Life & Style

Magical Mystery Tour

Who doesn’t long to find a cosy corner, crack open a treasured tome and escape into a world of print? Books will always make beloved gifts, and our pick of Xmas reads, curated by literary buff Katie Law, is the last word in bibliophilic bliss.

Curated by Katie Law

Image: Melissa Oesch

christmaswith-katielaw-portrait

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

I’ve praised this stunning saga before and couldn’t help feeling disappointed it didn’t win the Booker. The story of two women whose lives inadvertently intersect is page-for-page the best-value novel you’ll buy this year. Marian Graves, gutsy and indomitable, became a wartime Spitfire pilot before vanishing while attempting to circumnavigate the globe by plane. Hadley Baxter, a troubled Hollywood starlet, finds herself playing Graves fifty years later in a role that will change her life forever. Shipstead writes about freedom and living with the consequences of our choices with deft brilliance. Plus it’s just a darn good read.

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Were you an Olive Kitteridge fan or did you prefer Lucy Barton? Well, Lucy returns in this wonderfully drawn portrayal of a 60-something woman looking back at her life, in particular her two marriages. Recently bereaved after the death of her second husband, Lucy agrees to accompany her first, the libidinous king-baby William, to Maine to try and track down the half-sister he has just discovered he has. Full of moments of reflection, Lucy has to face up to some unpleasant truths she has never considered before. Strout is simply one of the best prose stylists around. Quietly gripping, every sentence is a gift.

Marimekko The Art of Printmaking by Laird Borrelli-Persson

In celebration of the official 70th anniversary this year of iconic Finnish design and lifestyle brand Marimekko – meaning “Mari’s dress”in Finnish – comes this gorgeous, lavishly illustrated tome by the archive editor at Vogue.com. “I’m selling a way of life. If you think Marimekko is fashion, you’re lost. Marimekko is freedom from fashion – actually, a big laugh at establishmentarianism.” So co-founder Armi Ratia once wrote about the company that, since its 1951 beginnings, has created thousands of bold, bright and mostly beautiful designs. Archival material sits alongside newly commissioned photography and stories galore, all beautifully laid out.

A Modern Way to Live: 5 Design Principles from the Modern House by Matt Gibberd

This former World of Interiors journalist (who also founded themodernhouse.com, the property porn website selling modern designer dream homes) really knows his stuff. His new book groans with lavish illustrations and good advice. A room with a view. A place to take refuge. Reflective surfaces in small spaces. The joy of open shelving in a kitchen… Gibberd, who is married to designer Faye Toogood, has lots of takeaway inspo and writes intelligently about his five principles for good living: space, light, materials, nature and decoration.

Silverview by John le Carré

Le Carré’s final novel, his 26th, may be short and by no means his best, but it’s still wonderfully evocative of a bygone world and well worth it. The story of a city trader who has quit his job to run a secondhand bookshop in a seaside town in East Anglia soon becomes an atmospheric tale of betrayal and deceit when he encounters an enigmatic Polish emigré, who turns out to have been both a friend of his father’s and a spy for British Intelligence. It’s classic le Carré, all shady twists and turns that build slowly, and despite some clunky dialogue, a fitting farewell for the author, who died last year aged 89.

Manifesto: On Never Giving Up by Bernardine Evaristo

Growing up, Evaristo would cross over to the other side of the street whenever she saw her father approaching, such was her shame. He was a black Nigerian immigrant, her mother was white English – a milkman’s daughter – and Evaristo grew up working class in Woolwich, where she was subjected to racism, including from members of her own family. Through her local youth theatre, she discovered a brave new world, set up the first theatre company for black women in 1982, and was the first black woman to win the Booker Prize in 2019. Frank and funny, she tells it like it is.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

The affable actor, author of several cookbooks and most recently star of an award-winning foodie odyssey TV series around Italy, oozes charm in this chatty memoir, which covers life from his childhood in Katonah, New York (his grandparents emigrated from Calabria) to meeting his literary agent wife Felicity; from his first wife’s death from cancer, to his own brush with the illness in 2017. Tucci’s love of good grub is at the book’s heart, with recipes for Pizzoccheri and Timpano among others, plus of course those infamous cocktails that went viral on Instagram.

