Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2012, 6:00 am

Avoid the crush, give checks, gift cards, books, magazine subscriptions.

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By Don Wooten

For many shoppers, Black Friday came early this year. Instead of enjoying Thanksgiving football and a turkey-dinner-induced afternoon nap, a number of Quad-Citians grabbed their credit cards and discount coupons and ventured forth to buy holiday gifts on Thursday.

There was subdued outrage at this attempt to stretch this customary three-day frenzy of gift shopping into four, but the average citizen has become inured to the steady encroachment of commerce on down time.

Personally, it would take a lot more than the promise of a bargain to get me out of Thanksgiving couch potato mode. In fact, once I have partaken of the traditional groaning board, I seldom stray more than a few feet from kitchen or dining room. Only when the festive bird is reduced to cold sandwiches and creamed dishes do I give thought to holiday presents.

Decades ago, this would involve roaming through stores just prior to Christmas Eve closing hours. I have developed a more relaxed approach by ordering and sending gifts through the mail. This gives me four options: checks, gift cards, books, and magazine subscriptions.

These are not, I admit, in the true spirit of the season. But remember that I am a male and thus lack the shopping gene associated with the XX chromosome. It has always puzzled me that women seem to know, by some kind of instinct, precisely what family members want or need. My Y chromosome endowment leaves me without a clue.

My children long ago recognized my failing and simply told me what they wanted, in the clear expectation that I would follow orders. But that takes away the surprise. I prefer to supply the wherewithal for them to make choices; hence, the checks.

An extra advantage of this kind of gift is that you don't have to wrap it. Just stick it in an envelope, stamp it, and you're done. You may add a touch of class by enclosing your gift in a festive holiday card. But, if time is short -- and it usually is -- a plain envelope will serve.

If you wish to direct the recipient's purchase in a specific direction -- books, clothing, or electronic gear -- you may use a gift card. Nowadays, you don't even have to visit the appropriate store to get one. Such cards are increasingly available at the nearest supermarket.

Giving books can be a dicey proposition. Individual tastes vary. However, any serious reader will be pleased to receive one of the superb -- and expensive -- publications from the Folio Society. They are marvels of erudition and craftsmanship. I find them irresistible, as my annual book bills eloquently attest. You can check them out at

The fourth option, magazine subscriptions, is fast becoming my favorite. The choice of subjects is as wide as human experience. It is a gift that repeats throughout the year: every week, month, or season.

I have sent out so many gift subscriptions to Funny Times, a monthly collection of cartoons and articles, that the publisher rewards me with a sizable chocolate bar each January. Warning: this is not an appropriate gift for Tea Partiers. Writers with a sense of humor tend to have liberal views. If you wish to indoctrinate others in rightist politics, the Weekly Standard and Commentary are the most strident (The latter is ultra nee-con and an apologist for Israel's Likkud Party) The very best is the British weekly, The Economist: rational and persuasive. I read it every week and The American Conservative every month.

Liberals will like Mother Jones (the magazine that tipped us to Mitt Romney's 47 percent gaffe); The Nation (the country's oldest magazine; wordy and uncompromisingly socialist); the Progressive, In These Times, or Washington Monthly. The Hightower Lowdown and Washington Spectator are single-fold, 22 by 11 broadsheets, descendants of the legendary I.F. Stone's Weekly.

There are several choices for the scientifically inclined. The best, Science and Nature, are quite expensive and written for professionals.

General circulation publications, such as Scientific American and Discovery, are aimed at the average citizen. A good middle choice is Science News, a biweekly summary of recent research and noteworthy studies.

Book lovers will enjoy the Times Literary Supplement, the London Book Review, or the New York Review of Books: all of which take literature seriously. If a classicist is on your list, Boston University puts out Arion three times a year. It's highbrow and academic, but absorbing. There is something for everyone. For birders: Audubon Magazine; for herpetologists: Reptiles: for shoppers: Consumer Reports: for great writing: Vanity Fair; for nature lovers: National Geographic; for internationalists: The Guardian Weekly or Ie Monde Diplomatique; for tension between church and state: Commonweal and Christianity Today; for vintage cinema fans: Films of the Golden Age, published just down river in Muscatine.

As you can see, the choice in subscriptions is almost infinite, touching on all fields of human interest. There is something on magazine racks for every person on your list. If you're intrigued, you can find all of the above on the Internet.

You can also find them flooding through my mailbox each month.
Don Wooten of Rock Island is a former state senator and veteran broadcaster;