Lit­er­ary stock­ing fillers

Emily Rhodes sug­gests eight books that would make the ideal present

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

The Pen­guin Clas­sics Book

Edited by Henry Eliot (Par­tic­u­lar Books, £30) 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’.


Carol Ann Duffy (Pi­cador, £14.99) 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.

The Christ­mas Card Crime and other stories

Edited by Martin Ed­wards (Bri­tish Li­brary, £8.99) 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.

The Snooty Book­shop: Fifty Lit­er­ary Post­cards

Tom Gauld (Canon­gate, £12.99) 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—pro­duc­ing 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.

Rice’s Lan­guage of Build­ings

Matthew Rice (Blooms­bury, £20) 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.

Jeeves and the King of Clubs

Ben Schott (Hutchin­son, £16.99)

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.

Faber & Faber Po­etry Diary 2019

(Faber & Faber, £12.99) 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.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Si­mon Ar­mitage, with il­lus­tra­tions by Clive Hicks-jenk­ins (Faber & Faber, £14.99) 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 Hick­sJenk­ins’s rich and strik­ing screen prints in this ir­re­sistible edi­tion of the ul­ti­mate Christ­mas poem.

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