How are things with you? We here at Scribbleskiff have been very busy lately, preparing for and trying to enjoy the holidays. We’ve been trimming trees, decking halls, lighting lights, as well as reading, listening, sipping, supping, and writing ourselves silly. We ought to change our name to “Scrabbleskiff” it’s been so frenetic around these parts.
As a result, we’re once again running out of runway to be able to bring gifts to all our friends and relatives (and relative friends). The staff at this blog may be many things to many people, but we are not highly organized, thoughtful planners; we amble, we meander, we loaf along (we’re “Scribbleskiff,” damn it). Luckily, we’ve been making a list over the past year, keeping track of things we’ve seen or want to see more of, things we have merely skimmed, briefly heard or, in some cases, just heard about. So at least we know what we want to buy, even if we don’t know when we’ll do the buying.
And, in the spirit of generosity, we thought we’d share our list of ideas with you, fellow procrastinators. With Chanukah half over and only 10 days or so left until Christmas, we thought you might appreciate some gift-giving suggestions to please those last-minute, hard-to-buy-for recipients. Keep in mind the following recommendations are geared toward the person who has everything and needs nothing. (That’s the main reason they’re left until last, right?) Frivolity is the motto here, while “aimless” and “a waste of time” come to mind, as well.
But these notions are not mere triflings: our goal is to point out the novelty to the novitiate, to uncover something unusual, something you may not have known about but is worth having, though not necessarily something for the collector. All of these trinkets are readily available and should not require much effort to obtain. Most important, most of these items are on our wish list, too (hint, hint). Happy shopping!
For the Beer Lover
Not surprising, a number of breweries use this season of celebration as an opportunity to roll out very limited releases. I’m not talking about your typical “winter warmers” or Christmas beers, which are as numerous and varied as fruitcake recipes this time of year. No, I’m thinking of extra-ordinary malt-based beverages that are as unique as they are extravagant. Top of the list has to be Samichlaus Bier, an Austrian dopplebock that’s brewed only once a year (Dec. 6) and aged for 10 months before bottling. As such, it’s one of the rarest beers in the world (at 14% alcohol, it’s one of the strongest, too) and it’s the ideal gift for the adventurous beer drinker on your list. Also, because each vintage is unique and the beer is made to age in the bottle, it’s ideally suited for the collector. Best of all, it’s delicious. Serve with hearty dishes or dessert, especially chocolate.
Another exclusive elixir is Prestige de Nuits, from Brasserie Dubuisson. Aged for six months in Pinot noir barrels, this very complex Belgian pale strong ale is awash in flavors and textures — tart and fruity aromas, yet with a hint of toffee and caramel; a dry and slightly bitter initial taste that mellows sweet and slightly sour; a high alcohol content (12%) that’s kept in check by the yeasty, Champagne-like carbonation; etc. All in all, it’s a beer that’s so pleasing and easy-going you may almost forget such sudsy sophistication comes at a price — $45/750 ml — I said almost. Enjoy it with sweet, complex cheeses, such as Beemster Extra Old.
Glassware is another distinct, often overlooked bestowal for the bibulous on your list. As with wine, a good beer goblet can enhance the enjoyment of its contents. Unfortunately, the typical pint glass used by most bartenders is not well suited for the job. Primarily designed to serve as a tumbler, or top half of a cocktail shaker, this glass is durable and easy to stack but not much good for drinking good beer — its cylindrical shape lets the aromas and fizzy goodness escape. You need a vessel with some shape, like a tulip, that will trap the aromas and guide them to your nose and palate. A wine glass will do in a pinch, but why not furnish the proper beer glasses (not to be confused with “beer goggles”). Sam Adams recently introduced “The Perfect Pint,” a glass specifically designed for beer-drinking (you may read about it here). A set of four retails for $30. I’ve also seen beer glasses that are both functional and elegant for sale at places like Pottery Barn and, locally, Red Tree. Here’s a quick, concise guide to the basics, to help you get started.
Then, once you have your memorable malts properly poured, it’s time to sit down and watch “Beer Wars: Brewed in America,” an eye-opening documentary that offers both an insider’s look at the battle between breweries (both big and little) and a heady examination of the plight of small business in America. Think of it as a pint-sized “Roger and Me.”
For the Music Lover
In retrospect, 2009 could be called the year of the compilation, or at least be notable for marking its comeback. So often, the idea of getting a group of musicians together to celebrate an artist’s life or to provide the soundtrack to a movie sounds charming in theory but often falls flat on vinyl (or polycarbonate). You may get one or two real “hits” while the rest are, well, misses. This year, however, was different. Not only was there a greater-than-usual outfall of such records (as far as I can recall) but also a higher amount of quality issue. And since compilations are essentially mixtapes, offering an admixture of music that’s similar in sound or theme with enough variety to make it interesting, they make uniquely personal presents. Here are this year’s standouts:
- Dark Was the Night, 4AD, a double-CD benefit collection featuring songs by major and minor indie-rock all-stars, such as Feist, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), The Decemberists, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, The National, Spoon, and more.
- War Child — Heroes, War Child, another benefit collection, this time featuring new bands covering songs by their “heroes” — for instance, The Hold Steady rocking up Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” — often with help from the original artists.
- Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy, Mezzotint, a tribute album created as a fundraiser for Mulcahy (of Miracle Legion), featuring covers by everyone from Thom Yorke, Frank Black, and Vic Chesnutt, to Ben Kweller, Josh Rouse, and Juliana Hatfield.
