All I Want For Christmas...

THERE SHOULD BE A WORD for that displaced greed that sets in at holiday time-that thing where you see this and this and this and you want to buy all of it for him or her or them. (This isn't a knock; without greed goosing the economy, we'd all be out in the street.) For us NEWSWEEKoids, greed gets displaced one more step: we keep seeing way too much stuff that we can't resist urging you to give them. (Easy for us to urge: we don't get the bill.) And since everything on this comucopious, consumerist wish list is arts-related, we can go vicariously hog-wild and pass off our acquisitiveness as high-mindedness. All is vanity, saith the preacher: we hear that. So from all of us to all of you.

AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, YOU'D NEED hiking boots and a warm coat to see the chirping real-fife critters that inspired John James Audubon: The Watercolors for The Birds of America (Villard. $75); why not just pull up a chair? These birds sat for their portraits 150 years ago. Now you can sit and savor Audubon's near-photographic detail. But for just twice the price, you can get reacquainted with a guy who was 20 times the painter. Christian Tumpel's Rembrandt (Abrams. $145) is still hefty enough to make strong coffee tables tremble, even though it accepts the Rembrandt Research Project's deattribution of much of the official oeuvre.

The recently discovered work in The Unknown Modigliani: Drawings from the Collection of Paul Alexandre (Abrams. $75 until Jan. 1, $95 thereafter) plays better in the lap than it did on the wall in a recent show in Venice. But this year you get the most revelations for your art-book buck--more than 1,000 illustrations, many never before published--with Art of Africa by Jacques Kerchache, Jean-Louis Paudrat and Lucien Stephan (Abrams. $175). An impressive book on an essential subject.

Table still holding up? Then top off the stack with Andy Warhol: Portraits (Thames & Hudson. $45), in which his silk screens illuminate various vapid celebrities as if they were stunned bunnies caught in headlights. You probably don't want any riffraff in such company, but American Self-Taught: Paintings and Drawings by Outsider Artists by Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco (Knopf $75), a well-produced collection of inspired crankery, might do for down in the rec room--and be more fun than some of the stiffs upstairs. You may want to banish Harrod Blank's Wild Wheels (Pomegranate, $25) to the garage: these "art cars" with all manner of junk welded, glued and other-wise stuck to them are even outside the outside. La Bolsita, by Rolando Politi (Exit Art, 212-966-7745. $64), is outsider art you can own: swing this jagged, undersize handbag, made from a Cafe Bustelo can, by its itchy rope handles and be queen of the mosh pit. Or make a statement in your office with police barricade tape imprinted with the words BIAS INCIDENT (Exit Art, 212-966-7745. 50 cents a yard). Ain't you got fun! Still feeling subversive? With the Venus refrigerator magnet (Caryco, 206-325-2767. $20), you can dress up Bouguereau's statuesque goddess in any (or none) of 15 pieces of clothing, including a leather suit--complete with AIDS awareness ribbon--and make em green with Venus envy.

(Shambhala/Redstone. $25 box) is a sampler of lurid art inspired by this death-defying holiday on which families picnic in graveyards. It includes part of a Diego Rivera mural, prose by the likes of Octavio Paz, even a little tin skeleton-death as party animal. Italian Art Deco: Graphic Design Between the Wars by Steven Heller and Louise Fili (Chronicle. $16.95) is just a book, not a fun kit; still, it's priced so reasonably that you could almost take scissors and rubber cement, make these zippy little logos and ads into stickers for kids or adults--and not feel guilty. But don't even get fingerprints on Industrial Design: Reflection of a Century (Abbeville. $65), the lavish catalog for last summer's flawed exhibition in Paris. This souvenir program far outclasses the event: copiously illustrated with such seminal products as a 1950 Electrolux vacuum cleaner and the Lockheed stealth bomber, beautifully designed, succinctly written.

The sun and landscape (and money) of California helped produce America's liveliest--and most playful--architecture scene. West Coast Wave (Van Nostrand Reinhold. $49.95) is a good place to sample the work of such current practitioners as Melinda Gray and Randy Dalrymple. It was no fun actually being a companion of the megalomaniacal Frank Lloyd Wright, but The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion, by William Allin Storrer (University of Chicago. $ 75), gives us the architecture without the aggravation: plans, black-and-white photos and histories of everything he built. Frank Lloyd Wright: The Masterworks, by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer and David Larkin (Rizzoli. $60), is more selective and more satisfying: color photos of such quintessentially American houses as Pennsylvania's Falling Water or California's Hollyhock House.

