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November 22, 2009

Gift Guides 2009: Time Magazine

Gift Guide Reviews , What, me? Have an opinion?

Ever since I started reading Beck's holiday gift guide reviews, I've been wanting to jump in with some of my own. But I've been a little intimidated, because Beck is just so darn funny. But. I finished my NaNoWriMo novel today so I'm feeling pretty invincible and am just going to jump right in here. Without further ado, the Time Holiday Gift Guide 2009, reviewed!

First, a note: they call this a list of "books, music, DVDs, games and gifts that give back." I guess by that they mean there are some of those "buy this and we'll give some money to charity" items or the "this was made by starving children in a third world country" items, which are all well and good, but seem out of place on such a media/entertainment-centric list. Anyway. Onward to the list!

Under $5

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by Darlene Love
What is it? An mp3 from iTunes.
How much? 99 cents.
Who is it for? I suppose it is for music lovers who like Motown but, improbably, don't already have this whole album.
What's wrong with it? Well, first of all, this is in no way, as claimed, "the greatest holiday song of all time." It's good, but the greatest? Just no. It's not even the best track from A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which may in fact be the greatest holiday album of all time. I also didn't appreciate the wholly gratuitous Leighton Meester bashing in the description. But! Sure. It's a good song. People should listen to it. The real issue here is this: How on earth do you give an mp3 as a gift? I mean, sure, I think there's a way to buy a song on iTunes and send it to someone. I think. But it still seems weird and not very gifty. "Here's this 99 cent song that I barely thought about before I pressed a button to send it to you!" Sending a song to a friend seems like a nice gesture but not exactly a Christmas gift.
Grade: B for content, F for presentation.

What is it? Some sort of cartoony game for the iPhone.
How much? $2.99
Who is it for? Hipsters with iPhones, looks like.
What's wrong with it? Well, I have to say that iPhone apps are yet another category of things that I'd never considered as a gift. Is there a way to buy one and send it to someone's phone? I suppose there probably is. The description doesn't really say much about the game itself, so who knows what it's like. If you know your recipient has an iPhone and has extra space for another app and likes to play games, then hey, go for it.
Grade: C, I guess.

Soap with Hope
What is it? Fair trade soap from India in nice scents (jasmine, cucumber, mango or cinnamon).
How much? $4.50
Who is it for? Socially conscious people who like smelly bath stuff. (Also - me!)
What's wrong with it? Well, this is one of those things that, sure, costs under $5, but if you were actually giving it to someone you'd probably get a few bars or a little soap dish or something to go with it. But other than that issue, it's a great idea. The price isn't outrageous and the scents sound nice. I looove cucumber. In case anyone was wondering.
Grade: A-.


The Indie Rock Coloring book
What is it? A coloring books for grown-ups of things somehow related to indie rock bands.
How much? $10
Who is it for? "Bearded hipsters and the women who abide them," according to the magazine. Hey, I resemble that remark! But I don't want this.
What's wrong with it? Well, anything for adults described as "precious" makes me immediately suspicious. And the art looks really dense, like it would be hard to actually color. But I guess this might be the perfect gift for a certain very narrow demographic, and if you see it more as a novelty book rather than a coloring book, the price isn't that bad. And I have to say that the bands listed look right on the money. Oh! And it seems to be for charity, which was not at all obvious from the Time listing! That makes it better.
Grade: B-? Sure.

Children's Chopsticks
What is it? Chopsticks in bright colors that are linked at the top with animal shapes.
How much? $10 per set.
Who is it for? Patient children from families who eat a lot of Asian food.
What's wrong with it? Some kids might have a lot of fun with these, but I can also see them being frustrating if the child in question doesn't have the fine motor skills for it yet. And if a kid sees Mom and Dad using chopsticks, I feel like he'd likely want to try regular ones, rather than "baby" ones like this. (And again, if he were young enough to like these, they'd probably be too difficult.) But the proceeds go to UNICEF!
Grade: C+. Good effort, but seems to slightly miss the mark. But what do I know? I don't have kids. Any parents disagree?

