Christmas List

Our family has a very short-lived tradition (we started it last year) in which we all make a Christmas list and send it to my brother's wife, Heidi, who is about 600% more capable than anyone else in our family, and therefore has to be in charge of this tradition. She picks names and sends out secret e-mails to everyone in the family, telling them who they're in charge of buying presents for that year. Everyone gets stocking presents for everyone else in the family, and then spends a bunch of cash on the person whose name they drew. It's like an amped up Secret Santa, except I get less notes with smiley faces in my locker.

Heidi sent me a "get your Christmas list in" e-mail about a month ago and then a "get your Christmas list in now" e-mail tonight, which I hurriedly responded to because she's about 14 or 15 months pregnant and so I feel it might be unwise to get on her bad side. And I'm already pretty far behind because my dad got his in before she ever sent out any e-mail at all. Suck-up.

I was going to write up about few of those items to maybe up-sell them a bit in case you, like most people, endlessly mimic my opinions and want to acquire the same possessions as me. Then I decided to just put up the list and see if anybody wanted to buy me anything. Then I felt guilty and decided to go back to my original egotistical idea and ignore the narcissistic one.

So here are a few key items for your Christmas list this year. I'll include links in case you just can't help yourself and have to buy one for me:

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs.
Jacobs spends the year not just tithing and curbing lust, but not mixing linen and wool, eating crickets, and calling the days of the week by their ordinal numbers to avoid voicing the names of pagan gods. I've heard lots of good buzz about this book the past couple of weeks, so I've gotten excited about the prospect of reading it without even knowing if the author is any good at all at writing. I hope so. What a great concept.

Schulz and Peanuts, by David Michaelis
America's most beloved comic strip was a combination of gentle humor and quiet wisdom, but its creator was a deeply unhappy man who struggled with depression his whole career. Michaelis was given unprecedented access to the family and private papers of Shulz, who was famously quite solitary and averse to intrusions by the press. Nearly 250 Peanuts strips are woven into the biography, demonstrating just how much of his life story Schulz poured into the cartoon. In one sequence, Snoopy's crush on a girl dog is revealed as a barely disguised retelling of the artist's extramarital affair. It's the sort of uncovering that digs into the pain of making something deeply heartfelt, which is the sort of story I really love to dig into.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto, by Chuck Klosterman
A thoughtful commentary on Saved by the Bell, Billy Joel, MTV's The Real World, the psychoses and motivations of breakfast cereal mascots, the difference between Celtic fans and Laker fans, and The Empire Strikes Back? Done and done. Sign me up. I'm also asking for Killing Yourself to Live, on his trip around America to visit the death sites of a number of rock'n'roll icons after the discovery of his own imminent death. Why the death sites of rock'n'roll icons? I have no idea, but I'm in.

"Chase This Light," Jimmy Eat World
Apparently this album is as close to living up to the potential emo music never fully realized it had. If it's half as good as 2001's "Clarity" - another hallmark album in emo's short time in the sun - I'll be more than happy.

"Release The Stars," Rufus Wainwright
Like most people, I'm a complete sucker for weird pop songs heavily influenced by Chopin and Italian opera, sung in a quaveringly mournful tone by a singer who freely calls himself the Gay Messiah and holds massive rallies to sing Judy Garland songs. He only gets weirder as he goes along, too, so this album should be amazing.

"Teenager," The Thrills
Some bands sound like they're heavily influenced by 70's rock and folk music. Some sound like they're the genuine article. But the Thrills are so exactly, perfectly of a different era that you almost can't really believe that they're releasing these albums today. They're like a bizarro "Quantum Leap," where a 70's band has traveled through time in order to save music before they're allowed to return home.

"30 Rock," Season One
I've ever seen a comedy so simultaneously loose and unprepossessing, and yet so consistently sharply and wittily written. And characters like Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy come along once in 10 years - when you get a character like this on your television each week, you treasure him, it's wrong not to. Thursdays at 9, people.

"Friday Night Lights," Season One
The hype is real: this show is that good. The critics are right. Your friends are right. The guy who works down the hall from you who keeps gushing about it is right. It's that good. Buy it, rent it, Netflix it, borrow it, find it somewhere. Just don't miss it. It'll be gone soon if we don't save it, and the only way to save it is to watch it. We can't complain about the crap on TV if we won't fight for the good stuff, and this is as good as it comes.

Hope that helped your Christmas shopping a little. E-mail me if you need my address for...uh... anything.