What Artists Do + other books by Leonard Koren

Photo: Natalie Peeples

For the past three decades, Leonard Koren has been quietly publishing elegant, thoughtful books wherein he writes simply and directly about the often complex subjects of art and aesthetics. He designs his own books, including the typeface, and they’re special objects in and of themselves. What Artists Do, Koren’s latest project, examines why and how artists create their art, using the work of six seminal conceptual artists—including Donald Judd, John Cage, and Christo and Jeanne Claude—to illustrate his ideas. It’s a slim, focused volume, perfect for those looking to think more intentionally about an artist’s vision and the execution thereof. Like Koren’s other volumes, there’s something calming in the book’s clean design, gentle prose, and warm wit. For a fuller package, pair What Artists Do with some of Koren’s other publications like Making WET: The Magazine Of Gourmet Bathing (a compilation of his tongue-in-cheek periodical that ran from 1976 to 1981); The Flower Shop: Charm, Grace, Beauty, Tenderness In A Commercial Context; or his classic Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. [Laura Adamczyk]


Rock ’n’ roll oracle cards

Photo: Natalie Peeples

A natural extension of the pop-culture votive candles that have become ubiquitous in recent years, NYC graphic artist Natalie Mertz’s Rock & Roll Oracle deck takes illustrations of 40 iconic pop, rock, hip-hop, soul, and jazz artists and turns them into symbolic representations of various archetypes and stages of life a lá a tarot deck. Dolly Parton represents climbing the mountain of one’s dreams, for example, while Tupac represents the embattled soul of a poet. Produced in a limited edition of 1,000 and presented in an aesthetically pleasing white box with metallic rainbow text, they’re ideal for simple three-card spreads and daily single-card readings. You don’t even have to know anything about tarot cards to get something out of them, simply reflect on what larger-than-life personalities like Ozzy Osbourne and Prince symbolize in your own personal pop-cultural pantheon. [Katie Rife]


Ghostbusters action figures

Photo: Natalie Peeples

Obliterating the veil between the living and the animated, Diamond Select Toys’ extensive line of Ghostbusters action figures branches into the film series’ Saturday-morning spin-off, with its blonde Egon, the Arsenio Hall-voiced version of Winston, and the focused, non-terminal repeating phantasm that wound up stealing the whole show. Collectors of spores, molds, fungus, and Kenner’s Real Ghostbusters line are bound to be impressed by the level of detail on display here, from the components of the proton packs to the degrees of articulation (and interchangeable Slimer faces) that allow for an expressiveness that practically outstrips the figure’s paint-and-cel inspirations. And unlike their Kenner predecessors, the firehouse isn’t sold separately: There’s a piece of Ghostbusters HQ bundled with every figure. You just need Diamond Select’s Ghostbusters II line to complete it—but who among us hasn’t dreamed of owning a scale version of Peter MacNicol? [Erik Adams]

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Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema

Photo: Natalie Peeples

One of a very few people for whom the phrase “greatest director of all time” can be entertained without hyperbole, this new release in celebration of Ingmar Bergman’s 100th birthday is the most comprehensive single collection of the Swedish auteur’s works to date, in a boldly original and thoughtful assemblage from Criterion. Structured like your very own film festival—complete with opening and closing night offerings, centerpieces, and double features arranged to highlight key themes, styles, and innovations from Bergman—the box set contains 39 films spread across 30 Blu-ray discs, from 1946's Crisis through 2003's Saraband, with previously unavailable works like Dreams and Brink Of Life joining Criterion’s roster here. Thirty-plus hours of supplemental features are included to enhance the breadth of understanding for Bergman’s astonishing output, and a 248-page book contains essays on each program curated within the collection. Quite frankly, it’s gorgeous. The term “must have” is grossly overused, but this might be the finest Criterion release yet, and is an essential box set for any serious devotee of one of cinema’s best. [Alex McLevy]


A Dungeons & Dragons core rules set, plus a vintage campaign

Photo: Natalie Peeples

If you’re just getting into Dungeons & Dragons, or thinking about checking out the staple tabletop entertainment, the core rules gift set has everything you need to get a good campaign going. The Dungeon Master’s Guide lays out what you need to know to run an adventure for your friends, while the Player’s Handbook puts all the knowledge those friends need to know in their hands. The set also includes a folding partition DM screen, which blocks players’ views of what the Dungeon Master has in store, and makes your tabletop game legit. For those who already have player’s handbooks and a treasure chest of many-sided dice, Goodman Games has reissued two vintage campaigns housed together in the hardcover book “Into The Borderlands.” The 1970s “In Search Of The Unknown” and “The Keep On The Borderlands” come packaged with the original art and include interviews with the writers. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]


Beastie Boys book

Photo: Natalie Peeples

Have we raved enough about the Beastie Boys Book yet? It’s big and funny and action-packed with pop culture trivia, thanks in part to the way the Beastie Boys themselves carved a line between hip-hop and alt-rock over the course of some three decades of freewheeling musical wanderlust. It’s also just a colorful and impressively unhinged physical object, with messy collages and different paper stocks and fonts and a graphic novel and a cookbook tucked inside, matching the everything-goes energy of their best albums. It’s obviously a great fit for any Beastie Boys fan on your list, but any student of pop culture will find something to love in it. [Clayton Purdom]

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The Mysterious Package Company