The Man's Book: The Essential Guide for the Modern Man
What is it? A book that tells you things like how to make a fire, choose a beer, mix a drink, and close a letter. Because clearly only men need to know these things.
How much? $16.31
Who is it for? Men, clearly. It says it's for the modern man but it seems pretty retro.
What's wrong with it? Well! There's the obvious sexism. Some of the information provided seems useful but there's also "when to get married and how to break up." And in addition to being sexist, it ALSO buys into the "all men are the same, poor inept little dears" thing. The following line in the Amazon description made my brain hurt too much to keep reading: "Organized by subject in a man-logical way, it's the go-to guide for anyone with a Y chromosome." So. No.
Grade: D-.

What is it? A Pixar DVD or Blu-Ray disc. I'm sure you've heard about it ad nauseum already.
How much? $19.99. Really? It's probably on sale for less at Target.
Who is it for? Kids? Maybe adults too, if you believe the hype?
What's wrong with it? I know this was wildly popular, but the previews left me completely cold so I never saw it. So maybe you shouldn't listen to me on this one. The kids you know would probably love it. Of course, they have also probably already seen it, so you might want to check with their parents as to whether they liked it. Or already have it, actually. I can see lots of kids getting multiple copies of this this year. Also, I have to say that after the whole Balloon Boy saga, this movie seems a little less fun.
Grade: B. I'm probably letting my own tastes get in the way too much here.


Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 1
What is it? A DVD set of a cartoon series set between Star Wars episodes two and three.
How much? $27.49
Who is it for? Star Wars fans.
What's wrong with it? Not much, except that it's the sort of thing that some Star Wars fans would have purchased on release day, so keep your receipt in case your recipient already has it. And - are there Star Wars purists who are opposed to this series? I'm not sure. $27.49 is a good price for a whole season.
Grade: A-.

What is it? A doohickey that turns the regular music on your iPod into karaoke-type tracks (with the vocals turned down) so you can sing along.
How much? $29.88
Who is it for? Karaoke fans who aren't going to actually go do karaoke, I guess. And who have iPods.
What's wrong with it? First of all, all iPods are not created equal, so check the compatibility and make sure this will actually work with the recipient's iPod. And to make this really work correctly, you also need a stereo and an FM transmitter or cable or something. If you don't prepare very carefully, I can totally see this turning into one of those Christmas morning nightmares in which you can't actually get the present to work because you need all these other things to go along with it and the stores are all closed, and where are you going to find that specific cable on Christmas morning? Otherwise, I guess it seems kind of fun, but what's wrong with just singing along to your iPod?
Grade: C. Seems cool on the surface but kind of finicky and unnecessary.

And So to Bead
What is it? Beaded necklaces made by women in Uganda.
How much? $30.
Who is it for? Women who like extremely bright jewelry.
What's wrong with it? I don't know if it's just the pictures or what, but these look practically neon. They also kind of look like those pop-bead things. Was that what they were called? You know what I mean. So they look kind of childish, basically. And bright! Did I mention bright?
Grade: C. I'm all for supporting women in Uganda, but most women I know wouldn't actually wear this, so I'd rather just give the money directly to the charity.

A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt
What is it? A book of tritone pictures of African animals.
How much? $31.50.
Who is it for? People who are into Africa, animals, and/or photography.
What's wrong with it? Personally, I am not so big on photography/coffee table type books because I always end up disappointed at the lack of words. But I realize that I'm weird. So this is probably a great gift for people who are not me. I can particularly see older kids who are into animals liking this. Ooh, especially if they have graduated from The Lion King.
Grade: A-.

