It may not be surprising that since the US presidential election, we at Overthinking It have been talking amongst ourselves about pop culture comfort food—including the pop culture we’re thankful for. And so it is with our Gift Guide for 2016.
I don’t want to be all “George Bush in 2001” and threaten that if you don’t do your part as a consumer, the forces of darkness will prevail. But I do believe sincerely that you have to nourish your mind, your soul, and your body so that you have the fortitude and imagination to go out every day and advance the cause of justice. So really, buying things we recommend in this gift guide is more than a charitable gesture; it’s a civic and moral duty.
Thankfully, a number of our contributors have focused on soothing (see “Drawing and Writing”), recovering (see “Breakup Music”), and thriving (see “The Active Geek at Ragnarok”) this year.
Are “gift guides” even still a thing? I’m sure you know the deal. We’ve done one every single year since we started Overthinking It. (The first one, “Post-Racial Firday”, was written in the wake of President Obama’s election. Those were the days, huh?)
It works the same everywhere. The publication writes some blurbs—I flatter myself to think that at OTI, we go above and beyond; this post is five thousand words long and I definitely had to stop editing at several points because I was laughing too hard to continue—and include links to buy the things we describe. When you click one of those links and buy something—actually, buy anything—we get a tiny kickback.
I had figured that readers internet-wide had clocked the practice as the cynical cash-grab it is. But then a few things happened. The Gawker lawsuit revealed the Kinja Deals vertical is among the most profitable of their whole empire. The New York Times bought The Wirecutter—a great site that I use frequently, but one I would never have pegged as being worth $30m to acquire. New York Magazine jumped on the bandwagon with The Strategist. So apparently it’s kind of a big deal, and we were doing it before it was cool. And before it was not not cool the first time. And before it apparently has become cool again. (And no, there are no links in this paragraph, because why on earth would you want to support them with a 4% affiliate marketing fee when you can support us?)
Seriously, though, we know you have a choice of affiliate-marketing corporate stooges every holiday season, and we appreciate that you have consistently chosen Overthinking It as your Amazon clickthrough of choice. Here: Bookmark our Amazon link and you can use it all year long.
Overthinking It Merchandise
When Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters, we’ll have two Disney entries into Star Wars canon to ponder. Until then, we have 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the massively popular and, for the most part, creatively successful debut of this new breed of Star Wars movies. As shown by the multiple podcasts and articles we’ve devoted to this topic, we had a lot of things to say about it. We weren’t even close to being done, though, so we decided to set our thoughts to the movie itself with our own commentary track.
In this edition of The Overview, our panel analyzes Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a standalone movie and as a part of the larger Star Wars tradition. We go deep on the usage of masks, and how everyone from Kylo Ren to Rey seems to be hiding the truth from themselves and from others. We consider the movie’s relationship to A New Hope, not to criticize it for being derivative, but to examine how it works as a both a reboot and a sequel at the same time. And leaving no stone unturned, we try to determine whether Han Solo would hire Rey as an employee or an independent contractor aboard the Millennium Falcon.
Want even more Star Wars analysis? Get the Force Awakens Overview with the Original Trilogy Overviews for only $7.99! PLUS you’ll get a special podcast covering Episodes I-III, which is only available as part of the Overview package. Add both products to your cart and use the discount code WAKEUP at checkout.
The Coffee Section
Normally, in the Coffee section of the gift guide, Ryan and I try to outdo one another with ever more esoteric and impractical means of brewing coffee. (That doesn’t apply to this year, though—see below for a very accessible way to brew espresso!)
But all this geeking out over equipment is beside the point until you have taken step one and gotten yourself some good beans. The whole thing falls apart without them—fussing over the grind, selecting the perfect apparatus, testing the alkalinity and TDS of the water (that’s a real thing)…
Even a medium-sized city is likely to have half a dozen local roasters, with coffees as diverse as those from Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea… how do you choose?
Driftaway Coffee has an answer: Try them all. They’ll send you a set of four coffess of different origins and roast profiles. That’s where your job begins: You brew them (however you like!), and then enter your preferences into their mobile app. You’ll be rewarded with a custom subscription with taste-matched coffee sent to your door.
If you’re getting started with single-origin coffee, if you’re not sure the roast you prefer, if you just wnat to try out a large variety of different taste profiles: check out Driftaway Coffee and get a friendly introduction to coffee snobbery.—Matthew Wrather
I really didn’t think it was going to be possible to come up with a new piece of coffee equipment for this year’s gift guide, given that in our previous editions of the gift guide, we’ve covered every hipster piece of coffee equipment on the market and even crossed over into normcore coffee with last year’s drip coffee pot.
