Book Picks

As much as I like Christmas time (mainly as an excuse to over-eat, watch films and have alcohol for breakfast on Christmas day itself), I do find the whole present-giving / receiving part a bit odd. 
I'm certainly happy to give people presents but just hate the idea of tat and toiletry sets, bought last-minute for the sake of it and destined for the landfill or the back of a drawer. It's a waste of your money and lacks thought and creativity - surely the point of giving someone a gift in the first place.
I like the idea of presents that can be used in one transaction, as it were, like tickets for something, and of course edible gifts are always welcome (so long as you know the person you're giving it to will enjoy it). A hamper of local produce or items that would normally be a splurge I think is practical too.
One of the best presents I think you can give though is a book. An epic novel, a book of poetry, a guide on how to make cheese or a compilation of dubious-sounding but apparently factual nuggets - there's something for everyone. Not only are books easy to wrap, with satisfyingly crisp edges, but they can be loaned to other people afterwards or even given to a charity shop if it is unwanted on a bookshelf. 
And speaking of, why not look in charity shops in the first place to buy books? Oxfam apparently sells 11 million of them a year and has become the biggest second-hand bookseller in Europe. 
It's unlikely you'll find the following books - my picks for presents - in a charity shop but you never know, you might uncover a gem - and save some money to spend on a bottle of something fizzy for Christmas day...
Undisputed Truth: My Autobiography by Mike Tyson - I have pretty much zero interest in boxing, but after reading an interview with him in The Times recently I found myself intrigued by Tyson's life, from a troubled childhood in Brooklyn to squandering the hundreds of millions of dollars he earned.
The Bucket: Memories of an Inattentive Childhood by Allan Ahlberg. Anyone who loved reading as a child must have come across the work of Allan Ahlberg and his wife Janet (I consider Each Peach Pear Plum a literary leviathan). This sweet-looking book gives a bit of the background of Allan and is a mix of stories, poems and drawings.
Mary Poppins - The Complete Collection by P.L Travers - The recently released film about the author will no doubt spark new interest in the Mary Poppins stories, which were famous long before Walt Disney turned them into the classic 1964 film. It will be interesting to read the original works and see how they compare to the character that most people will be familiar with.
Eat - The Little Book of Fast Food by Nigel Slater - There are few things as enjoyable as flicking through cookbooks, pretending that you'll make everything you see, and while I don't actually own any Nigel Slater books, I have read the excellent Toast and I like the look of his latest offering and the way it is divided into sections like eating "in the hand," "in a bowl," or "under a crust."
Happy - Lonely Planet - Not a new book but one that I do own and keep beside my bed to flick through to read about things like Buddhist sand mandalas and the Mexican Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead).

A good book has no ending.  ~R.D. Cumming


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