Christmas books: Audiobooks

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The Independent Culture

Maybe it's the ghost of recession to come, maybe the spectre of Christmas presents past lurking in cupboards, but I'm finding it harder than usual to shell out for unnecessary objects. Perhaps we need to rethink our assumption that a good present should be a joy for ever. Marcel Mauss's famous study The Gift tells us that in primitive society, the more a present is handed on, the greater its value. Audiobooks are ideal for this purpose: there is a special charm in handing on a fine spoken story to the right person.

Among the best seasonal audiobooks is Dickens's A Christmas Carol (BBC Cover to Cover, unabridged, 3hrs, £9.99 tapes, £15.99 CDs) read by Miriam Margolyes with sensitivity and panache. The CDs themselves are decorated with witty Victorian caricatures, and there is, as always on CDs, a special clarity to Scrooge's immortal lines. John Grisham's Skipping Christmas (Random House, 4 hrs, unabridged, £8.99) is a modern Scrooge story: Krank persuades his wife that a Caribbean cruise would be preferable to all the schmaltz and expense, but finds he is up against community tyrannies that, he feels, threaten his freedoms. It's a neatly crafted, funny and very human parable.

Boxed sets make handsome presents, and the bestselling one this year will probably be the dotty yellow tin of three unabridged Harry Potters, read by Stephen Fry (BBC, 30 hrs, £69.99). A good gift for admirers of Yorkshire's modern sage is A Box of Bennetts (BBC, 8hrs 20 mins, £29.99), which includes Telling Tales, The Lady in the Van, extracts from his diaries and an anthology of radio and television work.

The special set that I will be clinging on to for perennial cheer is the Collector's Edition of Douglas Adams's inimitable Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (7hrs 30 mins, £49.99): eight CDs in packed in a natty case, designed to look like the intergalactic bible itself.

Crime novels are among the best-selling audiobooks, and Agatha Christie still tops the charts. Purists will go for Chivers's unabridged readings of her novels (mail order 0800136919), but an acceptable alternative are the imaginative BBC Radio Collection's dramatised versions, now available in boxed sets – such as the 12 novels in The Complete Miss Marples (23hrs, £75).

Naxos is a consistently imaginative publisher of Shakespeare's plays, and this year it has produced a blood-curdling Othello, which was directed by David Timson, and an unforgettable Richard III, directed by Kenneth Branagh (both c3hrs, £9.99 tapes, £15.99 CDs). Alone, or paired with the Cambridge Shakespeare Library texts used, there is no better way of getting to know the Bard for the first time or for reacquaintance. Again, it's worth going for the CDs to get the full impact.

Finally, Ursula Moray William's The Good Little Christmas Tree (BBC Cover to Cover, 45 minutes, £3.99 tape, £5.99 CD), read by Bernard Cribbins, is a Christmas must, for it also has Stephen Thorne reading the Christmas story, punctuated by all the best carols sung with a purity and simplicity that pierces the heart.

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