A&E gift guide

Gift baskets themed to local arts, comedy, highbrow culture, action, girly content and geek stuff

Our society covets few things so passionately as the gift basket — the richer, fancier cousin to the gift bag. People will gush over gift baskets full of crap nobody could possibly want, that’s how much cachet they have. To make the people on your shopping list feel special, consider loading up a basket with these themed suggestions. Some can be a little pricey, so consider the baskets a collective stimulus package for the still-anemic economy.

For boosters of local arts, or those who need a crash course in Atlanta culture

Centerpiece: The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, $24.95, 464 pp). Usually this kind of thoughtful, female-oriented novel only becomes a New York Times best-seller with intervention from Oprah. Stockett, an Atlanta resident who hails from Mississippi, struck a chord nationwide with her tale of the symbiotic relationship of African-American domestics and more privileged whites in the 1960s. Inspired by the author’s own childhood, The Help explores with humor and sensitivity a legacy of knee-jerk racism and emotional ties.

Also: Pick out a stocking-stuffer-sized piece of original artwork from the SCAD Gallery Boutique. A Woodruff Arts Center gift card gets the recipient into events at the Atlanta Symphony, the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art. If you want to multiply your generosity, give memberships or season subscriptions to smaller arts organizations like Eyedrum (a $40 membership gets you in for free all year) or Horizon Theatre (whose season coincides with the calendar year). Your loved one and the local arts scene will both thank you.

For those highbrows (or high middlebrows) on your shopping list who think they’re too good for The Last Symbol

Centerpiece: The Book of Genesis, illustrated by R. Crumb (W.W. Norton, $24.95, 224 pp.). Thou shalt not have expectations for the kind of smiley-face Bible stories you remember from Sunday school. Underground cartoonist R. Crumb offers a stark, earthy rendering of the 50 chapters of the Book of Genesis, which brings out the idiosyncratic personalities of key biblical figures from Eve to Abraham. Don’t expect the “Keep on Truckin’” whimsy that made Crumb a 1960s icon, but look for a fresh perspective on the human tribe’s early struggles and relationship with its creator.

Also: Offer a week’s worth of fancy transcontinental movie-viewing with one of Criterion’s Essential Art House DVD collections; Vol. 1 includes Renoir’s The Grand Illusion, Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall offers a juicy but intellectually rigorous portrait of Henry VIII's court. Consider including one of Alex Beard’s Impossible Puzzles to give other sides of their cerebellum a workout.

For action lovers who really hate cute holiday-themed gifts

Centerpiece: Blood’s A Rover by James Ellroy (Knopf, $28.95, 656 pp.). The long-awaited final book of Ellroy’s Underworld U.S.A. trilogy roughly spans from 1968 to 1972 and makes supporting characters of Richard Nixon, Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover. While the previous books offered a shadow history of American power and politics, Rover strays from the others’ formula to explore a brazen L.A. jewel heist and its relationship to the American exploitation of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Ellroy seems to base one character, Peeping Tom/private eye Donald “Crutch” Crutchfield, on his own youth. The book’s obsessive fascination with violence, racism and America’s underbelly proves uncomfortably infectious.

Others: The Shield Complete Series gives viewers a chance to track how the acclaimed FX series took Michael Chiklis’ rogue cop far beyond the clichés of Dirty Harry. DC Comics’ half-completed Blackest Night series has resurrected deceased villains and heroes — including Aquaman and the Martian Manhunter — in the form of killer zombies to contend with Green Lantern and other good guys in a sprawling adventure that’s definitely not for little kids.

For people who need a good laugh, which is probably everyone

Centerpiece: The Steve Coogan Collection (BBC Warner, $129.98, 13 discs). Though Ricky Gervais is better known in the United States, his British comedy peer Steve Coogan matches his gifts for creating hilariously annoying alter egos. As unctuous TV host Alan Partridge, Coogan hosts a fake take show, “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” but ends up as an early-morning disc jockey. One of the set’s highlights, from the “I’m Alan Partridge” series, finds Coogan re-enacting the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me, including the Carly Simon song. Tommy Saxondale of the “Saxondale” sitcom proves even thornier as a 1970s rock roadie turned exterminator, who’s far more intelligent and self-aware than the usual comic stooge, but still stranded as a cultural casualty in the English suburbs. Beware of thick accents and obscure English references.

Also: Two of Coogan’s comedy ancestors also have new boxed sets: Black Adder: The Complete Collector’s Set from Rowan Atkinson, and Fawlty Towers: The Complete Collection by John Cleese. Flight of the Conchords has released I Told You I Was Freaky, a CD of songs from the second season of the New Zealand folk-parody duo’s HBO show. The disc includes some real gems, such as the disco tune "Too Many Dicks On the Dancefloor.” Check out Bryan Lee O’Malley’s manga-influenced graphic novel Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, to be adapted by Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera next year.

For those who appreciate the feminine touch

Centerpiece: Vintage-inspired jewelry from local artists Honeydoux or Talulah B.

Also: The DVD of Julie & Julia hits stores Dec. 8 and features a delightful performance by Meryl Streep as Julia Child, as well as a celebration of the art of French cooking (and eating, and living). The novel An Echo in the Bone presents the latest chapter in Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series of historical fantasies, which hit the sweet spot of romance fiction without being embarrassing. For actual sweets, pick out some confections at local candy shops such as the Chocolate Bar or Maison Robert. A gift certificate for Bliss Spa might be the most appreciated, since everyone likes to be pampered at the holidays.

For pop culture obsessives

Centerpiece: Make book-ends of two DVD originals, Battlestar Galactica: The Plan (Universal, $26.98) and Caprica (Universal, $19.98). The Plan provides a kind of epilogue to the recently completed epic science fiction series by filling in the actions and motivations of the android Cylons, particularly Dean Stockwell as the Machiavellian schemer, Cavil. Caprica includes the two-hour pilot of the “Battlestar Galactica” prequel series, which offers a promising-looking dynamic of two families (led by Eric Stoltz and Esai Morales, respectively) against the background of the Cylon’s origins. Together the movies ease the passing of television’s greatest space opera.

Also: Speaking of great television, Justice League: The Complete Series features the entire run of the animated “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” shows, which are probably the best superhero programs ever aired. The novel The City and The City by “weird fiction” author China Miéville begins as a Gorky Park-style police procedural, but gradually presents a head-spinning premise about the nature of cities and their residents’ capacity for selective blindness. And in They Might Be Giants’ Here Comes Science, everybody’s favorite geek musicians take on every geek’s favorite school subject with peppy pop songs about photosynthesis, the periodic table and the like.

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