$50 and under
Are you obsessed with the stickers of birds that mysteriously appear on billboards and street signs around Seattle? Annoyed yet intrigued by taggers' usage of the Priority Mail sticker? For five years, the U.K. design group Tak! kept a Web site, www.stickernation.net, updated with submissions of artistic vandalism from around the world, but while waiting for the defunct site to return with an archive of 30,000-plus images, get your fix with Sticker Graphics: All You Need Is . . . (BK&Acces, $49.95), a hulking yellow box embossed with various typefaces and designs. Inside, you'll find a 228-page book showcasing over 1,000 illustrations and character designs from the most visionary sticker artists you've never heard of, along with 50 actual stickers and a poster to start your own adventure in creative frivolity.
More impressive than peel-and-stick, stencil art done well makes a real impression. Themes and quality are as varied as communities, and though the medium is here today, gone tomorrow, Soft Skull Press' 2004 Stencil Pirates: A Global Study of the Street Stencil ($20) is still relevant for those who missed it last year or prize the snapshots of beautiful work—from the political to a life-size image of a couple embracing, painted in an appropriate corner—that likely no longer exists.
For a look at the pioneering street art of graffiti, legendary photographer Martha Cooper's 2004 book Hip Hop Files: Photographs 1979–1984 (From Here to Fame, $39.95) explores the art form in its New York heyday. Cooper's new photo book, We B*Girlz (PowerHouse, $24.95), looks at the scene through a contemporary lens. "Herstories," with old-school B-girls like N.Y.C.'s Rokafella and L.A.'s Asia One, pepper the book's anecdotes from dancers worldwide—and, of course, the pictures are packed with flavor.
Vinyl Will Kill: An Inside Look at the Designer Toy Phenomenon (Gingko Press, $39.95), edited by Jeremyville and Design Lab, attempts to demystify the process behind 3-D vinyl-figure production; like Sticker Graphics, it's packaged in a large box with a poster and trading cards. Interviews prod the minds of Gary Baseman, Dan Clowes, and Strangeco for the design-obsessed—the rest of you will enjoy the collected images of the ultimate high-concept knickknack.
This summer's Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture (Universe, $22.50) by Thurston Moore, guitarist-singer for Sonic Youth, might be the prettiest thing to grace your coffee table since a $5 Pike Place Market bouquet. Sure to please unabashed romantics and admitted music snobs, Moore enlists a gaggle of musicians, actors, writers, and record-store clerks to tell the tales of their tapes. Photocopies of the original mixes' sleeves are icing on the cake; anyone interested in indie or tape culture will eat it right up. RACHEL SHIMP
The Groovetube (www.groovetube.tv) is a clear plastic grid that suctions to your boob tube's screen, diffusing the colors into abstract, moving squares and effectively turning the thing into a "disco light show." The Tube's enigmatic, Seattle-based creator has set up massive installations at local restaurant the Alibi Room and at Fashion Week in Miami. You, too, can turn the talking heads into something more interesting: A small tube fits 13- to 15-inch TVs ($24.95), medium fits 19- to 22-inch ($34.95), and large fits 24- to 27-inch ($44.95). Just make sure you catch one loop of A Christmas Story on TBS before you start the dance party. RACHEL SHIMP
Dottyspeck ID Bracelets
Once the realm of childhood sweethearts and other romantics, ID bracelets—most often used these days by protective parents and medical patients—are making a return. Local artist Kim Williamson crafts traditional chain-link bracelets with two sizes of plates for you to embarrass your lover with, whether their nickname is "P-Nut," "Snookie," or worse. You could write just about anything you want, actually, as long as it's 12 characters or fewer. The 6-and-a-half-inch, 7-inch, and 7-and-a-half-inch bracelets are $42 each. See www.dottyspeck.com for retailers. RACHEL SHIMP
(Rockstar Games, for PS2 and Xbox, $49.99)
Finally, a video-game adaptation of a film that works: Walter Hill's 1979 cult flick gets slotted into a suitable beat-'em-up format (think the best imaginable edition of Double Dragon), and the film's off-kilter N.Y.C. street-gang-brawl aesthetic gets expanded in the process. Rockstar Games (of Grand Theft Auto infamy; www.rockstargames.com) concocts a striking prequel to the film's story line and nails the movie's sense of New York's '70s decay, rife with graffiti battles, car stereo–stealing mini-games, and a soundtrack crammed with disco magnificence (including, weirdly enough, Vivien Vee's ludicrous Italo-droid obscurity "Remember"). By the time you reach the last third of the game, where the events of the movie itself finally unfold, a somewhat goofy B-movie has become the missing link between post–Taxi Driver Gotham noir and Mad Max anarchy, not to mention a hell of a camp-classic take on the early days of hip-hop culture. NATE PATRIN
Seattle's Best Karaoke
($18 and up)
