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Books on the Brain

Eaton's Christmas Catalogue, 1904 cover

(New post about the challenge of Christmas shopping – with a little help from the Grufflo)

When the first charity Christmas catalogue dropped through my letterbox, I was not best pleased. After all, I was in the middle of packing to go on my summer holiday.

I was irritated also by spotting the first mince pies in the supermarket in September. In fact, I generally try to avoid any mention of Christmas until after Guy Fawkes Night is over and done with.

The Christmas Past

But last year, I left my preparations until a little too close to Christmas, and, to my shame, completely failed to send cards to half my friends and relations. Nearly a year later, I’m still cringing with guilt that I didn’t send one to my best friend’s elderly mother, who, in her late 80s and unwell, still managed to send one to me. I’m determined to be better organised this year. Gladys, this month’s column’s for you.

The Christmas Present

Late October, my sister-in-law makes a helpful pre-emptive strike, initiating a discussion about what we should buy each other for Christmas. She suggests that it would be easier if we stopped buying for the adults in the family at all, focusing only on the children. Great, I think, I’m off the hook! But her proposal is scuppered by immediate protests from my brother and sister, both older than me but big kids at heart. So I resign myself to writing my Christmas shopping list – or at least the list of names of who I have to buy for.

I have little time or enthusiasm for shopping. I barely enter a grocery store from one month to the next. (Whoever invented Ocado home deliveries, I salute you.) I therefore hit on a new tactic to minimise the pain and effort: this year, I resolve to buy everything in just one shop. I need to send so many presents by post that this one shop must sell goods that are easy to wrap and fit in a jiffybag.. So that’s the hardware shop off the list, then.

Two old copies of Lewis Carroll books - Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking GlassI try empathising with the recipients. What would I ask Santa for myself? (Oh, if only he’d consult me!) I jot down some ideas. They are all books. I’m constantly hearing snippets of intriguing books on BBC Radio 4, to which I’m addicted. Whenever I follow through and buy them, I’m never disappointed. In fact, I often enjoy them so much that I pass them on to friends or buy second copies to hand out. So this year I shall buy everyone books. Easy to wrap, easy to post – what’s not to love about a book?

Some of my most treasured possessions are books, such as the small red hardbacks of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, previously owned by my mother when she was a child. Both our names are inscribed on the fly leaf, mine in red crayon in the shaky infant school hand that preceded learning to do joined-up writing.

My grandmother's statue of a reading manMy single most precious thing is a small brown statuette of a man reading a book. He sat on my grandmother’s mantelpiece throughout my childhood and he moved in with me when she died. If I choose carefully, I could be giving my friends not only a Christmas present but a lifelong treasure.

There must surely be a book to suit the tastes of everyone on anyone’s Christmas list. A few ideas already spring to mind for the adults, but with children, I worry about duplication. But they can always pass swaps on to friends as birthday presents, or regift them, as now seems to be the accepted euphemism for getting rid of presents you hate. Signed copies provide a thoughtful point of difference. I’ve been lucky enough to snap up a book signed by both Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler at Bath Literature Festival for one child on my list, (Gruffalo fans will be envious), but what should I get the others?

The Christmas Yet to Come

For inspiration, I turn to my daughter, aged 9. An avid reader, she currently prefers any book featuring kittens, puppies, or mermaids – or preferably all three.

“What do you think is the best book you’ve ever read?” I ask her.

She thinks hard for a moment, then gives a big smile, tricky problem resolved.

“I haven’t read it yet,” she asserts with confidence.

Axel Scheffler's 1st Class Christmas stamp for Royal Mail 2012While I applaud her optimism, I am no further forward. Time to consult the local bookshop, whose staff will know what’s new and what’s hot. And if I look sharp, I can just fit them in on my way to the Post Office to buy my Christmas stamps.

And in case I forget in next month’s column: Happy Christmas, everyone!

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser’s November 2012 edition.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy these other Christmas specials:

Let It Snow

When It Comes To Christmas Presents, Small Is Beautiful


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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