We all know Michelangelo as painter, sculptor, sonneteer and, lately, gay role model. Now meet Michelangelo: Architect (Abrams. $125). Giulio Carlo Argan and Bruno Contardi chronologically catalog his 31 projects and interpret them in light of his work as a whole. The beautifully textured photography makes Michelangelo's Laurentian Library vestibule--one of the world's most magnificent spaces--look almost as good on the page as it does in Florence. Almost.

COME ON-A MY HOUSE," SANG ROSE mary Clooney. "Come on in my kitchen," sang Robert Johnson. "Step right up, come on in," sang George Jones, "if you'd like to take the grand tour." "Lay lady lay," sang Bob Dylan, "lay across my big brass bed." He meant lie, but you get the idea: even artistic types are into decor big time.

So why don't you come on in our kitchen? French designer Philippe Starck's elegant JoJo Long Legs knife (Modern Age, 800-3584284. $89) looks like a Bowie knife with savoir-faire. The handle (gold, red, green or black) has little legs that keep the blade half a hairbreadth from the counter-top. Alessi's rounded, stainless-steel penguin teapot (Marcuse, 617-932-9444. $190) also has legs, little green polyamide ones, on which it seems to perch expectantly. The industrial-design-award-winning Thermos electric grill (Thermos, 800-435-5194. $299.99) looks like it came out of the galley of the Starship Enterprise, but with three legs instead of four it can fit into even tighter quarters: puny patios, small city balconies. Thermos be someplace you could use it.

On the cookbook shelf. Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby's Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows (Morrow. $20) is the smartest, best-looking book on this subject in years and a boon to the corn chips and hot dogs of the world. Moira Hodgson spices her Favorite Fruitcakes (HarperCollins. $12.50) with distinguished writing--about fruitcakes--by the likes of Calvin Trillin and Truman Capote; some recipes call for those revolting little red and green things, some don't. Then there's The Mafia Cookbook (Simon & Schuster. $15), by exGambino family member Joseph (Joe Dogs) Iannuzzi, leavening the heavy fare with folksy chat: "Remember the crowd I was feeding. Any meal may be their last, so it better be a good one." Words to live by.

Moving right along to the rest of the house: the dynamic Star Wine Rack (The Whitney Museum Store Next Door, 212-6060200. $59.95) looks as if it's about to dance off with the eight bottles it holds. The 'toon radio (Plummer-McCutcheon, 800321-1484. $59.95) is also jauntily out of kilter; they say it's art deco, we say it's R. Crumb Moderne. Marco Pasanella's Stowaway Chair (Pasanella, 212-242-2002. $180) just sits there in symmetrical simplicity. It comes in four colors; you can stow books, blankets, whatever, in the shelf below the seat--until your cat claims the spot.

The bold, simple folk figures that Bill Finks makes out of scrap metal and old wire would look great on any wall. Bill's wife, Marcia, paints them, borrowing patterns derived from African and Southwestern art. They come out looking like Happy Couple (Sundance, 800-753-6669. $149). (How'd they dream up that name?) And there by the door is a Magritte-inspired Sky Umbrella (Museum of Modern Art, 800-4476662. $78), with dappled clouds on the underside. Grab it and we're outta here.

WHAT'S CHRISTMAS WITHOUT A LITTLE Schlag? The creamiest, Richard Strauss: Rosenkavalier Suite, with Andre Previn conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon). The disc has music from other Strauss operas, but the suite is so seductive you may never get around to the rest. The Impatient Lover (London), by the deservedly trendy mezzo Cecilia Bartoli, accompanied by Andras Schiff, is a set of Italian songs by such sunny Mediterranean types as...Beethoven? Schubert? Mozart? When a friend told us about Anne Sofie von Otter's Grieg: Songs (Deutsche Grammophon), we thought that was Mediterranean, too. "Never on Sunday"? Then we got it; you should go do the same.

Vladimir Horowitz's legendary 1965 Carnegie Hall comeback is a highlight of Horowitz: The Complete Masterworks Recordings, 1962-1973 (Sony. 13 CDs). But don't miss his highly charged readings of Rachmaninov and Scriabin: jeez, talk about Russian fingers!

