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November 29, 2010

Gift Guides 2010: Time's Holiday Shopping Guide

CHEER , Gift Guide Reviews , Holidays are supposed to be fun, right?

Time's guide was the one I reviewed last year, so it seems appropriate to start with them this year. They seem to have dropped the charity aspect, so we just have "this year's coolest books, music, DVDs and gifts for every budget." Here we go!

Under $5

The Christmas Gig
What is it? A free 13-track download of holiday music by indie bands, from target.com. (Downloadable starting November 28.) No, I have no idea why it's called what it's called. Bands include Guster and, um, other people I've vaguely heard of.
How much? Free!
Who is it for? Broke hipsters.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's free. Which is fine, but since it's so obviously free, people might be offended if you give it to them as a "gift." This is the sort of thing I would certainly TELL my friends about - and I'm working on a "free holiday music" post so I'll add it to that, and likely download it myself - but I wouldn't call it a gift, exactly.
Grade: C-

"Norwegian Wood" on iTunes
What is it? A digital version of the song. (By the Beatles. But you knew that, right?)
How much? $1.29
Who is it for? They say you could give it as a "token" to a Beatles fan who undoubtedly has it already, but that seems dumb. And I'm not sure this is the best song to use to introduce the band to someone who isn't a fan. Hm. Actually, if you have a relative who has all the albums on vinyl and you're trying to convince them to try digital music, this might be a decent way to start.
What's wrong with it? As I said last year when they recommended a Darlene Love song, I'm skeptical of "giving" a one-song download. There's probably a way to buy it and send it to your friend's email address. (Okay, I finally gave in and looked, and there is a way.) But it still seems more like a nice friendly gesture than a gift, per se.
Grade: B for content, D for presentation


Decoy Gift Box
What is it? An empty box made to look like it's for a fake product like a USB toaster or an underwater cell phone case. (Wait, but those actually do exist.)
How much? $7.99 for one, $25 for 4, or $37.99 for 7
Who is it for? People who like gag gifts
What's wrong with it? Well, it's way more than I'd want to spend on a joke, but you may have someone on your list who would love this.
Grade: C

Glee: The Music, Vol. 4
What is it? An album of music from Glee.
How much? List price is $13.99, but you can find it cheaper in all sorts of places.
Who is it for? Glee fans, or maybe fans of Gwyneth Paltrow or Darren Criss, as their songs both made it onto this album.
What's wrong with it? Well, nothing, and I might actually put it on my Christmas list. I'd just check that your Glee fan doesn't already have it, because there's a lot of hype around these albums and people tend to pre-order or buy them on release day.
Grade: B+

I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live
What is it? A book of kids' letters to Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama. Proceeds go to charity!
How much? $12
Who is it for? Kids, Obama fans, anyone into presidential memorabilia
What's wrong with it? Well, I would make sure I was aware of my recipient's (or his parents') political views before I gave this, so as not to offend, but that issue aside, this is a great gift!
Grade: A-

Let's Bring Back
What is it? A book of interesting things that have been forgotten, been made obsolete, or just fallen out of fashion. Examples: the automat, paper dolls, serenades, Mae West.
How much? $13.57
Who is it for? Nostalgic people; those into social history
What's wrong with it? Well, on a philosophical and political level, I tend to get annoyed at all the "The past was obviously better" stuff, but this book looks really fun and interesting and I certainly wouldn't mind receiving it!
Grade: B+

Atlas of Remote Islands
What is it? A book about isolated islands, with both narration and maps. It promises cannibalism and "macabre glee." SIGN ME UP.
How much? $18.48
Who is it for? ME. I WANT. Also, it would be an awesome gift for my professor who taught that Literature of Isolation and Exile class. Anyway, also good for people into maps and sea adventure stories, as well as amateur anthropologists, maybe.
What's wrong with it? NOTHING. Well, it looks kind of dark, so make sure you get it for someone who likes that sort of thing. But seriously, it looks awesome.
Grade: A

Water.org CamelBaks
What is it? A fancy water bottle. Proceeds go to charity.
How much? $18.99-$24.99
Who is it for? Hikers? People who work out a lot? These seem to be popular with college students at the moment, too. Also: Matt Damon fans (he endorsed them).
What's wrong with it? Well, it's a little expensive for a water bottle, but not unusually so, I guess. Trendy water bottles vaguely annoy me, but I actually can't articulate any reason why this would make a bad gift. Ooh, unless it's hard to clean. That tends to be my issue with water bottles and travel mugs.
Grade: B


