Mark Crick, the author of Kafka’s Soup, couldn’t confine his recommendations to just one title. He doesn’t quite reach the number of authors covered in his literary pastiche of a cookbook, which reimagines classic recipes through the prism of 14 famous authors, but he comes awfully close!
Buying books for friends is not always easy and it’s disappointing to see a book we gave for Christmas looking pristine on a friend’s bookshelf in June. I wouldn’t recommend giving a book you haven’t read yourself since it puts the receiver in the role of proofreader and anything too heavy is likely to require more commitment than a gift has a right to ask; a bit like giving someone a dog that needs two long walks and three meals a day. After years of book giving and receiving, with the exception of friends with special interests, I often fall back on two or three tried and tested titles.
Whilst The End of the Affair would certainly not be appropriate for a partner, the less well-known Travels With My Aunt is perhaps my favourite work by Graham Greene. You won’t be dishing up a large helping of Catholic guilt and the story is wonderfully funny and life affirming. I’ve also given and received Le Petit Prince by the French writer and aviator Antoine de St Exupery, a strange little tale with charming illustrations by the author and some touching wisdom on the subject of friendship and loss.
John Julius Norwich’s Christmas Cracker is a collection of literary oddities that made me laugh so much I wanted to share it with friends straightaway, and the version illustrated by Quentin Blake is as tempting as a box of chocolates. For young children I often give Roald Dahl’s The Twits or Fantastic Mr Fox, both also beautifully illustrated by Blake and fun to read aloud. Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man is wonderful and heroic; I loved it as a child but love it better now. Better still, buy it for yourself, learn the story by heart and tell it aloud on a car journey by night. Your travelling companions will love it and the oncoming headlights will look like the eyes of the great iron man himself, peering in on your storytelling.
It will be no surprise that I love to cook nor that there are many cookery books on my shelf that I have hardly read; one exception will be The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened. Sir Kenelm lived in 17th-century England, was a great collecter of recipes, and was rumoured to have poisoned his wife with a broth of vipers. A certain excitement accompanies the prospect of working from the recipes of a suspected poisoner and the language of the period adds to the atmosphere as I look forward to preparing Lady Vernon’s White Metheglin for holiday guests. With the more practical cook in mind, I’ve just spent a week in Devon cooking from Raymond Blanc’s Foolproof French Cookery and every dish has been a delight.
5 December 2006 | gift ideas |
Since everybody else is coming out with their year’s best lists right about now, I thought I’d put in my two cents. Since I review a lot of nonfiction for Publishers Weekly, and don’t get quite as much time to read fiction for fun as I’d like, for the moment I feel a bit more comfortable talking about nonfiction, but I’ll try to remember to tell you about my favorite novels from this year later on.
Keeping in mind that I certainly didn’t have time to read everything, in my experience the best nonfiction book published this year was Joe Miller’s Cross-X, an amazing piece of “embedded journalism” in which Miller observes an inner-city high school debate team as they fight their way into the ranks of the nation’s best. There may have been more powerful books about race, more powerful books about class, more powerful books about education published this year… but I’m willing to bet that no book takes on all three subjects with this kind of passion and intensity. I’m glad to see that some of the major book review sections are starting to realize how important this book is, and I hope more will catch on so Joe’s reportage can get the audience it deserves. (Yeah, tiny disclosure: I’ve met Joe since my first rounds of praise for his work.)
4 December 2006 | read this |