingle-maker, this album is the ideal antidote. It doesn’t measure up to Newman’s best work, but irony-tinged ballads like Few Words in Defense of Our Country” harken back to edgier days.
“What Up Man”
The Cool Kids
It still blows my mind that hip-hop has been around long enough to give rise to nostalgia. But that’s the best way to describe this bouncy track, which transports you to a simpler, catchier time when Run-D.M.C. ruled the roost. Go ahead, give it a listen—I dare you not to smile.
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
I know it came out last year, but this album contains the best smokers’ anthem since “Smoke Two Joints” (“Fire it Up”) and one of my favorite lines in a while (“it would have been could have been worse than you would ever know/the dashboard melted but we still had the radio”). It’s really more of a summer record, but hey, this is Maui.
The Wire, the complete series
First, a word of caution: This show will eat up a large chunk of your life. Like the drugs that flow through the center of its labyrinthine plot, HBO’s five-season cop drama (and seriously, never has that description been more inadequate) is highly addictive. It’s also arguably the best series in the history of television.
It’s Bad For Ya
Another razor-sharp linguistic master who left the world poorer this year, Carlin went out with a bow, performing and recording this hour-long HBO special just months before his death. I was lucky enough to be in attendance at the taping and I can tell you firsthand: old George was feisty—and hilarious—to the end.
Especially if you know someone with a really nice high-def TV, buy this incredible series. More than any Earth Day telethon or Al Gore PowerPoint, it’ll make you appreciate the fragile, brutal, breathtaking beauty of this bluegreen orb we all call home. MTW