What is it? A four-disc boxed set of Dolly Parton recordings.
How much? $36.99.
Who is it for? Country music fans.
What's wrong with it? Well, I can't, offhand, think of a single person on my gift list who would have the slightest interest in this. But your mileage may vary. If you are buying for Dolly Parton fans, I'm sure this would be a great choice.
Grade: I don't know. I'm from Connecticut.

thirtysomething: The Complete First Season
What is it? A DVD set of the first season of the apparently groundbreaking show.
How much? $39.99.
Who is it for? I'm not sure. Probably original fans of the show who will be excited to know that they can now rewatch it.
What's wrong with it? I actually really want to see this, because I adore Timothy Busfield with an unseemly passion. But I wouldn't necessarily want to own it right off the bat, and I'd say that about pretty much any show I hadn't seen. So it would probably be safest to get this for someone you already know is a fan of the show.
Grade: B

Gone with the Wind 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition
What is it? A DVD set that comes with all sorts of extras, a picture book, etc.
How much? $45.49.
Who is it for? My friend Christine, as I could practically hear her squeal over IM the other day when she saw a commercial for this. Also: classic movie fans. Those who like pretty costumes.
What's wrong with it? Nothing, except that it's prompting me to publicly admit that I have neither read nor seen Gone with the Wind. So someone should get me this for Christmas! Anyway, it looks like it has enough fun stuff added to make it worthwhile for even someone who already has the basic DVD of the movie, so you don't have to worry about that issue.
Grade: A.

What is it? Dude, I have no idea. A game? Okay, it says "you're a badass desperado wandering a postapocalyptic Western wasteland, blasting critters with a near infinite variety of sweet-looking firearms and driving around in funky vehicles with bouncy suspension." Well then.
How much? $49.99
Who is it for? Someone to whom the above description is not only comprehensible but appealing.
What's wrong with it? Okay, this actually sounds pretty cool, if you're into this sort of thing. "You go up levels. The critters go up levels. Even your guns go up levels." Hah. Just be sure you get the version that goes with the gaming system your recipient has. And note: this does NOT seem to be for kids.
Grade: B? Sure.

Uncharted 2
What is it? Another game! This one sounds awesome: It's like Indiana Jones, basically, except instead you are descended from Sir Francis Drake! And there's artifact hunting! Museums! Fisticuffs! Marco Polo!
How much? $49.99.
Who is it for? Gamers, Indiana Jones fans.
What's wrong with it? I'm sure if I looked more closely I'd find all sort of historical inaccuracies about which to be righteously indignant. It's a sequel, so it would sort of bother me to get it if I hadn't played the first one, but your gift recipients are probably less rigid and/or neurotic than I am. It seems to only come for PlayStation 3, so I can't play it. And it's rated T, so if you're thinking of getting it for a kid, I'd check with his or her parent first.
Grade: A-.

The Paris Review Interviews Box Set
What is it? Four decades - 1946 pages - of interviews with famous writers about how they work.
How much? $50.
Who is it for? Me. My dad. My uncle. My cousin. Probably some people who aren't related to me, too.
What's wrong with it? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Assuming you are buying gifts for the sort of people who want to read thousands of pages of writers talking about writing. But maybe your family is less nerdy than mine, in which case you probably think this is the most boring gift idea ever.
Grade: In the Welsh family? A+. In the general populace? I'm not sure.


The John Barrymore Collection
What is it? A boxed set of silent films from the 1920s: Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Beloved Rogue, and The Tempest, which seems to have nothing to do with Shakespeare.
How much? $53.99.
Who is it for? Classic film buffs, or maybe extremely obsessed Drew Barrymore fans.
What's wrong with it? Well, I initially read this as "The John Barrowman Collection," and most of my friends would be way more interested in that. The price seems a little steep for four movies without a lot of extra features or anything, but it looks like some of the movies are hard to find and/or expensive by themselves, so if you're buying for someone who's into silent film, this might be a good deal.
Grade: C+.

Sinatra: New York
What is it? Four CDs and a DVD, all of unreleased material recorded in New York.
How much? $55.99.
Who is it for? Music lovers. Rat Pack wannabes.
What's wrong with it? I realize that it's entirely a reflection of my own biases that this seems an eminently more reasonable gift suggestion than the Dolly Parton set, but it does. It's nice that it's all unreleased stuff. The Time blurb says that the packaging is unimpressive, and I've never really been a fan of concert DVDs. But this might be the perfect gift for that hard-to-buy-for grandmother or elderly uncle.
Grade: B+.

