Books to Give for Christmas

For booklovers, (aside from receiving well-chosen books), there is a real satisfaction in finding the perfect book to give. It’s not always easy though, so, if you’re looking for inspiration – you’ve come to the right place. We asked our Shiny reviewers and friends to tell us which book or books they’d like to give for Christmas and why.

We’ve included links to reviews where available, and ‘BUY’ links for the Book Depository for each book. (If you click through to the Book Depository and make a purchase, we will earn a small commission which helps to pay to maintain Shiny – thank you).

Simon Thomas – Shiny Editor at Large
I’d give any book lover a copy of The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell – because anybody who loves haunting the corners of secondhand bookshops will also love this peek behind the curtain. The realities of being a bookseller include financial struggles, lazy staff, and a whole host of difficult and bizarre customers – but Bythell makes it all sound completely hilarious.    Review  BUY

Harriet Devine – Shiny Editor
A book I’m going to give to at least one of my nearest and dearest is Shaun Greenhalgh’s memoir, A Forgers’s Tale, which I reviewed on Shiny recently. A real page-turner, this is the story of a man who has been described as Britain’s greatest forger – he created astonishingly authentic seeming works of art in a huge variety of media, working in his father’s garden shed with tools bought from the DIY store. Even if you disapprove, you can’t help being flabbergasted by his amazing talent and versatility. Highly entertaining and informative.  Review BUY

Karen Langley
Russian Émigré Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky, edited by Bryan Karetnyk. Not only is this book a landmark collection, bringing together a selection of previously untranslated works but it also contains a remarkably broad selection of stories which deal with love, loss, exile and the human condition. A wide range of authors feature, from the well-known like Bunin, the recently rediscovered such as Teffi and Gazdanov, and, significantly, a number of women authors new to me. The book is translated and notated in exemplary fashion, and it’s also incredibly readable. Essential for anyone who loves fine short stories of any type.   Review BUY

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes. A remarkable novel, and one that captures quite brilliantly not only the troubled life of the great Russian composer Shostakovich, but also what it was like to live under Soviet rule. A masterly performance by Barnes who gives a nuanced portrayal of his musician subject; I had been a little apprehensive about it as I love Shostakovich so much, but I needn’t have worried as it was totally convincing. The book is a gripping read and gives a real insight into a past regime.   Review BUY

Peter Reason
As a Christmas present for those who are outgoing and adventurous I would chose Nick Hunt’s traveller’s tale, Where the Wild Winds Are, his exploration of four named winds of Europe, the Helm, Bora, Foehn and Mistral, a book of adventure and meetings with remarkable people.  BUY

For nature lovers I would offer Adam Nicolson’s engaging account of the life of seabirds, The Seabird’s Cry, which draws on personal experience and scientific study, portraying the intelligence and adaptability of these birds, and the threats that they face as a result of human actions.  Review   BUY

Marina Sofia
The book which I’ve been recommending to everyone is Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War, because it gives voice to so many women whose participation in WW2 has been forgotten, downplayed or even punished. It also provides a very different perspective of war than we are accustomed to hearing in the Western world and should be required reading for all those who think war is easy, quick and solves problems.  Review  BUY

Isobel Blackthorn
For me it is Goblin by Ever Dundas. Out of all the terrific fiction I have read in 2017, Goblin stands out. Flawless in construction and execution, witty, deep and relevant, Goblin speaks to the mind and captures the heart. Review   BUY

Anne GoodwinThe Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks is the stuff of fairytale and nightmare, a historical novel of morality and mores, and the underworld we’d rather not see. Although the subject matter is bleak, Xan Brooks’ beautiful prose renders it strangely uplifting, and there’s a bright ending for some. Like nothing I’ve read before.  Review   BUY

As a more sober second choice one of my Shiny reviews, Learning from Baby P by Sharon Shoesmith: the more people read this book, the better chance we have as a society to have a grown-up debate about our collective responsibility to protect children. And even if we fail in that regard, at least the next social services manager to be the subject of a witch hunt will find some solace in knowing it’s not personal.  Review BUY

Karen Heenan Davies

My book selection is Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor which was longlisted for the Booker Prize this year.It’s an extraordinary novel. It has an innovative approach to the well-worn device of a missing girl; has a meticulously plotted structure and is poetic in its style of writing. Hard to put down even though it’s a long way off from being a thriller.  Review   BUY

Susan Osborne
Jon McGregor’s gorgeously poetic Reservoir 13 traces the effects of a young girl’s disappearance from a village in the north of England over the course of thirteen years, one for each of her life. Deeply compassionate, written in quietly lyrical prose and peopled with astutely observed, well-rounded characters, this is a superb novel.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  Review   BUY