That was before I discovered the Wacaco MiniPresso, a travel-sized espresso maker that is an essential gift for the coffee lover in your life. The MiniPresso is a wonder of design, fitting a high-quality hand-pumped espresso experience into a sleek hand-sized caffeine bullet. For someone like me who mostly drinks pour-over, the MiniPresso is a great way to inject occasional espressos into the home brewing routine. Even your coffee-snob loved-one has an espresso maker at home, the MiniPresso can easily be paired with a Porlex hand grinder to create an amazingly compact travel coffee kit that can easily fit in a carry-on bag. —Ryan Sheely
Virtual Reality is a thing. Not that it hasn’t been a thing for a while now. I’m old enough to remember the early 1990s, a golden age when most musicians were still alive, there were slightly fewer cartoon super-villains running countries, and VR was totally going to be the next big thing. You could go to an arcade and pay $20 to fire crossbows at pterodactyls for fifteen minutes, or $180 to take home your own Nintendo Virtual Boy and play Nester’s Funky Bowling in dazzling black-and-purple graphics for as long as you wanted to…which was typically not very long, because that helmet thing you had to wear was really heavy and hurt your nose.
Since then, things have improved. Well, not things.Technology has improved. Everything else has pretty much gone to hell. Which is why this is the perfect time for the HTC Vive Virtual Reality System. You still have to put a thing on your head, but besides that it’s more or less a holodeck…especially if you’re playing Star Trek: Bridge Crew, which is what I plan to do for the rest of my life, or until all of this blows over, whichever comes first. With the Vive, you can play games from your Steam library immersively, play games designed specifically for VR, and that’s all, really, but what else could you possibly want it to do? You’ll need a fairly baller graphics card for your PC and about 36 square feet of unobstructed floor space, and food that you eat in virtual reality won’t nourish your physical body (yet) so you’ll need to enter meatspace every so often to avoid starvation, but besides those minor limitations, this might be the most fulfilling eight hundred bucks you ever spend. —Richard Rosenbaum
If you’re looking to shed that expensive cable subscription, there’s no better way to do it than the Roku streaming player. It has native support for pretty much any streaming app you could desire (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.), and is ridiculously easy to set up. And all that comes in a tiny little box – I have a wall-mounted TV, and the Roku is so small/light that it doesn’t even need any special mounting, it just fits into the gap between the TV and the wall. My favorite little feature is the headphone jack built into the remote control – if you want to watch something without waking up the whole house, you can just plug in and get your favorite show. —Ben Adams
For someone who has not played a console game in 10 years, Destiny has proved to be ridiculously addictive. It’s got a little something for everyone. My favorite feature is the emphasis on cooperative multiplayer play. For the casual gamer who can’t possibly compete at a high level in an FPS, it’s nice to be able to play with friends instead of against them. (If you buy this game, drop me a line and we can raid together.)
The plot of the game doesn’t really matter (spoiler alert: You’ll be asked to shoot space aliens). What counts is that the game is nearly perfect in the parts of a first person shooter that correlate to fun: the shooting works, the balance is great, and the might-as-well-be-magical powers that you develop are a blast to discover and play around with. This pack comes with not only the original game but all of the subsequent expansions, including the mega-sized Taken King and the most recent Rise of Iron. —Ben Adams
The Three Body Problem deservedly won the 2015 Hugo award, and the series only improves in later books. It’s full of big ideas told in a compelling way, with the added bonus of coming from a Chinese author with a different take on the world than a diet of nothing but American sci-fi might expose you to. Each book in the series builds on the last, expanding the scope of the universe and introducing mind-blowing ideas and concepts. Highly recommended. —Ben Adams
Cold War pop culture has taught us to think of “the apocalypse” as a massive reset of the social order. In fact, and if history is any indication, it’ll just be a markedly increased crappiness that looks a lot like the existing social order. Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake takes us to an apocalypse before apocalypses were cool: 1066, England after Hastings. Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower takes us to a gradually slipping-down world that suddenly, and for no obvious reason, becomes untenable. And Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian needs no gloss from me. —John Perich
When we talk about the film and television, we tend to focus on auteurs. Directors, writers. Sometimes actors. These are the, like, charismatic megafauna of our media landscape: they’re easy to get people to care about, but they’re not really all that important. They matter, sure, but if pressed, any media critic worth his/her salt will admit that film is a collaborative art. That behind every truly great show is an army of largely anonymous craftsmen and technicians, who get up every day and pour their whole being into makeup, or key lighting, or sound mixing, or what-have-you. Without these people, movies and TV don’t get made. They certainly don’t get to be great. (You can go watch the films that Peter Jackson made by himself in his backyard as a kid – these show talent, sure, but they barely qualify as films.) And again, this is something that we all know, and basically choose to ignore all the time, because it’s too hard to keep track of all of those extra names.
