Rol­lick­ing reads

A well-cho­sen story never fails to please. LUCY LETH­BRIDGE has sug­ges­tions for ev­ery book­worm

The Oldie - - CHRISTMAS GIFT GUIDE 2018 -

For kids, adults, kidults, ev­ery­one, the ar­rival of a Phillip Pull­man novel is Big News. La Belle Sau­vage, best­selling vol­ume one in his Book of

Dust se­ries, is now in pa­per­back. More dae­mons, hur­rah! (David Fick­ling Books £7.99, Oldie price £6.43). Or try Neil Gaiman’s in­spi­ra­tional new book about mak­ing stuff - Art Mat­ters: Be­cause Your Imag­i­na­tion Can Change the

World, il­lus­trated by the bril­liant Chris Rid­dell. Ir­re­sistible. (Head­line £9.99, Oldie price £9.12).

James Roose-evans, now 92, is an au­thor, An­gli­can priest, theatre di­rec­tor, founder of the Hamp­stead Theatre and Bleddfa arts cen­tre. He is still as­ton­ish­ingly pro­lific – and this year saw the pub­li­ca­tion of not one but two mov­ing mem­oirs. The first, Blue Re­mem­bered Hills: A Rad­nor­shire Jour­ney, is an evoca­tive de­scrip­tion of how Roose-evans, ac­com­pa­nied by his mother and his part­ner, Hy­wel, bought an old house in ru­ral Wales in 1970. Half a cen­tury ago he found a world al­most un­changed, that’s now changed ut­terly. The se­cond, A Life

Shared, cel­e­brates his 51 years with Hy­wel, who died five years ago. It is a bold, beau­ti­ful book, not only about their love and friend­ship but also about how it was to be gay be­fore the Wolfenden Re­port. Roose-evans quotes John O’donoghue: ‘A friend is a loved one who awak­ens your life to the wild pos­si­bil­i­ties within you’. Both books are com­pelling, vivid, in­ti­mate. (Port Meadow Press, £10)

Any­thing pro­duced by the Fo­lio So­ci­ety is a treat, with bind­ings al­most too de­li­ciously at­trac­tive to break open. Its lat­est pub­li­ca­tions in­clude Or­well’s Homage to

Cat­alo­nia and Charles van Sand­wyk’s How to See Fairies, an il­lus­trated col­lec­tion of faerie fa­bles whose pic­tures look like a modern Arthur Rack­ham (£39.95 each). To es­cape prop­erly from modern life, the Fo­lio So­ci­ety’s three-vol­ume The

Jour­nals (1768-1779), by Cap­tain Cook, take you aboard the HMS

En­deav­our as it inches up the coast of terra incog­nita (£120).

Twitch­ers in the fam­ily? Bird­watch­ers, so­cial his­to­ri­ans and millinery lovers will all en­joy Tessa

Boase’s grip­ping ac­count of the found­ing of the RSPB – by women ve­to­ing osprey feath­ers in their hats. Suf­fragettes fea­ture too, in Mrs Pankhurst’s Pur­ple Feather: Fash­ion, Fury and Fem­i­nism – Women’s Fight for Change (Au­rum £20, Oldie price £14.72).

Fiery young fe­males will be stim­u­lated by Eliz­a­beth Fo­ley and Beth Coates’s What would Boudicca Do? Ev­ery­day Prob­lems Solved by His­tory’s Most Re­mark­able Women (Faber £9.99, Oldie price £7.45). It chan­nels ‘the spiky su­per­women of his­tory’, such as Frida Kahlo and Cleopa­tra, to fig­ure out how to dis­patch a love rat or tell a boss where to go. Bring it on.

My nephew, Cas­par, and I go to glo­ri­ous Gif­fords Cir­cus ev­ery year. So I am very en­am­oured with Pas­cal Ja­cob’s sump­tu­ously il­lus­trated doorstop The Cir­cus: A Vis­ual

His­tory (Blooms­bury £30, Oldie price £21.69). It’s a ban­quet of acro­bats, jug­glers, clowns and trapeze artists. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll be hand­ing it over.

Here’s one for a prop­erly keen gar­dener: The Book of Seeds by Dr Paul Smith (Ivy Press £35, Oldie price £26.80) is a mag­nif­i­cently il­lus­trated (life-size) guide to 600 seeds from all over the world, in a daunt­ing range of sizes, shapes and evo­lu­tion­ary vari­a­tions. Fas­ci­nat­ing. Check out too The Brief Life of

Flow­ers by Fiona Stafford (John Mur­ray £20, Oldie price £17.80), a glo­ri­ous book about trees that twines to­gether na­ture, cul­tural his­tory, anec­dote and folk­lore. Ve­gan com­ing for Christ­mas?

Bosh!, by blokeish veg­etable con­verts Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, is a mine of de­li­cious things to do with al­mond milk, tofu and more. (HQ £20, Oldie price £13.82). Deca­dent eaters will love Kitty Travers’s book of heav­enly ice cream and sor­bet ideas, La Grotta Ices (Square Peg £18.99, Oldie price £13.82), which in­cludes kumquat cus­tard and mul­berry granita, mouth­wa­ter­ingly il­lus­trated.

I can’t bear seag­ulls. It’s their hor­ri­ble caw­ing and the way they clamp their beady eyes onto your fish and chips. But I’m open to con­ver­sion by na­ture writer Tim Dee, whose Land­fill (Lit­tle Toller £16) looks at these waste scav­engers in lov­ing de­tail.

