Ios Books of the Year 2012: Stocking fillers
The definition of luxury: tea with Alan Bennett
Christmas is a good time to admit that oldies are often goodies, so we feel no shame in starting with two golden classics: I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue: The Best of Forty Years, by Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jack Dee et al (Preface, £20) is like the radio show but with photos and illustrations (for instance, from the Uxbridge English Dictionary, of "macaroon: to leave a Scotsman on a desert island"); Desert Island Discs: 70 Years of Castaways edited by Sean Magee (Bantam Press, £25) is a gentle potter around that famous island, including Diana Mosley's controversial description of Hitler's "extraordinary, sort of mesmeric eyes" and reminders of luxuries past: Alan Bennett chose an unending supply of afternoon teas, of course.
Also from the archive is Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien (HarperCollins, £12.99) – received by his children every December from 1920 to 1943, with drawings of "the Rory Bory Aylis firework", all sorts of elves, and the North Polar Bear. And, lest the children forget what a real book looks like, the Folio Society's latest gorgeous editions include Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (£28.95) and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (£34.95) with illustrations by Elena and Anna Balbusso. Atwood calls it "the definitive edition".
One last retro bit of fun was presumably inspired by the popularity of all those "Keep Calm" products. Fit Men Wanted: Original Posters from the Home Front (Thames & Hudson, £18.95) contains 62 posters, including "Men of Hull GET A MOVE ON".
Coming up to date with a shudder, 2012 has been a year ripe for satire, and Eyeballs (Private Eye, £7.99) and the Private Eye Annual 2012, edited by Ian Hislop (£9.99), both do their worst. This year's nasty rash of erotic fiction is almost beyond parody, but one book that made a good, err, fist of it is 50 Shelves of Grey: A Selection of Great Books, Erotically Remastered by Vanessa Parody (Constable & Robinson, £8.99). It includes chapters from 1984 ("Big Brother is watching you … Big Brother likes to watch") and Three Men in a Boat ("So, chaps," I said, "have you ever boffed on a boat?"). Also, Oxford World Classics has re-issued a classy paperback of the Marquis de Sade's Justine – the original and rather better.
Finally, IoS readers will enjoy two collections of columns from these pages: The Limerickiad Vol II, from Donne to Jane Austen by Martin Rowson (Smokestack, £9.99), and Invisible Ink: How 100 Great Authors Disappeared by Christopher Fowler (Strange Attractor, £9.99). And for the family pedant? John Rentoul's Questions To Which The Answer Is No! (Elliott & Thompson, £11.99). Could it be the only Christmas present you'll ever need to give? Well, nah, but it's very good.
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