Like I learned from Santa Claus: The Movie, Santa Claus is some Dutch guy who gets all magical for some reason I don’t remember. Dudley Moore was there, and there was a homeless kid maybe? OK, it’s been a while since I saw Santa Claus: The Movie. And it’s something that Santa has forgiven me for, because he brought me some amazing shit this year – shit I specifically told my wife I wanted. Isn’t that amazing?
Sam Cooke – The Man Who Invented Soul
Speaking of getting all magical, Sam Cooke made music that sounded like it came straight from heaven. With a voice effortless in its beauty, lyrics that treat true love like it’s oxygen, and arrangements that blend gospel, pop, vocal jazz and calypso with startling efficiency, Cooke’s catalog is a sonic argument for the innate goodness of human beings. After years of compiling random collections of his work, my CD collection has finally been blessed with the big kahuna – this accurately titled, four-disc retrospective, a desert island item for sure.
James Brown – Star Time
The Man Who Invented Soul would’ve been enough to sustain me through 2013. (What’s that, food? You think I need your vitamins? Fuck you!) So upon receiving this, yet another four-disc box set of one of the 20th century’s otherworldly talents, I understood what it feels like to be a spoiled bitch. And to paraphrase the Godfather of Soul himself – the man whose grooves were so combustible they’d inspire Mitt Romney to put down his milk and get on up – it feels good.
Elaine Pagels – The Gnostic Gospels
Once you say that a book contains the word of God, you’re setting yourself up for some problems down the road. Like, say, if ancient texts were discovered that were written around the same time as your God book, using similar source material. And those texts directly contradicted aspects of your God book, which you’ve been using to guilt-trip people for centuries – such as your claim that Jesus had no interest in gettin’ it on. Pagels’ book is the most renowned study of these “heretic” gospels, and the bitter Catholic school kid in me can’t wait to absorb it.
Richard Russo – That Old Cape Magic
You don’t dive into a Richard Russo novel; you slip into one, like an old sweater that provides comfort beyond its fabric. Sure, his protagonists are slightly different versions of the same soft-spoken middle-aged guy who needs to come to terms with his past. But his lazy suburban worlds are so realistically rendered, and his prose is so casually profound, I’m quite sure I don’t care. That Old Cape Magic might not have the narrative heft of Empire Falls or Bridge of Sighs, but merely an echo of those wonders will suit me just fine.
Greil Marcus – Mystery Train
I claim to be a critic of music. Whose favorite songwriter of all time is Randy Newman. And I have never read this, the Citizen Kane (or, I guess Vertigo now?) of rock criticism, which follows the stories of several artists (including my beloved Randy) to make grand comparisons between rock n’ roll and Herman Melville. Shameful.