BoGo Light SL2 Solar-Powered Flashlight
What is it? A solar-powered flashlight. When you buy one they'll send one to a charity (you choose from a list).
How much? $59.99.
Who is it for? Your friend who wants to put solar panels on his roof but can't afford it/hasn't gotten around to it yet.
What's wrong with it? I don't know, it seems kind of expensive for a flashlight. Even a special flashlight. But I guess it's kind of cool. (Note: Requires special batteries! In order to, you know, be solar-powered!) But I got someone a combo hand crank/solar powered radio/flashlight a few years ago for a lot less. Of course, that one didn't have a charity involved.
Grade: C.

Modern Warfare 2
What is it? A game. About modern warfare. Part of the Call of Duty series.
How much? $59.99. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's on sale in various places on Black Friday.
Who is it for? People who like combat games.
What's wrong with it? I've actually seen the TV commercial for this about 40 times today, because they quite reasonably seem to be going for the NFL-watching demographic. The art is certainly impressive. The content isn't my thing (and it seems a little grim for Christmas, says the girl who asked for books about Cheney and Nixon last year), but I can see why it's popular. Again, make sure you get the version that matches your gamer's platform, and don't assume that just because it's a video game it's appropriate for kids.
Grade: B.

Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection
What is it? 13 movies spanning from 1958 to 1982. With a 136-page book.
How much? $62.99.
Who is it for? Paul Newman fans, one assumes.
What's wrong with it? I don't know. Honestly, I associate Newman more with auto racing and organic food than with acting. Is it possible that the only one of his movies I've seen is Cars? Huh. Most people probably are not as oblivious as I am, though, and I'm sure many of them would like this.
Grade: B? Okay.

Rome: The Complete Series
What is it? DVD set of both seasons of the HBO/BBC series about the Roman empire.
How much? $64.99.
Who is it for? Um, ME. History buffs who don't get HBO. Maybe Grey's Anatomy fans who want to see the new Army doctor Owen in a toga.
What's wrong with it? Nothing. Well, okay, it's kind of violent, and it wouldn't be ancient Rome without some poisonings and incest and such. So maybe it's not for everyone. But for those who are interested in ancient Rome - this is very, very well done. I think I read that it had the highest per-episode budget of any TV show ever, and that definitely shows in the attention to detail and the breathtaking scope of this.
Grade: A.

The Iconic House and Frank Gehry: Houses
What is it? Two big pictures books of architecturally interesting houses.
How much? $65 and $85, respectively.
Who is it for? People who like architecture and coffee table books.
What's wrong with it? We've already discussed my issues with coffee table books, but these do seem neat, especially for people who are into architecture. Might want to make sure that the recipients haven't had their houses foreclosed upon or anything, though, as that would be awkward. I guess it seems like an oddly extravagantly-themed choice for this year in general, but whatever. Pretty houses!
Grade: B+.

Absolute Death by Neil Gaiman
What is it? A big book that collects various shorter works about the character Death from Gaiman's Sandman series.
How much? $99.99.
Who is it for? Most of my friends, who love Neil Gaiman. Fans of graphic novels. Goth types, if only for the character name. People who already have the Absolute Sandman series.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's kind of a niche item, and it's expensive for one book. But Gaiman is great, and I can assure you that his many fans really, really want this for Christmas this year.
Grade: B+.

More than $100

The Shield: The Complete Series Collection
What is it? A DVD set of all seven seasons of The Shield, a show about cops in L.A.
How much? $107.99.
Who is it for? Uh, fans of cop shows? I guess? Is this supposed to be an "intellectual" cop show? I'm not sure.
What's wrong with it? First of all, I am unclear why the words "series" and "collection" are both required in the title. You'd think we could do with one or the other. Anyway. I wouldn't spend over $100 to get someone a complete TV show on DVD unless I was sure that he or she liked the show in question. A lot. But if you're shopping for someone who is a fan of this show, this would be great. I've never actually seen the show, so I can't say much about it.
Grade: I don't know. C? With all the good TV out there on DVD, this seems kind of random.

Grapes for Apes Collector's Pack of Wine
What is it? Six bottles of wine. Some slightly unclear percentage of the proceeds go to a group called Orangutan Outreach.
How much? $114.
Who is it for? Wine lovers, theoretically.
What's wrong with it? Well, I'm always suspicious of the actual quality of the wine with this sort of thing. $114 isn't bad for six bottles of wine, but if the wine isn't any good, then I'd rather just give the money to the charity in the first place. And people who are really into wine tend to know a lot about it and like specific things. So really, I'd skip this one.
Grade: C-.

