From the art fanatics to the page turner types, there is a book for every kind of reader on Orna Mulcahy’s Christmas List…
A good bookshop will have all you need for the season. Forget Amazon. There’s nothing like the excitement of a bookshop at Christmas. The throng and the buzz, the gotcha feeling when you find the last copy packed in a tight row of spines; the towers of bestsellers, the intriguing staff picks, not to mention the blessed relief when it comes to wrapping a book rather than, say, an air fryer or a Christmas jumper. But which books to give? Here are some suggestions for all kinds of readers…
Nobel literature laureate Annie Ernaux’s work includes some very slim volumes but don’t let that put you off. HAPPENING, at under 70 pages, is a heart-breaking account of her back street abortion in 1963; SIMPLE PASSION, at under 40 pages, is one of the best accounts of an affair you will ever read.
However the book that is considered her masterpiece is THE YEARS (Fitzcarraldo Editions, €16), published in 2008. Covering six decades of Earnaux’s life against the backdrop of social, political and cultural upheavals in France, it’s been described as a modern day Remembrance of Things Past.
Bono’s memoir SURRENDER: 40 SONGS, ONE STORY (Cornerstone, €23.99), will make its way under a thousand trees.
Actor Richard E Grant’s A POCKETFUL OF HAPPINESS (Gallery, £20), comes soon after his wife’s death and mingles heartfelt memories with high-level celebrity gossip.
On his death in 2008, The Economist wrote that actor Paul Newman was “the most generous individual, relative to his income, in the 20th century of the United States.” Written from reams of transcripts discovered after his death, PAUL NEWMAN, THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF AN ORDINARY MAN (Century, €22.99) reveals a sexy, devoted husband from Hollywood’s favourite marriage. His wife of 50 years, Joanne Woodward (now in her 90s and suffering from Alzheimer’s) installed two doors to their bedroom so that the children couldn’t intrude. Newman’s Irish connection is going strong with the family’s continued support of the Barretstown project in Co Kildare, helping families with seriously ill children.
Agatha Christie, writer of 80 mysteries, created a mystery of her own life, particularly when she disappeared for eleven days in 1926, at the height of her fame. Lucy Worsley sheds some light in the fast-paced and entertaining AGATHA CHRISTIE: A VERY ELUSIVE WOMAN (Hodder & Stoughton, €18.99). While not quite solving the case of the missing author, it’s a satisfying read about a woman who outsold the Bible and Shakespeare in her day.
JAN MORRIS, LIFE FROM BOTH SIDES (Scribe, £25) is a fascinating account of the celebrated journalist and travel writer born James Morris, who reported on the Suez crisis and the conquest of Everest, and in the 1970s transitioned to become a woman, while remaining married to her wife, Elizabeth Tuckniss, throughout their lives.
LIFE, ART, DESIGN
Mario Testino’s I LOVE YOU (Taschen, £60) is a wedding fest showing A-list brides – and the occasional groom, dressing, chatting, smoking and always looking stunning. There are plenty of ideas to take away for anyone planning to get hitched in 2022.
The artist in the family might enjoy LOVE LUCIAN: THE LETTERS OF LUCIAN FREUD 1939–1954 (Thames & Hudson, £65) which is filled with drawings, postcards, diary entries and accounts of his travels with friends, of wild evenings in Paris and light filled days on the Riviera.
Dry Robe devotees will appreciate Dr Susanna Soberg’s WINTER SWIMMING (MacElhose Press, €25), which expands on the physical and mental benefits of cold plunges in between fascinating photographs of winter swimmers from Salthill to Siberia. Perfect reading before the Christmas Day swim.
For the designer in the clan, HAY (Phaidon, £39) celebrates 20 years of the influential Danish design company whose lighting, shelving and sofa designs have been endlessly copied, while their collaborations with IKEA and Cos have become cult items.
Reality TV star and influencer Stacey Solomon’s TAP TO TIDY AT PICKLE COTTAGE (Ebury Press, €17.99) is a decorating guide to her own home without a single photograph. Instead, sketches are accompanied by the down-to-earth DIY advice that’s earned her five million followers on Instagram. It’s an encouraging read for anyone setting up a home of their own.
HOUSE AND HOME IN GEORGIAN DUBLIN edited by Conor Lucey, an associate professor of History at UCD (Four Courts Press, €45) is a scholarly account of Irish interiors through the 18th century, told through essays on each room and perfect for those who delight in minute furnishing detail such as china patterns, furniture design and bathing facilities.