Rob Spence
I find that some books have a resonance that last long after you’ve finished them. For that reason, the book I’d most like to give at Christmas is Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, which I think is one of the twentieth century’s truly great works of fiction. It is, as the subtitle suggests, ‘a tale of passion’, but passion so tightly constrained by Edwardian sensibilities that it can literally send people mad. Seen through the unreliable and possibly deceitful eyes of its much put-upon narrator, John Dowell, this novel yields more secrets with every reading.  BUY

Judith Wilson

I came fresh to Jennifer Egan’s work, and have not read her previous Pulitzer-Prize winning  novel (A Visit from the Good Squad).  But in Manhattan Beach I discovered a vast and sweeping, beautifully researched historical novel set in the Brooklyn Naval Yard during the Second World War – and in Anna, we have a feisty, complex and yet vulnerable heroine. The prose is exquisite and, despite being billed a ‘noir thriller’, to me, ultimately, this is a love story. Just glorious!  BUY

Gill Davies
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Twelve stories to entertain you with adventure, mystery, humour, and weirdness. There’s even a seasonal story, “The Blue Carbuncle” featuring a missing jewel and a Christmas goose.  BUY

Also Jane Gardam, Old Filth. An extraordinary novel about childhood, memory, loss and identity which is engrossing, original, and alternately funny and powerfully moving.  BUY

Rewild nick baker

Liz Dexter

I would give ReWild by Nick Baker, which I reviewed for Shiny earlier this year, as a Christmas present to anyone who already loves nature or wants to connect to their environment a bit better. It includes loads of activities you can try and is really inspiring.   Review BUY

I will also definitely be giving Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw to at least one person – this charming tale of an American girl coming of age in a small town was an instant favourite – and it was recommended by Shiny’s Simon and brought back into print by uber-librarian Nancy Pearl: what’s not to love!  Review   BUY

Alice Farrant
Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery. Christmas – for me – is this magical period of sentimentality and nostalgia, and Emily of New Moon fits right into that experience. Young Emily is suddenly orphaned and must go to live with her Mother’s family whom she has never met. It’s about adolescence and learning to love despite differences that seem unconquerable. I would hope that in giving this as a present to someone, they too might feel heart warmed in a similar way. Initially, I was going to pick something mesmerising like Just Kids by Patti Smith, but then I realised no Christmas is complete without an L.M. Montgomery book to read.  BUY

Helen Parry
It’s hard to think of a book that almost everyone I know would like, but perhaps Philip Pullman’s splendid ‘equel’ to His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust I: La Belle Sauvage, might be that book. It’s engrossing, exciting, magical and just a little bleak, and recipients would have to ignore their relatives and a second helping of Christmas pudding because they would be unable to put it down.  Review  BUY

A second book which I have loved this year is Living Alone by Stella Benson; a luminous, funny and angry story of a witch and her associates during First World War, it would delight fans of playful fantasy novels such as Lolly WillowesThe Love Child and Lud-in-the-Mist.  Review BUY

Susan Osborne

Full of flashbacks, vignettes and anecdotes, Before Everything sees five women – friends since school – come together when one of them is dying. A lovely empathetic and tender portrait, shot through with a dry humour which steers it well clear of the maudlin, Victoria Redel’s novel is a paean of praise to friendship.  Review BUY

Victoria Best – Shiny Editor at Large

The book I’d most like to give for Christmas is Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough. It is a powerful, excoriating overview of Donald Trump’s regime, the reasons he has come to power, and the things we can do about it. If you’ve read all of Klein’s previous books, this one might not be for you, as it travels back over her familiar ground of corporate branding, climate change and the use of chaos to make governmental changes that would otherwise be strongly resisted. But goodness me, do these factors cohere into a lucid explanation of Trump’s rise to power and a crystallisation of our fears. However, what’s good about this book is that Klein spends the last third discussing ways to combat Trumpism, and even if it’s a bit wafty and hopeful in places, it’s still better than being passive bystanders. A good book for anyone who’s concerned about the world going to hell in a handbasket.  BUY

Kim Forrester
I’d love to give everyone I know a copy of Sumner Locke Elliott’s Careful, He Might Hear You. This Australian classic, first published in 1963, is a warm-hearted, rambunctious and truly memorable novel about a six-year-old boy caught up in an emotional custody battle between his rich, snobby aunt and the kind-hearted aunt and uncle with whom he lives. It’s the kind of heart-swelling read that you want to press into everyone’s hands. I really adored it.  Review  BUY 

Basil Ransome-Davies
Assuming we can nominate anything in print, two choices for Crimbo: a mixed pair. The book that introduced me to political thought was Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Typically, Orwell didn’t just back the Spanish revolution on safe platforms. He was a soldier of the republic.  BUY

And when I’m really bummed I pick up my Beckett Reader and dip in. Soon I’m laughing. Orwell liked doing things the hard way, Beckett thought there was no other way so you might as well get on with it. Good authors for bad times. And Emily Dickinson. Better stop now!

