To give

In On Immunity, Eula Biss writes about our fear of immunization in the manner of early Annie Dillard: boldly, philosophically, with a startlingly ambitious scope that in lesser hands would fast go off the rails. Biss’s prose exudes curiosity and wisdom, plus it’s a delight to read. Top of my gift list for anyone who loves big ideas, great writing, and not having to choose be­tween the two.

Recently there has been a welcome in­crease in TV shows that aren’t groundbreaking, daring, or subversive, but just really good. The Good Wife, the saga of attorney Alicia Florrick (Season 5), is an old-fashioned network series that will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever binged on courtroom procedurals or political dramas, but that also makes most of those other shows look pretty dumb.

Another day, another God-haunted Amer­ica­na songwriter. An­drew Marlin may no longer claim a faith, but his tuneful songs retain a deeply Christian vocabulary. In This Side of Jordan, Marlin and Emily Frantz (Mandolin Orange) sing together with subtlety and warmth, and they play their acoustic instruments with understated competence. I’ve been listening to this quiet, simply produced record all year.

To receive

Some entries in Bob Dylan’s sprawling Boot­leg Series are of interest only to the most obsessively com­pletist fan. After all, his official studio albums generally sound better, and there are enough really good ones to keep most of us busy. But I’d like to spend a weekend listening to The Base­ment Tapes Complete, a comprehensive collection of Dylan’s remarkable time in the Catskills with The Band.

I never knew that industrial musicals existed until I found Steve Young and Sport Murphy’s Everything’s Coming Up Profits. Apparently musical theater composers and performers used to do hack work for corporate events—private, highly specific little musicals meant to pump up the staff. In addition to the book there’s a website with audio excerpts. The shows aren’t half bad—not really surprising given the steady supply of talented musicians who need work.

What can I say: the year I became a dad, along came Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories, a new book by Dr. Seuss, despite his be­ing dead for 23 years. Once I get a copy, it’ll be the only thing I ever want to read to my daughter, poor kid.


Steve Thorngate

The Century managing editor is also a church musician and songwriter.

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