PGN’s art-centered gift guide: Feeding eyes and ears for the holidays

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It’s that time of year again. The holidays are barreling down upon us, and we are once again contemplating what to give our loved ones and acquaintances — for whatever celebration we’ve borrowed from the pagans.

Choosing the right gift is always a daunting proposition, especially if the people on your list give you no hints about what they’d like to receive. That being said, who doesn’t love music and a good book? If they don’t, bah humbug to them. Gift them the densest, heaviest monstrosity of a fruitcake you can find. Literature and music offer the added bonus of supporting your local independent bookstore and record store to buoy your spirits, as mom-and-pop retailers are vital to any community.

So get your lists out, and pencil in some of these wonderful sonic and literary options for this holiday season. 

On the music front, a wide range of artists have released holiday-themed albums this year. Songbird and diva, Mariah Carey, delivered a 25th-anniversary edition of her blockbuster “Merry Christmas,” featuring the original album and a bonus disc with rare remixes and unreleased live performances. Another diva reissuing a Christmas classic is Diana Ross, whose 1994 holiday collection “Wonderful Christmas Time” has been reissued on vinyl and available on digital platforms.

Other artists have released original holiday albums this season. British superstar singer, Robbie Williams, brings some jazzy and rocking throwback swagger to the table with his album, “The Christmas Present.” Dionne Warwick delivers classic R&B holiday cheer on her “Dionne Warwick & The Voices of Christmas” album. Stage and screen stars Idina Menzel and Lea Michelle both have come bearing their big-band and orchestral renditions of Christmas favorites on their respective holiday albums, “Christmas: A Season of Love” and “Christmas in the City.” Classic soft-rockers Chicago brings another helping of holiday songs to the feast with the group’s latest, “Chicago XXXVII: Chicago Christmas.” Vocal group Pentatonix has collected the cream of holiday song crop with “The Best of Pentatonix Christmas.”  Keb’ Mo’ infuses the holidays with some lively blues on his “Moonlight, Mistletoe & You” album. Out rock icon and Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, brings the fire and bombast to the table with his hard-rocking and atmospheric holiday album “Celestial.”

If holiday music isn’t your thing, a bunch of killer music releases are hitting the shelves that have nothing to do with the holidays. Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers and alternative rock icons, The Cure, have released “40 Live Curaetion 25 + Anniversary,” a new six-disc box set that features full audio and video of the band’s recently screened “Anniversary” concert film as well as the yet-to-be-seen visual document of the group’s Meltdown Festival set. The classic Prince album “1999” has been reissued and remastered into a deluxe edition with new liner notes, photos and 35 unreleased live and studio tracks from Prince’s vault. R&B/neo-soul singer, Mary J. Blige, is releasing “HERstory Vol. 1,” a brand new box set collecting some of her biggest ’90s hits along with rare remixes and more, in time for the holidays.

On the literary front, if you want to liven up the bookshelves and coffee tables (and hopefully the minds and intellects) of your friends and family, the following new book releases are a good place to start.

“The Atlas of Furniture Design” is perfect for home décor enthusiasts. The 1,028-page book is the most comprehensive overview of the history of furniture design ever published and documents 1,740 objects by 546 designers and 565 manufacturers, and features more than 2,500 images, from detailed object photographs to historical documentation such as interiors, patents, brochures and reference works in art and architecture.

The fashionista on your list will love “Juergen Teller: Handbags,” an enormous 600-page book of photographs of handbags that depicts the accessory as you have never seen handbags before. Sure, the outside looks plain but inside the cover, numerous models, actors and infamous individuals are featured in the colorful pages, including Michael Clark, Cindy Sherman, Kate Moss, Vivienne Westwood, Sofia Coppola, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich and Victoria Beckham. Another great book about fashion is “Charles James: The Couture Secrets of Shape,” which focuses on, James’ unisex designs and his life in the artist community at the Chelsea Hotel, where he lived from 1964 until his death in 1978.

Gift the feminists on your list “The New Woman’s Survival Catalog: A Woman-made Book.”  Originally published in 1973, “The New Woman’s Survival Catalog” is a seminal survey of the second-wave feminist effort across the U.S. Arranged in themed sections on art, communications, work and money, childcare, self-help, self-defense and activism, “The New Woman’s Survival Catalog” provides crucial insight into feminist initiatives and activism nationwide during the Women’s Movement. It includes a “Making the Book” section that details the publication’s production.

The LGBTQ+ activist on your list might appreciate “Pride Leadership: Strategies for the LGBTQ+ Leader to be the King or Queen of their Jungle,” a new book by LGBTQ+ leadership speaker, Dr. Steve Yacovelli. In “Pride Leadership,” Yacovelli identifies the six leadership traits that can greatly increase any LGBTQ+ leader’s effectiveness. The book also addresses issues ranging from facing bias, seeking LGBTQ+ mutual support in business community and when to fight for inclusivity or “pack up your toys and find an employer who embraces the beautiful difference that is you.”

If you know someone who would love nothing more than to get off this planet or a hard science-fiction aficionado, “Moving to Mars: Design for the Red Planet” is calling their name. The book is the first ever to thoroughly explore the crucial role that design will play in the collective endeavor to travel to and inhabit Mars. It has a comprehensive overview of both past and current developments in space travel and colonization, beginning with the evolution of the spacesuit and rocket technology, and then it proceeds to explore a wide range of fascinating and never-before-seen projects on Mars-specific habitations, covering everything from space-ready cutlery to clothes, furniture and speculative habitats. We can dream, can’t we?

Speaking of science fiction, “Transcendent 4: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction,” has hit the shelves with imaginative and speculative fiction stories featuring transgender and nonbinary characters curated by award-winning editor, Bogi Takács.

If you’ve got someone on your list that is more Doctor Strange than Guardian of the Galaxy, you might want to conjure up a copy of “The Spectacle of Illusion: Deception, Magic and the Paranormal,” a visually stunning and informative tome about the tricks and props of magic and spiritualism. Readers find out how magicians and psychics fooled the world and what scientists can learn from them. This book explores how illusions perpetuated by magicians and fraudulent mystics can not only deceive our senses but also teach us about the inner workings of our minds.

That should be enough to keep you busy for now. Avoid the malls and big-box stores if you can, and be nice to the overworked sales clerks out there. Happy hunting. Happy shopping!