There has to be a dog book for Christ­mas, doesn’t there? And this year’s nom­i­na­tion goes to poet Christo­pher Reid’s Old Tof­fer’s Book of Con­se­quen­tial Dogs –a verse com­pan­ion to T S Eliot’s Old Pos­sum’s Book of Prac­ti­cal Cats (Faber £9.99, Oldie price £7.09). They are, he writes, ‘a rough and ready bunch:/you wouldn’t take them out to lunch’. With de­light­ful, Os­bert Lan­cas­t­er­ish il­lus­tra­tions by El­liot Elam (Faber £14.99, Oldie price £11.09).

Cult au­thor Ur­sula K le Guin, too big to be con­signed to fan­tasy or science fic­tion, died this year at the age of 88. The Fo­lio So­ci­ety has a new boxed edi­tion of her pre­scient and fas­ci­nat­ing novel, The Left

Hand of Dark­ness (£34.95). I won’t re­veal the plot but will haz­ard it might be an in­ter­est­ing read for a gen­der-fluid rel­a­tive who is dif­fi­cult to buy for. Talk­ing of cult au­thors, the J R R Tolkien bar­rel has not yet been fully scraped and a ‘for­got­ten’ novel, a pre­quel to the Lord of the

Rings tril­ogy, emerged this year, edited by J R R’s son, Christo­pher Tolkien, called The Fall of

Gon­dolin (Harpercollins £20, Oldie price £13.03).

Re­mem­ber stone pol­ish­ers? In the Seven­ties, the rhyth­mic grind and slosh of the pol­isher fol­lowed any self-re­spect­ing English beach hol­i­day. Out came the shiny peb­bles col­lected from some wind-blown East Anglian shin­gle, all ready to be stuck with araldite onto hideous pen­dants, ready for Christ­mas. If you do re­mem­ber, then you prob­a­bly had a copy of Clarence El­lis’s 1965 guide,

The Peb­bles on the Beach, now reprinted with an in­tro­duc­tion by Robert Mac­far­lane (Faber £9.99, Oldie price £6.94).

The Bri­tish Li­brary’s at­trac­tive re­prints of de­tec­tive nov­els con­tin­ues apace. Lat­est of­fer­ings are The

Belt­ing In­her­i­tance (1964) by Ju­lian Sy­mons, a golden-age great. It’s de­scribed as ‘an at­mo­spheric novel of fam­ily se­crets’: just the thing, then, for Christ­mas (Bri­tish Li­brary £8.99, Oldie price £6.45). For the foot­ball lover in the fam­ily, what about The Arse­nal Sta­dium

Mys­tery by Leonard Grib­ble, orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1939 and fea­tur­ing ev­ery real-life player in the Arse­nal team of that year? There’s a body on the pitch and foul play is sus­pected. (Bri­tish Li­brary £8.99, Oldie price £7.41).

En­thu­si­asts for gor­geous end pa­pers as well as un­earthed gems will pounce on the lat­est from Perse­phone Books – Marghanita Laski’s comic novel Tory Heaven, orig­i­nally pub­lished in the aus­ter­ity high-wa­ter mark that was Britain in 1948. It con­cerns a group of five peo­ple re­turn­ing to post-war Eng­land af­ter five years on a desert is­land. They are led by James Leigh-smith (‘Think Ja­cob ReesMogg’ says Perse­phone’s mis­chievous cat­a­logue de­scrip­tion),

hor­ri­fied by the so­cial changes he sees about him, pray­ing the clock be turned back – and lo, it is. Be care­ful what you wish for is its all-tootopi­cal mes­sage. (Perse­phone £15, Oldie price £13.29).

An­other Oldie favourite, Slightly Foxed, has a col­lectible gift for bib­lio­philes on spe­cial of­fer. At £336 it will dent your Christ­mas bud­get, but how lucky the per­son who re­ceives this set in their stock­ing – 21 beau­ti­fully bound SF hard­backs in gem-like colours, in­clud­ing Ysenda Max­tone Gra­ham’s bril­liant bi­og­ra­phy of Jan Struther, The Real

Mrs Miniver, and Hi­lary Man­tel’s Giv­ing up the Ghost.

Lastly, a one-off to thrill any­one who mourns the tra­di­tional, utopian squat­ter. Re­mem­ber Fre­sto­nia? In 1977, a squat­ted street of derelict houses around Fre­ston Road in west Lon­don de­clared in­de­pen­dence from the UK, ask­ing the UN to send a peace­keep­ing force to pre­vent evic­tions. Tony Sleep was there tak­ing pho­to­graphs, now pub­lished in Wel­come to Fre­sto­nia (Fre­sto­nian Gallery, £35). Both joy­ous and melan­choly, it’s a cel­e­bra­tion of col­lec­tive spirit and sur­vival in a Lon­don al­most gone. To or­der books, go to www.the­oldie. Prices in­clude p&p, but may vary slightly.

Top, fungi folk by Charles van Sand­wyck; Be­low, James Roose-evans, Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor as Cleopa­tra and a feathered ‘bird of par­adise’ hat

Clock­wise from be­low: The Left Hand of Dark­ness, The Book of Seeds, La Grotta Ices, Wel­come to Fre­sto­nia

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