Green Toys Fire Truck
What is it? A toy fire truck made of super-safe recycled plastic, safe for any child over one.
How much? $24.99
Who is it for? "The kid whose parents won't let him have anything." Children of overprotective ecoconscious hipsters.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's a little precious, and expensive for a toy truck that doesn't light up or make noise or do anything fun, but they're right. It is perfect for that precious little child who only eats organic baby carrots and isn't allowed to get dirty.
Grade: B

Community: The Complete First Season
What is it? DVD set of the (very funny) sitcom Community.
How much? $26.99, but it's been on sale practically everywhere for less.
Who is it for? People who like funny things. Joel McHale fans. Maybe people who work at or attend community colleges, if they can take a joke.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's a great show. But I always have issues with TV show seasons as gifts, unless they're specifically asked for, because otherwise there's a pretty good chance you've given the DVDs to someone who has never seen the show and might or might not be interested, OR you've given them to a fan who has seen every episode and may already have the DVDs. So . . . I wouldn't. But Community itself is probably the best sitcom on TV right now, so.
Grade: B-

Kiehl's Creme De Corps Holiday Collection
What is it? Lotions and stuff with labels by Jeff Koons. Proceeds go to charity.
How much? $27
Who is it for? People who like fancy bath and body stuff. Jeff Koons fans.
What's wrong with it? Actually, $27 isn't bad for nice lotion, and the interesting labels and charity aspect make this into a really nice gift! Just make sure your recipient can use scented stuff. (I have several people in my life who can't.)
Grade: A

What is it? 236 little magnetic metal balls. No, really.
How much? $29.99
Who is it for? Older kids or adults who like sciencey things or abstract toys or just interesting things to fiddle with.
What's wrong with it? These actually look pretty awesome. Just make sure you don't give them to kids with younger siblings who will eat them, because that would end badly.
Grade: A-

Electronic Spy Camera Shirt
What is it? A t-shirt with a picture of a spy - but his camera actually works.
How much? $39.99
Who is it for? Wannabe spies, people who like nifty gadgets.
What's wrong with it? Well, it's sort of for a niche audience, I guess, but it's pretty great.
Grade: A

iPod Shuffle
What is it? A postage-stamp sized iPod that holds 2GB of music, but has no screen and limited controls.
How much? $49
Who is it for? I'm . . . not sure. See below.
What's wrong with it? My feelings on this are complicated. I mean, first of all, OMG, you can get an iPod for under $50! We really are living in the future! Awesome! On the other hand, now that iPods and other mp3 players are so cheap, pretty much everyone who's serious about music (and wants one) has one. And I know I would be frustrated by the lack of a screen; I also sort of assume that makes it harder to navigate your music or control what you listen to, but I don't know that for sure. I think the two big categories of people who don't have mp3 players yet are little kids and older people who are wary of the technology. This would probably make a fine "my first iPod" for a kid. I'm less sure that it would be good for an older person, because of the aforementioned no-screen issue. (I'd probably spring for a Nano instead.)
Grade: C+

Disney Epic Mickey
What is it? A Wii game about Mickey Mouse that is hard to describe but sounds pretty cool. Battling evil! Forgotten Disney characters! The chance to play Mickey as heroic or self-serving!
How much? $49.99
Who is it for? Are you the sort of family that tries to do a "family gift" for everyone to play together? And has a Wii? If so, this would be perfect for you, as it promises that it's accessible to kids but also interesting for adults.
What's wrong with it? Very little, actually. Just make sure your recipient has a Wii and not some other gaming system.
Grade: A+

Slings and Arrows: The Complete Collection
What is it? All three seasons of the critically-acclaimed Canadian dramedy about a somewhat dysfunctional Shakespearean theater troupe.
How much? $49.99
Who is it for? ME. I've been meaning to Netflix this for years. Also, people who like critically-acclaimed dramedies. This might actually be good for people who watch a lot of British TV and need some new things to try, because it sounds like it's in roughly the same vein as a lot of popular British shows, but since it's Canadian, they might not have seen it.
What's wrong with it? This is one of those things that's for a bit of a niche audience, but for that audience, it's perfect. And my usual reservations about TV on DVD as gifts are somewhat lessened here, because a) this hasn't been shown on American TV (I don't think) so it's less likely that people have seen it and b) it's the whole series rather than one season.
Grade: B+


Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
What is it? A racing game. I think it's the kind with lots of crashing.
How much? $49.95-$59.95, depending on platform.
Who is it for? Teen and twenty-something guys, mostly.
What's wrong with it? Well, if you have someone on your list who likes this sort of thing (and either has parents who don't mind it or is old enough that Mom's opinion doesn't matter), this is probably a good choice. Make sure you get the right version, and if you're getting it for a real fan I'd check that they didn't buy it themselves on release day.
Grade: B

