So your Playstation-addled 15-year-old nephew would give his kidneys for the newest Grand Theft Auto, your wife has conspicuously dog-eared 24 pages in the Tiffany catalog, and single-malt scotch makes your boss' world go round? You, Scholarly Santa, will be their salvation, scorning gadgets and trinkets and booze. The written word is sacred above all else to you, and so, dammit, it is the written word your beloved and be-debted shall receive. Here are a few suggestions that will actually appeal to the different, difficult demographics of your far-ranging gift list.
Smallish, sticky-faced children:Harry Potter, Harry Shmotter. Try an old favorite, like Kay Thompson's posthumous Eloise Takes a Bawth (Simon & Schuster, $17.95) or the just-reissued 1967 cult classic The Charles Addams Mother Goose (Simon & Schuster, $19.95). For itty-bitty animal lovers, buy H. A. Rey's The Complete Adventures of Curious George (Houghton Mifflin, $30) in a new 60th-anniversary edition.
Preteens: It's not quite a book, but young girls will love the Password Journal 2 Locking Diary ($21.99), which works via key- and voice-coded access and has functions for setting dates, as well as a secret compartment for photos, keepsakes, etc. Or, let both boys and girls enjoy The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay author Michael Chabon's acclaimed first kiddie book, Summerland (Talk Miramax Books, $22.95).
Teenage Girls: For the angry ones with the heavy eyeliner, the excellent A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings From the Girl Zine Revolution (St. Martin's Press, $15.95), edited by Tristan Taormino; the happy ones with the Bonne Belle Lipsmacker would probably prefer Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (HarperCollins, $6.99)—a 14-year-old Bridget Jones manqu頷ho's actually funny.
Teenage Boys: For the ones who've already seen 8 Mile 11 times: a little history lesson via Who Shot Ya? Three Decades of Hip-Hop Photography (HarperCollins, $29.95) by Ernie Paniccioli. For the ones who are not captain of the football team, Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence (Random House, $11.65), a collection of on-point essays from Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig that reveals a light at the end of the hellish high-school tunnel.
For grown-ups who like to laugh: Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live (Little, Brown & Company, $25.95), full of bitchy back-biting and scandalous behind-the-scenes reminiscence, or How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (Da Capo Press, $24) by fallen Vanity Fair scribe Toby Young.
For grown-ups who like to laugh and don't care if it makes beer come out of their nose: The Onion Platinum Prestige Encore Gold Premium Collector's Collection (Crown Publishing Group, $24.95)—only the best from America's finest weekly satirical paper; and The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action (Dutton/Plume, $10), in which Wendy Northcutt shares the many amazing ways stupid people eliminate themselves from the gene pool.
Everyone else: Say it with pictures! Try Photo Oops: 101 Photo Opportunities Gone Horribly Awry (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $9.95) if you're a cheapie; Richard Avedon Portraits (Harry N. Abrams, $35) or the splendiferous A Day in the Life of Africa (Tides Foundation, $50) if you're not.
And last, but not least, there's the instant classic A Word a Day: A Romp Through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English (John Wiley & Sons, $14.95), because everybody has a bathroom.
AND CDS, TOO . . . CAN'T-MISS, CATCHALL BOX SETS
Various artists, When the Sun Goes Down: The Secret History of Rock & Roll (RCA, $55.98)
A fascinating anthology covering the blues roots of rock—much of it a half-century old—from the rich RCA-Bluebird vaults. Seminal.
Various artists, Like, Omigod! The 80s Pop Culture Box (Totally) (Rhino, $99.98)
Of course it's ridiculous, but it's also a concise time capsule of Greed Decade new-wave, R&B, pop, and one-hit-wonderdom. And we do love seeing Quiet Riot, Kenny Loggins, and Kurtis Blow together again.
Dwight Yoakam, Reprise Please Baby: The Warner Bros. Years (Rhino, $59.98)
One of modern country's only true individuals releases a four-disc set with originals; tributes to Elvis, the Clash, and Cheap Trick; duets with Buck Owens and Patty Loveless; live performances; and a 1981 10-song demo. Phew.
Various artists, Capitol Records 1942-2002 (Capitol, $114.98)
Genre-crossing does not even begin to cover it. Let the family divide this among themselves and you're covered: The Peggy Lee and King Cole Trio disc for Grandma; the Louis Prima, Sinatra, and Miles Davis disc for Grandpa; the Beatles, Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, and Helen Reddy for Mom and Dad; Poison and Duran Duran for the 20-somethings; and Everclear, Radiohead, and Coldplay for the kids.
Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan Live 1975 (Sony, $24.98)
Two discs and a bonus DVD chronicle Dylan's rarely heard Rolling Thunder Revue performances, a number of all-time classics, solo acoustics, and four gorgeous numbers with Joan Baez.