Ruth Henrich, Associate Managing Editor
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain
I like to give books for Christmas. I scan the bookstore racks, waiting for the right title to present itself; I know I’ll know it when I see it. This year was easy: “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain, my favorite book of the year. So far I’ve bought three copies: one for myself, which I’ve already devoured and passed along to a friend; one for my nephew; and one for my old friend David. This Iraq war novel set on Thanksgiving Day at a Dallas Cowboys football game — What could be more American? — is funny and moving and astounded me on just about every page. Seriously. If you don’t find one wrapped under the tree, buy a copy for yourself — it’ll be a long time before you read a novel with more heart.
Kera Bolonik, Arts Editor
I like to personalize this neatly packaged little flash drive by filling it with the year’s best music — best, according to li’l ol’ arrogant me. I got the idea from a gift someone gave me for my 40th birthday: 40 songs spanning 40 years. It was one of my all-time favorite gifts. If I’m feeling particularly industrious, I make a monster playlist of singles. But now that I’m a mom with considerably less time, I’m not able to make the mix of my dreams, so I just pile on as many of the best albums of the year as possible. I have yet to hear any complaints.
Sarah Hepola, Life Editor
“Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed
This year, I gave Cheryl Strayed’s “Tiny Beautiful Things” to five of my closest friends. One was about to have another baby. One was going through a tough breakup. Two were staring down a late-30s career crisis. And the last just loved good writing and stories so honest they sting. In each case, it was the perfect gift, because the book contains enough wisdom for multiples life crises, like self-help for people who truly love to read.
Strayed struck publishing gold this year with her best-selling memoir “Wild,” her adventure story about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone, which is currently being turned into a movie by Reese Witherspoon. But among literary nerds and Internet junkies, her triumph came with “Dear Sugar,” an advice column on TheRumpus.net (compiled here in book form), in which Strayed counseled the wayward and lonely on the rough business of navigating their own lives.
In her answers, Strayed is honest, intimate and even tough, often responding to dilemmas by sharing her own struggles: the grief of losing her mother, the challenges of fidelity. The Internet has earned a reputation for anonymous hatred, but Strayed’s columns are a testimony to the opposite: She offers true compassion for total strangers, and in witnessing that, we can all feel a tiny flicker of hope.
Jacob Sugarman, Cover Editor and Open Salon Editor
Vintage baseball cards and “Cardboard Gods,” by Josh Wilker
Are you a hopeless man-child prone to Proustian fits of nostalgia? Is someone you love? If so (and chances are there’s at least a wayward uncle or a misfit boyfriend in the picture), there are few stocking stuffers that will inspire instant gushing quite like a pack of vintage baseball cards. Not only are they inexpensive and come pre-wrapped, but many will contain a stick of chewing gum from the Reagan administration — the perfect dessert for your holiday feast (OK, maybe not).
If you’re looking for a more substantive gift, pick up a copy of Josh Wilker’s terrific memoir “Cardboard Gods,” which helps explain why these silly childhood collector’s items are burned in so many of our memories.
Alex Halperin, News Editor
“Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families” by J. Anthony Lukas and “Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx,” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
I like to give books as presents and one of my favorites is “Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families.” The great reporter J. Anthony Lukas tells the epic story of the now largely forgotten Boston busing crisis through the eyes of three families: one white gentrifiers, one working-class Irish and one African-American. It’s as compelling a book about an American city as I’ve ever read and dense enough to keep even hibernators occupied far into the winter. Another of my favorites is “Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, a more intimate family saga about the trials and temptations of growing up in the underclass.
Laura Miller, Senior Writer (Books)
The Levo Book Holder
The single greatest gift I would give to any book lover is the Levo Book Holder. (There’s a desk model, but I use the one on the rolling floor stand.) Sometimes the only thing standing between a fervent reader and full-time immersion in her beloved books is arm fatigue and neck cramps. With this stand, which supports and holds open all but the heaviest volumes, you can read in a chair, in the tub, lying flat on your back in bed (this is great for pregnant women on bed rest), on a treadmill, basically anywhere, hands-free, at any angle you like. My neck and shoulders used to be a mass of knotted muscles after a typical four-hour reading binge, but no more!
Willa Paskin, Writer (TV)
Albert Exergian TV posters
For the TV lovers who also love hanging cool things on their walls, these minimalist TV posters, showcasing strong, clean graphics for everything from “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” to “Miami Vice” and “Macgyver.”
Alex Pareene, Writer (Politics)
1980s NFL sweaters
For the discriminating football fan in your life: Search eBay for “cliff engle” and behold America’s secret stash of amazing 1980s NFL sweaters. You know, the awesome ones Parcells and Ditka used to wear. They’re probably the greatest football apparel ever manufactured and sold. Someone is currently making knockoff replicas, at least for the Bears, but you can’t beat the originals. Save your money (and for certain teams you may end up spending a lot — so only buy one for someone you really love, who really loves football) for the real thing.
