Dexter Is Killing Joan Didion

DVDs of television series have replaced books as the thinking person's Christmas gift of choice

It used to be, back when we all read books, that right about now, with the Three Wise Men lumbering into our line of vision, we’d double down on our holiday book requests to make sure we had adequately communicated to our loved ones the titles we hoped to see under the tree.

It was always best, of course, to use the title, author and subject matter when dropping the hints. That way there’d be no chance of getting the right author but the wrong title.

This holiday season, for example, hinting for literary treasure could go something like this: “Have you heard about Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding? It’s a baseball book—not totally about baseball, though it does have fielding in the title. Great reviews. And Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams? The Times is calling it an American epic.”

It never hurts to throw a little side of pity into a hint either: “I guess I could wait for the paperback. Hardbacks are so expensive. Those student loans are killers.”

Best case, the gift giver is happy to demonstrate his or her observational powers and the books magically land on our laps over the holidays.

Hint and ye shall receive.

Today, though—and this is purely observational on my part so you’ll let me know if you think otherwise—requests for books seem to be trumped by requests for DVDs. Not DVDs of hit movies—so 2009—but DVDs of premium channel TV shows, like Boardwalk Empire, Dexter and True Blood.

No one standing around any water cooler I know is opining about the worthiness of Joan Didion’s late life meanderings in Blue Night or wondering aloud whether Stephen King’s 11/22/63 fantasy about the Kennedy assassination is worthy of purchase.  Instead, these days the talk is more centered on whether Brody is going to blow himself up on Homeland or if Nucky can regain power and glory in Atlantic City. To be relevant these days, you’ve got to be hip to the premiums.

You may want to find DVDs of these shows under the tree because you can’t afford HBO or Showtime. Or because you were just too busy to watch when they originally aired.

Either way, the holidays are the perfect catch up time. The beauty of the DVDs is you can watch back-to-back-to-back episodes marathon-style while sprawled on the couch. Total immersion.

And watching TV requires so much less concentration than reading a book. You can tweet. Text. Play “Words with Friends.”

And because many of the shows on premium channels showcase some of the best commercial writing around these days, you don’t have to feel guilty. It’s not like your watching episodes of Two and a Half Men.

Still, there’s something about getting a book for the holidays that makes you feel distinguished. And there are so many good new titles, too, like Hemingway’s Boat, the new book by Paul Hendrickson; and Chuck Klosterman’s first novel, The Visible Man; and Open City, a book that looks at the United States through a Nigerian’s eyes.

So many worthy titles. Not that I’m dropping any hints.