Suitability as gifts means the book is a short one, the items will signal elevated taste, they are at least reasonably entertaining, visually appealing, and they are unlikely to be given by others as gifts unless of course your social circle reads MR.
1. Fiction: Stephane Audeguy, Theory of Clouds. The conceptual foreign novel which got lost in the shuffle of the American fiction market.
2. Popular Music: The View, Hats off to the Buskers, from Scotland, this is musically superior pop and they still have room to get even better.
3. Classical music: Either William Byrd, Laudibus in Sanctus, beautifully recorded, or John Adams, The Dharma at Big Sur/My Father Knew Charles Ives, and yes I spent twenty years as a Johns Adams skeptic. In the last few years he’s raised his music to an entirely new level.
4. Gadget: I still use my iPhone almost every day and I can no longer imagine not having one. Mostly I surf web sites and blogs while waiting in lines, or read email. I’ve yet to make a phone call with it.
5. DVD: I watched through Planet Earth as quickly as I could. Yana then took the box up to college, if you need another testimony. If your loved one doesn’t merit an entire DVD box, I thought Away From Her was the best movie of the year; sadly the first-rate No Country for Old Men won’t be ready on disc in time.
6. Single song on iTunes: Anthony and the Johnsons, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. The key here is to pick a song on an album you won’t otherwise buy or you won’t otherwise think of.
7. Crazed economist idea: Buy someone a book of stamps. It has the efficiency properties of a cash transfer (who doesn’t need stamps?), yet if you choose an attractive issue it will show (a little) more thought than money alone. And hey — you had to stand in line to get it, or endure their ugly web site, and at a monopolistic institution at that.
Finally, it is often better to give experiences rather than possessions, and if you don’t know what your wife wants email her sister or best friend and ask.