Can your budget stand more complete masterworks? Frank Sinatra: The Columbia Years, 1943-1952 (Columbia. 12 CDs) is a heartbreaker: the preRat Pack, pre-ring-a-ding-ding Young Blue Eyes, sounding almost fresh and innocent. If you're burned out on Bing this holiday season, try When My Heart Finds Christmas (Columbia). With a hint of mischief in his voice, Harry Connick Jr. freshens up such oft-roasted chestnuts as "Sleigh Ride."

This year's abundant blues, jazz, country and rock reissues make a virtual decade-by-decade history of vernacular music, American style. The Blues (Smithsonian. 4 CDs) is a well-selected sampler starting with Blind Lemon Jefferson's "That Black Snake Moan" (1926)--but with two King-size holes where B. B. and Albert ought to be. Benny Goodman: On the Air (1937-1938) (Columbia. 2 CDs) is--trust us--the best Goodman album ever. The band is loose, joyous, ferocious: the sheer unneurotic emotional exultation is amazingly bracing today.

It's arguable that Charlie Parker killed jazz with modernist self-consciousness--but what a way to go. In 1946 and '47 he was at his best--and worst. The Complete Dial Sessions (Stash) is essential Bird-from his famous alto sax break on "A Night in Tunisia" to his equally famous breakdown on "Lover Man"--decently remastered at last. just what was Parker up to? John Fordham elucidates this and other mysteries in Jazz (Dorling Kindersley. $29.95). Its reader-friendly magazine-like design--time lines, essays, diagrams, discography--steers neophytes in the right direction and gets aficionados in as deep as they care to go.

It's astonishing that Ornette Coleman's Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (Rhino. 6 CDs) begins just four years after Parker's death: it's Bird atonalized and deconstructed. It sounded weird as hell then; today it sounds inevitable. Thanks in part to free-form iconoclasts like Coleman--who played in Texas R & B bands--jazz purists can now loosen up and enjoy treasures from defunct R & B labels. The OKeh Rhythm & Blues Story, 1949-1957 (Epic. 3 CDs), has such racy items as The Treniers' "Poontang"; The Cobra Records Story (Capricorn. 2 CDs) has bluesmasters Otis Rush and Buddy Guy.

Otis Redding recorded only from 1960 to his death in 1967; long as it is, Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding (Rhino. 4 CDs) isn't overpadded. Good people don't necessarily make good art, but Redding was, by all accounts, a good man who made great soul music: rough, tough and tender. Bluegrass founding father Bill Monroe was one of Elvis's great influences; in Elvis's heyday Monroe was also at his peak. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys: Live Recordings, 1956-1969 (Smithsonian/Folkways), culled from both concerts and picking parties, reveals what a holy terror he was in front of an audience--even of friends, at 4:45 a.m.

The 1970s were the infancy of heavy metal--20 years later, it's still infantile--and for Led Zeppelin: The Complete Studio Recordings (Atlantic. 10 CDs), guitarist Jimmy Page has again remastered the tapes. This is Led Zep's third boxed set: Box 1 + Box 2 = Box 3, give or take. For the smart side of the '70s, nothing beats Elvis Costello's 2 1/2 Years (Rykodisc, 4 CDs): three studio albums (including his first, from '77) bristling with wit and venom, plus a bonfire of rarities and a top-flight live set.

All the best and worst tendencies of the '80s are in Message in a Box (A&M. 4 CDs), which has everything the Police ever recorded. They were passionate and mercurial, slick and pretentious. They gave us Sting. We hate to think what might end up epitomizing the '90s, but the unimpeachably cool Metallica will do for now. The best part of Live Sh*t: Binge and Purge (Elektra. 3 CDs, 3 videos) is the booklet, a funny, nervy scrapbook full of budgets and business correspondence, including a fax from the flacks regarding a NEWSWEEK interview: "It would be a good move to do this. Ten minutes tops."

READY FOR A CLOSE-UP? IN THE Ziegfeld buch (Abrams. $49.50), Richard (Florenz's cousin) and Paulette Ziegfeld home in on the legendary Broadway showman, whose pursuit of beauty onstage and backstage led to financial and moral bankruptcy. Ziegfeld's production of Kern and Hammerstein's "Show Boat" was a Broadway benchmark; on Jerome Kern Treasury (Angel), conductor John McGlinn and six splendid singers showcase a handful of the composer's gems. Some are beloved heirlooms ("Till the Clouds Roll By"); others, forgotten jewels ("The Bullfrog Patrol").

