Our staff of cultural critics picked their favorite highbrow gifts — and some guilty pleasures.
Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless earbuds
I am one of those people whose headphones always require at least 10 minutes of untangling. Wireless earbuds, while not perfect, were a relief for a tangly person like myself — but the sound quality and fit of many versions leave a lot to be desired.
The best ones I’ve been able to try are Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless earbuds. They work almost like noise-canceling headphones, crystallizing whatever you’re listening to and pulling it front and center for your eardrums. Listening to Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” through them makes her vocals sound truly special. And the bass, while not spectacular, is still solid; it might be as good as you’ll find in wireless earbuds.
But it’s Sennheiser’s comfortable fit — and a nifty feature called “transparent hearing,” which allows you to hear ambient noise while commuting or jogging — that pushes them over the edge. If there’s one problem, it’s that they’re very expensive, so there’s a constant anxiety that you might lose a bud. (Sennheiser, $300)
—Alex Abad-Santos, senior correspondent
Real Housewives–inspired art
One of my favorite gifts I received last year was an illustrated triptych of Dorinda Medley’s most iconic moments. Medley is the true star of the television show The Real Housewives of New York, best known for getting completely obliterated and yelling things in various fancy kitchens (she’s incredible). Kat Archibald is an illustrator in England who does these hilarious prints of reality stars and their most famous quotes, but there are plenty of other artists on Etsy who cater to whatever fandom your loved one stans. (Etsy, from $7)
—Rebecca Jennings, reporter
Pop culture holiday greeting cards
Holiday greeting cards are pretty boring, but they don’t have to be. For pop culture mavens who want to give (or receive) a nice card — maybe with, say, a gift card tucked inside — there are plenty of options on Etsy, most starting at under $5. For instance, the horror fan might fancy a terrifying look at Pennywise, the killer from It, or a reminder of how frightening The Shining is. Or an exhortation to be Rock-in around the Christmas tree.
For your family member who adored Bohemian Rhapsody, try Freddie Mercury. For a classic touch, send some cheer via an Elf card. Your friend who’s been bingeing The Office on repeat (not that I’d know anything about that) can enjoy a Christmas card worthy of Dwight Schrute himself, or maybe Belsnickel. There are options for fans of everything from Post Malone to Hallmark movies. And for the loved one who celebrates it all, there’s even a visit from the Holiday Armadillo.
—Alissa Wilkinson, film critic
Penguin mini box set
Publisher Penguin is officially calling these adorable little books “Penguin minis,” but it’s way more fun to make like they do in the Netherlands and call them “dwarsliggers.” When shut, a dwarsligger is about the size of a deck of bridge cards, so you can hold it in one hand, which is both convenient for reading on the train or bus and surprisingly cute. When you flip one open, you see that the text is oriented horizontally rather than vertically, and you turn the pages by flipping them up, more or less the way you scroll up through a smartphone. The format won me over entirely when I put one next to my giant stack of to-be-read books, realized that it made them look as though they belonged to a hulking giant, and cackled gleefully.
Currently dwarsliggers are only available to John Green fans, but if the format takes off, expect to see commuters clutching dwarsliggers on trains around the country. In the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with a good John Green read. ($28)
—Constance Grady, book critic
Vino2Go double wall insulated acrylic wine tumbler
So, yes, this absolutely seems like a parody of a gift you might get for one of the Real Housewives. I received one in a swag bag at a film festival this year and laughed at first. Then I brought it home. Then I put wine in it. Then I realized that it was the ideal accompaniment to a long stretch of hours spent watching movie screeners or, more likely, binging an upcoming season of Big Little Lies or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I’m not great at wine glasses, and I live in perpetual fear of spilling some cabernet on my couch. The sturdy construction of this tumbler, which is about the same size and shape as a travel mug with a lid, means I don’t have to worry anymore. I am a convert. ($7)
Cameo’s personalized messages
If you have friends who love reality television — any kind, from RuPaul’s Drag Race to the Real Housewives franchise — please consider getting them a Cameo. Cameo is basically the singing telegram for the modern era. For a fee, you can get celebrities (usually minor ones) and athletes to make a downloadable video message; you give the celebs an outline of what you want the message to say, and they record something custom for your friend(s). (Cameo, from $17)
Blue Spider’s Attic book subscription box
There are a fair number of book subscription boxes out there, and a lot of them will throw in some form of beverage — coffee beans, tea bags, hot chocolate mix — with the books. What’s fun about Blue Spider’s Attic is that the books they mail out with their beverages are secondhand — which means that a) a monthly subscription is cheaper than a lot of the other book subscription boxes out there, and b) you’re more likely to come across an old book you haven’t heard of before. Since all the books are chosen by real people, based on a questionnaire you fill out explaining your tastes, you’re basically getting a guided tour through a really well-stocked used bookstore every month, without ever having to leave your house. (Blue Spider Attic, $20)
An Ideal Bookshelf print by Jane Mount
Book lovers will adore artist Jane Mount’s “Ideal Bookshelf” project, where she paints various celebrities, authors’ and influencers’ ideal bookshelves — a collection of up to 15 of their favorite books. You can buy one that showcases the picks of someone you admire, or, better yet, you can have Jane make a custom print, which makes for an unforgettable gift tailored to your recipient’s personal tastes. When my husband and I first moved in together, we ordered a custom print from Jane that combined 10 of our favorite books. Years later, it’s still my favorite piece of art that we own. (Ideal Bookshelf, $34)
—Nisha Chittal, engagement editor
Come From Away
I‘ve seen Come From Away three times with both friends and family since it opened in 2017, and I’ve loved it more each time. The true story of 7,000 airline passengers stranded in remote Newfoundland after 9/11, it’s a simple, well-acted, and well-designed musical that manages to feel lively, engaging, and genuine, all while avoiding schmaltz. I’ve been struck each time I’ve seen it by how necessary it continues to feel in the current political climate — how hope-giving and hopeful. It’s currently playing on Broadway and touring throughout the US, but if you can’t find a performance near you, the original Broadway cast recording is also worth your time. ($12 for the mp4 album)
—Aja Romano, internet culture reporter