It's excruciating and exhilarating.
The problem with gifts is that you almost always give something you want for yourself. There are obvious exceptions, such as a woman giving a man a tie, but even then he is almost certain to receive the tie she thinks he should be wearing. Most of the time the rule applies, as I'm reminded every time I use Chaz's iPod, iPhone and MacBook Pro.
People give me books they want to read, music they enjoy listening to, and subscriptions to publications they value, such as the Weekly Standard, Organic Gardening, and Nutrition Action--an excellent publication, but less interesting to me, you understand, now that I don't eat or drink. Asked by editors year after year to recommend a holiday gift for our readers, I invariably find myself at a loss. This year, however, a bright shining bulb illuminated above my head: I would recommend only gifts I myself desired! These choices might be meaningless for others, but at least they'd be sincere. They are so sincere, indeed, that I already possess every single one of these gifts, so they will be of no help to you in answering the age-old question, What to Give Roger?
I'll list them in order from the most expensive to the least. For free gifts, I recommend an e-mail containing a list of Web Sites I Love That You Have Never Heard Of, such as Tom O'Bedlam's sonorous poetry readings at Spoken Verse, the incomparable Bob and Ray, and of course the comprehensive reference work the Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form.
12. We begin at the most expensive gift, at $284.99, the Criterion Collection's boxed set AK 100: 25 Films of Akira Kurosawa. What need I say about this? Akira Kurosawa is one of the grandmasters of the cinema, his films universally beloved. Criterion sets the criterion for DVD quality, Many of these films have been painstakingly restored, and all represent the best prints available. Four of them have never been released on DVD before. A gift for a true film buff, who probably doesn't already own it, because (1) it was released only on Dec. 8, and (2) its undiscounted retail price is $399.95.
11 . At $99.95, the Roku HD Player is a device plays streaming video from the internet through a television set of any size. If you have high-speed internet (we use Comcast), it delivers an HD-quality picture. Even at slower speeds, it uses a buffering system so there's no pausing or stuttering. You can select from the very large Netflix library of movies to watch instantly as well as video from Amazon, Starz, and indeed any streaming source.
The Netflix movies are covered by your existing subscription at any price category, even the lowest ($9 a month). You can be watching up to six movies at any given time, and Netflix remembers exactly when you Paused each one, and begins again at that point. Given my experience with streaming video through web browsers, I was pleasantly surprised by the picture quality even before we signed with Comcast.
10. On a graduated fee schedule starting at as little as $90 a year, become a patron of Facets Cinematheque at 1517 W. Fullerton in Chicago, the Midwestern temple of cinema recently praised in The New York Times as possessing the largest collection of art films on video in the nation. Even the basic membership includes tangible cash savings when you attend a Facets screening, festival, lecture or workshop, and when you buy or rent by mail from its amazing collection. If you live in Chicago and go to only one theater all year, you might well see the best films, on average, here. Facets was one of the few theaters in North America to introduce two films on my forthcoming 2009 "best" list.
9. At a price of $81.25, the next gift speaks for itself. It's the Elgato Video Capture Device for Macs, which connects between your VHS player and your computer and transfers all your old tapes--both commercial and home movies--to digital. Then you can burn them to DVD, and Bob's your uncle. So it wasn't a waste of money to pay those guys to transfer your parents' wedding film to VHS! And here's the Pinnacle software for PCs.
8. Now we come to a gift for $62.99, the infallible Zojirushi NHS-18 10-Cup Rice Cooker/Steamer & Warmer. Six-cup and 3-cup sizes are available for less. In my experience, Zojirushi makes the best rice cookers, but you do not want to spend more money to buy one of their fancy models with extra bells and whistles and fuzzy settings, whatever they are. You (that is, your "friend" who will receive this present) require this basic, foolproof model, because you've never had a rice cooker before and are even right now thinking "I'll never eat all that rice."
No, possibly not. But I propose a rice cooker as the only cooking appliance you need, especially if you're a student, or live alone, or are not attracted by the notion of whipping up one of Julia Child's recipes. Veteran readers of this blog know I have written at length about the miraculous rice cooker. Info is there about how
you your friend can quickly become a no-muss, no-fuss one-person cooking phenomenon.
7. At $60.98, the perfect companion to your VHS-to-digital converter would be the Xitel INport Deluxe, which sits between your turntable and your computer and converts all your vinyl into digital, which can then be loaded into iTunes and thus into your iPod or iPhone or burned onto a blank CD.
