5 books that make really good gifts

Every year I get a pile of books for Birthdays and Christmases, and it’s always really exciting to wade through and pick out what to read first. However, if somebody doesn’t know you very well or they’re a bit uninspired, then you’ll probably get a recent celebrity autobiography, a cookbook, or a Christmas annual. If you don’t want to become that friend, then try out the list below, guaranteed to charm all your favourite bibliophiles. Pick the genre that they’re most likely to read from, and there’s a gift idea for you. Just make sure to give them until a few days before you go in with the spoilers.

As this is an ongoing series of posts, I’ll let you know that today I’ve listed ‘Fashion,’ ‘Fairytales and Magic,’ ‘Cookbooks,’ ‘Historical Fiction,’ and ‘Hipster.’
Look out for the next post- why not suggest a genre in the comments?

ONE- If you’re thinking fashion…? Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette

Author: Denis Bruna.

Fashion is so very fickle, that unless you know your friend extremely well, you should play it safe and get something neutral. No time frame, no styles, no identities- this book incorporates feminine and masculine fashions with more pictures than you could ever need.


“This unique survey offers fascinating insights into the convoluted transformations employed by both men and women to accommodate the fickle dictates of fashion. With high design, wit, and style, Fashioning the Body tracks the evolution of these sartorial devices – from panniers, crinolines, and push-up bras to chains, zippers, and clasps – concealed beneath outer layers in order to project idealized figures.”

If this is a bit expensive for you (and at £35.00 then, yes, count me out) why not try “Bags” (Claire Wilcox) for £10.00, or “Style and Satire: Fashion in Print 1777-1927” (Catherine Flood & Sarah Grant) while it’s reduced to £2.00?

 TWO- If you’re thinking fairytales and magic…? Princess Bride

Author: William Goldman.

If there has ever been a book that incorporates so much, in such an odd format, with so much stylish humour, then this is it.


As the author tells you himself, the Princess Bride has fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, good men, bad men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts of all natures and descriptions, pain, death, brave men, coward men, strongest men, chases, escapes, lies, truths, passion, miracles and everything else you could ever desire. It’s a real story-book story, full of love and scorn, sharp teeth and sharper wits.

Written ostensibly as an ‘abridged’ version of a longer text, Goldman manages to skip the boring bits and keep all the thematic glory and characterisation that takes other writers whole series to realise. It’s got magic and monsters and everything else you’d expect from a princess-centric fairy tale. It’s also cutting and sharp and clever, and not in a pretentiously modern, cynical way that makes you wonder if you’d just rather read Grimm’s again. They’re no Shrek-style spoofing, there’s no modern twists. It’s a glorious story, and you can share it with you friend forever.

And when they’re done, you can watch the film (one of the only adaptations to live up to the hype).

THREE- If you thinking cookbook…? The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well

Author: Meik Wiking.

If they’re a cookbook aficionado, then you’re not going to replace their well-worn classics. They’ll know their favourite cookbooks already, they’ll have stacks of sticky-notes that say ‘try this!’ and they will be minor experts in something you probably don’t know much about. So get something new, and get something that everyone will be talking about.

“’Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things.” Hygge is a word that I’ve seen applied to everything from candles and blankets, to certain types of Nordic cuisine, to colouring books and trendy pubs. We Anglophones clearly are not worthy- but we can shamelessly steal recipes from author Meik Wiking, who is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.


Hygge for me is something warm, a bit nostalgic, and a bit wistful. It’s your favourite meal, which you’re still not tired of, eaten with your favourite people in your favourite chair. This book gives you recipes for meals, but also recipes for your life. I hope you’re still with me, and this isn’t too middle-class-sick for you.

FOUR- If you’re thinking historical fiction…? The Forgotten Room.

Authors: Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig.


Okay, so historical fiction is a vague area to wade through. Your gift-receiver might favour an endless pile of novels about medieval royalty, or they might want Victorian serial killers, or they might want 1920s America. You’ll only know by looking at their shelves. If you want to broaden their horizons, however, why not try this amazing book that combines multiple different time periods all at once?

It’s US-centric, but it covers the Gilded Age of political discord, Jazz Age cultural expansion and youthful exploits, and tells the tale of a Second World War soldier, wounded in combat. The plot is tied together by family, but actually written by different authors, who pick up a time period and a set of characters each. It’s an unusual way of writing a book, and the sheer novelty makes this an ideal gift.

 FIVE- If you’re thinking hipster…? Grayson Perry: Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Girl

Authors: Grayson Perry, Wendy Jones.


Biography, art history, popular culture, gender politics… it’s all here, in this middle-class friendly book from/about famous ceramicist Grayson Perry. The Turner Prize winner describes his childhood, his time at Art College, and life in London squats in order to get to the heart of his identity as an artist and to speculate about the reasons and purposes behind his alter-ego, Clare. It’s all very New Romantic and swish, with some very flippant sections, but other areas are poignant and terribly open-hearted.

He is captured in text by author Wendy Jones, who has written extensively about both sexual and gender politics (see The Sex Lives of English Women: Intimate Questions, Unexpected Answers), and her close friend Perry.


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