Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Last-Minute Christmas Shopping and Other Stories

I always buy books as Christmas presents. It probably makes me predictable and dull (not to mention the Least Favourite Aunt), but I see it as a sacred duty. I also like to compare notes with others who do the same, and much to my delight other bloggers have been recommending books as Christmas presents – for instance Susan Hill (look for posts titled ‘Christmas Book Sets’) – or else doing their ‘Best of 2007’ lists (for instance here, here and here). Most people will probably have bought and wrapped their presents already, but in case anybody’s still looking for that perfect last-minute gift, we decided to gather a few recommendations!

Perfect Presents for…

… Bibliophiles, from Jackie:

The Most Beautiful Libraries in the World by Guillaume de Laubier and Jacques Bosser. This lavish coffee table book works on many levels: architecture, travelogue, history, bibliophilia; so it could fit under many trees and is well worth the price. Filled with splendid photos by James H. Billington, it surveys libraries in 12 countries, from universities such as Dublin and Oxford, to palaces in Vienna and Prague and the more plebeian in New York City. Some of the libraries, like the Vatican, are inaccessible to the public, so it’s a treat to see the concealed spaces where priceless books are stored there. With each batch of photos is a brief essay on the history, details and unique qualities of that particular library. My favorite was the gothic John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, U.K.

At times the architectural details outshine the books and it’s amazing to see how much art is included in the many collections. It’s also interesting to compare decorative aspects of the various libraries, their similarities (busts of philosophers, ceiling murals) and differences (dark wood in industrialized cities, gilt and light walls in royal locations). Altogether a nicely done book and sure to please anyone who receives it.

Harry N. Abrams 2003 248 pp. ISBN: 0810946343

… Non-Fiction Readers, Anglophiles and History Lovers, from Mhairi:

England, Their England by A G McDonnell. Never out of print, this wry and well-observed sidelong glance at the English has justly become famous for its cryingly funny description of a village cricket match. There are other joys though … the country house party for one. Although a touch melancholy at times, it’s nevertheless the ultimate “feel good” read.

Picador 1983 208 pp. paperback ISBN: 0330280414

In complete contrast, Death at the Priory: Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick is the ultimate page-turner. It’s a new(ish) examination of the famous unsolved murder of Charles Bravo. I defy you just to read the first page and then stop … Superbly well told and well researched.

Atlantic Books 2002 192 pp. paperback ISBN: 1903809444

… Adolescent Boys, from Eve:

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve. A retelling of the Arthurian Legend by the author of the Moral Engines series. Brilliantly written and engrossing.

Scholastic 2007 304 pp. hardcover ISBN: 0439955335

Jack Flint and the Redthorn Sword by Joe Donnelly. This is a portal to other worlds page turner based on Celtic myths and legends as Jack Flint searches for his father. Humour, excitement and suspense. And an oldie but undoubtedly a work of genius – if you haven’t tried these books you are really missing out.

Orion 2007 400 pp. hardcover ISBN: 1842555812

Lord Loss by Darren Shan. The first in the Demonata series. If you don’t mind a bit of grisly horror and you have a teenage boy who won’t read – get him this book. Actually get him all Darren Shan’s books; they are exceptional. Demons, chess, blood, guts and gore – fantastic!!!

HarperCollins 2006 272 pp. paperback ISBN: 0007193203

… Grown-Up Boys, Smokers, and People Who Bemoan Political Correctness, from Leena:

The Little Girl and the Cigarette by Benoît Duteurtre – I wrote about this book earlier this year, and even though my review wasn’t entirely complimentary, this is a short entertaining, albeit very polemical book and back then I thought this would make an excellent present for many people I know. I’ve heard it greatly praised by men who normally never pick up a novel… make of that what you will.

Telegram Books 2007 200 pp. paperback ISBN: 1846590299

… Grown-Up Girls with a Sense of Humour, and Men Who Aren’t Afraid of Romantic Comedy, also from Leena:

Stupid and Contagious by Caprice Crane. One of the best books I’ve read all year – a hilarious, oddball romantic comedy with great characters, music, and, er, Cinnamilk. (You’ll have to read the book to find out what that means.) The term ‘chick lit’ puts off a lot of people, so let’s say Crane is a bit like a female Nick Hornby but much funnier. What a discovery. I’m currently reading Crane’s second novel Forget About It, which is also excellent but so far seems to be more ‘conventional’ chick lit. A proper review of these two books to follow later! (Warning: If you do read Stupid and Contagious, you may never want to eat in a restaurant again.)