Enter Janice Poon, food stylist. On most shows, a food stylist would be a quintessential anonymous technician. You want to have your character eat a fried egg? Great: should this be a delicious looking egg? Or a gross-looking egg? Should it look wholesome (unblemished pantone-pure yellow and white, the yolk a perfect Euclidian hemisphere) or decadent (glistening with butter, the edges festooned with crispy brown bits)? And those are just the aesthetic decisions that the writer probably can’t be bothered with – let’s not forget that actually making an egg that looks like any of those things is a far from trivial task. (Fried eggs are tricky.) All of this is the work of the food stylist. But when you sit down to watch it, you think that it’s just an egg. It matters what it looks like, but you aren’t aware of it mattering.
Anyway, my point: Janice Poon’s run as a food stylist on Hannibal was probably the longest stretch of sustained brilliance from an individual creative technician in the history of moving images. (This might be an unbreakable record, too, as it required a perfect three-way marriage of Poon’s remarkable gifts, the show’s subject matter, and the unapologetically arty sensibility that show runner Bryan Fuller brought to the series.) So while Feeding Hannibal is, on one level, a lushly illustrated cookbook that teaches you to create non-cannibalistic versions of the recipes that you drooled over while watching the show, on another level it’s something like a victory lap. Technicians like Poon are not glory hogs – they can’t be, in their line of work. They don’t expect their work to be acknowledged or remembered outside of their own small industry circles. So I like to think of Poon walking past a display of Feeding Hannibal in a bookstore and thinking “I did that! Me! I made those wonderful things!” There it is in paper and ink, forever.
And the more copies that it sells, the more secure her triumph. If I had to, I’d make a case for buying this just to support great art. But it’s also everything that you’d want from a cookbook: it looks great, it’s a conversation piece, it’ll push you to try food you otherwise wouldn’t. (I mean, heart tartare? Anything tartare, to be honest.) It’s got a recipe for foie gras served on donut holes, for crying out loud! So what are you waiting for?
There are a lot of reasons to purchase David Bowie’s Blackstar on vinyl. Maybe you love the record’s fascinating, genre-smashing meditation on mortality. Maybe you are a lifelong Bowie fan who wants the physical copy of his final record, which was released days before he passed away in January 2016.
Or maybe you are just an obsessive puzzle solver who loves hunting for Easter Eggs and secret messages. Since the album’s release, Bowie fans have found a substantial number of hidden visuals on the record and packaging that appear when the album is exposed to different kinds of light, and the graphic designer indicates that there are still more secrets that have not yet been divulged.
This process of hunting for hidden messages from Bowie in Blackstar’s packaging is very similar to listening to the album itself. Although the album’s themes are very closely connected to Bowie’s illness and sense of impending death, the songs themselves are shrouded in allusion and symbolism. Bowie might be gone, but with the enigmatic music and packaging for his final album, he’s created many opportunities to keep spending time with him. —RS
What do you do for the Kanye West fan you are shopping for this holiday season? Kanye’s latest album, The Life of Pablo hasn’t been officially released on Vinyl, meaning that if you want to give them that album, you’ll be headed to eBay to bid on limited edition vinyl bootlegs that were released in April. A better option is to spring for the limited edition vinyl release of Kanye’s 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In addition to being Kanye’s last solo album to be officially released on vinyl, the special edition of MBDTF is a beautiful physical artifact in its own right, spanning three LPs, and accompanied by prints of all of the original album art.