Futurama: The Complete Collection
What is it? Another DVD set. Like The Simpsons but sci-fi, I think.
How much? $117.99.
Who is it for? People who like both The Simpsons and sci-fi.
What's wrong with it? Again, I'd only get something like this for someone I knew liked the show. But if you do have someone who likes the show, go for it!
Grade: B-.

DJ Hero
What is it? Like Guitar Hero but about DJing. It's a video game that comes with some sort of fake turntable thing.
How much? $119.99, but I'd look for Black Friday sales on this one too. And it looks like it's $99.99 on Amazon at the moment.
Who is it for? People who like music games. Aspiring DJs.
What's wrong with it? It says it has a wide variety of songs but lots seem to be hip hop, techno, etc., so make sure the prospective recipient likes the music involved. And if it's for a kid, make sure the parent is okay with the music as well as the "clubbing" portrayed, etc. (And, once again, get the version that goes with your recipient's gaming system!) Other than that, this could be a lot of fun.
Grade: B+.

AK 100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa
What is it? A DVD set of 25 movies and "a plethora of ancillary scholarship." I'm not sure exactly what that includes.
How much? $284.99.
Who is it for? Action film buffs.
What's wrong with it? Well, that seems like a lot to pay for a DVD set, even such a large DVD set. But if you have the money and know a Kurosawa fan, I'm sure he'd like it. I haven't seen any of these movies, I don't think.
Grade: C+.

And one more thing: I am completely baffled that the new Beatles Remastered Box Set is not on this list. It seems as though it was made for lists like this. (And it is in fact at the top of my own Christmas list.) So! Something else to consider.

Well! That was fun! I have several more lists coming up through the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Posted by Kat at November 22, 2009 11:16 PM

What an AWESOME list! And also how TOTALLY weird to be on this side of the fence!

St. Nicholas brought all 3 kids practice chopsticks one year. Yep. They loved them.

I cannot think of a single person on my list who would want the Paris Review thingy, but pretty much everyone - including moi - would loooove the Dolly set. Dolly!

Don't dismiss Up from the oddly misplaced ad campaign - it's a different movie then you think it is. The first 20 minutes made me cry harder than almost anything I've ever seen - heartbreaking! It's not as much about the balloon house and much more about the endurance of love.

Great, great work here. Good job!

Posted by: Beck at November 23, 2009 07:30 AM

Just so you know... I have purchased some pieces of that beaded jewelry from Uganda here at the Uni. (And yes, I admit, I am going to buy more for myself online!)

They are actually very nice in person, not neon or childish, though they are a little clunky in size. (Well, ok, some are neonish, but there are also quite a few that are very neutral and basic) and the price is misleading. A bracelet is only $5 and a necklace $10.

Also? I found UP traumatic for a kids movie. Like it, but would NEVER want to own it.

Posted by: cassie at November 23, 2009 08:36 AM

I felt the same way about UP until I saw it. Loved, loved, loved it. It's much less about the kid than it looks like from the previews.

And I totally got two gift ideas from the list, so thanks!

Posted by: kate at November 23, 2009 01:09 PM

Our family enjoyed UP a lot. A lot of it goes over the little kids heads, honestly. And I mentioned this on GTalk but you weren't there and I don't know if you ever saw it, but we have those kids Chopsticks. The kids wanted to use chopsticks when we got chinese food SO bad but they couldn't handle real chopsticks, those are great !

Posted by: aisling at November 23, 2009 08:45 PM

I never had this much fun reading a Christmas gift list before!

Posted by: Dad at November 24, 2009 11:53 AM

Cars is the only movie you've seen w/Paul Newman? Say it ain't so! Cool Hand Luke, The Sting, The Hustler, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid........and my favorite, What a Way to Go but that's more of a Shirley MacClaine movie.

Posted by: Carrie K at November 24, 2009 04:57 PM
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