Little, Brown 2006 336 pp. paperback ISBN: 0446695726

… People on the Verge of a Breakdown and People Who Are Wondering About the Meaning of It All, again from Leena:

Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna. The main character is a journalist whose mother has died, and who suddenly sees no point whatsoever in her work. She quits her job, his boyfriend leaves her for a friend of hers, and she spends most of these pages staying with increasingly reluctant friends and humiliating herself in various small ways, as she seeks the Meaning of Life and her financial situation goes from bad to worse. Not as depressing as it sounds – this is a fine, timely novel with a lot of humour and insight and an uplifting ending. A proper review of this also to follow…

Faber & Faber 2007 paperback 272 pp. ISBN: 0571232604

… Anybody Who Enjoys Intelligent Women’s Fiction, from Rosy:

Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton. A great Christmas present, particularly for women who want a few social issues and the odd institutional dilemma. Despite a cover full of pink and hearts, the romance is not particularly high up the mix in this intelligent gentle read. Part campus novel, part exploration of mother/daughter relationships, Hearts and Minds is about Martha, Senior Tutor at an all-female Cambridge College and the outrage and manoeuvrings that take place amongst the female members upon the arrival of the first ever male “mistress” of the college: ex-TV man, James Rycarte. I was reminded a little of Margaret Forster’s Mother Can You Hear Me? in its knowing exploration of the pressures of the forty-something career-woman, balancing the duties of her work, her conscience and the demands of a resentful family. In atmosphere, though, it has the leisurely pace and comfort factor of a Sunday night TV drama – something like Inspector Morse – and I don’t mean that pejoratively. Its gentle comforting atmosphere is part of its charm.

I will probably give it to my mother. And also my mother-in-law – both socially conscious women who take a keen interest in the world around them and would enjoy this absorbing, intelligent – yet gentle – read.

Headline Review 2007 hardback 341 pp. ISBN: 0755333888

… Adolescent Girls:

Go to Chicklish – they cover this territory so well that we don’t even have to try.

… Little Children:

See the post below!

Also, there’s a new picture book titled Christmas Magic, written by Sue Stainton and illustrated by Eva Melhuish (Katherine Tegen Books, ISBN: 0060785713). I haven’t read the book so I shouldn’t be recommending it, but the illustrator’s Christmas cards are absolutely delightful, so if the pictures in this book are even half as good it should be worth buying for those alone…

7 comments on “Last-Minute Christmas Shopping and Other Stories

  1. rosyb
    December 18, 2007

    What a scrumptious-looking article, Leens. Good enough to eat. I must say I wasn’t initially sure about an idea of a book on libraries but seeing that photo and the accompanying blurb it really looks amazing.

  2. Sarah
    December 18, 2007

    The book on libraries really does look fab. So does the one about the English. Great stuff. Thanks.

  3. Emily
    December 18, 2007

    Wow, I fancy so many of these, especially ‘Death at the Priory’ and ‘Stupid and Contagious’ – this calls for a P.S. on my letter to FC (actually I might just email him). Thanks, foxes!

  4. Luisa
    December 18, 2007

    Brilliant list! And you’re so kind, mentioning Chicklish! I’ll have to get our present recommendations up now – quick!

    I’ll be recommending this post to everyone, and p’raps even the red-coated man himself. (My postman told me today that he’s been delivering letters to Santa. Contacts, eh?)

  5. Kirsty
    December 19, 2007

    What a wonderful list! I’ve taken away some recommendations, if not for Christmas then for my own reading next year…

  6. Jackie
    December 20, 2007

    I read “Stupid and Contagious” a couple months ago & second everything Leena said about it. You really will laugh out loud in places. Christmas Magic looks lovely; wow, look at that artwork. Some of the other books mentioned will definitely be on my reading list in the coming year.

  7. Annie
    October 30, 2008

    Let’s hope you are not the Least Favorite Aunt for buying books for Christmas gifts…for across the pond, I do the same! Lovely site and excellent book recommendations. I found you tonight while doing some early “Christmas Shopping”…after doing research and writing my article for Santa Claus Letters and other personalized gifts, I was in the spirit of shopping! If you are looking for something for children other than books you are welcome to have a look at my article…I think my name may be linked to the site.

    Anyway, I am bookmarking your site to see what you may offer for the Christmas season coming up!

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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