- The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack, Chop Shop Records, a veritable who’s who of hip artists — including The Killers, OK Go, Editors, and Lupe Fiasco — all penned new material for this sparkling teen swooner.
- Live at KEXP Volume Five, KEXP.org, is what the name implies — a compilation of exclusive live tracks, recorded in studios at or affiliated with Seattle’s KEXP (Scribbleskiff’s favorite radio station), by a wide range of musicians, including DeVotchKa, Andrew Bird, MGMT, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Vivian Girls, and more.
As any reader of this blog knows, I have become single-minded, as it were, when it comes to digital music. I don’t pay much heed to full-lengths anymore — not right away, at least. I prefer downloading a song on its own first; then, if I like it, I might go back and buy the rest. Over this past year, I did that at least five times, and I can heartily recommend those decisions to you here, in no particular order (click the links to find out why):
- Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective
- The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists
- Embryonic, The Flaming Lips
- Goodnight Oslo, Robyn Hitchcock & the Venus 3
- These Four Walls, We Were Promised Jetpacks
But I still have an affinity for phonographs, as I have mentioned several times in the past. I have a large collection of LP records that I can’t bear to and won’t part with. Why? Music just sounds better played on a record player, and the album side provides the perfect amount of the music for any given mood. The problem with (or inherent beauty of, it could be argued) a turntable is that it must be connected to the stereo console to be of service. In other words, it is an anti-mobile device — until now, that is. I have recently encountered several portable turntables that are not only versatile and affordable but also elegant and nostalgical (like this handsome throwback). Now the audiophile on your list can live in the past, wherever he or she may roam.
What Scribbleskiff musical compendium would be complete (or completely gratuitous) without mention of REM? Although our favorite band did not release any new material this year, they did make two offerings that could serve as bookends to their career thus far. The first, the 25th anniversary Deluxe Edition of Reckoning, came out in June, remastered and including a second CD-ful of songs recorded live during their 1984 tour. Perhaps not their best record, Reckoning was certainly their best-known for years and, looking back a quarter-century later, it’s a clear-eyed indication of their star-making potential. A more recent release, Live at the Olympia (CD and DVD), captures the band’s gutsy five-night “rehearsal,” held live in Dublin in 2007, of new songs written for their most recent LP, the aptly titled Accelerate. (I’m sorry.)
For the Book Lover
Why does the book industry hold competitions? To sell more books, of course. The National Book Award may not be the most popular of all American literary prizes — that superlative belongs to the Pulitzer — but I think it usually points out the best new books. That’s especially true with poetry, and I always try to buy the winning volume each year, even if or especially if I don’t know the author’s work. This year’s winner was Keith Waldrop. Although I have read some of his poems, I’ve never nosed my way through a complete book. So I’m hoping to find a copy of his award-winning Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy under the tree (you can read an excerpt here).
In terms of new poetry books I’ve read, enjoyed, and in some cases written about, I can recommend Endpoint and Other Poems, the final collection of poems published by the late John Updike. Although Updike forged a lucrative career as a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist, it’s his poems that appealed most to me. There are several reasons why I think his matter will matter to you. I was also dazzled by the bountiful bouquet of new poems that were distributed via e-mail, one day at a time, this past April in honor of National Poetry Month. Check out a sampling (with links) here. You never know, you might find something you like and (like me) want to track down the whole collection.
I also want to mention Poem in Your Pocket: 200 Poems to Read and Carry, a clever belles-lettric device created by the Academy of American Poets. The idea is simple: select a poem you like, tear it from the book, and carry it around with you all day to read alone or share with others. It’s an indispensable literary dispenser, ideal for the poet or poetry lover on your list.
Two other items on my list could serve to satisfy any books-and-music or books-and-beer connoisseur you may know. The first, By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolution of 1969, written by Bruce Pollock, a self-professed “player in the deviant subculture,” promises to be a rollicking chronicle of one of the most important years in the history of rock music. You may also want to eyeball, though warily (and blearily), Things Drunk People Say, a compendium of humorous, sometimes crass, and embarrassing quotes from a group of New York-based “boozy social butterflies.” Potty talk begets bathroom reading, I suppose. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there’s no index of names — yes, that’s where I turned first, wouldn’t you?
Seasonally speaking, the most interesting book on my coffee table right now is Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas, by Jonathan Green. This little cracker is filled with tons of information, useless or otherwise, about Christianity’s second-biggest day. Discover everything, from the origins of your cherished traditions — why stockings are hung on Christmas Eve, why we use evergreens as decorations, what a yule log is — to explanations of more arcane items — where myrrh comes from, who the real Santa Claus is, and why reindeer didn’t always pull his sleigh. No one sitting within reach of this book has been able to resist picking it up, and neither should you.
So there you have it, a sackful of Scribbleskiffian gift ideas, suitable for an assortment of holidays. Maybe, if you’re good, and you pick the right prizes for the right people, they’ll all re-gift them right back to you right away.
As always, tell us what you think. Do you have other, unique holiday gift ideas that you’d like to share? Who tops your list of last-minute shop-fors? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
And be sure to visit (and join) the Scribbleskiff page on Facebook (find it here), where you can partake in wall-to-wall conversations, find additional information and suggestions from readers, and more.