6. A membership in the Gene Siskel Film Center at State and Randolph in Chicago is only $50, for which you receive discounted $5 admission to movies at the Gene Siskel Film Center; a subscription to the Film Center's monthly schedule, the Gazette; a $10 discount on an Art Institute of Chicago membership; discounted $4 admission to the spring and fall film lecture series; and--be still, my heart!--four free popcorns. The Siskel Center is expertly programmed for film lovers.
5. At $39.95, the B-Flex2 Hi-Fi Stereo USB Speaker plugs into the USB port of your Mac or PC with a gooseneck arm that allows you to aim the sound. We're not talking Bose quality here, but the volume is much stronger than your laptop's built-in speakers, it weighs only 10 ounces, the music quality is acceptable, and it's ideal for anyone using the computer's text-to-speech function.
4. At $36.00, or $3 a month, give a Premium subscription to the handsomely redesigned Salon.com, the best of all the daily web magazines. You get no ads, access to premium content, books, magazines, discounts, and access to the site's discussion forums. It's one of my daily must stops. Give it to a entertain a liberal friend, or give it to a conservative friend and entertain yourself. They'll both appreciate the movie reviews of Stephanie Zacharek and Andrew O'Herir.
3. For the worth-it price of $32, download Radioshift for your Mac. This application, one of my standbys, pulls in thousands of radio stations via the internet. They're searchable by call letters, country, genre, or by clicking on a dot on their world globe (above). You can save them under Favorites, browse the Most Popular, and record programs for listening later. Download the trial version to test it out.
2 . At the bargain price of $19.95, how can I resist recommending Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2010, with 60% new material including all my new reviews, interviews, think pieces, Answer Man items and Glossary items. This is the 21st annual edition in this series, and not only is the quality of the writing quite high, but you will find that on a cost-per-word basis, it is cheaper than any new book except for a dictionary. It comes with high praise from Gene Siskel: "I disagree with every word in this beautifully-written volume."
1. For $16.95, I strongly recommend My Turf, by William A. Nack. Bill Nack is a friend of mine since college days, and followed me as editor of The Daily Illini. He is one of the best sportswriters in the world, and I have seen two of the pieces in this book (on the breakdown of a filly, and the death of Secretariat) move listeners to tears. If you
are know a sports fan who is too intelligent for one of those inane NFL picture books, here is the book you need.
Almost 0. At the surprising price of $2.49 (not a mistake, because they've sold these to me) I recommend for
your your friend's rice cooker Indomie Instant Fried Noodles - Mix 5 Flavor. I have understandably not tasted these myself, but at the urging of S. M. Rana, a popular poster on my blog from India, I bought these for friends, who report they are delicious--"the best instant pasta I've tasted." S. M. praises the al dente quality when they're properly cooked, and the richness of the broth. Pop 'em into the rice cooker with the recommended amount of water, maybe a tad more. My friend Millie Salmon recommends adding fresh or frozen shrimp at the proper moment, and I've always found that on such occasions a few frozen peas never do any harm.
0. Upgrade the FREE SnapNDrag for Mac to the Pro version for $5.95, and you have a screenshot utility that will define anything on your screen and save it to disk, e-mail it and do all sorts of other things. I used SnapNDrag to snap and grab nearly every image in his entry. How versatile is it? Just now I employed it to SnapNDrag itself, a feat that would awe even a contortionist.
It occurs to me that, even in these times of economic downturn, you might be looking for something a little more expensive than $284.99. In that case, how could you improve on this $39,500 lovingly-restored show car, a 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk? It comes with a shelf-full of trophies, a rebuilt supercharged engine with 200 miles on the odometer, and its own trailer for hauling it to car shows. For less than the price of a banal Mercedes, you'll have the Sweetest Set of Wheels in Town.
Now playing at Facets Cinematheque: The American indie film "The New Year Parade"
Playing all month at the Siskel Center: The Great Silent Clowns. Here is Buster Keaton's complete and wonderful short "One Week." Newlyweds are given an assemble-it-yourself honeymoon home.
A Far Flung Correspondent weighs in on the MCU controversy.
The top 50 shows of the 2010s.
Scout Tafoya's video essay series about maligned masterpieces celebrates Steven Soderbergh's Solaris.
A review of the newest film by Quentin Tarantino.