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