And thereby hangs a tail…
Cal Revely-Calder has just the book for a horrible and inevitable festive hangover
o begin with a series and subject that apparently have no end, the Ladybird “story of ” books are back. Their latest,
(Ladybird, £7.99) is impeccably democratic: it puts the boot into all sides with equal vim. From snooty Remainer Helen to pipe-smoking Leaver Vernon, you’ll probably recognise every caricature from the table you have just escaped.
Less biting and more cerebral is John Sutherland’s
(Reaktion, £12). Sutherland brings the entire literary canon into orbit around the political black hole. Is Blake’s “Jerusalem” Brexity? (Sort of.) Is Kipling? (Not quite.) “Brexit” itself is an ugly word, especially when you hear it several times on every page, but since the rest of public life is lost in its vortex, why not literature too?
Alternatively, escape this green and pleasant land for a while with
(White Lion, £20). Travis Elborough and mapmaker Marvin Brown guide us across a series of geographical oddities, from an Australian lake the colour of strawberry milkshake to a Japanese island overrun by cats. The photography is luscious and the text fascinating.
More distant yet, in both spatial and cultural terms, is Martin Amis’s
(Jonathan Cape, £14.99). Out of print since the Eighties, it is a quirky guide to arcade games from Space Invaders to Gorf. Amis’s style is loopy – “PacMan player, be not too proud nor too macho, and you will prosper on the dotted screen”.
If you can’t face 11 days of turkey sandwiches, you could go seriously off-piste with
(Summersdale, £10.99) Our book of the year – and maybe of Ondaatje’s career – this is both a terrifically tense spy thriller and a delicate coming-ofage tale. (Jonathan Cape) by Alix Carey. Armed with only a ton of sugar and some fish-themed moulds, you can make all kinds of oceanic snacks, from “octopus arm” churros to a “mertastic” milkshake (below). You can even learn your own
“mermaid name”, which is guaranteed to sound illicit.
By contrast, there’s nothing but innocence in Josh Sutton’s
(Seven Dials, £9.99), inspired by the picnics in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five tales. There are jam tarts, ginger biscuits, rabbit stew and (the greatest great) an unironic use of the words “slap-up” and “scrummy”.
Blyton died in 1968, the same year that Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton starred in Where
Eagles Dare. Geoff Dyer’s
(Penguin, £7.99) is a loving little tribute to a film that, Dyer admits, makes “no claims to being a work of art”, but its “obdurate power and ageless magic” are so primally satisfying, that he can’t help but chat about it for 100 snappy pages.
If you poured yourself a drink at the start of this list, here’s one more for the next day. In (535, £16.99), Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall sets out in search of the drinker’s holy grail: a hangover cure. It’s a tale of misadventure, wild living and sickness, as well as a piece of serious, experimental research. Bishop-Stall proudly declares “at the time of this note, I am still alive”. You can raise a glass to that, and then – since it’s Christmas – raise a couple more.
The Story of Brexit The Good Brexiteer’s Guide to English Lit Atlas of the Unexpected Invasion of the Space Invaders Cookbook The Mermaid by Michael Ondaatje Five Go Feasting “Broadsword Calling Danny Boy” Hungover