We’ve managed to pilfer some more authors’ Christmas shopping lists to find out what gifts they’re buying for their friends and family this year. So, if you’re expecting a present from Max Hastings, Lauren St John, Frank Lampard, Deborah Rodriguez or Alan Johnson do NOT read on…
- For a fishing friend there is nothing better than Michael Wigan’s splendidly written and handsomely presented book The Salmon, a fascinating and authoritative guide to the wonders of the Atlantic salmon and the challenges involved in preserving it from its many enemies, commercial fisheries foremost among them.
- William Dalyrmple’s Return of a King is a splendid narrative of Britain’s first disastrous involvement in Afghanistan between 1839 and 1842, one of the best history books of the year for any age group of readers. Dalrymple’s many fans are familiar with his mastery of both elegant prose and Indian sources, though this sometimes tilts his account a trifle too enthusiastically in favour of the Afghans, against the blundering British.
- For students of World War II, Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf offers a fascinating tale of how the author’s great-uncle, a young Jewish refugee from Germany who had joined the British Army, in 1946 hunted down and arrested the commandant of Auschwitz.
- The splendid military historian Saul David’s 100 Days to Victory tells the story of the last great campaign of World War I on the Western Front, where in the summer of 1918 the British Army won a critical and today almost unrecognized victory, which proved a decisive force in forcing Germany’s surrender in November.
- Robert Harris’ latest novel An Officer and a Spy- not exactly a thriller, because we know the outcome- showcases the author’s amazing originality, once more breaking new ground for himself with a superb retelling of France’s Dreyfus scandal.
- Finally, anyone with the slightest enthusiasm for theatre- which means most of us- should be delighted to receive Philip Ziegler’s Olivier, a masterly account of the greatest British actor of the 20th century, a chameleon who shone brilliantly in a thousand roles onstage, but never decided who he thought he was, once the footlights dimmed.Find out more about Max Hastings‘ latest book, Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914
- The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray. Now available for the first time in one volume these three books are a joyful, sad and very, very funny. Don’t worry if you’re determined to give up smoking in the new year. This is not an ode to tobacco. This would be for my daughter Emma who was caught with a fag in her hand when she was 13. When I told her off she calmly pointed out that, according to her mother, I was a smoker by the age of 12.
- Whitsun Weddings by Phillip Larkin. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of this book and the magnificent poem that gives the book it’s title. “I was late getting away/ Not till about about/ One twenty on the sunlit Saturday/Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out”. Thus begins one of the greatest train journey’s in English literature – from Hull to Kings Cross.I fully intend to buy this for my partner, Carolyn, who doesn’t yet understand my obsession with Larkin. (Don’t worry, I’ll buy her something else as well!)
- The Beatles – Tune In by Mark Lewisohn. The first volume of this three part epic. The definitive story of four musicians who changed the world by their most authoritative fan. Oh, and he writes beautifully. For Carolyn’s brother Stephen who’s a brilliant musician who has the misfortune not to be as old as me and wasn’t around when the Fab Four exploded onto the scene fifty years ago.
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Not a new book but one that every lover of fine writing should read. One of the finest and most haunting novels I have ever read. I’d present this to my oldest grandchild, Carmel, who will, I hope appreciate its wistful beauty. Carmel is incidentally wistfully beautiful.
- 5 Days in May by Andrew Adonis. Few coalition governments have ever been formed in Britain.None have ever been formed like this. Andrew Adonis was a writer before he was a politician and it shows. A gripping account that even non-politico’s will find fascinating. My son Jamie is also a fine musician and has worked with Paul Weller, Razorlight and Robert Wyatt. But he’s deeply interested in politics and knows how important these five days were to his Dad’s career.
- Three Brothers by Peter Ackroyd. I reviewed this book for The Times. It’s a rollicking good read with all Ackroyd’s passions – for London, history and fine story telling fully displayed. My youngest son, Oliver is a little too young for this but he’s a voracious reader and will be ready soon for this more adult form of a ripping yarn.
- For my girls… Matilda by Roald Dahl. They love the film! Plus, David Walliams’ Demon Dentist. We all love his books.
- Frankie vs the Pirate Pillagers is my first ever children’s book and I’ll definitely be giving copies to several family friends with small children.
- Top of my own wishlist is Team of Rivals, the biography of Abraham Lincoln which has received such fantastic reviews, and Papillon by Henri Charriere, a fantastic story of human endurance.
I love gifts that keep on giving, and to me that means a good book that stays with you for a very long time. Some friends and family are more difficult to buy for than others, but a good book is always the flawless gift for everyone. I am so eager to share three very different books with my friends and family this holiday season.
- I was on a road trip through the mountains of Mexico, and I needed a good book to keep me company on the journey. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was the chosen book. Each page had me so spellbound that I did not want to get out of the car when the day of driving was complete, so an extra day was added to the trip so I could finish. While I was reading the book, I was dying to ring up my girlfriends and have an emotional lively chat on the phone about Theo, the loss of his mother, and how horrible his terrible father was. I wanted to talk with someone about his life, and the hardships this young boy had to endure, but then I would remember this is a work of fiction. That was when I decided to give this book to my best friend Karen. I can’t wait until after the holidays, when I will have someone to talk with about this fantastic book.I love all things Afghanistan, and have loved all of Khaled Hosseini’s books. His new book, And the Mountains Echoed, transported me to the wonderful land that I had fallen in love with. I love to share all stories about Afghanistan with my sons Noah and Zach. Our family has been changed forever because of my love affair with that country. The talented writing of Mr. Hosseini will be a portal for my boys to the magic of this ancient land. The Christmas stockings will be bursting with a little Afghanistan this year.
- I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai (Author), Christina Lamb (Contributor) is my third, and most important, gift, this one for my three grandchildren. This brave child’s beautiful book puts life in perspective, sort of a reality check, something we all need from time to time. I am Malala made me ask myself what I’m doing to make a difference, and when was the last time I took a stand for something I strongly believed in. I know my grandchildren aren’t old enough to understand (or even to read!) but this is a book to put away, to be shared when the time comes to show them how young brave children can take a stand and make a difference. I Am Malala will go under our family Christmas tree, and the tag will say: This is the story of a future world leader.
Lauren St. John
- For my mom… Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill
My mother reads more than anyone I know. She devours books. This investigation by Jeremy Scahill into America’s covert operations is right up her street.
- For my sister, Lisa… The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
My sister lives in Zimbabwe, where it’s difficult and expensive to get books. She’s been dying to read this so I’m taking it to her at Christmas.
- For my godson, Matis… SPACE: A Children’s Encylopedia
Matis has just turned eight and is obsessed with time travel. He’s also really smart. I think this is perfect for him.
- For my dad… The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
A few years ago all of my father’s books were destroyed during a move and I’d love to replace them for him bit by bit. The Power of One is one of his favourites.
- For my uncle, James… How to be a Bad Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes
James lives in Zimbabwe too and is an amazing bird photographer. Simon Barnes is a wonderful writer and his book is a classic.
- For my friend, Norma… Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham
Poor Norma is recovering from an operation and a thriller will cheer her up. This one is brilliant. Keeps you guessing till the end.