The recent practice of operatizing classic musicals (bleating tenors! swooning sopranos!) threatens to drive the genre back to the Dark Ages. Once in a while, though, comes a glorious exception. Leonard Bernstein's On the Town (Deutsche Grammophon), recorded live last year in London (it's also on video), includes numbers dropped before the Broadway opening. The exuberant cast includes Thomas Hampson and Frederica von Stade. George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (EMI Classics), on the other hand, is a genuine opera--and it took a Broadway and West End director, Trevor Nunn, to get it on video at last, with the mesmerizing Willard White as Porgy.

Of the two Gershwins, George was always the dashing, died-before-his-time one; Ira was the other. Robert Kimball's The Complete Lyrics of Ira Gershwin (Knopf 845) gives Ira his long-overdue due with more than TOO lyrics, almost 400 never before published. Ira put it best: 'S wonderful. For devotees of what Sondheim himself calls the "Sondheim cult," Unsung Sondheim (Varese Sarabande) is a must. For others, these 16 songs are just fun. Even so-so Sondheim beats most of what you hear on Broadway, and "What Can You Lose," cut from "Dick Tracy," is a three-hankie gem. But this century's number-one, all-around, quintuple-threat man of the theater was Noel Coward: playwright, director, actor, composer, singer. Noel Coward: His HMV Recordings, 1928 to 1953 (Angel. 4 CDs), is a panorama of his career in 80 numbers. Coward clipped his diction like a silver cigarette case snapping shut; if a dry martini could sing, this is how it would sound.

BY ABOUT MID-MAY THE WEATHER Will be warm, the Christmas bills will be paid off and you'll have had ample time to digest both the food in Plummer-McCutcheon's silver-plated, ship-shaped Condiment Boat (800-321-1484. $99.95) and the information in two new series of guidebooks to European cities. Both the Knopf Guides ($25) and the Eyewitness Travel Guides (Dorling Kindersley. $24.95) include hundreds of pages of colorful maps, photos of town, countryside and cuisine, reproductions of local art works, diagrams and cross sections of buildings--well, we could go on. Both fit snugly in the palm. Both are terrific. Which is better? Well, for your extra 5 cents Knopf gives you a handsome plastic binder--if that's not a contradiction in terms.

But there'll never be another city guide like Atget Paris (Gingko. Paper, $55): 840 images by Eugene Atget, the great photographer who refused to call himself an artist. "The pictures I take are simply documents," he insisted. From 1898 until he died in 1927, he anatomized Old Paris right down to the doorknobs--the book is the exact size of a Parisian cobblestone--but as arranged, neighborhood by neighborhood, the photos comprise one of the great works of art of the last two centuries.

When we think of travel books we think of something like Morocco (Abrams. $49.50), with essays by longtime Moroccan exile Paul Bowles (written over the past 40 years and never before brought together) and almost gaudy color photographs by Barry Brukoff. But Aglaia Kremezi's The Foods of Greece (Stewart Tabori & Chang. $50) is as much a travel book as any tourist guide or account of adventures and misadventures abroad: not just because of its lush pictures but because it's a real working guide to preparing the traditional dishes found all over Greece. Christopher Alexander's tediously titled yet profoundly thrilling A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets (Oxford. $130) is a trip through both space and time: for Alexander, an architect, painter and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Turkish carpets are portals to the Absolute. But this isn't an academic Shirley MacLaine gazing through a rug into his own navel: the tough-minded Alexander shows that the early Turks knew some basic truths about structure, color and light that have been forgotten in our time.

Indigenous music, too, is a map of a nation's consciousness. A World Out of Time, Vol. 2: Henry Kaiser and David Lindley in Madagascar (Shanachie) documents these American musicians' 1991 musical factfinding trip. (Vol. I appeared last year.) The folk groups and rock bands they met evoke Madagascar's eclectic culture, where tradition and modernity trade licks with a grin. When Lindley and the Rossy band light into Merle Haggard's hit "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," it's enough to make you believe we could be a global village. But let's get a grip: some of the musicians on the splendid Bosnia: Echoes from an Endangered World (Smithsonian/Folkways), recorded in the mid-'80s, are now dead or displaced in the current tribulations. Here East meets West harmoniously--but only in the music. Royalties from this CD go to humanitarian aid.

