Books of the Year: Novelty Christmas books
Forget the clementines: these fun volumes can fill those stockings (though they're not all winners...)
Sunday 19 December 2010
If 2010 does not go down in history as the year that Britain reached Stephen Fry saturation point, then it won't be for want of his trying. He's involved in three, marvellous QI spin-offs: QI: The Book of the Dead by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson (Faber, £8.99); The QI Annual edited by Lloyd with ludicrously hard quizzes and fab bits from comedians such as Ross Noble, Johnny Vegas and the illusionist Derren Brown (Faber, £12.99); and QI: The Second Book of General Ignorance, by Lloyd and Mitchinson again (Faber, £12.99), which, of the three, most closely follows the brilliant format of the TV show. And now there is also the execrable Mrs Fry's Diary, by his new alter ego, Mrs Stephen Fry (Hodder, £9.99).
Not only is Fry's not the best Christmas book by a made-up author – that would be the occasionally laugh-out-loud A Simples Life, the autobiography by comparethemeerkat. com's Aleksandr Orlov (above, Ebury, £9.99); it's also not the best dissection of middle-class mores: try The Middle Class Handbook by Richard Benson and Stephen Armstrong (Not Actual Size, £12), which spears types such as Jamie Oliver's Army and the Loft-Wingers with brutal accuracy. Nor is it the best gift for women of a certain age: that's The Best of Jackie (Prion, £16.99). This nostalgic collection from 1970-1977 includes Cathy & Claire, interviews with David Bowie and Elton John, and boys, boys, boys. The foreword, by the mag's former editor Nina Myskow, also reveals that Jackie was not always a slick operation. "Dear Ed, I wrote to you about my problem bust, which is lopsided," wrote one reader. "You sent me a knitting pattern for a little woolly hat!"
In other TV spin-offs, Earth: The Book, by Jon Stewart et al (Penguin, £20) is surprising and weird; not as overtly political as Stewart's The Daily Show, but far better than Sterling's Gold, purportedly by Mad Men's Roger Sterling (Grove Press, £12.99), which is no more than a seldom-funny quote-per-page. Meanwhile, The Thick of It: The Missing DoSAC Files by Armando Iannucci et al (Faber, £12.99) is a beautifully thought-out volume from the foul-mouthed Malcolm Tucker, and the intelligent fury of The Now Show Book by Hugh Dennis, Steve Punt and Jon Holmes (Orion, £7.99) works almost as well on paper as it does on Radio 4.
Satire fans will not be disappointed by The Private Eye Annual 2010, edited by Ian Hislop (Private Eye, £9.99), but should not forget The Oldie Annual 2011 (Oldie Publications, £9.99) – an irreverent take on modern life.
Last but not least, find a space in a stocking for The Atheist's Guide to Christmas, with contributions by the likes of Ed Byrne, Jenny Colgan, Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh and (swoon!) Brian Cox (HarperCollins, £8.99). "Give yourself and others the gift of wit, wisdom and rational thinking this winter festival," says one of its writers, AC Grayling. And rejoice in unChristian charity, knowing that all royalties will be donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust. Katy Guest '
Katy Guest is the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday
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