Christmas '97: What the cool are reading this winter: guide to a stress-free lifestyle dominates the book-sales league

A health guide on how to keep your cool is the nation's favourite book this Christmas. David Lister looks at what people are buying to read over the holidays.

Stress levels must be high this year. The most popular book this Christmas is The Little Book Of Calm, Paul Wilson's guide to stress-free living.

Wilson is an Australian advertising executive, and his book, measuring 3in by 4in, contains fewer than 1,000 words of advice. It ranges from breathing tips for bad sleepers to advising the "rediscovery of milk" for its relaxing powers.

The book has sold nearly 33,000 copies in the past week, making it one of the most popular Christmas presents and also one of the cheapest, retailing at pounds 1.99.

Over the year it has sold 230,000 copies in high-street bookshops and is almost certain to be the best-selling book of the year.

The nearest challenger in the pre-Christmas sales was Bridget Jones's Diary: A Novel, by Helen Fielding.

The love and career traumas of a thirtysomething singleton, which first appeared in The Independent, sold just under 29,000 copies over the week.

The popularity of travel writing with a twist of humour is underlined by the next three entries, Michael Palin's journey in the Pacific and two books by Bill Bryson.

The American writer and former Independent journalist's book on Britain, Notes From a Small Island, which is number four this year, topped the pre-Christmas charts a year ago.

Fiction doesn't seem to be too high on most people's gift lists. Terry Pratchett, Louis De Bernieres and Helen Fielding were among the best sellers; but these were the only three fiction entries in the top 10.

The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Andrew Morton's updated biography assured him of a top-10 place.

Frank McCourt's popular reminiscence of an Irish childhood and the autobiography of the cricket umpire Dickie Bird are the other biographies in the list.

The survey of book sales was carried out by Whitaker Book Track, which monitors sales in 2,000 high-street bookshops.

Richard Knight, managing director of Whitaker Book Track, said: "There were strong last-minute challenges from Bridget Jones's Diary and Michael Palin's Full Circle, but when all the figures were counted there was no doubt that Paul Wilson is the nation's favourite author this Christmas.

"The record charts may have the glamour of show business, but plenty of people who never buy a record will be giving or receiving a book this Christmas. High-street bookshops sold some 3.5 million copies of 108,000 different titles in the week ending Saturday 20 December, representing sales of pounds 30.8m - almost a 20 per cent increase over the equivalent week last year."

THE TOP SELLERS

1 Little Book of Calm, Paul Wilson

2 Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding

3 Full Circle: A Pacific Journey with Michael Palin, Michael Palin

4 Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson

5 Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson

6 Dickie Bird: My Autobiography, Dickie Bird

7 Diana: Her True Story - In Her Own Words, Andrew Morton

8 Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

9 Hogfather, Terry Pratchett

10 Angela's Ashes: A Memoir of Childhood, Frank McCourt

11 Nation's Favourite Poems

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