Kate Gardner

My choice would be Carol (also known as The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith. It’s a beautiful, believable love story and a genuinely thrilling thriller. The language is gorgeous and compelling. Everyone should read it.

Terence Jagger
A Question of Upbringing, by Anthony Powell, because unlike many of my favourite books, it’s not so well known nowadays, and because it is beautifully written, easily accessible (and not too long for a Christmas afternoon!) and it leads on to the other 11 novels in the sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, which cover the whole period of the protagonist’s life from the 1900s to the 1960s.  It is sometimes criticised for being too socially restricted, but I find that irrelevant – it’s not completely true anyway, and the perceptions and the humour transcend class and time.  BUY

If you want a more socially inclusive equivalent, try C P Snow’s George Passant, which is the first volume of his 11 novel sequence, Strangers and Brothers, which covers the same period starting from a decidedly more humble base.  Snow is not the master that Powell is, and he writes more fully, but he is still a very fine and undeservedly neglected novelist. Both, in utterly different ways, show us a society in transition, the excitement of the 20s, the catastrophe of the 1939 war, and the renewal of the post war years, with great clarity and sympathy.

Rebecca Foster
A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives by Lisa Congdon. This celebration of women’s attainments after age 40 contains a lively mixture of interviews, first-person essays, inspirational quotes, and profiles of famous figures like Vera Wang, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Grandma Moses, all illustrated with Congdon’s whimsical drawings. It would make a perfect gift for a woman ‘of a certain age’ — or any age.  Review  BUY

The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane.  Macfarlane remembers the friend who introduced him to many of his favourite nature and travel books; he now shares that love of literature by passing on copies of certain beloved books to his students and the next generation of nature writers. This is a gem of an essay, and in pamphlet size it’s ideal for slipping into a reader’s stocking. BUY

Hayley Anderton
Mary Beard’s Women and Power: A Short Manifesto. I picked this up for myself after hearing about it on twitter, read it in a single sitting, coming out the other side feeling thoroughly invigorated, and with plenty to think about. There are so many people I want to share this book with, and a few of them are definitely getting it for Christmas. Review (by Liz)  BUY

Ambrose Heath – Good Drinks.Originally published in 1939, and reissued by Faber & Faber a couple of years ago, I firmly believe that every household needs a few vintage drinks books around. This one has a proper balance of hard and soft drinks for all occasions and is very good on Cocktails and punches. Useful and practical stuff at this time of year. Even better, Heath is just the sort of author you want to spend time with, so as both a practical guide and an enjoyable book to browse I think this one makes a great gift. BUY

Lucy Unwin
The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris  Just a thing of great beauty and joy. It’s exciting to unfold the huge pages, fun to twist your tongue around the words and children get lost in the stunning illustrations. We’d originally intended to take the book outside and get it muddy, whispering the spells to the wild. Instead, it’s ended up propped on the mantle piece as the best kind of living art work.  Review (by Peter) BUY

We That Are Young, by Preti Taneja. Nothing has shaken the roots of me, this year, quite like this book. There is a relentlessness to how heavily it bombards you: so casually fresh in every angle it takes, so much subtlety to each character’s twisted motivation, and so many beautifully crafted, perfect sentences. It’s also a great gift, as to buy it is to support a small press, Galley Beggars – a tiny independent publishing house. So you get an extra little Xmas glow for that!  Review BUY

Annabel – Shiny Editor

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is the kind of big novel that can be enjoyed by anyone. It sprawls over a large part of the twentieth century – but mostly stays in one place – The Metropole Hotel near Red Square, in which Count Rostov lives under house arrest. Over the decades he sees everything in the hotel, becomes one of the staff, fosters a daughter, has a long romance. It is gloriously funny, yet touching and tells much about the human condition. Truly a wonderful book to read.  Review BUY

That’s your lot! We hope you enjoyed our selections, and please do leave a comment with the books you’d like to give too.


2 thoughts on “Books to Give for Christmas

  1. A tough decision; either “The Master and Margarita” (and many thanks to Terence Jagger for introducing me to Bulgakov) or else the wonderful Colette and her novel “The Cat”. There is a feline aspect to both, though in other respects they appear very different, but ultimately they are both about passionate love and making huge sacrifices for the one who is the subject of that love.

  2. Pingback: Christmas Gift Recommendations for 2017 | Bookish Beck

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