Seattle may not be Tokyo, and you won't have a view of some Blade Runner–esque skyline while singing "Sweet Caroline" or "Like a Prayer" at Seattle's Best Karaoke (1814 Minor Ave., 206-343-6599, www.sbkaraoke.com), but it's one of the only places in the city where you can approximate that dreamy, drunken Lost in Translation group-karaoke experience. An hour's stay in one of the two party rooms will cost three songbirds $18 before midnight and $24 after on Tuesdays through Thursdays; it's $30 an hour for up to eight people on weekend nights. It can get pricey, but the more bodies you pack in, the cheaper it gets—and it's totally worth it not to have to sit through 20 songs you didn't choose. Since alcohol is allowed with a banquet permit, there's no excuse for shy types to bow out. RACHEL SHIMP
$40 and Under
(Modo & Modo, $4.95–$37)
Modo & Modo, the Italian manufacturers of Moleskine notebooks, may be exaggerating their product's mojo—they claim the books were used by Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin, among others—but if there were such a thing as a notebook with mojo, it'd be this one. Manufactured in several sizes, bound in almost-inflexible covers (with a little pocket inside the back cover), and sealed with elastic straps to keep them from falling open and crumpling the pages, they purr softly that they're serious notebooks—the sort of thing you use for notes that you want to refer to in years to come. The ruled kind may be the most writerly, but there are also models with squared pages (for Europeans in training), extra-thick blank pages (for arty types), and Japanese-style sheets in a continuous accordion fold (for photos, timelines, and complicated diagrams of how to take over the world). You can find them at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and many bookstores. DOUGLAS WOLK
Warren Miller's Riders Collection
(Shout! Factory, $34.98)
It's dumping in the Cascades, and perhaps we skiers will be compensated for last year's near-total loss of a season. However, temperatures could go up, the snow could all melt, or you could break your leg the first day at Alpental and need some entertainment for the rest of the winter. Cheesy and reassuring, this collection of three ski flicks is like comfort food for your DVD player. (Fifty and Impact are available separately for $19.98 each.) You've got your spectacular big-mountain helicopter shots from Alaska and the Alps. You've got your goofy, cheerful snowboarders grinding down staircase railings (often landing on bare concrete). And you've got Miller's own droll narration—more recently scripted for him and more often shilling for various resorts and guide services.
Still, the guy has earned his retirement pad in the San Juan Islands. He used to live in the parking lot at Sun Valley, and a half-century of filmmaking gives him more credibility than most of the real-estate players who now dominate the ski industry. The best segments here tend to be travelogues of lesser-skied terrain in Kenya, Baffin Island, or Bulgaria, as in Impact. There, the guide berates her out-of-shape "pampered American friends" as they huff up the hill. Later, the U.S. athletes are interviewed on a talk show featuring go-go dancers and a host who looks like Mr. Clean in a red velour suit. Miller's made so many movies now that they should give him his own TV channel for this stuff. BRIAN MILLER
$30 and Under
Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke
(Little, Brown, $27.95)
Legendary soul singer Sam Cooke didn't live to see all the effects of what he helped create. If he could return for a moment, though, he'd certainly be impressed by Peter Guralnick's unstoppable 700-page biography, Dream Boogie. Tracing Cooke's life from early stardom on the gospel circuit to mainstream pop success ("You Send Me," "Cupid"), hero status in the African-American community, and a mysterious shooting death at 33, Guralnick gets it all. Cooke's masterwork, Night Beat, a bluesy session much beloved by the likes of Elvis Costello, and the gritty One Night Stand!: Live at the Harlem Square Club are also available in new remasters (RCA Records, $11.98 each); the latter is heard without overdubs for the first time. RICKEY WRIGHT
Dylania for the Holidays
The Dylan industry chugged harder than ever in 2005, a remarkable thing considering how furiously it charged the year before. The primary culprit this time around was the Martin Scorsese–directed No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Paramount, $29.99), which took the musician's story up through his motorcycle accident in 1966. Shown on PBS and released on DVD to rapturous acclaim, Direction deserved it: The first half of Scorsese's impressionistic, three-and-a-half-hour documentary pins down a lot of what molded Dylan early on in a less free-floating fashion than his own Chronicles Vol. 1 (now out in paperback; Simon & Schuster, $14), thanks largely to the many interview snippets conducted not by Scorsese but by Jeff Rosen, Dylan's manager. The second half is dreamier and less specific—it doesn't even mention 1966's Blonde on Blonde, considered by many his finest album, and we're left to figure out how much and what kind of self-medicating Dylan was up to in the period—but it works marvelously as pure filmmaking. We see Dylan move through his northern Minnesota childhood, the early-'60s Greenwich Village folk scene, his national folk stardom, and finally the switch to rock and roll that turned his original audience against him and changed the basic nature of both folk and rock permanently.