Liam O’Donoghue, Communications Director
Velodyne vPulse Black In-Ear Headphones with Inline Microphone
My wife gave me these fancy awesome headphones last year and I could never go back to those uncomfortable white iPod earbuds again. Snuggling these plush babies into your earholes is like upgrading from the cattle car to a private G6. Even if the person you’re shopping for already has fancy headphones, isn’t it nice to have a replacement ready to go next time you lose or destroy your current pair? Everyone in your family from your 8-year-old niece to your impossible-to-shop-for dad probably has a smart phone or some kind of mp3-playing device — and whether they’re a music geek, an audiobook junkie or just like to talk on the phone a lot, they will fall in love with these amazing yet affordable earphones instantly.
Benjamin Wheelock, Art Director
Presidente Recycled Bike Tube Wallet
This is the immortal jellyfish of wallets. I have owned one for well over five years, and it looks exactly like it did when I bought it. No signs of wear whatsoever on the black rubber or the still-white stitching. Bonus: It’s made of recycled tires!
Cary Tennis, Writer (Life)
I put Norma on the case for “go-to” gifts and she provided me with these three, which I then translated into my language:
1. Haflinger Doggy Applique Slipper. My wife says these are the most comfortable slippers ever in the history of the universe, plus they have witty designs and arch supports and are made in Germany or Eastern Europe, not China, which appeals to her Eurocentric sensibility.
2. Alessi Parrot Sommelier Style Corkscrew. This Alessi corkscrew and bottle opener is well made, beautifully designed, and it works! So we always give things like this to my brother-in-law, since I neither open bottles of wine nor wear comfortable slippers.
3. Jacquard tablecloth. Not only do I not open wine bottles or wear comfortable slippers, but I eat out of a trough or just from off a bare plank salvaged from a burned-out warehouse so I would have no use for a lovely tablecloth that protects fine table surfaces, but my wife does! And she loves these Teflon-coated table cloths made in Provence, and says that if your party guests tend to be unreliable about using coasters, etc., this cloth will save your table. Plus it’s beautiful.
Andrew Leonard, Writer (Politics)
Silicone Oven Mitts
My go-to holiday gift strategy is a two-step process. First, I review Megan McArdle’s annual kitchen gift guide and look for inspiration. McArdle’s libertarian-inflected political and economy commentary has both fans and foes on the Web, but her kitchen geek cred is unimpeachable. This year, my eye was caught by her recommendation for silicone oven mitts. Aha! I liked the one I was given so much a few years ago — a mitt that, no lie, frees you from any fear of boiling water or oil — that I bought another one for myself for full, two-handed protection. Alas, I lost both of them in a fire this summer and have missed them sorely ever since. When I saw McArdle’s recommendation, I thought, this time around, my go-to holiday gift could very well be for me.
Mary Elizabeth Williams, Writer (Pop Culture)
Taste #5 Umami Paste
The secret ingredient is a secret ingredient! You know that delicious, savory, earthy, oh hell yes flavor you love? The Japanese have a word for it, and that word is “umami.” Say it. It’s poetic and beautiful, isn’t it? The flavor of tomatoes and anchovies and black olives and mushrooms and Parmesan cheese – in short, all that is right and delicious in the world. Well, this stuff is made of all of that. Squeeze a little dab into anything that isn’t cake – soups, dips, meatballs — and blammo! Mysterious extra goodness. Your foodie friends will love it because it’s fancy and special and yet they probably don’t have it already. Your non-foodie friends will love it because it will magically elevate their sad jarred tomato sauce into something almost respectable. You will love it because you will look like a boss when your lucky giftee unwraps that luxurious, fancy-looking pack that didn’t even set you back 20 bucks. EVERYBODY WINS.
Prachi Gupta, Assistant News Editor
Cards Against Humanity
Once you discover it, Cards Against Humanity will be the only card game you will ever need to — or want to — own. Like Apples to Apples, the game consists of hundreds of cards that force players to make bizarre associations — but with an evil twist. As Amazon user Louis Silverman put, Cards Against Humanity “is Apples-to-Apples’ sick twisted cousin who obviously has a lot more fun in life.” The cards are full of pop culture references, and range from the politically incorrect, unnecessarily sexual, to just plain strange. Although it has been out for over a year, now, there is a good chance that at least one of your friends has never played this game.
Carmen García Durazo, Assistant Editor
Luxury Curb Chain Necklace
My go-to fave is bling. Affordable bling – pure, soft gold and shimmery diamonds are certifiably incredible treasures. But you don’t need to go that far: Even a *little* extra flash is more than enough to give your loved ones the message that you see their shine all the time (I’m including self-love in this, too). Plated in 24-karat gold, this chain is classic and fresh, affordable and instantly fly. Perfect for anyone — your cousin who already has 14 gold chains, your mother-in-law who doesn’t even know she can rock this (but will, memorably at that).
Natasha Lennard, Assistant News Editor
“A Rule Is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy” by John Seven and Jana Christy
Despite espousing a politics that opposes both traditionalism and consumerism, I’m also an occasional hypocrite and a devout Christmasist. It probably has something to do with a childhood in England punctuated by cozy, alcohol-fueled Christmases in the countryside with no hint of religion. As such my choice of gift tends to be pretty childish and playful — like this charming kids book by John Seven and Jana Christy, “A Rule Is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy.” A simple, charming celebration of autonomy and an infinitely lighter read than Tiqqun. Bill Ayers called it “somehow just right” and Tea Party activists called it “downright shocking.” Perfect.