IT'S SHAMEFUL TO ADMIT, BUT WHEN zipping across the fruited plain isn't it a relief to see a crudely painted billboard or a malformed neon motel sign instead of wave after wave of amber grain and those damn purple mountains that don't seem to get any closer? John Margolis and Emily Gwathmey's Signs of Our Time (Abbeville. $21.95) rips the lid off this dirty little secret, reveling in gas stations shaped like teapots, hot dog stands shaped like hot dogs and other roadside ephemera. Jane and Michael Stern wrote the book on this sort of kitsch in fact, they've Written 19 books; their latest, Way Out West (HarperCollins. $35), is a compendium of campy buckaroo iconography, from cowgirls to cow skulls. The leather-bound four-CD set Songs of the West (Rhino) is a darn good audio sidekick--everything from "Cool Water" to "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"--and the illustrated booklet ain't half bad. Or ugly.

But there's a grim flip side to this frontier jollification. In 1898, ethnographer and photographer Edward Curtis began to interview and photograph America's vanishing Indian nations. In 30 years he filled 20 volumes with 2,200 photogravures and a thousand pages of text; Native Nations (Bulfinch/Callaway. $60) reproduces 110 quadratone plates with state-of-the-art care. Curtis plainly bought into the noble savage notion, but there is nobility here. Tragedy, too: faces closed fist-like around the knowledge that their world is going. Without Curtis, it would have gone without a trace.

Robert Frank's legacy is more ambiguous: without his 1958 photo anthology, The Americans (Scalo. $50, paperback $26.50), we wouldn't have had road movies like "True Romance" or TV shows like "Picket Fences." Yet as Jack Kerouac (without whom...oh, skip it) wrote in the original introduction, Frank captured "that crazy feeling in America when the sun is hot on the streets and the music comes out of the jukebox or from a nearby funeral." "The Americans" goes in and out of print; it's wonderful to have this well-reproduced edition. It's the masterpiece of photography's Desolation Angel.

OH SURE, IT'S EASY TO SNICKER NOW at the cornball fable of the miser Scrooge's Yuletide redemption, with Bob Cratchit and his coal scuttle and his cockney piety, and crippled Tiny Tim Godblessing us every one. But wait till Dickens gets you in his clutches again. Go on: let's see you keep a dry eye. This year you might try the new facsimile edition of A Christmas Carol (Pierpont Morgan Library and Yale. $30), which juxtaposes the printed text with Dickens's vigorous, curlicued and much-crossed-out manuscript. You may or may not be awed to see the workings of his genius, but you'll come away with reverence for whoever invented the word processor. Latter-day Scrooges will find kindred spirits in Christmas Stories (Chronicle. $17.95), with an introduction by the Romanian poet Andrei Codrescu--who's proud to be a communist and a Jew. Sure, there's an uplifting excerpt from "It's a Wonderful Life," but there's also Anne Sexton's "Christmas Eve," about her dead mother's portrait staring down from the wall near the Christmas tree. Noel, noel.

Some of us see this joyous season as merely part of the bleak stretch between the last out of the World Series and the first push-up of spring training. But there's solace in this winter's solstice-Baseball Days: From the Sandlots to the Show (Bulfinch. $24.95). In essays as sharp as an Orel Hershiser curve ball, Bill Littlefield appreciatively scrutinizes every aspect of the game--including the rain delay. Rather play head games? Amaze friends with The Paradox Box (Shambhala/Redstone. $25): 19th-century optical illusions, brainteasers and conundrums. The Victorians were sick pups: Geraldine Adamich Laufer's Tussie-Mussies (Workman. $22.95) decodes the messages they sent with floral bouquets. We get epistles-in-pistils like "Consolation for a Hangover," in which red valerian signified "drunk and blowsy." Pansy was "thought"--pensee, get it?--but go figure why wood sorrel meant "ill-timed wit."

