Category Archives: Christmas


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The Rise and Rise of the Chefs

Jamie Oliver is named Christmas Number One for books the second year running – his fourth win since 2000 – by selling over 60,000 copies in one week. Walk into any bookshop and the Bestsellers display and “Buy this for Christmas” display are filled with celebrity memoirs, cartoon books and, most prominently, cookbooks. What is it about the Christmas season that makes us want to give everyone cookbooks? Is it a massive hint that the turkey was too dry last year? Is it an easy option because you don’t know what to get the mother-in-law?

Whatever it is, the cookbooks are simply getting more popular. I love a bit of Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers on the telly, and Mummaloo has discovered an awesome recipe or four from Jamie Oliver. Her Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson books are covered in greaseprints and food from overuse. So a cookbook is generally a safe option for good old Mummaloo. But I try not to get her them. Why? Because her cooking is pretty damn good, so she needs no hints, and I often DO know what to get her.

But that’s just me. Everyone else seems to snap up the Christmas edition cookbooks like they’re going out of fashion (they’re not). When I worked in a bookshop, I swore that if I ever saw Jamie-bloody-Oliver’s smiling-bloody-face one more time (after the fifth stack of books) I’d scream. But this year, here he is again (it’s not his fault I had to make thousands of stacks of his books, so I try not to bear a grudge).

Celebrity chefs are dominating our bookshelves and TVs. You can tell the fashion for food by what kind of food they’re making – is it whole and hearty, full of spice, or super quick? Either way, there will be a celebrity chef for you, and doubtless they have a Christmas special book out.

So cookbooks for Christmas aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Why do you think that is? And have you bought a cookbook present this year? Who is your favourite chef, and is Jamie Oliver deserving of his Number One status?

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The Gift of Christmas

It might come as no surprise, but books are my favourite gift to give for Christmas. It essentially started in earnest when I was working in a bookshop (inevitably, as I had discount). One of my wonderful regulars – he would come in every week and literally buy everything off the book list I’d written for him without questioning me – first suggested it. I always gave him books I had read and enjoyed, and he told me I should do the same for everyone else. So I began with The Book Thief. I have told you about The Book Thief before – the only book I’ve ever read twice in a row. So I bought a load of copies and gave it to everyone. The next year I decided to get books appropriate to each person. I chose books that fitted with their personalities, or things that reminded me of them, or books that related to a private joke we had shared. And the year after that, and the year after that, and so on. Always books – books I have read, or books I know that they would love. It’s the same when I “lend” books. With the exception of a handful of titles I can’t bear to part with, I never “lend” a book – I gift it. I don’t believe a book should be returned – its story continues elsewhere, and I believe that the person I gave it to should pass it on to someone else and them to someone else. I believe a book isn’t just a story on paper, it’s a story of its life too. A book should continue its story. Which is why I love giving books for Christmas – it’s the start of a new story.

What’s your favourite book, and where did it come from? And what book would you choose to give for Christmas?

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The Books Under the Tree

Every year, there is a big discussion in bookstores, coffee shops, online and in libraries about which are the bestsellers for Christmas. Guardian Books have listed their Best Books of 2011 and Black Friday UK are offering discounts for the Christmas Books List. Squidoo hope to navigate you through the treacherous maze that is book-buying at Christmas time.

So what is your rule of thumb for buying books for Christmas?

Do you avoid it all together, in case you get it wrong? Or do you ask exactly what they want? Could you be influenced by the book lists?

There are so many offers for Christmas in bookshops, and the influx of cartoon books, annuals, “stocking fillers”, coffee table books and celebrity memoirs create a bewildering, colour-exploding display in windows which can be terrifying to comprehend.

This year, you can choose from Alan Partridge, Lee Evans and a new Simon’s Cat book. In the world of biographies, cookery books, special editions, film accompaniments, is there really a decent “Christmas” book? And actually, does it really make a difference whether it comes out in November, or it’s been out for years?

Could you  buy someone a classic, or is it going to be a stack of the Guinness Book of World Records for all and sundry? What do you want under your Christmas tree this year?

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How Early is Too Early?

<This isn’t quite writing-themed, but it’s been playing on my mind>

So Starbucks have the red cups out… there is a wreath on the door of the one in town. Christmas songs are being played on the radio, and everyone is wittering on about going Christmas shopping. In the middle of the shopping centre there is a giant Santa’s Grotto, fabulously overpriced, and some miserable-looking people dressed as elves.

I’m a moody old cow when it comes to Christmas as a rule. I don’t mind the wrapping-the-presents bit, and I don’t mind the day itself (as a rule). What I do object to is it starting in September. I hate Christmas songs – even on Christmas day (and especially Wham!) and I hate the mania that seems to grab people into converging on the nearest shopping centre and panic-buying.

So no, you will not catch me wearing antlers or a glowing nose, wishing strangers a “merry Christmas” or even donning a red hat. You will catch me with a Starbucks red cup, purely because I have no choice, and you will catch me watching Christmassy films (purely because they are the only guilty pleasure I get out of the whole thing).

But, how early is too early? Is it okay to start thinking about Christmas before Halloween, or buying next year’s presents in the January sales because you simply can’t wait? The bookshops are filled with Christmas books – celebrities have written their biographies, and Special Editions take front and centre. Little Christmas-stocking books are garbed in fake snow and red baubles on shelves to make sure you know they’re just for Christmas, and all the signs have snowflakes on them. This year, Carol Ann Duffy has released a book of poems just for Christmas.

When I worked in retail, I loathed the Christmas thing. It was probably the fact that you spend hours decorating the place, just to have it destroyed in a matter of minutes by panicked shoppers who don’t know what to buy Gran. (I do like the well-wishing regulars I used to get who would bring me chocolate every now and then to cheer me up). I was always amused by the harangued husbands on Christmas Eve picking up something bound in pink for their wives because they didn’t get organised sooner.

But I do love bits of Christmas. What makes you feel Christmassy? And are you even thinking of it yet?

And also, what book would you recommend for holiday reading? Would it be one from the Christmas-themed displays, or a classic? Would it just simply be your favourite book, because you should always feel happy at Christmas, or should it be a brand new, untried one?

<There, I made it a bit book-themed!>


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