The best books to give this Christmas

Emily Rhodes suggests eight books that would make the ideal literary stocking filler.

The Penguin Classics Book

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Edited by Henry Eliot

This handsome guide to the mighty Penguin Classics list covers every book in the 1,200-strong collection. Each entry is smartly illustrated with original cover artwork – ideal for glancing over dearly loved literary companions, as well as for discovering gaps to fill.

Taken as a whole, this is a fascinating survey of how our nation’s literary tastes have altered over the years and makes us wonder anew at what constitutes a ‘classic’.

(Particular Books, £30)

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Carol Ann Duffy

Many of the poems in this powerful finale to Carol Ann Duffy’s tenure as Poet Laureate engage, fittingly, with the theme of departure. She explores the personal goodbyes of children leaving home and grief for lost parents, as well as the political tussle of Brexit.

This is a moving and compelling collection from a poet at the height of her powers.

(Picador, £14.99)

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories

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Edited by Martin Edwards

The latest ‘seasonal assortment box’ of winter mysteries from the British Library’s very collectable ‘Crime Classics’ series features a diverse range of detective stories from writers both famous and overlooked.

Perhaps it’s the pleasure of working towards their inevitable resolution that makes them so appealing at this time of year, when we tend to reflect on life and struggle to solve our own problems, or perhaps it’s the welcome inspiration from a range of murder methods when we’re cooped up with our families for too long. Whatever our psychological motivation, these thoroughly chilling and thrilling stories are perfect for wintry fireside evenings.

(British Library, £8.99)

The Snooty Bookshop: Fifty Literary Postcards


Tom Gauld

Collated from Tom Gauld’s popular Guardian series, these postcards brim with his offbeat geeky humour. There are laughs here aplenty: at our own reading habits, such as the number of our books we pretend to have read or packing far, far too many books for a holiday; at the industry’s hypocrisies – pro-ducing poetry anthologies ‘for people who don’t like poems’ and critics sneering at genre fiction, for example; as well as at the classics themselves. Pure manna for book nerds.

(Canongate, £12.99)

Rice’s Language of Buildings

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Matthew Rice

Most of us are sufficiently fluent in the English language, but Matthew Rice seeks to educate us in the language of buildings so that we can better describe and understand architecture, ‘the backdrop to our lives’. Leafing through his beautifully illustrated, accessible and illuminating reference book is a delight that will also help us never again to muddle our plinths, pediments and pilasters.

(Bloomsbury, £20)

Jeeves and the King of Clubs

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Ben Schott

Ben Schott, of Schott’s Original Miscellany fame, has written his debut novel as a glorious homage to P. G. Wodehouse, in which Jeeves is revealed to be a British Intelligence agent and Wooster gets caught up in a comically convoluted plot. Wodehouse aficionados will no doubt squabble over whether or not it lives up to the original joyful creations, but the novel comes endorsed by the Wodehouse Estate and is undeniably an impressive, hugely enjoyable feat of ventriloquism.

(Hutchinson, £16.99)

Faber & Faber Poetry Diary 2019

Faber Poetry Diary 2019_249721181_425351371

This smart diary is designed with the week laid out on each recto and a poem or cover design on each verso: a welcome balm and inspiration for creative souls who like to plan on paper. The diverse selection for 2019 includes verse from Christopher Reid, Charlotte Mew, Sylvia Plath and Philip Larkin, among many others.

(Faber & Faber, £12.99)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

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Simon Armitage, with illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

First told in the late 14th century and enduringly mysterious, exciting and beloved, this is the story of young Gawain, the only knight foolhardy enough to take on the challenge issued by the Green Knight when he arrives at Camelot one Christmas. Simon Armitage’s skilful rendition of this tale (his work was partly sparked by his wife’s dog-eared copy falling open at the word ‘wodwo’) is accompanied by reproductions of Clive Hicks-Jenkins’s rich and striking screen prints in this irresistible edition of the ultimate Christmas poem.

(Faber & Faber, £14.99)

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