In addition, this album seems worth revisiting right now, given Kanye’s recent Trump-endorsing, show-cancelling heel turn, which promises to return him to the levels of public disdain that he was facing at the time during which he wrote and record this album. —RS
Are you a woman? A person of color? Queer? An immigrant? Some combination or all of the above? If you’re struggling to deal with the way things are going in this country (thanks, 2016) and you can’t afford therapy, try Solange. Put A Seat at the Table on your record player, lie down on the floor (well, a fluffy rug or something) and enjoy feeling heard and understood for a while. She gets it, and she will give you 51 minutes of beautiful, calming music that can make you feel a little less hopeless and a little more ready to call your representatives, plan for your move to Canada, or whatever it is that you’re doing to deal with the coming year. —Amanda Jordá Avisati
Tori Amos, Goddess bless her, has refused to rest on her laurels and has remained creatively vital for decades. She is responsible for the score of a recent musical, and 2014 album Unrepentant Geraldines which we covered on the Theory for Turntables podcast, and which was widely heralded as a return to form. But her seminal early work still resonates especially strongly—especially for this listener, who returns nostalgically to it in uncertain times—and she has been unable to resist the siren song of the special edition. Her first two albums, Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink were released as 2-CD box sets with the album remastered and a second disc of B-sides (remember those?), rarities (remember those?), and live versions. (The vinyl releases—LE, UtP—are just the main album.)
Boys for Pele, Tori Amos’s third studio album, now available with the same deluxe special edition treatment, was a huge artistic risk: Produced by Amos herself in a rural Irish farmhouse, it was a marked departure from the highly listenable feminist singer-songwriter material which which have guaranteed her a sinecure on the Lilith Fair for life. Using non-traditional song structures and instrumentation (thrash harpsichord), shrieking and alienating vocals, and lyrics even more obscure than fans had come to expect, the album had a lukewarm critical reception: a “C” from Entertainment Weekly, two stars from Rolling Stone. Nobody knew what to make of it. And then something strange happened: The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, stayed there for twenty-nine weeks, and went platinum within a few months. Dance remixes of the harpsichord songs (?!) climed the charts in the UK, and the ablum went on to be the third best-selling of her career. It is worth revisiting, and is worth buying on CD (with bonus tracks) or vinyl (by itself). Recent events make her artistic project as poignant, vital, and necessary as it ever was. —Matt Wrather
If you live long enough heartbreak will happen to you. When it does, you could do worse than to throw yourself for comfort upon the vast and diverse catalog of breakup music. Great songs touch universal experiences, and when you suffer, joining your suffering with them gives you first an opportunity to wallow self-indulgently as long as you need to and then a path back to humanity when you come to realize you’re not alone.
Here are the two that have served as a flashlight for me through some recent unpleasantness. Blood on the Tracks doesn’t have a mediocre moment, and contains “Idiot Wind,” which has been described as Dylan’s mid-career masterpiece, and “Shelter from the Storm,” which I can almost listen to without crying. The Sunset Tree, by TFT favorite The Mountain Goats (songs by John Darnielle, described by The New Yorker as “America’s best non-hip-hop lyricist”), is not a breakup album, but chronicles the fallout from a destructive relationship with his abusive stepfather. It contains “This Year,” which is the Mountain Goats song you’ve heard of, masterpieces “Dance Music” and “Up The Wolves”, and beautiful, slow tracks like “Love Love Love”. I could basically just rattle off the whole track list. Both are at times heavy, but so is life, and life is not nearly so sublime. —MW
Fitness Gift Guide: The Active Geek at Ragnarok
Whether you’re easing on down “Fury Road,” mulling over “The Road” not taken, or ambling along with “The Walking Dead,” the apocalypse is going to start with your feet and work its way up. So for the geek you love on this last holiday season before the End of Days, here are some very geeky shoes, which are useful for a variety of more or less specific reasons, good at an odd combination of things, and probably good for walking you off into that dusky, irradiated sunset.
Altra Torin 2.5
The Altra Torin has been a solution for me for a complex and delightfully geeky footware riddle, and I’m including it here since it just may be the answer you’re looking for as well.
And before you say, “But Fenzel, Overthinking It is not a shoe website! You so very rarely talk about shoes – certainly relative to their importance!” I will add that these questions are so geeky that you will immediately see what I’m talking about.
- “I am or want to be a toe striker while running, but how do I deal with all these new stresses on my forefoot?”
- “I am or want to be a Crossfitter, but how do I do the five or six things required of a Saturday workout all in the same shoe without just buying a shoe that says ‘Crossfit’ on it and hoping for the best?”
- “I like to wear Chuck Taylors while getting my gainz, but is there a shoe that works like a Chuck that is also flexible enough to do push-ups without hurting my toes?”
- “I enjoy minimalist shoes or the idea of them, but how can I fit my big fat hobbit feet in these narrow sock-things, and can somebody please get rid of all the creepy toes?”
- “I find it intolerable to not know all the specific things my shoe is designed to do or find them on road construction sites; is there a shoe that comes in a box with an extensive guide on the upper lid, that is also available in orange?”