The Dry Heart by Natalia Ginzburg

I’m ashamed to say I’d never read any Ginzburg before this landed on my desk. It’s wonderful. Written in 1947, the story of a young woman who marries an older man whom she eventually murders has been reissued in the 1952 English translation by Frances Frenaye – by the brave Daunt Books – together with another of Ginzburg’s novellas, The Road to the City. Ginzburg writes with ferocious intensity and never shies away from describing her protaganist's difficult and not altogether likeable feelings towards other people, including her own baby. No surprise that Rachel Cusk and Sally Rooney are fans.

Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism by Kathleen Stock

The author is a former professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex who has been much in the news because of her resignation following the reactions of students and colleagues to her views on gender identity theory and feminism. Criticised by some who regard them as hate-speech and praised by others for her honesty, Stock sets out with forensic clarity what gender identity theory actually is, where it came from, how we all understand the meaning of the word 'gender' differently, and how the conviction that gender identity trumps biological sex negatively impacts women and girls. Essential reading, especially for anyone sitting on the fence.

The Book of Emotions edited by Edgar Gerrard Hughes

How do you feel? It’s the question therapists ask clients, doctors ask patients, parents ask children, and friends and lovers ask each another. We ask ourselves too, all the time, and the answers are constantly shifting. What even are emotions? This imaginatively-compiled compendium combines ideas and images from artists, poets, photographers, psychologists and more. From an examination of what different people might see in the same landscape painting to a quiz on falling in love, from Japanese Noh masks to Messerschmidt’s sculptures depicting madness and depression, this is a riveting hodgepodge.

Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta

She was racist, anti-semitic, misanthropic and, for the most part, deeply unpleasant – a chain-smoking boozer and social climber who used sex to get her way. The author of the Ripley novels was also prodigiously gifted and remains the undisputed queen of psychological suspense writing. Now Anna von Planta, Highsmith’s editor for the last 11 years of her life, has pulled off the unimaginable feat of condensing 18 diaries and 38 notebooks – 8,000 pages in all, found in a cupboard after Highsmith’s death – into a single chunky volume. A treasure trove packed with delicious, darkly glittering jewels.

Love to Cook by Mary Berry

It’s always a joy to discover yummy, foolproof recipes that don’t take hours to prepare or use too many fancy ingredients. The latest TV-tie volume from our beloved national treasure focuses on sharing and no waste. Glorious Beef – slow-cooked beef shin with pickled walnuts and lashings of red wine – tastes as scrumptious as it sounds; the Magical Prepare Ahead Platter of Vegetables is a work of art that eliminates most of the washing-up, while a variation on lemon posset using lime and creme fraîche, looks fabulous and tastes sublime.

The Star-Nosed Mole: An Anthology of Scented Garden Writing by Isabel Bannerman

The title refers to those virtually blind, velvet-skinned hunters with huge spade claws and such sensitive schnozzes that they can even smell underwater. Bannerman, who has form as a garden designer, writer and photographer, sniffs her way through the scented sayings of her favourite writers, from Betjeman and Baudelaire to Tolstoy and Tennyson, and intersperses them with her own photographs of plants. An infant pussy willow, a lily that has lost its leaves, a rotting, dusty lemon. You can almost smell them off the pages.

The Penguin Modern Classics Book by Henry Eliot

This handsome whopper was commissioned to celebrate 60 years of Penguin Modern Classics, and showcases over 1,800 titles and 600 authors spread over 600 pages. Every author gets a mini bio, a short resumé of each book, and an image of the cover artwork of the first edition. It’s packed with lovely factoids too. Who knew that Moishe Shagall, aka Marc Chagall, wrote a memoir in 1922 while waiting for the authorities to grant him an exit visa from Belarus? From China Achebe to Stefan Zweig, from banned books to wartime romances, covering five continents, this is that rare thing: a coffee table for serious book lovers.

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