The accompanying CD, No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (The Bootleg Series Vol. 7) (Columbia/Legacy, $24.98), unfortunately, doesn't fare as well—outtakes and live versions that add nothing, or very little, to songs most Dylan fans already know well. Much better is Live at the Gaslight 1962 (Sony, $13.95), a long-loved bootleg finally released this summer at Starbucks, of all places. It's highlighted by a haunting version of the ancient ballad "Barbara Allen," the subject of a great essay by Dave Marsh in the excellent book The Rose and the Briar, edited by Greil Marcus and Sean Wilentz, which W.W. Norton just issued in paperback ($16.95). Finally, Festival!, Murray Lerner's documentary about the mid-'60s Newport Folk Festivals where Dylan became a star, has just been released on DVD (Eagle Eye Media, $14.98). In addition to Dylan, the film features performances by Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger, and Donovan, and was heavily excerpted in Scorsese's film. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Family Guy Presents: Stewie Griffin—the Untold Story
(Fox Home Entertainment, $29.99)
Fox canceled Seth MacFarlane's anarchic animated sitcom after two seasons, but cable reruns proved so popular that after nearly five years, the show was renewed this fall. As part of his sweet revenge, MacFarlane extorted a feature-length film deal from Fox, albeit a film that goes directly to DVD before being chopped into broadcastable chunks sometime next year. The film is good enough that even people who find the Family Guy series annoyingly sophomoric may enjoy it. Centered on the show's two best characters—murderous, jaded baby Stewie and the family's alcoholic dog, Brian—it has more of a narrative than the show, so MacFarlane's incessant media gags don't stick out as prominently as usual. The DVD meets my test for buyability: It's actually funny enough to watch more than once. ROGER DOWNEY
Johnny Cash at Town Hall Party
(Bear Family, $24.98)
Two years after his death, it seems that Johnny Cash (or depictions of him) is everywhere. Catch the real thing in his prime on this lovingly remastered DVD of 1958–59 performances on California TV. As stripped down as it gets, this is Cash with the Tennessee Two playing "I Walk the Line," "Guess Things Happen That Way," "Big River," and many more from his early catalog. He even delivers a funny, cutting Elvis impersonation. If you've ever wondered how Cash got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this will help you understand. RICKEY WRIGHT
100-count spindles of CD-Rs
(various brands, $15–$25)
A decade ago, a two-pack of 90-minute TDK cassettes—the fancy ones in the black shells that featured something called "High Precision Anti-Resonance" with "High Bias"—ran you around seven or eight bucks. You could tape a Sonic Youth album on Side A and a Funkadelic album on Side B, and use the other cassette to record a bunch of songs off the radio, and those'd last you a while. For just a bit over twice that now, you could send eight of your friends a dozen different full-length mix CDs of pretty much anything you want—and that's assuming that you're burning actual audio CDs instead of CD-Rs crammed with 100 or more iPod-fodder MP3s. Legality issues aside (hey, you can also back up your important work spreadsheet files with the CD-Rs!), the gift of encouraging people to send you music just keeps on giving. NATE PATRIN
Rival 3.5-Quart Slow Cooker
Maybe you bailed on Thanksgiving dinner, but that's all right. Some people are just too busy (or clumsy) to cook a holiday meal, and it is for these folks that the Crock-Pot was created. Fancy stainless-steel models, which run close to $50, complement your fancy kitchen but tend to cook too hot, even when programmable. For those who work all day, the plebian-looking Rival 3.5-Quart Slow Cooker with removable stoneware crock will do just fine (www.rivalproducts.com). Making enough stew or soup for two to three people, it's perfect for small families or singles who enjoy leftovers. Don't know what to throw in the beast? Wrap Fix-It and Forget-It Lightly: Healthy, Low-Fat Recipes for Your Slow Cooker by Phyllis Pellman Good ($15.95) with it for the clueless, curious, and health-conscious alike.RACHEL SHIMP
Saw: Special Edition
(Lions Gate, $26.98)
Here we have the uncut, unrated edition of the 2004 Halloween smash hit Saw. Adding some extended shots of graphic gore and mayhem, this new cut does not, unfortunately, add any quality. Saw is a sadistic, vapid, poorly acted exploitation piece, with a disturbingly devoted following—at a recent screening of Lord of War, the crowd went wild for the violent, gratuitous trailer for Saw II and then laughed when a kid's head was shot open during the film. I like a good bit of shock and black comedy as much as the next guy, but I guess I missed the part when those kinds of images became enjoyable.
