The Best Books To Give (Or Keep) This Christmas

If you’re looking for a present that will entertain, delight and inform, then a good book ticks all the boxes.  BIF’s Book Festival Director, Vicky Dawson, has been whittling through the options and shares her top five reads this Christmas.

I love this time of year as broadsheets, magazines and favoured literary websites publish their ‘Books of the Year’. However there is nothing like browsing in a really good bookshop and grabbing one of their recommendations, the recommendation of a trusted author or critic, or just finding the book that speaks to you ‘buy me’. A shout out for the Library services here too – ‘borrow me’ can only happen if our amazing libraries have the funding to keep their stock fresh and topical and provide knowledgeable staff to guide and recommend.

So this year, in no particular order-


David Hare We Travelled: Essays and Poems

An astonishing collection of writings from the last two decades and covering film, politics, television, literature, and as you’d expect, love letters to the theatre. The love poems were written to his wife. A lecture given at Trinity College, Oxford in 2016 for which the transcript is included, must have caused a sensation. I wish I’d been there. Available to buy here.


Ronald Blythe Next To Nature

‘Ronnie’ as he is affectionally known by his contributors (including BIF supporter and naturalist author Mark Cocker) has just turned 100. His classic 1969 work of social history Akenfield is a book I reread often. Next to Nature is a collection of Ronnie’s writings for the Church Times and again, like David Hare’s from across two decades. Undated but laid out by month and introduced by author friends, the short pieces are compelling, elliptical and show Ronnie’s singular style of deep observation and joy for life. Available to buy here.


Hugh Brody – Landscapes of Silence

I came across Hugh Brody’s work on a first reading of Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams many years ago. (A book also recommended by Ronnie Blythe).  There could be no higher compliment in my view than to be referenced by Lopez. Hugh Brody is an anthropologist and film maker, whose deep connection to the indigenous peoples of the Arctic mirrors that of Ronnie to his rural English subjects. Available to buy here.


Barbara Kingsolver Demon Copperhead

This is without question my favourite novel of the year. A clever, compassionate, consistent retelling of David Copperfield but set within the trailer parks of the United States and the modern opioid crisis. Like Dicken’s own wonderful novel this doesn’t tug at your heartstrings (an overused cliché) but twists them round while delivering a gut punch. Like David and Betsey Trotwood and Agnes Wickfield and the odious Uriah Heep, Kingsolver’s alternative characters will charm and repulse long after finishing the book. Available to buy here.


Penelope Lively Metamorphosis

There are few authors who write successfully for children and adults and therefore can be part of your reading repertoire for life. Penelope Lively is one such author (as is Jane Gardam). Metamorphosis is a collection of short stories from a long career (there is a theme here of longevity of contribution across all my choices). I can choose any one of Lively’s books (she’s written more than 20 and I’m a completist) from my bookshelves and in an instant I’m engaged and captivated. To say she is my comfort read might suggest she is easy and not of astonishing and consistent quality. That is certainly not the case. Available to buy here.

Have a very Merry Literary Christmas.

Vicky Dawson