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The 2011 Head Butler Holiday Gift Guide

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Dec 05, 2011
Category: Beyond Classification

This year’s Head Butler holiday gift guide has several innovations. 

1) There is a sermon, but I’m publishing it another day. [It's here.]
 
2) The gift list is shorter. In the manner of the late Steve Jobs, I’m not showing a warehouse of goodies in the hope that something will appeal to you. No. This is the stuff I really like, the books/movies/music/products that, in a different world, would be delivered with the Head Butler Seal of Excellence on them.
 
3) You are pretty much guaranteed that a gift listed below is not on every other list. Consider the New York Times 100 Notable Books. I’m sure they are notable. I reviewed two. (And it wasn’t because I hadn’t heard about the others!)
 
4) I have a product on the gift list. The self-restraint was excruciating, but I didn’t put it first or festoon it with flashing lights, trumpet music, or a Kardashian working the pole. You’re welcome.
 
5) I’m much more bargain-conscious than I used to be. Reason #1: whatever is the lead story on today’s news. Reason #2: the sermon (suspense mounts).
 
STOCKING STUFFERS
The Padlette. Holding an iPad is a two-handed proposition? Not with this clever invention.
 
BlueLounge MiniDock USB Charger for iPhone & iPod. Plug the charger in a wall socket. Add this little cradle. Pop in your iPod or iPhone. Very neat.
 
Altec Lansing iM227 Orbit MP3 Speaker. A reader review: ‘I’ve had this for 3 days now and it’s become a permanent fixture. Everything you said about this $20 speaker is true, and then some. It is my stocking stuffer of choice this year.’  
 
HOLIDAY MUSIC
Christmas with the Tallis Scholars. The greatest Renaissance choir delivers the Church’s greatest hits. Two and a half hours of music for $12.40.
 

 
A Christmas Gift for You, from Phil Spector. The greatest Christmas album – ever. (Okay, best modern Christmas album ever.) Scoffers, go directly to the video. Conversion comes scary fast.
 

 
BOOKS
Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout. Nominated for a National Book Award. This book literally glows in the dark. And in the imagination.
 
The Sky Over The Louvre. A graphic novel, produced by the Louvre, about Jacques-Louis David and Napoleon’s desire for a painting of the new “Supreme Being.” A history lesson, a love story — this ain’t no comic book.
 
The Pianist in the Dark. There really was a woman named Maria-Theresia Paradis. She lived from 1759 to 1824, she was blind, was taken up by the Empress, did know Mozart — don’t get me started. 140 unforgettable pages.
 
Come to the Edge. The girlfriend of doomed John F. Kennedy Jr. turns out to be much more than a girlfriend.
 
Branch Rickey. One perfect Jimmy Breslin sentence after another. Sample: ‘The Red Sox owner, Tom Yawkey, would spend the next twenty years keeping blacks off his teams and he got what he deserved, which was nothing.’
 
How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living. Two books for the price of one. A mini-bio of O’Keefe, a mini-memoir of Karen Karbo. A matched pair, as it turns out.
 
It’s All About the Dress: What I Learned in Forty Years About Men, Women, Sex, and Fashion. And Vicky Tiel doesn’t lie. The shortest miniskirts, a refusal to see an active private life as a sin, and a truckload of celebrity dish. A guilty pleasure? Hey, what guilt?
 
Then Again. Diane Keaton could have told stories about Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino and gotten a bestseller out of them. Instead, she’s written a painful, honest, moving double memoir, with her mother as the real star.
 
COOKBOOKS
My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking. It’s ‘The Joy of Cooking’ for busy families with more taste than time.
 
STYLE BOOKS
The World of Madeleine Castaing. This is not a book about a great decorator and shopkeeper. It’s about living beautifully. It’s a work of art. 
 
KINDLE/NOOK BOOKS
A Christmas Carol. A Head Butler book. I’m prejudiced. Let the readers speak. A man: ‘I read it last night. Brilliant. I cried at the end.’ A grandmother: ‘I bought one ‘Christmas Carol’ for me and sent one to my granddaughter. Thank you for it — we are reading together over Skype.’
 
FOR KIDS
Tintin. Maybe the Spelberg movie will be cooler than the books. Maybe.
 
Babar’s Yoga for Elephants. And also yoga for little kids. A favorite of the discerning child in our home. 
 
ALCOHOL
Rye Whiskey. I don’t drink the hard stuff. But I’d drink Whistlepig.
 
BEAUTY
Clarins Baume Beauté Éclair (Beauty Flash Balm). More of you bought ‘eight hours of sleep in a tube’ than any other product in the history of this site. Maybe it could be a gift to favored friends?
 
MUSIC
Smod. Amadou and Mariam’s son. Produced by Manu Chao. Made in Mali, sung in French. Fun 24/7.
 
Movits. A hip-hop swing hazz band from Sweden. Sounds stupid. It’s so not.
 
So Beautiful or So What. Paul Simon’s first solo CD in 5 years, and the time shows; this is a showcase of jewels. Or, if you prefer the full sweep — two discs, 32 songs, 140 minutes of music — there’s Songwriter.
 
Bon Iver: My wife wearied fast. I find this to be North Woods Beach Boys. Meaning: beautiful.
 
MOVIES
In a Better World. I’m so predictable. I think Susanne Bier is the most interesting director working. And this is her new film, which won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. But it is the best foreign film anyway!
 
Buck. If all he did is train horses, do you think I’d be telling you about him?
 
FOR REAL MEN (AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM)
The Unit. You know the guys who killed Osama? Trick question: you don’t. But here is a TV series about a Special Forces Super Secret Ops team made up of guys who have personal lives you can believe and operational skills that dazzle. They can think on the spot. They can take charge. (David Mamet created the show; better believe they can take charge.) They can make you go: Yessss! Sadly canceled, here are all 60 hours. (For more on "The Unit," click here.)
 

DEVICES
The Amazon Kindle Fire. Ever since we got it, the kid wakes up really early to read. She doesn’t do that when we ‘only’ had the iPad.
 
Flip Video Camera. Cisco bought the company and decided to stop making these iPhone sized cameras. Stupid. But it means the one-hour Flip is $65 and the two-hour version is $99. Which is close to free.
 
Have at it.