The giving of thanks now dispensed with, the giving of gifts can begin. Or rather the buying of them. Just as we did last year, we enter the Think Tank today to present you with charming and unexpected gift ideas for the overthinker in your life.
Oh, who are we kidding, they’re for you.
As always, we are grateful for your continued readership throughout the year and hope you enjoy our ideas. And we hope you buy them (by clicking these links!).
And whether you buy the gifts listed here or some others, we hope you’ll use our Amazon affiliate link (oh, and here’s just the Black Friday deals) every time you shop online so that we get the kickbacks that keep our servers humming.
Now onto the good part.
Pop culture’s embrace of fantasy in the ’00s – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight – has taken what was once mysterious and made it accessible. So it’s time to take accessible fantasy and make it mysterious again. No one manages that better than Gene Wolfe.
The Knight begins with a boy from 20th century Earth falling through a portal into a fantasy world. He is knighted by an elf queen and given a quest to slay a dragon. On this synopsis alone, most readers would cast the book aside in cynicism: this tale has been told a thousand times before. Don’t do it, though.
For one thing, Wolfe revisits his favorite fictional device, the unreliable narrator. Our protagonist doesn’t recognize anyone he meets, yet they all recognize him. He meets faeries who attempt to seduce him, yet, if the cosmology of the world is accurate, he is their god. He embarks on grand quests only to get bogged down in side errands. And he can’t shake the feeling he’s done all of this before.
Wolfe breathes new life into one of the stalest genres: the fairy-tale, the fantasy picaresque, the boy pulling himself up into manhood by virtue and courage. An incredible work.
Callot: How to Be Perfect, by Ron Padgett
It’s not brand new, but it’s contemporary poetry, so it may as well have never been published at all.
Padgett’s mostly known for a childish sense of humor delivered with haiku-like delicacy. I get the impression that a lot of poets these days spend their evenings staring out the window at snowy Vermont landscapes, thinking about the death of a friend’s wife. Padgett is a talented poet, but he’s also writing poetry about things that make sense to me, like wanting to eat sandwiches and watch movies.
How to Be Perfect laughs at itself the way Padgett laughs at himself. Often the sentences are arranged as much to construct punch lines as to construct a sublime moment, pointing at the sublime in the comic. Padgett reminds me of Basho, in that he seems to be thinking in the poems, thoughts free of judgment or self-awareness.
The book is incredibly beautiful and honest, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Stokes: Bodum 8-Cup French Press
For me this is the best way you could possibly spend forty-odd dollars at Amazon this holiday season. I got one as a wedding gift earlier this year and I can’t get over it. French presses look intimidating, but they are actually really simple: you put coarse-ground coffee in the beaker, pour in boiling water, stir, wait four minutes, plunge, and serve. Typically at this point I would make some kind of outlandish, hipsterish claim about how you aren’t a real coffee drinker until you’ve had it from a french press, that the coffee you get from this process tastes richer, fuller, better, faster, stronger. To which I say: hogwash. It tastes like coffee. And yet. Personally, I drink coffee for a whole passel of reasons. I do enjoy the taste, which is a pretty simple motivation. I do also have a non-trivial addiction to caffeine, which is even simpler. But there’s also a quasi-ritualistic aspect to it: something about getting up in the morning and fixing that first cup fills a complex need in the soul. And for this, the french press is unrivaled. Something about the kinesthetic physicality of it – stirring and plunging the grounds yourself – satisfies in a way that pressing “go” on a percolator never could. So yeah, maybe this gift is a little too closely tailored to my own particular psychological makeup. But if you read this description and saw something of yourself in it (or something of a friend), buy one. Worst case scenario, you’ve purchased a functional coffeemker for a relatively small amount of money.
Mlawski: Tales of Monkey Island
If I were to sit down and list, say, twenty things that make me smile, pirates, monkeys, sex jokes, and goofy protagonists would probably be on that list. And yet, I can easily imagine a book, movie, or video game with all of those elements that wouldn’t be nearly as good as the worst Monkey Island game. Actually, I don’t have to imagine at all. There’s an entire series of mediocre films that meet those criteria. (Ba-ZING!)
Tales of Monkey Island is the fifth installment of a nearly two-decades old adventure game series that I hold near and dear to my heart. (No, you don’t have to have played the previous installments to play this one.) At the start of this chapter, our lovable pirate protagonist, Guybrush Threepwood, has accidentally helped the dread pirate LeChuck unleash a hideous pox that turns the previously tame pirates of the Caribbean into bloodthirsty whackjobs. Unfortunately for Mr. Threepwood, his left hand has been affected, and so has his wife. Wackiness ensues as Guybrush attempts to reverse the curse, keep his wife from falling into LeChuck’s romantic clutches, and escape a French mad scientist bent on using his poxed hand for his perverted experiments.
Look, I’ve loved these games since I was six, so maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it. Instead, consider my boyfriend, who was not a huge fan of the series before Telltale released this new five-part game. Now he’s hooked. So, go, download the first four chapters (the fifth comes out Dec. 8), overlook the shitty camera-work in the first puzzle (trust me, it gets better), and enjoy a super-fun game full of pirates, monkeys, sex jokes, and goofy protagonists. And love-struck manatees.