Photo: Natalie Peeples

An excellent gift for someone who’s difficult to shop for, The Mysterious Package Company provides a real experience, through a medium everyone loves: mail. And not just flimsy envelopes you’ll mistake for junk mail, but real packages and thick, hand-addressed envelopes of heavy parchment. It’s not the cheapest option—price varies depending on which Package you select, ranging from $100-$300—but the recipient will get weeks, if not months, of a slowly unfolding story, and each mysterious experience comes with at least one item central to the mystery that makes for a nice keepsake. In one gifted to me a few years ago, I wound up with a fake finger in fake formaldehyde, artfully mounted on a piece of wood and made to look antique. But really, the appeal was the story of a “relative” who disappeared in Europe, delivered over tantalizing installments. It’s like reading a mystery novel or watching a thriller, but it’s all coming to you through the post. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]


Spidey holiday sweater

Photo: Natalie Peeples

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe being as big as it is—occupying the top two spots on 2018’s highest grossing films list—you’re bound to have an eager Marvel fan or two in your life who needs to be satiated while they await next year’s Captain Marvel and Avengers 4, and what better gift to give than these seasonally appropriate Marvel Christmas Sweaters? Sold by the geek merchant Merchoid and officially licensed by Marvel, the sweaters are 100 percent acrylic and come in a handful of different designs, all adorned with superhero logos and holiday insignia to fit right in at the next ugly Christmas sweater party. Your giftees probably won’t get much mileage out of their sweaters in the warmer months, but they’re perfectly suited for the coming winter. And if your recipient doesn’t care for the MCU, Merchoid has non-Marvel fans covered with sweaters for Star Wars, DC, and Harry Potter fans alike. [Baraka Kaseko]


Jeff Goldblum And The Mildred Snitzer Orchestra: The Capitol Studio Sessions

Photo: Natalie Peeples

Christmas music has been turning up earlier and earlier on the radio and in shopping centers, reminding us just how limited the selection is (not to mention how few new yuletide jams there are). So what do you do when you have an office party or a family gathering, but can’t bring yourself to play a dozen renditions of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”? We suggest queueing up The Capitol Studio Sessions, an album full of old jazz standbys reinvigorated by the unquantifiable charm of Jeff Goldblum, who’s backed by the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. Now, none of the songs is explicitly Christmas-themed, but Goldblum’s take on “It Never Entered My Mind” offers the hushed quality of a “White Christmas,” while “Nostalgia In Times Square” and “Cantaloupe Island” are great for singalongs. The actor-pianist-clotheshorse also, uh, finds a way to turn up the heat; his “Come On-A-My House” duet with Imelda May (for milk and cookies, presumably) could be your “Santa Baby.” [Danette Chavez]

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Mondo pins

Photo: Natalie Peeples

You really can’t go wrong with Mondo products. From music to collectibles to its first foray into games last year—we already wrote about how much we love The Thing board game, which incidentally would also be a good gift this year—these five pins show the sort of pop culture cross-section Mondo is known for. The Infinity Gauntlet and Luke Cage speak to 2018’s film and TV, while Beetlejuice and RoboCop cover your nostalgia bases. Mondo also has some deeper cuts, like Adelaide’s Scissors from the ultra-charming 2014 cartoon miniseries Over The Garden Wall. The above photo doesn’t show it, but each pin comes on a smartly crafted paper background that adds to its appeal; the Robocop pin comes mounted on a paper police badge, for example. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]


Celebrity memoirs and biographies (that are actually good)

Photo: Natalie Peeples

In any bookstore you can always find a veritable slew of books about or by famous people for the toughest names on your holiday list—memoirs, biographies, even photo collections. At the top of the recent heap is Ellie Kemper’s My Squirrel Days, a thoroughly winning memoir in which the Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star reveals engaging humor writing chops, all in a charming voice that brings to mind her most popular characters. A tone more tragic but no less heartfelt is My Girls by Todd Fisher, who writes about his famous mother and sister—Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher—who died within a day of each other almost two years ago. The Essential James Garner delves into the life of one of Hollywood’s most charming actors ever, known from Maverick, The Rockford Files, all the way up through The Notebook. The volume Prince Before The Rain offers candid photos of the Purple One by photographer Allen Beaulieu in the Dirty Mind, Controversy, and 1999 eras. And those looking to expand their literary history knowledge can dive into Mary V. Dearborn’s extensive Ernest Hemingway: A Biography, the first new biography about the Nobel Prize-winning author in 15 years, and the first written by a woman. [Gwen Ihnat]


Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet 50th Anniversary Edition Reissue

Photo: Natalie Peeples

Arguably the best Rolling Stones album (yeah, yeah, Let It Bleed and Exile, we know), this 50(!)-year anniversary reissue is gorgeous both aesthetically and sonically. A nice thick slab of 180 gram vinyl newly mastered by Bob Ludwig gives a loving restoration to the album’s 10 tracks, from the always classic “Sympathy For The Devil” the the closing gospel-choir revivalism of “Salt Of The Earth.” The bonus treats here are also appealing: A 12" edition of the original “Sympathy For The Devil” single in its original Mono at 45rpm, with the infamous toilet cover art (here included on the front of the gatefold jacket but slipped inside an overwrap of the label’s replacement wedding-invite artwork) etched on the back. Additionally, there’s a flexi disc containing a very silly interview Mick Jagger did back in 1968 with a rep from the band’s Japanese label, perfect for putting on when you want to impress completists or just listen to the singer give some very off-the-cuff answers to the usual questions. [Alex McLevy]