Madeline illustrator and author Ludwig Bemelmans wrote more than 40 books including this reissued 1955 treasure, TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST (Pushkin Press, £9.99). Not a children’s book, it’s his tribute to the celebrated American actress and decorator Elsie de Wolfe, who decorated homes for the Vanderbilts and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, banishing heavy Victorian drapes in favour of light colours, mirrors and leopardskin. Bemelmans was a regular guest at her LA home and accompanied her on visits to clients and friends describing in minute detail the fads and furnishings of the day.
With sales in the millions and legions of TikTok fans, Colleen Hoover dominates bestseller lists everywhere, but where to start with her 19 or so novels? Readers often recommend VERITY (Sphere, €12; also available as a giftable glitzy hardback), a chilling mystery in which hard-up writer Lowen is hired to complete a series of books by celebrity author Verity Crawford. Crawford is supposedly comatose after a car accident that followed the death of her twin girls in separate incidents. But, when Lowen moves into the writer’s home and discovers her secret diary, she gets the distinct feeling that Verity is watching her every move. The plot twist won’t surprise everyone but Hoover still has plenty of shocks up her sleeve.
Sofia Slater’s AULD ACQUAINTANCE (Swift Press, €15) is a dark yarn about a house party that goes very wrong in a scary old house on a remote Scottish island. A group of guests have gathered for New Year’s Eve, but soon discover that they’ve more in common than they would like to admit. When one guest jumps to her death and the housekeeper is found dead in bed, and a storm begins to rage, everyone’s in for a terrifying time.
By contrast, Ally Bunbury’s ALL WRAPPED UP (Hachette, €14.99) gives off more benign big house vibes as the appropriately named Holly ditches her job, calls off her Christmas wedding and follows a small ad to a house in the Irish countryside that’s in need of decluttering so the owner can rent it out for romantic breaks. Enter the owner’s attractive son, and the stage is set for all kinds of misunderstandings and reconciliations before year end.
Emily Hourican blends fact and fiction beautifully in her trio of novels based on the lives of Guinness heiresses Aileen, Maureen, Oonagh and Honor. Her latest book, THE OTHER GUINNESS GIRL (Hachette, €14.99) focuses on Honor, who married the handsome American-born MP and diarist Henry “Chips” Channon. Real and imaginary characters weave in and out of the account of one of London’s most famous couples of the 1930s.
A literary classic dressed up in new covers could tempt a young reader into the world of books. Penguin produces striking hardbacks from Austin to Zola and including American classics like Shirley Jackson’s 1948 horror story, THE LOTTERY (€10.99) that has influenced generations of film makers from Hitchcock to Jordan Peele.
On its bestseller shelves, Hodges Figgis has a gorgeous limited edition of James Joyce’s ULYSSES (€25) to celebrate its 100th anniversary, as well as a snazzy white and gold hardback edition of Flann O’Brien’s AT SWIM TWO BIRDS (€9.95).
The days between Christmas and New Year could be magnificently filled with Elizabeth Jane Howard’s THE CAZALET CHRONICLES (Pan Books, from €13), a quintet of books loved by readers as diverse as (Queen Consort) Camilla and novelist John Boyne. Set over three decades from the late 1930s, the novels detail the lives, loves and the many meals of the Cazalet family – timber merchants from London with a country house in Sussex. It’s not all afternoon tea and nannies – Howard, a beauty whose literary output was often overshadowed by her literary love life, injects a spicy realism into relationships that resonates today.
BOOKS FOR THE MIND
Following his 2021 hit about a kindly panda and a titchy dragon who are best friends, James Norbury’s THE JOURNEY (Michael Joseph, €17.99) sees the pair set out on a journey to the other side of the river. The Dragon is seeking more from life, while Panda encourages him to find happiness in the here and now. It’s a gentle meandering read for all ages. Feeling high, low, down, up, or don’t really know?
AN EMOTIONAL DICTIONARY: Real Words for How You Feel, from Angst to Swodder by Countdown’s Susie Dent (John Murray, €17.99) more than likely has the exact word for what you are going through, whether it’s the easy to understand “anticippointment” or wishing you could just “snoodge” your way through Christmas. Stocking filler gold.
Finally, a book you could give anyone: The School of Life’s QUOTES TO LIVE BY (The School of Life Press, €17.40) is a collection of aphorisms to help one understand the business of living and loving. Not a light read for the lavatory pile, but filled with thought-provoking words that might best be summed up as “Don’t fret, nobody cares, try to love someone and appreciate flowers and boring days.” On that note, reader, have a very happy Christmas.
Prices may vary according to offers.
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