Ask the book buyer: Your book gift guide part one
This Christmas give the gift of a book – especially if the book in question offers something that little bit different, says book buyer Chris Rushby.
I'm not quite sure how to tell you this and don't relish being the bearer of difficult news. There are just six weeks until Christmas.
If you haven't already it's probably time to start thinking about turkeys versus geese; puddings, presents and the like. Specifically (there may be an iota of professional bias here) you may want to mull over which books you'll be buying as presents for which lucky recipients.
The Jarrold Christmas Gift Guide books pages are designed to simplify this decision-making, so for the next couple of these emails I'd like to draw your attention to some of the fine and fascinating titles to be found in the guide. This week here are some potential book gifts that might best be described as 'quirky'...
The Secret Life Of Cows by Rosamund Young
That herd of Friesians in the field will never look quite the same again. This unusual and charming little book is about how cows are more intelligent than you might think, written by a farmer who has been observing her own herd closely and thoughtfully for several decades. Originally published in 2003 by a tiny farming imprint, a keen-eyed editor at Faber spotted a reference to the book in a volume of Alan Bennett's diaries ("it alters the way one looks at the world" he wrote) and now at last it has a mainstream release.
Keeping On Keeping On by Alan Bennett
From a book mentioned in a volume of Alan Bennett's diaries to the latest collection of them (you didn't think this stuff was just thrown together, did you?) here is the paperback publication of Bennett's diary between 2005 and 2015, along with some other prose pieces. The term 'national treasure' is much over-used these days, but if anyone has claim to it this funny, witty, intelligent playwright, broadcaster and author probably does. All being well we will have some copies of the book signed by the author arriving later this week.
The Secret Life Of The Owl by John Lewis-Stempel
Lewis-Stempel is a prolific author, sometimes a warning sign of mediocre writing, but absolutely not in his case. He has written on subjects as diverse as the First World War and hedgerow food foraging. His earlier book Meadowland: The Private Life Of An English Field won the Wainwright Prize - rewarding the best of nature and travel writing - in 2015. His latest is about the legends and history of these ever-fascinating birds. The prose is clear and readable, the book's design sensible and satisfying: a fine gift for the bird-watchers or nature lovers in your life.
Flesh & Blood by Stephen McGann
A member of the McGann acting family, the author is probably best known as Dr Turner in the BBC series Call The Midwife, but he also happens to be a fine writer. Subtitled 'A History of My Family in Seven Maladies' what sounds like a potentially gloomy personal history of the author's family over a century and a half as told through the medical ailments they suffered is in fact a fascinating and moving story, highlighting its author's twin interests in medicine and genealogy, full of drama and some moments of quite profound insight.
Heath Robinson's Commercial Art by Geoffrey Beare
As a small child I inherited from a relative a children's book published in the 1920s called The Wonder Book Of Inventions. Otherwise quite serious, its endpapers were Heath Robinson cartoons of inventions illustrating how the world might look in some utopian future (predictably Heath Robinson-esque, of course). I spent hours poring over those funny, idiosyncratic drawings and continue to this day to be fascinated by his work. You, or the recipient of this thoughtful gift, will be fascinated to learn about the artist's numerous commercial commissions, ranging from asbestos cement roofing to bread.
Discover more gift ideas in the Wonderland Christmas Gift Guide