I know a lot of people find it quite difficult to get into the swing of Christmas until quite late on. I find myself running around trying to get the kids sorted before the end of term (Friday, hurrah!), which, these days, is simply a case of shopping to order! Now that’s done, I can turn my mind to gifts for the grown-ups, which often require a bit more thought. So, if that’s you, or perhaps you have a Secret Santa at work, read on. Books are perfect presents because, rather like slow-release carbohydrates, the benefit lasts a bit longer. It may be a few weeks, even months, before your gift recipient picks up their book, but when they do, they will remember it came from you and it can often then spark a conversation that you may not otherwise have had.
So, if you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few titles that have caught my eye, both fiction and non-fiction.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry has been on my must-read list since I heard the author talking about it on BBC Woman’s Hour. (As an expatriated Essex girl, I’m also attracted to the fact that it is set in the county of my birth.) It is a historical novel set at the end of the nineteenth century and centres on the relationship between newly-widowed naturalist Cora Seaborne and local vicar William Ransome. The pair are in search of the truth about the eponymous serpent which local people believe exists and is a threat to their lives and their livelihoods. It looks like a fascinating tale and I can’t wait to read it. And the cover is gorgeous too!
The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby. Listeners to Radio 4’s PM programme will be familiar with this journalist and her reports from southern Italy on the human tragedy behind the migrant crisis. She reported extensively on the story and did a number of interviews with a local optician on the island who was deeply affected by what he witnessed. The story is told through his eyes. It’s a very affecting as well as a humbling book that will make anyone look at their children and loved ones and thank the Lord they are warm and safe.
Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups by Ben Holden is a wonderful anthology of classic and modern short stories, just long enough to get you off to sleep, but not so long that you have to remember what has gone before. It taps into a wonderful childhood ritual and may encourage the more reluctant adult reader who fears committing to a whole novel! It’s probably not the sort of book that most people would buy for themselves so will make a great gift.
Biographies and Autobiographies are always a good option and there are usually plenty published at this time of year for you to choose from. Here are three that I’m quite excited about:
Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set The Boy Free will be in the stocking of someone I know – interesting for those of us who adored The Smiths. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times by Thomas Hauser had great reviews and won awards when it was published in 2012, and has been relaunched in the light of the boxer’s death earlier this year. He was such an icon that it will be a fascinating read, even if you’re not a sports fan. Finally, another icon Get a Life: the diaries of Vivienne Westwood, an incredible woman with some incredible stories to tell. This is the published version of her online diary and has some amazing photos. It will remind anyone to live a little more!
A couple of books for geeks and clever clogs, that will also provide a bit of round the table discussion: Information is Beautiful by David McCandless, one for the coffee table and to dip into for fascinating facts, presented in the most interesting and engaging images and graphics. A great book for anyone fascinated by the information age. The GCHQ Puzzle Book, perfect for working through after Christmas dinner? Maybe not, but this will provide hours of entertainment for anyone who thinks they coulda been a spook!
Finally, one of my most popular recent blogs was about cookery books – it seems many of you agree with me that it is an important genre. There are gazillions to choose from at Christmas, many of which, I fear, will be quite mediocre. This one caught my eye, however, East London Food: the people, the places, the recipes will be great for anyone who wants to be entertaining on trend in 2017. Independently published by Hoxton Mini Press it’s also available in three different colours to suit your gift recipient’s decor!
I hope that gives you a few ideas. If there are any other titles you’ve spotted that you think will make great gifts, I’d love to hear about them.
Happy Christmas shopping!