I’m going to go straight down the middle with my recommendation. It’s a very poorly kept secret that Crank 2 was one of the wildest, most bizarre, most compelling and most overthinkable movies of 2009. What is a slightly better-kept secret is that it came out on DVD the summer — which was a while ago, meaning it might unfortunately and unjustly drop off people’s gift-giving radar this holiday season.
Twice as shocking as the original Crank and three times as crazy, it shatters expectations of filmic form as often as it shatters the bodies and cars of its fictional characters (well, not quite as often, but to much greater effect). Watch it again and again to marvel at the big genre references, the wild stylistic U-turns, the techniques being used and abused — and to see if you can puzzle out what it is all supposed to mean.
Or better yet, buy it for the overthinker in your life and have them do it. It will keep them at their computer and finally let you watch Glee in peace!
Sheely: LEAVE GLEE OUT OF THIS!!
Fenzel: Sorry! Sorry!
Anyway, more than any other DVD this holiday season, I’ve gotta recommend Crank 2. But with two caveats:
1) Might as well see Crank the first, first. It just makes sense.
2) It is extremely violent and explicit. Only give the gift if you know the recipient can take it.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you! And thank me later.
Belinkie: My Uncle Oswald, by Roald Dahl
Fantastic Mr. Fox comes out this week, proving that our culture’s love affair with Roald Dahl burns as strong as ever. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and The Witches are already beloved films. But you know what Dahl novel desperately needs to be made into a movie? The one about stealing Einstein’s sperm.
My Uncle Oswald is about a man described as “the greatest fornicator of all time.” Set in the year 1912, young Oswald stumbles upon the world’s most powerful aphrodisiac, something that will turn any man or woman into a crazed sex machine. At first he just sells the miracle powder. Then he decides to go one better: he uses the powder, along with an irresistible girl named Yasmin Howcomely, to collect the sperm of Europe’s greatest artists, geniuses, and crowned heads. If you ever wondered what James Joyce was like in bed, Roald has got you covered.
My Uncle Oswald isn’t exactly dirty–there’s a lot of sex, but it’s always described in charming euphemisms. And it isn’t exactly erotic–it’s not going to arouse anyone. But it is an utterly charming little fairy tale about a world in which every woman is beautiful, available, and dynamite in bed. And it’s set in pre-war Europe, with plenty of rich detail about fashion, wine, travel, and the high life at the dawn of modernity.
Honestly, I wish other children’s authors had taken their stab at adult books. How much would you love to hear Dr. Seuss’s sex poems?
McNeil: Crayola’s Glow Station.
Socks, neckties, and homemade gift certificates for backrubs and dish duty may be traditional, but given the stresses of daily life in an America rapidly returning to the gold standard, maybe this year, it’s time to give people the gift of youth.
Years ago, on a visit to a science museum, I found the single coolest thing my 8-year-old eyes had ever seen: a wall that captured your shadow. The other kids and I spent hours making shapes, from epic battles to the alphabets we were so proud to know.
A few weeks ago, I saw this commercial and was transported back to that museum and to a kinder, gentler time (when cavechildren roamed the earth).
It’s not the most amazing thing in the world. It’s not a fascinating new technology, nor the coolest toy of the season. It’s not going to change anyone’s life. It will give 45 seconds of youth and wonder to the adult who receives it. You know why?
Cause stuff that glows is still, frankly, awesome.
I shall forever remember 2009 as The Year The Terminator Franchise Died. Or should I say, “Terminated Itself.” Uneven pacing and narrow appeal led to the cancellation of “the Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV show, and a committee of f***tards led by McG turned “Terminator: Salvation” into a loud, disgusting mess of a summer movie.
As 2009 becomes 2010, it’s time to let the healing begin and put these dark times behind us. The best way to do that, of course, is to return to the franchise’s glorious pre-T3 days with some awesome Terminator 2 action figures. (This is presuming, of course, that the Terminator fanboy on your list already owns T2 in its “Extreme, “Ultimate,” and “Skynet” Editions.)
Choose from one of four (or get them all!) action figures depicting Ahnuld from different points in the movie: defending John Connor at the mall, freaking out Miles Dyson with his endo-skeleton arm, blowing up police cars with a mini-gun, and lastly, post-T-1000 termination and sorely needing a vacation.
They’ll make a great addition to your bedroom bookshelf, fireplace mantle, or office cubicle (nothing says “I am a team player in the office” like an endoskeletal arm covered in blood). But more importantly, they’ll help ease the pain that “The Year The Terminator Franchise Died” has caused us all. At least until McG’s next abomination hits the big screen.
There are a number of fantastically expensive yet eminently worthwhile gifts you can buy or request for the holidays. (And come on, it’s your civic responsibility as an American or even a global citizen to stimulate the economy.)
But in the low-three-figure range, no possession of mine has given me so much pleasure as this edition of the OED, crammed as it is into one moderately portable volume.
I can personally attest that your productivity will plummet, asymptotically approaching zero as you devote more and more time to poring over entries (like the five pages devoted to “so”). You will find yourself wanting to learn Anglo Saxon. You may, in fact, find yourself wanting to learn several dialects of Anglo Saxon.
At the risk of cliche, the OED is less a dictionary than a storybook, and the story of the English language is fascinating. No tongue is so intrinsically syncretic. (That’s what she said. Zing.) If you want to be the favorite person of any lexicographer, scholar of English, bibliophile, poet, or overthinker you know—or if you are any of these—look no further.
That’s it… but what do you recommend? What’s on your wishlist this year?