In part 2 of Digital Journal's gift guide, peek into the hottest bestselling books and the most entertaining DVDs. Find out why Malcolm Gladwell's book is intelligent, and how Monty Python's documentary is more than just a silly walk down memory lane.
What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown; $28): You either love him or hate -- Gladwell is known as the New Yorker writer who makes social science easy to grasp. From the guy who brought us The Tipping Point and Outliers comes a great range of articles he penned for the New Yorker. Going as far back as 2000, What the Dog Saw answers such intriguing questions as "Why has mustard changed so much in the past few decades but ketchup hasn't?" and "Can homelessness be solved by just focusing on the people who need help most?" In a tidy package, Glaldwell presents heady ideas in a breezy entertaining style, without sacrificing too much info. Written in a breezy accessible style, What the Dog Saw is understandably a bestseller -- it turns high-minded theories into understandable concepts. This is the book for your smart uncle or wise sister, someone who is curious about how the world works and what to do about our everyday challenges.
In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect by Ronald Kessler (Crown, $26): Talk about a fascinating read on a hush-hush topic: the lives of Secret Service agents. Kessler's many interviews with SS staffers (both in high and low positions) reveal the inner guts of a boy's club sworn to protect the President and his family. He even divulges some insider quotes about the rise of female agents. The best stuff from agents who reveal salacious details such as Lyndon Johnson's "stable" of women and the Bush sisters trying to evade security at every turn. For any fan of White House memoirs or political junkies, this behind-the-scenes account will be their favourite book of the year.
Courtesy Crown Publishing
A female Secret Service agent
Last Night in Twisted River (Random House, $28): In the school of fiction department, John Irving is the principal. He crafts characters masterfully, as we saw in The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany. In his latest tome (554 pages), Irving tracks the life story of a cook and his son run from trouble in New England. Irving includes his signature strokes -- young boy beds older woman, wrestling aspirations, bears -- but somehow he makes it all seem fresh. Last Night is a sweeping energetic novel, even if cook and son only stay too briefly in their latest city. We can't help but love the references to Toronto later in the book, especially a spot-on fictional restaurant based on the Rosedale favourite Pastis.
Drawn & Quarterly
A panel from the Seth graphic novel, George Sprott
George Sprott (Drawn & Quarterly, $30): Graphic novels are like grown-up comic books with substance. Canadian comics master Seth expands on his passion for 1920s-era eccentrics with his biopic George Sprott. The man's life is exposed, piece by piece, in a few interviews, flashbacks and personal reminiscences with some omniscient narrator. The artwork is classy, the writing is epic and the book is so stylishly packaged it just has to be a holiday gift.
Monty Python: Almost The Truth (The Lawyer's Cut) ($30): We think $30 for 360 hours of interviews and sketches from Britain's best sketch troupe is a serious bargain. Plus, this supposedly final documentary about Monty Python offers a healthy amount of new quotes from Eric, John, Michael, the Terry guys. We learn why filming Life of Brian was miserable, and what sketch always makes John Cleese smile. A few touching moments contrast nicely with the humour, such as the segment on the late Graham Chapman. Rest assured, this is a funny doc, even if you're not a fan of the Python's absurdist humour. As if 360 hours weren't enough, the special features will keep you giggling for days.
Up ($30): Up is a film equally appealing to adults and kids. Pixar's latest is a visually stunning film about an elderly curmudgeon who seeks to satisfy his wife's dying wish. This fellow is adorable enough, but along for the ride is a precocious boy scout and an excitable dog. They journey to a lost world filled with wild characters and eye-popping animations. The best part of this DVD package is the special feature extra, the short film that played in the beginning of the theatrical release -- Partly Cloudy should win an Oscar for Best Short Short, if the Academy ever created such a category.
A screenshot from the film Up
The Cove ($28): It's not your usual gift -- a documentary about the annual dolphin slaughter in Japan -- but if you know someone who has an eco-friendly streak running through them, this is the film of choice. The director follows Ric O'Barry, known as the boy in Flipper and a passionate dolphin lover. Every year, he travels to a remote area in Japan where hunters kill thousands of dolphins to sell to retailers, or even just to leave lifeless in the ocean. O'Barry wrangles an A-Team-like crew of fellow activists and divers to film their daring attempt to document the Japanese dolphin massacre. Not for the squeamish, this is a brutally honest doc that will leave the viewer desperate to help O'Barry's quest.
A screenshot showing an alien in the film District 9
District 9 ($37): In this thrilling story of alien arrival, the premise chips away at our preconceptions about extraterrestrial invaders: what if the aliens accidentally arrived on Earth and were then subdued by humans in African slums? District 9 riffs on the apartheid theme to place insect-looking aliens in Johannesburg in one of those movies that blends faux-documentary shooting and cinematic action. You can't help but appreciate the sub-plots beyond the obvious, such as the most endearing alien-human friendship since E.T. The DVD's special features are worth a look, too -- the best bonus is the the "filmmaker's log," which answers such questions as "Why did Peter Jackson produce this film?" and "How difficult were the working conditions in South Africa?"
Missed the first part of the Digital Journal gift guide series? Check it out here.
Tomorrow, we review the hottest new CDs so you can wow your music-nerd friend on your gift list.