The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop: The rap tome you have to read (non-Jay-Z division)

Decoded, by hip-hop's unofficial CEO, may get more attention, but Dan Charnas' chronicle of the genre's rise to multi-billion-dollar industry is just as essential. Wisely, The Big Payback (New American Library) focuses not on the beefs you know but on the back-room battles you don't.

Out December 7

Lights Out: The boxing drama that doesn't feature Christian Bale as a crack addict

Director David O. Russell has more than a puncher's chance at winning an Oscar for The Fighter, but don't miss the new small-screen ringside saga Lights Out. The tale of a retired heavyweight with pugilistic dementia who reluctantly takes a job as a debt collector is one part Rocky, one part The Sopranos.

Premieres in January on FX.

Barry Hannah: The dark maestro of southern lit

Great writers from Philip Roth to Sam Lipsyte have praised the late Barry Hannah for his grotesque, oddly moving tales of failed fishermen, drunken good old boys, and gay Confederates. His new collection, Long, Last, Happy (Grove Press), gathers four new stories, plus the best of his previous work.

Out December 1

Blue Valentine: The can't-miss romantic tragedy

No one will describe newcomer Derek Cianfrance's intimate portrait of a disintegrating relationship as "feel-good," but thanks to career-defining performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, it's worth the price of a ticket—and the subsequent therapy sessions.

Out December 31

Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark: The stage design worthy of an arena-rock show

With music by Bono and the Edge and direction by Julie Taymor, Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark isn't your average superhero rock opera, but the trippy, industrial, gravity-defying set by George Tsypin (whose previous credits include West Side Story and The Little Mermaid) is especially awesome. Expect spidey-sensory overload.

Opens December 21 at New York's Foxwoods Theatre.

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