The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

The 50 Best books for Christmas

From last-minute stocking fillers to weighty tomes to curl up by the fire with, Sophie Morris has great gift ideas for the literature lovers in your life

Sophie Morris
Friday 14 December 2012 19:00

The experts:

Marianne Levy - The author of ‘Ellie May Would Like To Be Taken Seriously For A Change’.

Jonathan Ruppin - Foyles web editor.

Kate Skipper - Waterstones buying manager.


Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

Sceptre, £17.99

“The ghost of Angela Carter drifts through this outstanding debut novel, my book of the year, which recasts language,” says Jonathan.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Fig Tree, £12.99

“Otsuka combines many perspectives into one mesmerising voice as she follows Japanese picture brides,” says Jonathan.

HHhH by Laurent Binet

Harvill Secker, £16.99

“A true story of two Czech parachutists sent on a mission by London to assassinate the head of the Gestapo. The standout novel of the year for me,” says Kate.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

HarperCollins, £9.99

“The book may look like a doorstopper but Mantel writes with absorbing pace, and you will find yourself at the end all too soon,” says Kate.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Doubleday, £18.99

“The picaresque story of a North Korean spy obliged to take on the persona of a military national hero,” explains Jonathan.

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Picador, £12.99

“For anyone needing a dose of sunshine on a gloomy grey winter’s day, this is the book for you,” says Kate. “An evocative debut novel.”

The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

Hogarth, £16.99

“This shocking novel set in the Afghan conflict is about an American unit preventing a woman from honouring her dead brother,” says Jonathan.

A Division of the Light by Christopher Burns

Quercus, £16.99

“Burns’ insightful, menacing edge, is reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro, who creates a similar dialogue in ‘Nocturnes’, says Jonathan.”

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Orion, £18.99

“Rebus is back and brings with him a seamlessly crafted whodunit,” says Kate. “This is a treat of a novel.”

What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank by Nathan Englander

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99

“This collection tackles the essence of modern Jewishness with empathy,” says Jonathan.


On the Map by Simon Garfield

Profile Books, £16.99

“This homage to the map is an excellent read,” says Kate. “Entertaining stories and anecdotes examine the importance of maps to our world.”

Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom

Fourth Estate, £14.99

“This is a joyous celebration of a 2000-year-old invention that genuinely changed our world,” says Jonathan. “Topics include tea bags, cigarette papers and banknotes.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper

John Murray, £25

“A superb biography of the adventurous travel writer and war hero, draws on years of interviews and complete access to his archives,” says Kate.

Dickens at Christmas by Charles Dickens

Vintage, £15

“A beautiful gift edition of not only all of Dickens’ Christmas novels but also his festive stories, written for the special seasonal editions of his periodicals,” says Kate.

The Richard Burton Diaries edited by Chris Williams

Yale University Press, £25

“These previously unpublished diaries give an intimate account of the acting legend’s tempestuous career and private life,” says Kate.

The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver

Penguin, £25

“An insight into the almost magical quality of using statistics,” Kate says.

How Music Works by David Byrne

Canongate, £22

“Byrne touches on the evolution of the mixtape and the swapping of MP3s, along with quirky titbits from his Talking Heads days,” says Jonathan.

Ivory, Apes & Peacocks by Alan Root

Chatto & Windus, £20

“Alan Root combines tales of filming hippos underwater with reflections on the beauty of the African savannah,” says Jonathan.

Injustice by Clive Stafford Smith

Harvill Secker, £20

“Any young firebrand will be inspired by this shocking indictment of the fatal flaws in America’s use of the death penalty,” says Jonathan.

Constellation of Genius by Kevin Jackson

Hutchinson, £20

“Jackson’s diary format record puts the birth of Modernism in context with fascinating little details,”explains Jonathan.”


My Best Friend And Other Enemies by Catherine Wilkins

Nosy Crow, £6.99

“Properly funny,” says Marianne, of Catherine Wilkins’ hilarious tale of childhood friendship.

Constable & Toop by Gareth P Jones

Hot Key Books, £5.99

Prepare to be spooked by this “darkly delicious London ghost story” says Marianne. A chilling tale set in a Victorian-era funeral parlour.

How To Change The World With A Ball Of String by Tim Cooke

Scholastic, £9.99

“Curious young minds will revel in this romp through the history of civilization,” says Marianne.

Christmas Parade by Sandra Boynton

Simon and Schuster, £6.99

“This will soon become a bedtime favourite,” predicts Marianne. “Boynton’s book is a real pleasure to read out aloud.”

Atticus Claw Breaks The Law by Jennifer Gray

Faber and Faber, £5.99

“He’s a cat burglar on a mission… young readers will adore Atticus Grammaticus Cattypus Claw,” says Marianne.

