Quirky Christmas Books (or everything you won’t find in an Amazon sale)

I’m not going to lie.  The reason Amazon has a smile on the box currently has a lot to do with my last week’s shopping habits (mostly not books though).   I’m thinking of making my next invoice out just to them, cutting out the middle man – although then of course, neither of us would be paying tax..

But there is another way.  My favourite bookshop of all time is Topping Booksellers in Ely.  This photo was taken there last week from their top floor, while I was enjoying a cup of coffee and the view and pretending work deadlines were not relevant to me.

So what do you get from an actual bookshop rather than a cost-cutting giant?  You don’t get Black Friday.  You do get free black coffee.  The smiles come from the staff, not the box, and above all you get a terrific selection of lesser-known titles and quirky ideas for Christmas presents.  They are well known for the signed first editions – most of which are available at the same price as the unsigned versions.

The following books are presented in no particular order and I have not been given any money or books in kind to promote them (if you discount the coffee at Toppings – but all their customers can get that!).  I’ve linked to the publishers where possible.  Please do go to an actual bookshop to buy them.  Or they will die out.  Remember – a good bookshop is for life, not just for Christmas.

If you do go chasing one of these particular titles and it’s out of stock, remember the two great strengths of a good bookshop.  They can get most titles in within a day or two (assuming they’re in print), and, being a knowledgeable book-loving bunch, they can suggest alternatives.

The Twelve Quirky Book Days of Christmas (and a couple of others thrown in)

Looking for a stocking filler for children?  Try anything small published by Usborne.  The ‘Fifty’ series is excellent, wipe-clean cards on a variety of topics – I was particularly taken by  this one but any of the series work well, last well, and fit into most sizes of stocking.

If you have a child who has an uncomfortable desire to always know the details of everything this is the book for them.  THE TRUTH ABOUT CHRISTMAS by Philip Ardagh will keep them quiet for an hour or two at least.

This charming little book was originally made for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House in 1922, and is the story of a fairy who was blown into 1920s London.  A beautiful object as well as a lovely story, this is a step above any Fairy Magic series of books.

Do you remember the I-Spy series of books?  Have you ever tried to drive for more than 30 minutes in a car with a child?  I would like to offer the perfectly named ‘I Spy Everything on the Road’ for a mere £2.50.

And now a few books for the awkward adult in your life…

 Susan Hill’s latest creepy offering – DOLLY has been getting shudderingly good reviews and again, a beautiful book object that would look appealingly sinister peeping out from some tissue paper.

 Patricia Ferguson’s success is an example of how a good bookshop can really ‘make’ an author.  Toppings recommended this title – word of mouth and with a handwritten review wrapped around the book, and sold over one hundred copies.  Buy a copy and see what the staff liked so much about it.

 Instead of sending a Christmas card, why not try TWELVE POEMS OF CHRISTMAS – selected by Carol Ann Duffy.  There are three volumes – all beautifully presented and a bit more thoughtful as a gift.

For the retired Telegraph reader in your life, this is a collection of unpublished letters with the traditional tones of polite outrage and disgust, titled  IMAGINE MY SURPRISE.

 YOU ARE NOT SO SMART is a great gift to give someone who you feel is a little bit more fond of their intellectual abilities than you think they should be – but is interesting in its own right – the full title goes on to say:  Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction, Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself.

 Who doesn’t enjoy a mean sense of pleasure at someone else’s misfortune?  The perfect book for listing the various different ways one can revel in dire situations, SCHADENFREUDE is an elegantly packaged collection of snippets of hatred.

And at the other extreme – this lovely little book of clouds has been produced with the Met Office.  It’s not the only small cloud book – it’s spawned a heap of imitators but this is one of the best.

 Talking of clouds and rain and nice weather for ducks, the ‘Know Your‘ series has also become more popular than you’d think the topic warranted. I like ducks, but you can also garner information on more farmyard animals and a variety of machinery.

Two more suggestions that aren’t really books but still come under paper goods:

The Ordnance Survey maps produce historical editions of pretty much most of the UK  – a good present for anyone interested in their own local history.

If you’ve not already snapped up the Penguin and Puffin cover postcard boxes (100 in a box), they’re an excellent addition to anyone’s list, but this year’s topical favourite has to be the James Bond postcards with props, stills and posters from the films.

I hope you found something useful and beautiful in this list, and remember – use your bookshop.  No amount of ‘customers who bought this item also bought this item’ will ever replace a talented bookseller.

PS if anyone’s looking for my Christmas list, these top ten notebooks would do nicely!

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November 26, 2012

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