Image from We Heart It
No matter how old I get, there will always be a certain thrill in gathering up and asessing my amassed cargo at the end of Christmas day (albeit the cargo is smaller but more precious these days). One, two or three things that are guaranteed to add weight and worth (in the sentimental sense) are books. Glorious books! A Christmas is never the same without them – whether it’s an anticipated prize winner for the book lover, the year’s most popular biography for a fair weather reader, or a cool coffee table tome, a book is a cosy companion for a long and languorous Christmas Day.
Here is my pick of the year’s fiction and non-fiction reads that i would love to give and receive…
The Night Circus: Erin Morgenstern, Paperback £12.99
Tipped to rival the beloved works of J.K Rowling, The Night Circus was released this autumn with great anticipation. It is the story of a mysterious travelling circus open only at night and constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Rêves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire.
Absorbing, fast-paced and magical Morgenstern creates a rich and immersive world set somewhere in 1886, realised down to the last detail. The atmosphere of the circus is almost palpable, evoking sights, sounds, smells and tastes. There are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, some tents contain clouds
and some ice and the circus casts a spell over it’s audience.
At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship between two young magicians, Celia, an enchanter’s daughter, and Marco, a rival sorcerer’s apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters, they find themselves locked in a deadly contest, forced to test the very limits of the imagination, and of their love.
An exquisitely woven tale its beautifully illustrated cover hints at the wonders within with die-cut covers and black-edged pages, making it the top contender for my Christmas giving.
Mary Boleyn, The Great And Infamous Whore: Alison Wier, Hardback, £20
For lovers of weighty historical fiction comes a highly anticipated tome from one of best writers of this genre, Alison Wier.
Mary Boleyn is remembered by posterity as a ‘great and infamous whore’. She was the mistress of two kings, Francois I of France and Henry VIII of England, and sister to Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. In this biography, apparently the first full-length biography published about Mary, Wier seeks to identify the truth about Mary and her life. Was Mary promiscuous? On what basis was she known as `The Great and Infamous Whore’? What evidence exists to support the birth order of the Boleyn sisters?
In Mary Boleyn, The Great And Infamous Whore Weir also sets out to examine Mary’s time and reputation in France, the details of her affair with Henry VIII and the possible children born as a consequence. Weir touches, as well, on Mary’s treatment by her family as well as the relationship between Mary and Anne. Because of the scarce information available about this pivotal figure in history, the book offers up not many revelations about this famous sister, but serves as an absorbing and intriguing framework to her life.
The Woman in Black, Susan Hill, Hardback, £9.99
Originally published in 1983, The Woman in Black is the epitome of everything that is perfect about a traditional ghost story.
Set against the classic backdrop of a strange and dilapidated house and a village of people who will not approach the isolated estate – a young lawyer arrives to put the affairs of a recently deceased client in order. As he works alone in the house, superbly powerful writing by Hill builds up a chilling and tense vision of eerie marshes, ghostly figures glimpsed in windows and spectral children.
The new imprint from Profile is a beautiful hardback edition of the bestselling classic ghost story. As well as being the basis for the UK’s second longest ever running stage play, the classic tale is set to work its way further into our imaginations with a major film starring Daniel Radcliffe due for release in 2012.
11.22.63, Stephen King, Paperback, £14.99
Hodder and Stoughton
A departure from King’s signature tales of horror, 11.22.63 is a masterpiece of a novel rooted historical fiction and time travel. The narrative is a thriller in which a Maine schoolteacher finds a portal to 1958 in a store cupboard and decides to save JFK from Lee Harvey Oswald’s bullet on that fateful date, the 22nd of November 1963.
Set almost entirely in the late 1950s and early 1960s, King renders the era so specifically that you are transported to a world of ten-cent root beers with foam; fin-tailed Chevrolets; Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis from the jukebox; rotary dial phones and party lines, all the while tracking Oswald’s movements in the months and days leading up to the Dallas shooting.
With extraordinary imaginative power, King weaves the social, political and popular culture of his baby-boom American generation into a devastating exercise in escalating suspense.
Death Comes to Pemberley, PD James, Paperback £12.99
Faber and Faber
The year is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons in the Pemberley nursery, Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live within seventeen miles, the ordered and secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable, and Elizabeth’s happiness in her marriage is complete. But their peace is threatened and old sins and misunderstandings are rekindled on the eve of the annual autumn ball.
The Darcys and their guests are preparing to retire for the night when a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley’s wild woodland, and as it pulls up, Lydia Wickham, an uninvited guest, tumbles out, screaming that her husband has been murdered.
A cross between a crime thriller and well-loved narrative Death Comes to Pemberley’s ability to bring cherished characters and familiar settings to life are truly exhilarating for Austen fans.
With countless and frankly questionable re-interpretations of classic novels on the market, [Jane Slayer, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies] Death Comes to Pemberley by famed crimed writer PD James is one wonderful re-make that shouldn’t be passed by.
The Help, Kathryn Stockett, Paperback, £7.99
We reviewed this excellent and much talked about book this summer, but if by some chance you or your loved ones have slept through this year and missed out on reading this gem, then The Help should definitely be inside that Christmas stocking!
