Stocking Fillers: Grate cheese. Pause. Grill cheese. Pause
Christmas books of the year
For children big and small, a few books stand out as ways to remind jaded grown-ups of Christmases past, and teach children about the good old days.
In Mrs Pepperpot's Christmas, by Alf Proysen and Hilda Offen (Red Fox, £5.99), the amazing shrinking woman hides in her husband's rucksack to go present shopping. The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford, illustrated by Nick Price (Bloomsbury, £14.99), contains all the adventures of the furry environmentalists, and includes a CD read by Bernard Cribbins.
If you're daunted by Clare Tomalin's marvellous but massive biography of Dickens, try The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens (Oneworld Classics, £5.99), a gentle mini New Testament story that Dickens told his children every year. Likewise, for a short history lesson to make children understand and grown men weep, Carol Ann Duffy's The Christmas Truce, illustrated by David Roberts (Picador, £5.99), is beautiful: "Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel,/ sparkled and winked."
HarperCollins is pre-empting next year's 75th anniversary of The Hobbit with two sumptuous collections of Tolkein's notes and artwork. The Art of the Hobbit by J R R Tolkein, Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull (£25) and The History of the Hobbit by Tolkein and John Rateliff (£35) include colour plates, sketches, maps, plans and notes that show how Middle Earth developed in Tolkein's imagination.
2011 has been the year of Twitter, and several books piggyback that trend with varying degrees of success. Tweeting the Universe by Marcus Chown and Govert Schilling (Faber, £12.99) achieves a difficult feat – "tiny explanations of very big ideas" – with aplomb. Meanwhile, Historical Tweets: The Completely Unabridged and Ridiculously Brief History of the World by Alan Beard and Alec McNayr (Summersdale, £9.99), is quite funny if you like this sort of thing: "Unsuccessfully tried to measure the surface area of one of my big round pies ... ugh. From now on, the pies are squared. – Archimedes."
Also, for those difficult to please relatives: The Little Book of Perfumes by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez (Profile, £9.99) – could do for a person for whom you have also bought one of the hundred favourite perfumes so lavishly described within it; Why Me? The Very Important Emails of Bob Servant (Birlinn, £6.99), by Neil Forsyth, the author of Delete This At Your Peril and Bob Servant: Hero of Dundee – for the grumpy old man in your life; and The Household Tips of the Great Writers (Granta, £12.99), by Mark Crick – is good for its spoofs, including Harold Pinter's recipe for cheese on toast, and "repotting a house plant with Martin Amis." Genius.
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