If you’re the kind of guy or girl who goes to high-end running stores just to ask about the ergonomics of your footwear, even when you’re not necessarily looking to go running all that much, the Altra Torin 2.5 may be exactly the shoe you were looking for.
It’s a shoe specifically designed for toe-strike running, with a flexible sole meant to help you spring off the front of your feet, but which also happens to have a zero millimeter drop from heel to toe – which in my experience reasonably hard to find in a shoe substantial enough to run in unless you’re an experienced barefoot runner, and very hard to find in a shoe that offers any stability or support with overpronators with wide feet.
That is, it’s a high-tech but low-fashion running shoe that has, in my experience, accidentally wandered into being a pretty damn great weightlifting shoe.
If you deadlift, do calesthentics, and jog in the same day, this is the best shoe I have found for doing that – better than Nanos or Inov8s in my experience – big, weird, chunky, stable, not too cushy at the bottom, and generally perfect.
Yes, I know this is a lot of detail, but just because this is the apocalypse, that doesn’t mean we have to be Philistines!
Chrome Kursk SPD 2.0
If hoofing it is not your way to go and you need to get a set of wheels, I recommend checking out the bike shoe collections from Chrome, which are by far the best cycling shoes I’ve owned – considering I’ve never owned a cycling shoe that wasn’t also a street shoe. Chromes are well-designed, stiff, durable, and include all sorts of little design niceties to do things like keep your toe from hitting the pedal crank, helping your laces from getting in the chain – in particular I’ve found them quite good for unicycling due to the stability and limited flange.
All this is to say is that if you’re looking for shoes with purpose for a shoe geek and you are getting on two wheels (and who wouldn’t, with a zombie on your tail), Chromes are a solid choice, and they’re totally usable when your’e not on a bike as well, especially the ones without the clippy thing at the bottom (technical term).
And if you’re going to be running the roads, biking the bikes, or lifting the lifts, and feeling all the pains that go along with that, you gotta do some mobility and active recovery. After all, if you’re shouldering the emotional burdern of the survival of the entire species, you also don’t want sore calves or a tight psoas that manifests as lower back pain for years without you ever thinking to check if maybe it’s a tight psoas.
Like many geeks, I’ve taken a lot of things traveling with me that I’ve never used – that third book in one trip (you know, what if I get through Crime and Punishment during this beach weekend?), a guide to scenic walks in a place I will only be for a few days, heck once I did use my jump rope while on a weekend away it was debatable if that was a good idea at all (ask the other Overthinkers).
But bringing a Tiger Tail with you traveling is always a good idea.
It helps tremendously with the tightness and pain related to vibration on long car rides, it’s indispensable as a van accessory on long relay races like Ragnars, it’s the closest thing to a spa treatment you’ll get in a hotel other than the spa treatment you could get but almost certainly won’t.
And as I’ve plunged deep into my mid–30s like the Vault Dweller and Dogmeat into the wilds of Greater Boston, foam rolling has become an almost daily fact of pain free life. Foam roll. Stretch. You take care of you. You’re worth it.
In particular if you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer, get a foam roller and roll out your hip flexors. Think of it like a lifestyle companion and user peripheral for Civilization VI.
Speaking of which:
If you are even passively fond of computer strategy games or of history, you’ve almost certainly played a Civilization at some point. The good news is – the new one is pretty good, and they’ve already started patching out the problems from launch. If you don’t know what game your loved one would want, but you know they like strategy games and history, the good news is Civilization games are something of a gold standard. You guide a civilization, like Rome, France, Japan, or Kongo, from the beginnings of Agriculture to the age of spaceships, social media, and expensive seaside resorts.
Just know that this game takes a very long time to play and is quite fun, so you can get sucked into it. Make sure to make time for sleep. Take care of yourself.
Oh, and to get back to the health aspect of all this:
Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World by Dr. Kelly Starrett
Physical therapist and noted athletic mobility and performance expert Kelly Starrett has written an impressive, large and heavy book about helping to heal from and prevent the various ailments we all tend to suffer from as we spend all this time sitting down. It is available as an eBook, which is much less heavy but just as packed with knowledge and practical help.
This is not to say there aren’t a whole ton of excellent things to do while sitting – just make sure to take care of yourself out there. You never know when you’re going to have to get up, strap on a canteen, and walk 200 miles, and it would be a real shame to realize only then that you have a nasty case of carpel tunnel.