Set in Jackson Mississippi in 1962, The Help sheds light on the lives of black domestic servants working in white Southern households in the early 1960s.
Narrated by three characters; the wise and serene maid Aibileen, who works for the Leefolt household, bringing up their little daughter Mae Mobley; Minny, Aibileen’s feisty friend, the best cook in town, who is prone to losing her job because of her big mouth; and tall, skinny Miss Skeeter, a white Southern belle with ambitions to be a writer.
Revolving around the unlikely friendship of these characters who form an alliance in the name of social change, the book is a bittersweet story that walks the boundaries between dark histories and chick-lit laced with Southern charm.
Charles Dickens, A Life: Claire Tomalin, Hardback, £30
This gloriously bound tome begins with beautiful illustrations on the inside of its hardback covers of colourful characters from classic Dicken’s novels and charming maps detailing notable locations in Victorian London.
Charles Dickens was a phenomenon: a demonicly hardworking journalist, the father of ten children, a tireless walker and traveller, a supporter of liberal social causes, but most of all a great novelist – the creator of characters who live immortally in the English imagination: the Artful Dodger, Mr Pickwick, Pip, David Copperfield, Little Nell, Lady Dedlock, and many more.
At the age of twelve he was sent to work in a blacking factory by his affectionate but feckless parents. From these unpromising beginnings, he rose to scale all the social and literary heights, entirely through his own efforts. When he died, the world mourned, and he was buried – against his wishes – in Westminster Abbey.
Yet the brilliance concealed a divided character: a republican, he disliked America; sentimental about the family in his writings, he took up passionately with a young actress; usually generous, he cut off his impecunious children.
Claire Tomalin, author of notable biographies Jane Austen: A Life and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, paints an unforgettable portrait of Dickens, capturing brilliantly in Charles Dickens, A Life the complex character of this great genius.
Just My Type, A Book About Fonts: Simon Garfield, Paperback, £9.99
A captivating read for designers and non-designers alike, Just My Type is a series of lyrical stories about how some of the most well-known and loved fonts came to be.
We learn about the uproar from the public on the day in 2009 when Ikea changed its fonts – throwing out the sleek Futura and replaced it with Verdana. About why Barack Obama opted for Gotham, while Amy Winehouse found her soul in 30s Art Deco. About the great originators of type, from Baskerville to Zapf, or people like Neville Brody who threw out the rulebook, or Margaret Calvert, who invented the motorway signs that are used from Watford Gap to Abu Dhabi. About the pivotal moment when fonts left the world of Letraset and were loaded onto computers … and typefaces became something we realised we all have an opinion about.
A surprisingly emotive read, Garfield traces the history of fonts from their earliest days, paying special attention to those which we’re most familiar with – Helvetica, Gill Sans, Arial, and Akzidenz Grotesk.
He writes about the artisans behind the lettering, and most interesting, how certain fonts cause emotional responses in the people who view them. Why were some fonts popular for hundreds of years, only to fall from favor? How do fonts determine what consumers buy and what they don’t buy? And how boring our lives would be if everything was printed in the same font.
Lives of The Novelists, A History of Fiction in 294 Lives: John Sutherland, Harback £30
This is a hefty tome that could be mistaken for nothing more than an encyclopedia of its kind, however Lives of the Novelist’s, intimidating in the first instance is enchanting and lively if a bookshelf has room for it. With absorbingly written bite sized chapters on the colourful lives of assorted novelists known and unknown from J.D Salinger to Margaret Atwood, Iris Murdoch to Ian McEwan the book is difficult to stop dipping once you start.
Each of the brief lives is headed by a provocative quotation by or about the author in question, and concluded with a little list offering “FN” (full name), “Biog” (recommended biography) and “MRT” (Most Read Text).
I would be super proud to have this on my long-suffering shelf, and not just because it’s an impressive looking addition, but because it’s superbly researched and absorbing content is something that Wikipedia could never offer.
Howards End Is On the Landing, A year of reading from home: Susan Hill Paperback £8.99
Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time.
The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again.A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howard’s End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.
Every home has a “Howard’s End is on The Landing”, a book that sits in the family’s library, a familiar part of everyday life but unused and maybe even un-read. This little non-fiction novel is a meander through Hill’s book related memories and brings to life all the intensely nostalgic feelings a bookworm has about reading… that summer afternoon you spent with Little Women behind your aunt’s sofa, or that weekend you dipped into a few chapters of your grandfather’s Fredrick Forsyth collection. All you’re memories can be found here!
Illustrators Unlimited, The Essence of Contemporary Illustration, Hardback £40
In glorious technicolour, Illustrators Unlimited from avant garde publishers Gestalten presents cutting-edge illustration talents scouted from around the world.
From established names to fresh up-and-comers—the book also reveals the most compelling styles and techniques that are practiced in this illustration today. In this beautiful reference book, each illustrator is introduced with a variety of lavish examples of his or her work plus an insightful text portrait written by design journalist James Gaddy.