The best stocking fillers for Christmas

Parodies, miscellanies, and strange anthologies
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The avalanche of seasonal books always includes parodies, miscellanies, and strange anthologies. But, as you sit in a scrumpled paradise of wrapping-paper, it looks likely that you'll tuck, not only into extraneous piffle, but into cold dishes of whinge. Be prepared for Michael Bywater's Big Babies (Granta, £14.99), Simon Carr's Sour Gripes (Portrait, £9.99), Judy Rumbold's Reasons Not To Move To The Country (Short Books, £12.99), or the second volume of Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur's Is It Me Or Is Everything Shit? (Sphere, £10.99).

Bywater, Carr and Rumbold are well-known columnists, whose bylines encourage readers to expect vigorous, intelligent entertainment. But something disturbing happens when they're unleashed at length. Bywater offers a violently over-written tirade against the nannying assumptions of advertising, public notices, "lifestyle". There's an excellent set-piece about moronic pictograms in a train carriage, but the effect is of a remorseless apoplectic, dressing up fury in self-consciously witty prose. Carr, like Bywater, can't abide compensation culture and its side-effects. Both go spare about schools which ban conker-fights. But Carr's book is really only a seemingly endless compendium of stupidities, and there are only so many times one can expostulate "That's ridiculous!" The same with Rumbold, who lives in Suffolk. She has escaped the city to a land where everything isn't green and pleasant, after all, where you learn to love Debenham's instead of Harvey Nichols. Oddly, it's the scatter-gun Is It Me Or Is Everything Shit?, by comparison carelessly written, which is worth the purchase. Facetious, random and crude, it hits several targets, simply by moving alphabetically onwards. Lowe and McArthur make you think about the rubbish around us, from Superloos to Lemsip.

The cover of Craig Brown's well-edited The Tony Years (Ebury, £14.99) might fool you into expecting an onslaught on Dear Leader. Actually, it's an anthology of a decade of Brown's writing and proves that, although he really can't write clerihews, he's an unbeatable parodist, especially when ventriloquising public figures from Bakewell to Brandreth, Piers Morgan to Patricia Hewitt. No poseur survives Brown's gently withering scorn. He never skewers; he just takes down his targets' trousers. Among other parodies, San Sombrèro by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner and Rob Stich (Quadrille, £8.99) looks like a glossy travel guide; isn't; is a send-up. Joke over. Toby Clements' The No. 2 Global Detective (Canongate, £7.99) is a slick imitation of Rankin, McCall Smith, Cornwell, Mankell. Skilful and agreeable - but only if familiar with all four of their detectives.

Two treats: first, Nick Rennison's The Book Of Lists: London (Canongate, £9.99) follows the Wallechinsky, Wallace and Wallace formula which kick-started trivia collections (and pub and television quizzes) in 1977. And lastly, and surprisingly, since, like everyone, I loathe "Jimmy Carr": The Naked Jape by Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves (Michael Joseph, £12.99). Many po-faced disquisitions on jokes have appeared over the years, but this is a thoughtful discussion, spiced with 450 jokes and routines - including a Tommy Cooper classic. Two cannibals eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?"

Bill Greenwell's 'Impossible Objects' is published by Cinnamon

Comments