If that's not surreal enough, John Tobler's day-by-day historical account This Day in Rock (Carroll & Graf $19.50) will tell you, if you care, when Alice Cooper's pet boa constrictor was bitten to death by a rat (June 5, 1977). On a more elevating note, John Dizikes's lively, authoritative Opera in America: A Cultural History (Yale. $35) explains why Puccini quickly became popular in America: not just for his hummable tunes but because he was seen as a regular guy who'd rather talk duck hunting than duets. Miles Davis, as Richard Williams's The Man in the Green Shirt (Holt. $40) makes clear, was a highly irregular guy; Williams combines striking photos of this jazzmaster with a smart, compact biography.

Talk about smart: Oxford University Press has come out with The Oxford Sherlock Holmes ($99), nine sturdily bound, annotated volumes instead of the customary single tome that has cut off circulation in so many sedentary legs. Holmes once airily proclaimed his ignorance of the Copernican system--irrelevant to the science of detection--but with the one-volume Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition (Columbia Univ. Press/Houghton Mifflin. $125), you can have the universe on your desktop. Comprehensively updated (bye-bye Burma, hello Myanmar), it's strong in the basics but flaky in popular culture: an entry on Andre Kostelanetz but not Muddy Waters? And by the way, fellas, Hank Williams did not die in a car crash.

L. Rust Hills's How to Do Things Right (Godine. $22.95. Paper $15.95) is an elegant compendium of esoteric but indispensable advice (how to eat an ice-cream cone) and opinion (what's wrong with adultery: "Split-second timing is required of the sort of people who may not even wear a watch"). People who really don't do things right may be pulled up short by Alice K. Tumer's The History of Hell (Harcourt Brace. $29.95)--but more likely, they'll just be superciliously amused. Did you know there was a real Dr. Faustus, B.A., Heidelberg, 1509?

And since we're on the subject. When last we heard, Santa Claus was still Ho ho hoing, but it's surely just a matter of time before even the old gent himself starts going Hehheh, heh-heh. Things are now so out of hand that you can get Beavis and Butt-head Christmas stockings by Dakin ($10 each). We weren't convinced that B&B was prophecy masquerading as idiocy until we read this passage in This Book Sucks (MTV Books--now there's a concept--$10): "Tattoos kick ass. Messing up your skin is cool...This dude in the park told us that in Japan? They like give the coolest tattoos to the criminals. Me and Beavis were going to hitch over there. . ." The voice of the rising generation! And a Happy New Year.

IF YOU MUST GIVE TOYS THIS YEAR, give 'em to your pooch--the postmodern squeaking dog toys sold by Alphabets, for instance (212-475-7250. $9.95 each). They're shaped like crowns, wreaths and, for some reason, logs. Oh right: dog, stick. But why not get your kids something they can sink their--no, that won't work. Something they can do something with. Like the Terra Cotta Building Kit (Museum of Modern Art, 800-447-6662. $55), with 161 bricks, water-soluble mortar, construction plans and a copy of Poe's "The Black Cat" (hehheh, heh-heh, just kidding about Poe).

Why not get them a camera of their very own? The Holga 120S (International Center of Photography, New York City. $20) is priced right and OK for either beginners or, as the catalog puts it, "the experimental photographer who enjoys oddly focused, slightly unpredictable images." A far higher-tech gift is children's software. Kid Cuts (Broderbund. $30) is a package of arts and crafts projects--masks, play money, crowns, paper air-planes--that kids design, print out and cut up.

Spinneybeck major-league team-logo baseballs (Hammacher Schlemmer, 800543-3366. $26.95; $699 for 28 teams) are hand-stitched, flawlessly colored--almost as beautiful as a perfectly mown infield. But keep 'em on their stands. If the dog puts tooth marks in that leather, it could ruin your day. Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's Not For Kids Only (Acoustic Disc) could save it. With guitar, mandolin and a little help from their friends, these fast-fingered folkies do low-key versions of whimsical songs they remember from New Lost City Ramblers records and such.

We've had it up to here with Belle and the Little Mermaid and whatever her name was in "Aladdin." (Don't even get us started on Barney.) What's great about The Disney Villain (Hyperion. $45) is that you're not going to see a lot of the creeps in this book on lunchboxes, sneakers and little girls' underwear. Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, two longtime Disney animators, tell how 55 memorable evildoers evolved. The sinister Stepmother in "Cinderella." The tush-twitching, salami-slicing Stromboli in "Pinocchio." The batwing-flapping, drooling Devil himself in "Fantasia." What would childhood be without them? Like a Christmas that was all Santa Claus and no Scrooge: blander, less vertiginous, and in the long run less precious.