Christmas books: Stocking fillers

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The Independent Culture
John Julius Norwich provides an enchanting new version of the old song in The Twelve Days of Christmas Correspondence (Doubleday pounds 7.99), which takes the form of 12 thank you letters from Emily to her true love Edward. As he showers her with increasingly absurd gifts (four calling birds, nine dancing ladies - you get the picture) her appreciation wanes and her frustration grows. Quentin Blake illustrates the ensuing pandemonium.

Christmas Carols (British Museum Press pounds 6.99) takes a look at 15 old favourites and obscure additions. The illustrations come from the 31 albums of Christmas cards once owned by Queen Mary and now held by the museum.

For those who think Christmas has become nothing but a commercial enterprise, a quick read (and it doesn't take long) of Rohan "Little Book of Stress" Candappa's The Stocking Filler: A Modern Fable for Christmas (Ebury Press pounds 1.99), will reassure. Stanley the Stocking Filler is on a mission to save his boss Santa, whose days are numbered now that Christmas has been privatised by Festivco plc. His efforts to reinstate him take him to the HQ of this ruthless company where he makes a shocking discovery. For a more substantial read, Irish Christmas Stories II, ed David Marcus, Bloomsbury pounds 6.99, is a superb collection from an impressive group of writers including Elizabeth Bowen, Maeve Binchy, Bernard McLaverty and Frank O'Connor. In Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery (Dolphin Books pounds 7.99), each day as young Joachim opens a window of his Advent Calender a piece of paper falls out. As he reads each one, he is taken on a magical journey through time and space until he arrives at Bethlehem on the night of Jesus's birth. With a new chapter for each of the 24 days, the book is an Advent Calender in itself with the usual temptation to open every door on the first day. Equally hard to resist is The Victorian Advent Calendar (Van der Meer, pounds 14.99). A fold-out pop-up book, it shows pretty snow scenes, plays tunes and lights up - but for that you'll have to wait until Christmas Day.

In How to Survive Christmas (Bantam pounds 9.99), Jilly Cooper shows you how to deal with everything from the in-laws to the turkey, and there are anecdotes galore to suggest Ms Cooper has learnt the hard way. With Heaven Scent: The Aromatic Christmas Book (Thorsons pounds 14.99) you can make an aromatic mobile, scented cards and perfumed Christmas stockings, all of which require the time and patience which are not exactly in abundance at this time of year. And finally The Winter Solstice (Thorsons, pounds 18.99) sheds light on many of the rituals which we take for granted at Christmas. Why do we kiss under the mistletoe? Who is Santa Claus? And why do we have a Christmas tree? All answered in this attractive and informative book.