All The Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket

Egmont, £8.99

“A snappy slice of noir,” says Marianne. “American novelist Snicket returns with a new series, and he is better than ever.”

How To Save A Life by Sara Zarr

Usborne, £6.99

A new arrival threatens to make a terrible situation even worse for Jill, whose dad has died. “A marvellous, heartrending read for tortured teens,” says Marianne.

This Moose Belongs To Me by Oliver Jeffers

HarperCollins, £11.99

“Gorgeously beautiful illustrations and a lovely story,” says Marianne. Jeffers’ books include The Great Paper Caper, and are contemporary classics.

Jepp, Who Defied The Stars by Katherine Marsh

Hot Key Books, £7.99

Jepp is an itinerant dwarf who travels around Europe. “Marsh’s elegant historical fiction has a moving message,” says Marianne.

Gods And Warriors by Michelle Paver

Puffin, £12.99

“Boys and girls will be transported by this Bronze Age adventure,” says Marianne. Gods and Warriors is the first instalment of a five-book series.

Stocking fillers:

The World of Popagami by Philip Craik

Ettes Publishing, £4.99

Something to keep the little ones quiet on Boxing Day: Popagami is an incredibly fun book of illustrated animal origami sheets.

1,227 QI Facts to Blow Your Socks Off by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson

Faber and Faber, £9.99

“An amalgamation of the best facts from QI’s first ten years,” says Kate.

Grammar for Grown-Ups by Katherine Fry & Rowena Kirton

Vintage, £10.99

“An informative and witty guide to grammar by two editorial supremos,” says Kate.

Darth Vader and Son by Jeffrey Brown

Chronicle Books, £9.99

“This hilarious comic tale charts the pitfalls of Darth Vader’s attempts to raise a young Luke Skywalker,”explains Kate.

The 100 Most Pointless Things in the World by Alexander Armstrong & Richard Osman

Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99

“The must-have present for any student in your life,” says Kate.

Science Tales by Darryl Cunningham

Myriad, £11.99

“The graphic novel has come of age and is now being used to attract a new audience to all manner of heavyweight topics,” says Jonathan.

Pulp Head by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Vintage, £9.99

“These charming, insightful profiles of America will intrigue fans of David Foster Wallace’s essays,” says Jonathan.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by John Julius Norwich

Atlantic, £9.99

“The perfect choice for anyone wanting to drop a hint about ill-considered Christmas presents,” says Jonathan.

Sea of Ink by Richard Weihe

Peirene Press, £10

“This is based on the life of artist and calligrapher Bada Shinren, who was forced to flee when the Ming Dynasty was toppled,” says Jonathan.

Haiku for the Single Girl by Beth Griffenhagen and Cynthia Vehslage Meyers

Canongate, £7.99

You don’t need to be single to find this collection of incisive haikus hilarious.


A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield

Canongate, £25

April Bloomfield is the chef who showed New Yorkers how we Brits roll with her infamous gastropub The Spotted Pig, along with the Breslin and the John Dory.

Polpo by Russell Norman

Bloomsbury, £25

If you can’t make it to one of his restaurants in the capital and wouldn’t know where to start in Italy, cook Norman’s Venetian snackettes at home from the first Polpo cookbook.

At Home on the Range by Elizabeth Gilbert and Margaret Yardley Potter

Bloomsbury, £16.99

This new edition, with foreword by Gilbert, brings together traditional recipes and their wonderful histories.

Hugh’s Three Good Things by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Bloomsbury, £25

Never over-complicate a meal again with Hugh’s brilliant lesson in what makes a decent dish. An exercise in how to match flavours and eat well.

Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop

Bloomsbury, £25

Every Grain of Rice makes the cooking Dunlop found in southern China, where fresh vegetables are more common than unhealthy fried dishes, attractive and almost easy.

Coffee table/illustrated:

London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by Tom Knight and Sybil Ruscoe

Wiley, £14.99

Squeeze those final drops of Olympic fever out of 2012 with this glossy production.

Safari by Dan Kainen & Carole Kaufmann

Workman, £16.99

“Lenticular technology allows you to watch eight beautiful animals race through motion pictures simply by turning the pages,” says Kate.

The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen

Hutchinson, £8.99

This beautiful new edition comes in green and gold, with enchanting images by Finnish illustrator Sanna Annukka.

Building Stories by Chris Ware

Jonathan Cape, £30

Much more than a book – this graphic novel about the inhabitants of a Chicago apartment block comes in the form of 14 illustrated books.

Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland: with Artwork by Yayoi Kusama

Penguin Classics, £20

A mesmerising production of this classic tale for new and old fans.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.