The Making of The Empire Strikes Back
What is it? A gigantic book about, uh, the making of The Empire Strikes Back.
How much? $50.68
Who is it for? Star Wars fans, movie buffs, people who like "behind the scenes" stuff.
What's wrong with it? It's a little expensive, but it sounds really interesting.
Grade: B+

40: A Doonesbury Retrospective
What is it? A book with 1,400 comic strips, essays, and more.
How much? $63
Who is it for? Doonesbury fans, presumably. Leftists. People who like comics.
What's wrong with it? Well, I am not really a person who likes comics. I mean, I don't dislike them, but if someone was going to spend $63 on books for me, I can think of many, many titles I'd pick over this. But for people who do like comics (and aren't going to be offended by the strip's political position), this looks neat.
Grade: C+

The Larry Sanders Show: The Complete Series
What is it? A DVD set of this comedy set behind the scenes at a late-night talk show.
How much? $98.49
Who is it for? Fans of the show who don't have it on DVD yet. People intrigued by all the late-night drama in the news the past year (with Team Coco et al.).
What's wrong with it? Confession: I had no idea what this show was until I read this description, which makes it sound like the Sports Night of late night. Now I kind of want to watch it (although probably not own it). But my usual caveats about TV on DVD apply.
Grade: B-

The Pacific
What is it? WWII miniseries; follow-up to Band of Brothers
How much? $56.99
Who is it for? Band of Brothers fans. WWII buffs. This will probably be one of the season's most popular Dad/Grandfather/Random Hard-to-Buy-for Uncle gifts.
What's wrong with it? Well, I certainly wouldn't kick it out from under the Christmas tree. I guess it's probably pretty violent, so that's something to keep in mind. Oh, and this link seems to be specifically for the Blu-ray; unless you're sure your recipient has a Blu-ray player I'd just go for the DVD.
Grade: B+


75 Years Of DC Comics: The Art Of Modern Mythmaking
What is it? Okay, I said that Star Wars book was gigantic, but this is really gigantic: 15 pounds, 720 pages, of DC Comics (Superman, Batman, etc.). Plus some annotations and such.
How much? $126
Who is it for? Fans of comics, superheroes, or the history of pop art.
What's wrong with it? This looks like a beautiful gift, if you have a comics fan and $126 to spend.
Grade: A-

Microsoft Kinect
What is it? A thing to add to your Xbox to be able to play games with no controller - it uses a camera and your body movement.
How much? $199 with two games
Who is it for? Like the Wii, this is probably mostly for less-serious gamers who want to do dancing and sports type things. And already have an Xbox.
What's wrong with it? Well, make sure the recipient has an Xbox - it doesn't work by itself. And make sure they actually want to play the kind of games this uses, or it's a waste of money. But I saw a demonstration of it on TV and it was pretty nifty.
Grade: B-

Lost: The Complete Collection
What is it? Complete DVDs of the show, plus some extras and interesting packaging.
How much? $148.99
Who is it for? Lost fans who aren't quite fanatic enough to have bought this already.
What's wrong with it? Well, my usual TV on DVD issues apply, especially with a show so ridiculously popular and well-known as this. But I hear that this set is pretty neat, so if you do have a Lost fan on your list, this would be great!
Grade: B-

The Rolling Stones Limited Edition Remastered Vinyl Box Sets
What is it? Boxed sets of remastered Rolling Stones records. Yes, on vinyl.
How much? $277.27 for 1964-1969, $296.90 for 1971-2005.
Who is it for? People you really really like who really really like the Stones.
What's wrong with it? I mean, I like the Rolling Stones as well as anyone. At first I thought this was a remastered CD set, and I could get behind that idea, but . . . Really? Almost $600 for vinyl? I mean, fine, if you have a lot of money to spend on a vinyl purist. But most of us don't.
Grade: C-

Posted by Kat at November 29, 2010 07:54 PM

Hello. I'm happy to provide my services as a reasonable facsimile of a broke hipster. Please do not "give" me that free album for Christmas. That islands book totally looks awesome, though. Also the Jeff Koons lotion.


Posted by: your cousin Liz at November 29, 2010 08:24 PM

We have the "bucky ball" version of the nanodots and they're pretty awesome. We both fiddle with them so much we've talked about getting a second set.

Posted by: AmyW at November 29, 2010 08:45 PM

I like your warning on the Nanodots. And yeah, please don't give me music downloads for Christmas. We would like the Epic Mickey game, actually.

Posted by: Beck at December 1, 2010 09:33 AM
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