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Monitor Picks

Five things we think you'll like, including Martin Amis's peek inside a Russian Gulag, a TV documentary on Australia's parrots, and films to remember Heath Ledger by.

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'Cool,' indeed

Rapper Lupe Fiasco's The Cool finds him mining some decidedly unconventional material: fast food, comic books, and skateboarding all loom large. But what really sets the record apart is its range, which shuttles between wordy, aggressive fusillades to slinky slow-jams. The best track? "Superstar," a duet of sorts with singer Matthew Santos. (Sample lyric: "And you better wear your shades / The spotlights here can burn holes through the stage.")

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A 'house,' divided

Martin Amis made his name as a chronicler of London's upper crust – and its seamy underbelly. But of late, he's turned his considerable wit to the east. House of Meetings, now in paperback, is the latest book to examine Russian life. ("Koba the Dread," a nonfiction account of Stalin's reign, came before.) Two brothers meet in a prison camp; they fight over the memory of a shared lover; they dream of the world outside. It's by turns bittersweet and terrifying.

Remembering Heath Ledger

Toward the end of his brief career, Heath Ledger gravitated toward films such as "I'm Not There" and "Brokeback Mountain" in which men fought internal battles between compulsion and conscience. But he had a lighter, goofier side, too. "Casanova" and "A Knight's Tale" are worth renting as reminders of his all-round talent.

Presidential compatibility

Unsure about who to back? Answer a series of questions at Electoral Compass, an independent Dutch website (www, to learn where on the political landscape you fall relative to the candidates.

Birds of paradise

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Parrots in the Land of Oz tracks these domestic favorites in all their plumage as they soar through the wilds of Australia. (Jan. 27, 8 p.m. EST on PBS.)

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