BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Reading for pleasure? Our writers choose the titles they most admired and enjoyed this year; on the next few pages, a wide range of ideas about what to give this Christmas
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The Independent Culture
GIFT BOOKS Apart from A Christmas Carol, novels about Christmas are surprisingly rare. Novels with Christmas scenes are more commonplace, and this is where anthologies come into their own. Scrooge kicks off The Faber Book of Christmas (pounds 17.50), of course, setting a note of cyncism which is only partially offset by the celebratory stuff which follows. Editor Simon Rae is as interested in the con as the pro, the unorthodox as the traditional. So we get Frazer on the Yule Log, Christmas carols in Auschwitz and Nigel Molesworth's hilarious Self-Adjusting Thank-You Letter ("Dear Aunt/ Uncle/ Stinker/ Gran/ Clot/ Pen-pal..."). The choice of verse is excellent: there's Armitage, Maxwell, Paul Muldoon, Ted Hughes ("The snowplough's buried on the drifted moor").

Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery (Phoenix House pounds 14.99) is a typically inventive and sophisticated fable, divided into 24 chapters, about a magic Advent calendar. Young Joachim finds a secret story as well as a picture for every day; interlocking chapters tell the story of his modern Christmas and the quest of Elisabet, who travels backwards through time and space to the first Christmas.

The Discworld celebrates Hogwatchnight, not Christmas. In Terry Pratchett's Hogfather (Gollancz pounds 15.99), the Guild of Assassins receives a pile of gold from persons unknown to whack the fat man. It's all a very far cry from Father Christmas: The Truth by Gregoire Solotareff (Mac-millan pounds 9.99) which imagines his secret life in gloriously silly pictures (left).

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