Is there really a way of avoiding Bracknell?

AS CHRISTMAS comes ever nearer, like an express train heading towards an unmanned crossing, I sense a feeling of panic in the air, a lack of ideas for presents, which can best be expressed in the question: "Isn't there some new book out which would make the ideal Christmas gift, if not by Michael Palin, at least by someone else?"

Indeed there is, and today I am bringing you the top Christmas book bargains on the market, any one of which will make the perfect present for someone who can read, or indeed, considering that most Christmas book gifts remain untouched, anyone who can't read.

Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Basingstoke by Dr Graybeard, Garfunkel & Schuster, pounds 13.99. Dr Graybeard has two theories. One is that if you write a book purporting to explain the difference between men and women, you will sell millions of copies. Two, that women are interested in arriving but men interested only in how they got there, which is why men waste half their lives in endless conversations about the best way to avoid Bracknell. But is chatting about B roads and parking spaces another form of sex? Dr Graybeard does not commit himself.

The Thomas Hardy Book of Wessex Girl Jokes edited by Gyles Brandreth, Heritage Ho Ho Press, pounds 13.99. A lovely taste of old England. Sample Thomas Hardy joke: "Hey, did you hear the one about the Wessex girl who was about to get married but found that her fiance had been transported for life on a trumped-up charge by a magistrate who fancied her, and so committed suicide on the day before her wedding day? Well, you have now!"

Eat P J O'Rourke by Will Hutton, HarperJoanCollins, pounds 13.99. The idea behind this book is that if a comedian like P J O'Rourke can write a book about economics, then surely an economist can make a quick buck by doing a book about the economics of the comedy world? Hutton unearths some pretty depressing statistics about the stranglehold exerted on comedy by the handful of huge corporate agencies, and sees no future for comedy unless we can free the means of production and... well, actually, we didn't really understand the rest, but Will Hutton seems pretty cross about something. Not many jokes.

The Late Enoch Powell by Simon Hodder, Heffer & Stoughton, pounds 13.99. A book which will come as a considerable shock to anyone who thought Enoch Powell was still alive.

Lafontaine's Fables by Oskar Lafontaine, Europress, pounds 13.99. A welcome reissue for the best fables by the renowned story-teller, Lafontaine, including such classics as "The Big Goat, the Little Goat and Tax Harmonisation", "The Little Boy Who Cried `Rebate!' ", and "The Crow and the Cheese which Broke EU Pasteurisation Regulations". Endless hours of fun.

The Penguin Book of Conversations edited by Paul Theroux, Penguin, pounds 13.99. It seems unlikely that any of us can remember any past conversation in much detail, but Paul Theroux claims the opposite (he points out, for example, that he can remember chats he had with V S Naipaul years ago, word for word) and he points out that all travel writing includes closely reasoned conversations which may well have taken place, or, if they didn't should have.

The Life of Birds by David Attenborough, Penguin, pounds 13.99. As one of the birds he interviews says, "It's not much of a life as a dolly bird - work all week in a dead-end job, doll yourself up for the weekend, go out, meet some bloke who doesn't even phone back when he said he would, then find yourself pregnant..." Grim and powerful.

How to Write a Cookbook by Delia Smith, Cook Books, pounds 13.99. Back to the basics with Delia, as she shows you how to choose a simple idea, as fresh as possible, then prepare it and serve it up as simply as possible, sprinkling it with lots of lovely photos, then publish it and sell lots and lots of it.

Interviewing the English by Jeremy Paxman, Acacia Press, pounds 13.99. Jeremy Paxman brings his formidable interviewing techniques to bear in this revealing book. Here is a telling sample:

Paxman: What makes you English?

Man: Well, I don't know, really.

Paxman: Come on, don't shilly shally - I want an answer!

Man: Is it something to do with racial background?

Paxman: No - the answer is, the urge to go on TV quiz shows and make a fool of yourself. No points.

More Christmas books soon!

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