Top Picks: Songs of Christmas cheer, Jeremy Renner as The Bourne Legacy, and more

Two e-readers work well with little lighting, the 'Charlie Brown Christmas' soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to any holiday, and more top picks.

ABC
"Back to the Beginning" with foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour.
The Bourne Legacy on DVD
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack remastered

Mapping Cultures

ABC News Global Affairs Anchor Christiane Amanpour travels throughout the Middle East to explore the origins of three of the world's great religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Back to the Beginning, a two-part, four-hour series, airs on ABC Dec. 21 and Dec. 28. Half a world away, PBS examines nearly a million Iranians living in the United States – from diplomats to educators and even comedians. The Iranian Americans airs Dec. 18 at 9 p.m.

Songs of Christmas cheer

Don't feel like caroling in the snow? Stay indoors and sing along to Rufus Wainwright and Sharon Van Etten's duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside." You'll find their exquisite version on Holidays Rule, a compilation of seasonal songs by the likes of Paul McCartney, The Shins, The Civil Wars, and Calexico. Best of all, Jon Russell and Charity Thielen of The Head and the Heart sound as if they're singing "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" beneath the mistletoe.

Agent on the run

Jeremy Renner takes center stage in The Bourne Legacy, the newest installment in the Bourne series that comes to DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 11. With Matt Damon having bowed out of his role as an agent on the run, Renner teams up with Rachel Weisz, who plays geneticist Dr. Marta Shearing. "Director and co-writer Tony Gilroy is good at scenes of high-level nastiness," says Monitor film critic Peter Rainer.

E-read with ease

E-readers often stumble in low-light situations, such as a half-lit bedroom. Without a strong light source, e-ink screens are nearly illegible. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite solves this issue with a soft backlight that illuminates words without lighting up a room. If you're a Nook household, check out the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, which features a similar luminescent screen but without Amazon's online library. They both cost about $120.

not just 'peanuts'

One of the most delightful albums of holiday music ever made accompanied an animated TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, in 1965. The beloved special still airs every season, and the music – independent of its original setting – has become a bona fide Christmas classic, right up there with Nat King Cole and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Composer Vince Guaraldi's jazzy, buoyant score is at once touching, toe-tapping, and perfectly suited to the holidays. A newly remastered version includes alternate takes, cleaned-up sound, and Guaraldi's themes from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Halloween specials, too.

Less is more

If the mood of the season turns your thoughts toward Scandinavian climes (reindeer, anyone?), you may appreciate Wabi Sabi Scandinavian Design (wabisabi-style.blogspot.com). Curated in English by a Swedish designer, the site showcases muted tones, teak furniture, and lots of sheepskin. The selection of Christmas-themed decorations include a fir tree made of cardboard triangles, white porcelain stars with rawhide strings, and ornaments made from natural materials.

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