The books section have collaborated to compile a list of 12 books for the 12 days of Christmas. ’Tis the season to buy books for your friends and family, so we wanted to ignite the festive spirit and share our top present recommendations. We’ve selected a range of titles, many published in the last few years, so check out our list below.
12 books of Christmas gift guide:
Day 1 (Aileen): Snow Ghost by Tony Mitton. Illustrated by Diana Mayo
It’s lovely to have books you only bring out at Christmas, and no parents can complain about having too many books, so a children’s book makes the perfect present for younger friends and relatives.
Snow Ghost is a beautifully illustrated book about a wintery ghost trying to find a place to call home. She eventually settles on the quiet calm of the moors, where she sees a girl and a boy playing.
Day 2 (Ruby): Lot by Bryan Washington
I read Bryan Washington’s debut collection of short stories during the first Covid lockdown. I have returned to it countless times since. It is a startling, soulful first book, compiling burning and deeply truthful stories of interconnected lives in Washington’s native Houston, with beautifully original style.
The collection is written with a wisdom that seems to extend beyond Washington’s 27 years. Lot navigates queer and racial identities, community, and family with wit and profound purpose.
The book has already won a number of prizes (including the 2020 Dylan Thomas prize). The success of the collection makes a bold case for the often-neglected short story form and Washington’s glistening talent. I am excited to see what more he has to offer.
Day 3 (Maisie): Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given
Florence Given’s debut book is a combination of non-fiction essays and original illustrations. The feminist publication has been one of the biggest books of 2020, and it has gone viral on Instagram.
I think the hardback version would work really well as a gift. It’s difficult to specify who should read this book, but I would recommend it for your younger siblings. The book contains a lot of advice that’s useful to hear in your teenage years. I would class the book as an introduction to feminist theories and ideas that builds on earlier publications by radical womxn.
We published a longer review of Given’s work earlier in the year in an article titled ‘Five people reflect on Women Don’t Owe You Pretty’. So, check out this review if you’re thinking of buying Women Don’t Owe You Pretty as a Christmas gift.
Day 4 (Josh): The Four Horsemen: The Conversation that Sparked an Atheist Generation
My first recommendation is The Four Horsemen: The Conversation that Sparked an Atheist Generation. Nothing screams Christmas like a brilliant and systematic takedown of Christianity (and all other religions). The book is a transcript of a now famous conversation held in 2007 between the so-called ‘Four Horsemen of New Atheism’. The ‘Four Horsemen’ are Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins. It also features a sparkling introduction by Stephen Fry.
As you read through the record of this salon discussion you’ll think it must have been edited for the purposes of a book. Surely they can’t have said that, so well, just on the hoof?! But they did. What better way to spend Christmas than to share a glass of wine with this quartet of brilliant heretics?
Day 5 (Bana): Educated by Tara Westover
I chose this memoir because it is a guaranteed page-turner for anyone who picks it up. Tara Westover was born to a fundamentalist, survivalist Mormon family in rural Iowa. Her family did not believe in conventional education or modern medicine. Westover’s childhood was a site of brainwashing, abuse, and untreated illnesses and injuries. Despite the circumstances of her upbringing and her lack of formal education, she first set foot in a classroom at age 17. From then on, she has remarkably earned her PhD at Trinity College, Cambridge.
Westover delves into the complications and the liberation of foregoing your assigned perspective in order to craft your own. While Westover’s case is extreme, her book deeply resonates with the human condition in its exploration of self-discovery.
Day 6 (Olivia): A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
I first read Khaled Hosseini’s novel in the lockdown over summer, after having it recommended countless times by friends. I sat myself in the shade of my garden and dived straight in. Before I knew it I had finished the entire book. This is a beautiful story of generations, struggle, and survival. I would definitely recommend for an emotional, but uplifting read.
You can check out Alia Nawaz’s full length review of A Thousand Splendid Suns for the Mancunion here.
Day 7 (Aileen and Josh): The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Aileen and Josh have both selected The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson which is a happy coincidence. The veteran writer brings his warm and enthralling prose style to bear on all the things weird and wonderful that go into making a human being.
Full of extraordinary facts, this book is a funny attempt to understand the mysteries and complexities of the body. The ideal present for that relative who is really hard to buy for and ‘doesn’t read fiction’.
Day 8 (Ruby): Surge by Jay Bernard
Another debut, Jay Bernard’s poetry collection Surge (2019) was a recent, but extraordinarily powerful discovery for me.
In 2016, Bernard began a residency at the George Padmore Institute (an archive, library and research centre for black British radical history). In this time, they researched the 1981 New Cross Fire and found disturbing continuities between the events of this time and the Grenfell Tower tragedy and Windrush scandal of the contemporary age.
Surge is a striking, lyrical exploration of the questions raised through this research, of the relationship between “public narration and private truths” and of Bernard’s place, in Britain, “as a queer, black person.”
The collection is emphatically political, heart-breakingly beautiful and an essential read for anyone who wishes to better understand the unspoken horrors of British society.
Day 9 (Maisie): Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
Everything I Know About Love is the Sunday Times bestselling memoir by Dolly Alderton. The memoir is a tribute to friendship, and in particular the love shared between friends. I found it to be an uplifting read that made me laugh and cry. Buy this book for your best mates.
Keep an eye out on the books section for our upcoming review of Alderton’s debut novel Ghosts.
Day 10 (Josh): The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
In this fusion of reportage and polemic, Orwell describes his time living with various northern working class families, notably with the coal miners of Lancashire and Yorkshire. He describes the gruelling work they do, the miserable poverty they endure, and the depressing ways in which they’ve been placated by their oppressors.
But there’s also light: Orwell pays tribute to the spirit of the working class; their communitarianism; their reciprocity; and their simple and uncynical desire for justice and fairness. It is not the triumphs of modernity, says Orwell, but ‘the memory of working class interiors that reminds me that our age has not been altogether a bad one to live in’.
Day 11 (Bana): Normal People by Sally Rooney
I would recommend this novel for a more YA inclined audience. However, it can be read and adored by anyone, as it discusses the relatable and normal complexity of youthfulness without the hues of nostalgia and romanticism.
Rooney chronicles the frustrating relationship between two young, normal people: Marianne and Connell as they navigate first love, class differences, and mental illnesses. It is a sad, but honest account of growth and experience for all teenagers and young adults.
Day 12 (Aileen): Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This collection of interconnected stories follows 12 characters, most of them black British women, in different decades. The stories overlap and weave together in surprising ways, culminating in a party that brings many of them into the same room.
The women are all flawed but compelling, and the book covers themes of family, community, feminism, sexuality and marriage. I couldn’t put it down.
Happy Christmas to all of our readers! Let us know what you’re buying and reading this Christmas. If you need further gift inspiration beyond our 12 books check out our selections in ‘What to read next in Black History Month’ and ‘Six book recommendations to get you through lockdown’.