Do you have what it takes for space? Quiz books, maps and Blue Peter annuals abound
This year, the very best stocking filler books aren’t books and they’d never fit into a stocking. That aside, there are all the usual sorts of quiz books, plus Tim Peake’s The Astronaut Selection Test Book (Century), which gave me terrible 11-plus flashbacks. Do you have what it takes for space? No, is the obvious answer. Much more my level is The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book (Trapeze). When the apocalypse comes and Google Maps goes down, you’re going to be glad you know how to get to the highest point via footbridges (FB), scree slopes (tiny circles) and ancient battle sites (crossed cutlasses, with dates).
As for humour, there’s always
Coach (Canongate) by Rob Sears, the man who last year brought us The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump. This book offers advice on how to “go full Putin” and “Be More Vlad” – in dealing, say, with someone like Donald Trump. “If someone with unwarrantedly high self-esteem lumbers into your workplace, a welljudged backhanded compliment is a great way to cut them down to size.”
If it’s yet more Trump you’re after, try Donald Trump! Annual 2019 (Portico), with its “Dreamy Donald” pin-ups and Don and Kim masks. As for actual annuals, Here’s One I Made Earlier (Kyle) assembles the best of the old Blue Peter annuals, including John Noakes showing you how to make the classic Advent crown from coat hangers and tinsel, and the bloke off The One Show demonstrating how to make Thunderbirds’ Tracy Island from cardboard and a squeezy bottle. Simpler times.
Among the vast selection of pet-related publications, Dog Show 1961-1978 (Hoxton Mini) is by far the best, featuring the black and white images of the documentary photographer Shirley Baker, taken at dog shows throughout the UK at a time when all women looked like poodles and all men looked like bloodhounds. Even the dogs look dated.
As for that ever-popular meta-category, the Christmas book about Christmas, there are, as always, plenty of Ye Traditional Little Books of Snow and Short Histories of Reindeer and such like, but Timothy Day’s I Saw Eternity the Other Night (Allen Lane) stands out among the festive throng for a number of reasons, not least because it’s not really a Christmas book. It is a serious study of modern English choral traditions, but because this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, it counts as scholarship in a jolly jumper. The perfect Boxing Day gift for your serious uncle.
Another oddity is Marnie Fogg’s The Art of the Tea Towel (Pavilion), which is a catalogue of great teatowel designs. Well, you are going to be doing a lot of washing up. Fogg provides short captions in the tone of a world-weary museum curator conducting the last tour of the day. “Created by Ulster Weavers at the time of Bananarama, Flashdance and Jane Fonda’s workout video, Flash presents a dégradée sports stripe on a strong diagonal to create a sense of dynamic movement fit for a yuppie kitchen.” And so to the big books and non-books. Maps of London & Beyond (Batsford) is a Times Atlas- size tome, featuring the weird and wonderful maps of the artist Adam Dant: “The Grand Graffiti Map of Rome”; “Modigliography”, “Shakespeare’s Shoreditch”. Imagine if William Blake were a cartographer. Finally, Communicado! (Redstone) is a box containing 30 large-format cards with mottoes that allow you to communicate what you really think, such as: “I’m Fine, Just Get On With Your Own Life”, which is surely the message we all want to send and receive this Christmas. Thunderbirds are go … with annuals
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Vladmir Putin: Life