Stay safe out there, sole survivors!
— Peter Fenzel
There’s no better way to listen to the Overthinking It Podcast than these great Bluetooth headphones. (You can probably listen to other stuff on them too, but why would you?) These headphones are fantastic for working out, working around the house, or just sitting around. They are easy to pair, have intuitive controls, voice alerts, a very good battery life, and are nearly indestructible (YMMV, but I have a pair that survived a trip through the washing machine.) The built in mic is pretty good too, so they double as a bluetooth headshet that you can use for making phone calls. If you like to run, listen to music while you clean the house, or have a long commute, these are a great pick. —Ben Adams
The Hamilton Gift Guide
Hamilton is no longer just a New York elitist phenomenon, enjoyed by few and envied by many. It’s now a nationwide elitist phenomenon, enjoyed by slightly more than before but still envied by many. Oh, and it’s also a staggering artistic achievement that is in every way deserving of the accolades and superlatives bestowed upon it over the last year.
Whether you’ve joined the elite ranks of Hamilton audience members or are still waiting for your shot (which you are not going to throw away), we have some gifts for you:
Hamilton Tickets in Chicago or New York
Contrary to popular belief, it is not entirely impossible to get tickets to Hamilton. you may need to travel to Chicago about this time next year, life events and unforseeable circumstances be damned, but chances are you can log into Ticketmaster, find something, and surprise your significant other with a trip to….Chicago. To see the greatest musical of our lifetime. Trust us, it’s worth it.
A couple of things you need to know about this book: 1) it’s the full libretto for the show, meaning that all of the show’s dialogue and lyrics are captured here for your close reading pleasure, and 2) with its color, full-page photos and illustrations, it’s really meant to be enjoyed in physical print form. Under no circumstances should you buy this in Kindle version.
I’ve listened to this album dozens of times, and each time I’m rewarded with a new detail I hadn’t previously recognized. A well-timed percussion hit. A clever internal rhyme. An subtle emotive vocal inflection. Did we mention this show is a staggering work of artistic achievement? Yes, we did. Now, be a real hero and go get this on vinyl: 46 tracks spread across 8 sides!
This isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those of you who can read music, this collection of piano+vocal sheet music is a great way to deepen your appreciation for the score, even if you don’t plan on actually plucking out the parts on a piano. But if you’re so inclined, we’ve got you covered:
Whether you’re an experienced player, a lapsed pianist looking to revisit the instrument as an adult, or a complete beginner, this will have you making real music with minimal hassle and expense. Trust me: you want an 88-key keyboard. Anything less will have you groping for keys that aren’t there.
Hungry for some political discourse at a level slightly higher than that of Donald Trump’s tweets and Breitbart “News”? Look no further than the Federalist Papers, a series of essays promoting the adoption of the US Constitution and its proposed model for national government. As the show reminds us, Alexander Hamilton wrote the lion’s share of the essays – 51 out of 85. Feel free to recite them along with sick beats; it’s practically canon in the Hamilton-verse!
— Mark Lee
Drawing and Writing Gift Pack
As we spend more of our waking hours staring at screens, many people have turned to crafts in search of relaxation and a sense of accomplishment. If “adult coloring books” sounds like an oxymoron to you, try drawing, painting, hand lettering, or calligraphy instead! Have you forgotten how to draw? The Confident Creative is a beautifully illustrated book filled with exercises that will help you draw freely again. You could also try the Flow Sketchbook for its quick and easy instructions on how to draw plants, lamps, tea cups, decorative borders and so much more. (And if you fall in love with the Flow style, try this mindfulness workbook. Really!)
If you’d rather paint instead, this set of watercolors is beginner-friendly, very portable, and surprisingly good for the price.
Interested in hand lettering? The first thing you should know is that it is more like drawing than writing. The strokes are very deliberate and your hand should move slowly at first. The second is that upward strokes are thin, and downward strokes are thick. All you need now is lots of practice and a decent set of brush tip pens! Try this from Tombow.
And if you’re turning away from email and social media because you worry about surveillance, but you haven’t written in so long that you can’t even understand your own handwriting, try a wide nib fountain pen like this one by Lamy.
The more delicate tip will force you to write with care and attention, and the wide nib makes even the worst handwriting look intentional. Whether it will be legible or not, I can’t say, but it will look damn good. If you’re not sure which nib you like best, you can try this set that gives you three alternatives and allows you to switch between different widths and ink colors.
You’ll also need some ink cartridges, so forget boring navy blue. Try turquoise! —AJA