Professor Wu's Rulebook

The best literary stocking fillers this Christmas


With the average Briton set to spend over half their monthly wage packet on Christmas this year, and their American cousins set to spend a similar amount, there’s a good bet a significant amount of this money will be spent on what some may term “tat”.

Of course, we’d hesitate before using the term to describe those gifts, like the Universal Crocs Mobile Phone Case or this Star Wars sun reflector for your car, that will absolutely – without doubt – be used by their respective recipients for countless years to come.

But if you are one of many people keen to lavish gifts upon your loved ones, but fearful of buying them something they don’t really need or want, we have some suggestions for you that have a long shelf-life and extensive usability.

We’re of course talking about books. Not only can they be read again and again, and invite us to explore new worlds and entire new universes, they also help us think differently about the world – and they teach us about wonderful new ideas. As this paper in the journal Science points out, reading literary works cultivates a skill known as “theory of mind”, which is described as the “ability to ‘read’ the thoughts and feelings of others.” So books make us nicer, basically. If there is anything more appropriate at Christmas, then, we certainly haven’t come across it.

So which books should you buy for those special people in your life? Well, surely size comes into it – because they have to fit into stockings of all shapes and sizes.

To help you narrow your options down, take a look at some of our suggestions, below:

  1. How to become a writer, by Lorrie Moore


Taken from award-winning writer Lorrie Moore’s debut short story collection Self-Help (1985), How To Become a Writer is a wryly witty deconstruction of tips for aspiring writers, told in vignettes by a self-absorbed narrator who fails to observe the world around her. The perfect gift for that aspiring writer we all know.

2. The Art of Rogue One


As with last year, December 2016 has been dominated by the cultural event that is the release of a new Star Wars film. To combine your love of epic space sagas with books, this one’s for you. The Art of Rogue One is a visual chronicle of the Lucasfilm art department’s creation of new worlds, unforgettable characters, and newly imagined droids, vehicles, and weapons for the first movie in the Star Wars Storyseries Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In the same format and style as Abrams The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the book gives readers unprecedented access to hundreds of concept paintings, sketches, storyboards, matte paintings, and character, costume, and vehicle designs. 

3. The Philosophy of Beards


One for that bearded gentleman in your lives. This eccentric Victorian book argues a strong case for the universal wearing of a beard – that essential symbol of manly distinction since ancient times. Thomas S. Gowing contrasts the vigour and daring of bearded men through history with the undeniable effeminacy of the clean-shaven. He reminds the modern man that ‘ladies, by their very nature, like everything manly’, and cannot fail to be charmed by a ‘fine flow of curling comeliness’. Gowing’s book is now republished for the first time since 1850, accompanied by illustrations of impressive beards from history. Hipsters, in particular, are sure to love it.

4. Penguin Little Black Classics


80 little books to choose from – one for each year in the life of Penguin Books and each around 60 pages long – give you a wealth of options to choose from. These extracts of wider classical literary works are sure to offer choices to meet all literary tastes. Authors include Karl Marx, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Plato, Caligula, Keats, Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. What’s not to love?

5. The Inevitable Gift Shop, by Will Eaves


The Inevitable Gift Shop, by Will Eaves, is one of those delightful little books that will fit any stocking. As we’ve noted before, it’s also one of those increasingly rare literary finds: a book that is thoroughly unique. Described as ‘a memoir by other means’, it’s not at all plot driven. Rather, this work of collage brings together bits and pieces of memoir, fictional prose, poetry, essay and non-fiction. Interactive, funny, insightful and thought provoking in equal turns, it’s a perfect book to revisit time and time again. It features thoughts, stories and poetry of artificial intelligence, philosophy, nature, and of course, family feuds – without which it simply wouldn’t be Christmas.

6. Harry Potter colouring book


2016 saw the release of the much-anticipated Harry Potter movie spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Loved by adults and children alike, bring a bit of magic into your Christmases with Potter and co, while also getting on board the continuing explosion in colouring books, with the Harry Potter colouring book. Packed with stunning pieces of artwork from the Warner Bros. archive, this book gives fans the chance to colour in the vivid settings and beloved characters of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

7. The Codex Silenda: more than your average puzzle book


If you’re looking for something entirely original and unique, look no further. Created by puzzle designer Brady Whitney, this wooden book has only five pages – but it may well still take you a good deal of time to finish, since you’ll need to solve a complex mechanical puzzle on each one before you can turn to the next.

8. We go to the gallery: the original satirical spoof of the classic ‘Peter and Jane’ children’s series

9780992834913Strictly one for adults only, this hilarious spoof of the Ladybird early learning books of the 1960s sees Susan discovering that God is dead, and John being scared by big, feminist vaginas.” While the artist behind the series, Miriam Elia, ran into legal trouble with Penguin (who ripped off her idea), the book continues to delight readers. We go to the gallery is one of the best presents to unwrap on Christmas morn. Kick the holidays off with some laughter.

And a few others, we’re sure you’ll appreciate


Still looking for other ideas? Well, for people who love books but who have replaced their physical books with Kindles, give them that which their home may now be missing: the scent of leather bound books and library shelves, thanks to this book-scented candle.

You could also consider some of the best indie books of 2016 and support independent publishers and writers in the process.

How about if you’re looking to spice up your romantic life with your partner? Then look no further than the Star Wars Kama Sutra book.

And finally, with a view to next year, how about making sure your loved ones have some poetry in 2017 with this Haiku calendar?

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