Christmas Presents: Books

The Little Library Cookbook by Kate Young

We’ll be honest, we didn’t much like the sound of this cookbook, which conjures up recipes for dishes mentioned in novels: we imagined it would be insufferably twee. This is before we opened the book, however. Pudding features prominently, as we expected, and who wouldn’t want to recreate the tarts that the Queen of Hearts allegedly made in Alice in Wonderland or the cherry pie that appears as part of the wedding feast at the end of Cold Comfort Farm? (If you haven’t read Cold Comfort Farm you really must, by the way. We told you why when discussing Nina Stibbe last Christmas). Less obviously, there is also a recipe for chicken liver pate inspired by the meal Richard and Bunny eat early on in The Secret History and, also one for the clam chowder mentioned in Moby-Dick. What we really loved was that not only does the book look gorgeous and the recipes sound tantalising, but Young obviously really loves literature. She talks about all the novels she mentions with precision and passion, making each entry all the more evocative and satisfying. This is a book to wallow in, deliciously, whilst eating leftovers made by someone else. Later, you can start cooking her recipes but for now, just savour her writing.


The Boy with the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera

This is not a new book but it is utterly wonderful and the recent BBC adaptation reminded us how much we love it. It is one of our favourite memoirs of all time. At the age of 24, Sanghera discovered that both his father and one of his sisters is schizophrenic. His mother had protected him from this knowledge all his life but he researches the disease in an effort to understand it better.   Anyone who reads Sanghera’s journalism (he currently writes for The Times) will already know what an impeccably brilliant writer he is but what pushes this memoir into being something truly special is not just his moving exploration of his family life, but the fact that there is a real narrative drive to it. He tells us at the outset that he is preparing to write a letter to his mother which he will pay to be translated into Punjabi (she cannot read English) explaining that he cannot consent to the arranged marriage she expects of him as a good Sikh son. We await her reaction, which cannot be predicted. He is so nervous that at one point he observes “My calves began to perspire, something I’d never experienced before.”


White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Another great novel to buy as a gift this Christmas, particularly for anyone who loves blues music, is Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, which we still consider to be our novel of the year. Back in April we described it as ” a rare thing: a novel of ideas which possesses true narrative propulsion” and we stand by that. A murder-mystery and ghost story set to a backdrop of Blues legends, this is a must-read.



Miss Jane by Brad Watson

If you are looking for something less explosively gripping but no less worthy of your time, you should try Miss Jane by Brad Watson, which confounded our expectations and is unlike anything we have read before.  Inspired by the true story of his great aunt who was born with a genital defect that meant she couldn’t get married or have children, it’s a beautifully written book about the defiance of character against circumstance.



Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell

We are often asked for recommendations of new short story writers and our favourite recent collection is Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell. This is the first collection of short stories from the prizewinning novelist and playwright. The book is eleven stories strong and each of the stories seems to describe a character in peril so that holding one’s breath whilst reading them sometimes feels unavoidable. A tip: don’t start with the first story – there isn’t a dud in the collection but we found the opening story less immediately engaging than the others. There is now a small paperback version but we prefer the striking original cover pictured.


There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

If you have a niece or younger cousin who might appreciate some contemporary poetry, we enjoyed Morgan Parker’s latest collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. The reference to Beyoncé is not a red herring as she is crops up frequently but for our money, that is no bad thing.




All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

If you have friends who enjoyed the BBC 3 show Fleabag as much as we did whilst wondering if they were slightly too old for it, Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up should be an ideal present. It has something in common with Melissa Banks’ gorgeous The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing but is more sardonic. Wry, deftly observed and unafraid of candour, it’s a novel to retreat with when you want to duck out of the organised fun that families often impose on us at Christmas.

— Alex Peake-Tomkinson
6th December 2017