As if great beer weren't reward enough, you can earn prizes for sampling local craft beverages
Well, fellow consumers, it's about that time of year again, isn't it? Christmas will be here before you can say "conspicuous consumption." It's time to start thinking about appropriate gifts for friends, family members, sweethearts, co-workers, casual acquaintances and whoever else you need to reassure that you really care. Here are a few Arkansas-centric gift ideas for you to consider. You can probably find most of this stuff with a bit of Googling, but try the locally-owned shops first (WordsWorth Books, Arkansas Record & CD Exchange, any of the fine local booze purveyors).
*You'll remember Little Rock author John Hornor Jacobs from the gothic blues horror novel "Southern Gods" and the post-zombie-apocalypse-themed "This Dark Earth." Those volumes earned raves from the likes of Kirkus Book Reviews, Booklist, The Onion AV Club, Publishers Weekly and many more. Jacobs now has his sights set on conquering the young-adult market with a trilogy, of which "The Twelve-Fingered Boy" is the first installment. Boing Boing founder Cory Doctorow called the book "amazing ... part Huck Finn, part X-Men. The scary stuff in this book — and there's some really scary stuff here — goes beyond the usual scares of kids' horror, and is truly the stuff of nightmares." Sounds like a great stocking-stuffer for the burgeoning bookish black sheep in your family.
*What better way to show your love for grandma than by giving her a copy of "Christs, Redeemers," The Body's latest misanthropic slab of bleak-beyond-all-measure avant-garde metal? Arkansas natives Chip King and Lee Buford have been touring for the critically acclaimed record (they return to White Water Tavern in December) for several weeks, including opening slots for Neurosis and glowing reviews in the New York Times. Unless you were really on top of it, you already missed out on the white vinyl pressing. But hopefully grandma won't be too disappointed with the 180-gram 2xLP version on regular ol' black wax. Or if she's into compact discs, Thrill Jockey has it available "in 4 panel mini-LP style gatefold package with CD in a fully artworked inner sleeve."
*For the film buff in your fam, you could do a lot worse than "Mud" on Blu-Ray (or DVD for you late-adopters). Little Rock native Jeff Nichols' third feature-length film was pretty much universally praised, with great performances from the cast, including newcomer Jacob Lofland and that unstoppable juggernaut of Oscar-worthy, capital-A Acting, Matthew McConaughey.
*Finding just the right gift for the fan of both comics and civil rights history can be tricky, but this year you're in luck: "March," by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, will be perfect. It's the first of a trilogy of graphic novels that tell the story of the notable Georgia civil rights icon, and it's illustrated by none other than award-winning artist and author Nate Powell, a native of Little Rock.
*This stuff has been out for a while, and while there are some newer offerings from Rock Town Distillery, I've got to recommend Arkansas Lightning for the discerning drinker in your family. It's so much smoother than the only other Arkansas white lightning I've had, which came out of a mason jar that had one of those blue embossed label-maker labels on it that read "POPE COUNTY JUICE." I've only had gasoline in my mouth a few times, and I managed to never swallow any. That stuff was what I imagine it'd be like swallow some. This stuff, on the other hand, is like drinking some delicious medicine that tastes like pine cones and licorice and burning. That probably doesn't sound too appealing to some of y'all, but I promise it's a complex and very tasty whiskey. Jim Murray's Whisky Bible described it as "Superbly made. Clean, oily and very impressive. Intrigued by the vaguest hint of sweet fresh shrimp on the nose." I didn't get any shrimp off of it, but my palate isn't expert-level or anything. I recommend it with a splash of Little Rock tap water and an ice-filled glass of club soda. Mmmm. It comes in a 375ml bottle at 125 proof or you can get a fifth at 110 proof. Go for the 125, but proceed with a respectful caution.
*You could certainly be forgiven for wondering whether the world really needs another book about Johnny Cash (there are probably 50 or more out there, along with his two autobiographies). But from the early reviews, journalist Robert Hilburn's recently published "Johnny Cash: The Life" might offer the most complete picture yet of The Man in Black. Hilburn knew Cash for more than three decades. He was the only journalist at the Folsom Prison concert, and he draws on multiple interviews he conducted with the man and his friends and family, as well as personal correspondence the family trusted Hilburn enough to share with him.
*Rock City Outfitters has given the world many fine, funny, smart-assed Arkansas-centric T-shirts. One of the company's latest offerings might be one of its best, and is certainly a great gift idea for the cranky old hippie in your family: A "Beaker Street" T-shirt, commemorating the legendary KAAY radio show hosted for many years by the legendary Clyde Clifford. It's described thusly on the RCO website: "If you belong to any generation after the Baby Boomer/hippie generation this shirt probably won't resonate with you. For the Boomers however, this tee may cause you to fetch out your old moccasins, low-rise bell bottoms, and bong." Hell, I wasn't listening to "Beaker Street" in 1970 (I wasn't even a gleam in anybody's eye in 1970), but it's a really cool-looking T-shirt that gives a nod to something really cool and unique and Arkansas.