While the setup of Saw is clever enough (two guys wake up in an old bathroom, chained to pipes, unsure how they got there), its execution is just derivative and gross. James Wan subscribes to the attention-deficit-angry-music-video school of directing, and it grates on the head—they should have included some aspirin with this DVD. (Though it comes packaged in a translucent box with fake blood rolling around in the cover like a pressed-out lava lamp, sure to impress some teenagers.) Extras include the usual backstage pats on the back, previews, and commentaries. JOHN WOOD
$20 and Under
Beyond the Spectrum: the Creamy Spy Chronicles
(Blue Note $14.99)
Eventually, the holidays give you enough grief that you've just gotta get ahold of a nickel bag. Digable Planets' curiously named greatest hits collection is what to throw on while you're jettin' from the chaos with some herbal relief in hand. A glance at the greatest hits from 1993's jazzy Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space), including "Where I'm From" and "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)," and 1994's equally good (some say better) follow-up, Blowout Comb ("Dog It," "Jettin'"), reveals that even literate, socially aware lyricists need to let the beats go to their heads. We also get the unreleased "Three Slims Dynamite" and "Dedicated" and a remix of "9th Wonder." For everyone on your list who needs to seriously chill. RACHEL SHIMP
Clever Castle Jewelry
(Clever Castle, under $20)
Seattle designer Emily Baker—aka Emilia Catapult—is an unstoppable force. The landscaper, surfer, and rock and roll drummer also crafts handmade jewelry that will fit your lady friends and your budget. Pick up an antique button ring ($12 each) at her Clever Castle online store (etsy.com/ shop.php?user_id=8575), or a pair of her signature earrings at Ballard's 20|twenty (5009 20th Ave. N.W., 206-706-0969; twenty twentyballard.com). Whether they're stacked, multicolored beads or sequins that reflect the light, delicate fabric cutouts, charms, or a combination thereof, the beauteous items—none priced over $20—are sure to delight. RACHEL SHIMP
Embedded in America: The Onion Complete News Archives, Volume 16
(Three Rivers Press, $18.95)
Bat Boy Lives! The Weekly World News Guide to Politics, Culture, Celebrities, Alien Abductions, and the Mutant Freaks That Shape Our World
The Onion is many things to many people. It's a stellar workday procrastination tool (cough); a fine substitute for SNL's uneven "Weekend Update" segment; a feast of low comedy and high satire for college hipsters; and comic snack food for Daily Show addicts who need something to tide them over between episodes. Like Jon Stewart's nightly gabfest, the Wisconsin-based satiric newspaper—known to most of us as a Web site—pokes fun at the stodgy habits of conventional media outlets and spotlights the absurdities of everyday life. All of which makes Embedded in America a perfect coffee-table book for This American Life listeners secretly addicted to Vice magazine.
The Onion's genius is hard to nail down. Newcomers usually latch onto the deadpan headlines ("Shiny, Wriggling Object Attracting Interest Among Fish Community"), which often walk the line between bad taste and really bad taste ("African-American Neighborhood Terrorized by Ask Murderer"). The paper's savagely funny man-on-the-street interviews, spot-on TV-listings parodies, and subversive "News in Brief" items have their place, but there's also a strange thread of pathos in "A Room of Jean's Own," a column supposedly authored by frumpy, Pollyannaish Jean Teasdale. "Room" is The Onion at its most subtle and sad: The minutiae of Jean's dreary suburban existence are easy to laugh off—and at—until you find yourself identifying, even just a little, with her compromised, deeply ordinary life.
