Christmas season is upon us, and you know what that means: it's a time of love, of giving, of end-of-the-year lists, and of presents. So, because I love you, I'm giving you an end-of-the-year list for Christmas presents.
For your mother:
Lost Songs from Eden (CD, by Gevord Dabaghyan with the Komitas String Quartet)
I learned everything I know about Armenian music from this CD. It's the best kind of World Music: you'll never see it at a Starbucks, and it's actually good. For ethnomusicologists in the family, it's a selection of folk songs collected around the turn of the century by a famous priest and scholar and preserved from destruction during the Soviet era. The tunes are beautiful and haunting, and it's probably the only chance you'll get all year to hear a duduk.
For your father:
The Yiddish Policeman's Union (book, by Michael Chabon)
Guys like detective stories. They like movies that have Humphrey Bogart and bars that look like pool halls with cigar-stained oak paneling. This novel is a great whodunit wrapped in an alternate history: what if Israel wasn't in Palestine but was instead in Alaska, on land that was about to revert to Native American ownership? A fantastic work of genre fiction, wonderfully well realized and thoroughly satisfying.
For your daughter:
His Dark Materials trilogy (books, by Philip Pullman)
A lot of things went wrong with the movie version of The Golden Compass, but the casting of the female lead wasn't one of them. Her character comes straight from Pullman's pen: strong, defiant, brave, loyal, smart, and heroic, with a better sense of humor than Frodo Baggins and fewer powers than Harry Potter. She's the kind of female heroine that Hayao Miyazaki loves, and it's one of the best fantasy stories ever. It's stridently anti-theocracy, but it's not anti-religion. Kids can tell the difference. Parents should be able to.
For your son:
Rock and Roll Backlash (CD, by The Woggles)
The Woggles are classified as "garage rock" for a couple reasons: they've been around forever and aren't that well known, they don't have crystal-clear production, and they're on the record label of garage rock popularizer and acolyte Little Steven van Zandt. Simple, unpretentious, to the point, and balls-out, this album is one of the best rock and roll albums of the century.
For your best friend (female):
Ratatouille (DVD, directed by Brad Bird)
This movie is one of the best-praised movies of the year, and with good reason: absolutely everyone likes it. It's hard to conceive of a taste it doesn't appeal to -- even the French like it! For gastronomes, it's a true delicacy. And for people who like cute things, Remy the rat is really cute.
For your best friend (male):
Skinema, by Chris Nieratko
Simultaneously more and less objectionable than its title would suggest, Skinema collects columns that Chris Nieratko wrote for seminal skate mag, Big Brother. He was supposed to be reviewing pornographic movies, but instead he wrote about himself and his drunken adventures. It's sort of like a memoir, but with no chance of a film adaptation starring Laura Linney. Imagine a 14-year old, more hilariously self-centered version of Hunter Thompson on tequila and speed. One of the funniest books I've ever read. It brings out my inner adolescent.