BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS

ANTHOLOGIES
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The Independent Culture
Childhood ed Kate Figes, First Love ed Paul Bailey, Friendship ed Shena Mackay, Journeys ed Charles Nicholl, Marriage ed Elizabeth Jane Howard, Loss ed Elspeth Barker (J M Dent, pounds 4.99 each).

In July 1921, an 11-year-old girl sat writing her diary. Although on holiday, she was stupendously grumpy. It had been raining all day, she wasn't allowed to read for fear of "using up" all her books and she had forgotten to bring her paintbox. Her big sister accused her of fiddling with her things - "as if her things could interest me"; her mother reprimanded her for eating raspberries and spoiling her appetite. So she wrote it all down, and Kate Figes found it.

Not one of these six little books is lazily compiled, though their choice of authors occasionally overlaps. A E Housman told his publisher that he didn't want his immortal works to be treated as quarries by "the various hacks whom you may employ to compile anthologies" - but his reputation will not suffer for being second only to Shakespeare here. John Clare is another favourite, as is Helen Thomas, whose elegiac World Without End has affected several editors.

Queen Victoria pops up in Elizabeth Jane Howard's Marriage selection: "Oh! how I adore and love him I cannot say!!" she confides breathlessly to her diary on the day she proposed to Albert. Howard provides a chapter on widowhood in her selection, but the expert an this subject is Elspeth Barker, whose book on Loss is probably the most personal of the six. She decides not to arrange it according to theme, for fear of creating a "doomy Disneyland featuring Dead Dogs' Corners, Amputees' Grotto, and so on". This would surely be an anthology to give to a bereaved friend: there are precious few on the market. But all these books cry out to be bought as presents - if you can bear to part with them. They are hardbacks, beautifully produced and irresistibly cheap. Every one is full of treasures.

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