Those who prefer a taste of the extraordinary may opt for Bat Boy Lives!, though itsuffers from the same problem that plagues its parent paper: Tabloids parody themselves; who needs an intentional parody? What bails out the best WWN stories are their splashy, aggressively Photoshopped spreads. "Abe Was a Babe!" pushes speculation that Abraham Lincoln was gay one amusing step further, revealing him to have been . . . a woman! Here's a compilation frivolous enough to make Embedded look literary. NEAL SCHINDLER
Regular and Deluxe Socktopi
(Blackbird Fashion, $20 each)
Sock monkeys are hella cute, but Socktopi have them beat by a mile. Blackbird Fashion's Clarity Miller makes the eight-armed creatures at her Anacortes studio out of the traditional red-heeled sock or from an assortment of used-'til-they're-unbelievably-cuddly sweaters. If you choose the latter, your colors are a surprise—no two Socktopi are alike. For traditionalists, Miller's a pro at the Sock Monkey proper, with appropriately outfitted Punky and VooDoo Monkeys ($25 each) also on hand at www.blackbird fashion.com. RACHEL SHIMP
(Ugly Dolls, $20)
"So ugly it's cute" has never applied more than to Sun-Min Kim and David Horvath's Ugly Dolls. Created in 2001, they're arguably the first designer plushes to gain mass appeal, making appearances on The Today Show—and in the bedrooms of celebs as varied as My Chemical Romance, Brittany Murphy, and Celine Dion—within three years. Whimsical, brightly colored characters like Ice Bat, Wage (complete with server's apron), the one-eyed Target, or sidekick Ugly Dog come with a brief story of their existence and, while now available in mini versions and as vinyl toys, remain best in their original form. First sold at Giant Robot's L.A. retail store, they're now found at both the Whitney Museum (!) and Seattle's OKOK (709 Broadway Ave. E., 206-322-7523) or by calling 1-866-HEY-UGLY. RACHEL SHIMP
Your Heiress Diary: Confess It All to Me
Dear Diary: Paris Hilton has once again dipped into the literary world with another pink-hued book with which to feed her gargantuan ego. And even though I have my suspicions that her new book, Your Heiress Diary, is just a ploy to create an army of gangly, vacant-eyed, rabid-pet-monkey-possessing girls out of innocent teens, it's big, shiny, and would actually look kind of nice under the Christmas tree. I just hope everyone is wary of her brainwashing tactics (her picture is on all but about 25 of the book's 189 pages) and enjoys the bizarre advice and activities, ranging from the prevention of stumpy legs to resolutions about changing oneself (healthy for that self-esteem) to practicing "married name" signatures. Skip the depressing space in back where you can paste your picture on one of Paris' friend's faces, and focus on inspirational quotes like, "One of my heroes is Barbie. She may not do anything, but she always looks amazing doing it." Actually, I take it back: The only thing more entertaining than Paris Hilton writing another book is Paris Hilton accidentally being insightful about herself. HEATHER LOGUE
$10 and Under
SwaddleMe Adjustable Newborn Fleece Wrap
When we were expecting a baby, the book everyone told us to read was Dr. Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block, which might well be subtitled "How to Make Your Bundle of Joy Shut Up and Go to Sleep Using Simple Bondage Techniques." It actually works, and the core of Karp's strategy is swaddling—wrapping the baby up like a little burrito so it can stop flailing and relax. The only problem is that it's tough to do the fold-and- tuck exactly right with an uncooperative newborn or imperfectly sized blanket. Enter this heavenly confection of Velcro and stretchy fuzzy stuff (available at Amazon.com, Babies R Us, and other retailers). You pop baby's legs into the pouch, give the flaps a little yank and attach them with Velcro, give the swaddlee a quick cuddle, whisper "sshhh!" as loudly as you can, and suddenly your wailing infant becomes a dozing seraph. DOUGLAS WOLK
Showcase Presents Superman, Vol. 1
(DC Comics, $10)
Want to introduce a kid to the ridiculously fun, self-contained, cheap superhero comics of the past? This 560-page black-and-white doorstop reprints 28 issues of Superman and Action Comics from 1958 and '59. This was the beginning of the "Silver Age" of comics, when writers like Otto Binder and Jerry Coleman were cramming as many ideas onto every page as they could dream up, and artists Wayne Boring and Curt Swan drew Superman and his pals with a stiff, regal dignity. The Man of Steel gains a strange new power, is visited by his Earth parents in a time machine, develops superamnesia, offers free kisses with the purchase of U.S. bonds, takes off a plastic mask to reveal the face of Alfred E. Neuman, gets kidnapped by Nazis building a space rocket, and meets Titano the Super-Ape—and that barely covers a tenth of the book. DOUGLAS WOLK