The best literary stocking fillers for Christmas

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Every year, shoppers in the UK and USA rush to gather as much “stuff” as they can to help fill Christmas stockings of all shapes and sizes. Even as we write this, we can almost hear the sound of frantic parents tearing up retail stores searching for Star Wars lightsaber BBQ tongs; “hilarious” inflatable zimmer frames; bizarre, whirling contraptions of plastic and electronic parts that last of all 30 seconds and then are thrown out as non-degradable landfill.

“But it’s Christmas!” We hear you cry. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas stocking; it wouldn’t be Christmas without stocking fillers!”

On this, we are prepared to concede the point. It is, indeed, Christmas. And while the religious festival of mass consumerism seems to get longer every year, stockings – and stocking fillers – are inevitably a part of it. Rather than argue about this from our liberal ivory tower made of granola and quinoa – and, honestly, who wants to be a Scrooge about Christmas, really? – we’ve done our homework and put together a list of literary stocking fillers that are guaranteed not only to raise a smile on the faces of those you love; but will also not end up as landfill before the turkey (or watermelon ham, for our vegan friends) is even cold.

Check out our suggestions below:

1. December Stories

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Few books capture the myriad intertwined feelings of joy, anxiety and sometimes sweet melancholy or nostalgia than Ian Samson’s December Stories 1, the second book offering of Belfast-based independent publishers No Alibis Press.

Comprised of brilliant short stories, vignettes, axioms, the odd recipe (emphasis on ‘odd’), art criticism, meditations and literary curiosities relating to all things festive – there’s something for every day of the titular month.

The perfect antidote to the festive season.

2. Penguin little black classics

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127 little books to choose from (one more than last year, now they’ve added the United States Constitution to the list). Each around 60 pages long, these delightful paperbacks give you a wealth of options to explore. These extracts of wider classical literary works are sure to offer choices to meet all literary tastes. Authors include Karl Marx, Jane Austen, Jonathan Swift, Virginia Woolf, Friedrich Nietzsche, Plato, Caligula, Keats, Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. What’s not to love?

3. Future Library – buying a gift for the future generations

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The Future Library is a 100-year artwork. From 2014 until 2114, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished for up to 100 years. Each writer has the same remit: to conceive and produce a work in the hopes of finding a receptive reader in an unknown future.

Margaret Atwood, David Mitchel, Elif Shafak and other world renown authors have already pledged manuscripts to the project. And, while your loved ones won’t be able to read them just yet, you can get a present that passes beyond the generations – a certificate that entitles the bearer to a copy of each of the books when they are finally published. It’s not cheap (at US$1000); but it’s certainly a stocking filler unlike any other – and one that won’t just be thrown away 30 seconds after opening.

4. Groundbreaking new fiction from Will Eaves

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Get your loved ones some cracking, daring new literature with one of three (or, indeed, all three) of these superb books from the author Will Eaves.

The Absent Therapist (TAT) saw Eaves shortlisted for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize, and you can see why. Technically described as a novel, this delightful little book will fit any stocking – but would also be a great find under the Christmas tree. A collection of mini-narratives, each with a precise tone and occasional touches of poetry, feature stories of artificial intelligence and musings on philosophy, of travel and adventure, and of course, family feuds – without which it simply wouldn’t be Christmas.

Cousin to TAT, The Inevitable Gift Shop, is similarly groundbreaking and unique (as we’ve noted before). 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.

Meanwhile,  Eaves’s new novel, Murmur,  is a rare achievement in its own right. Formally audacious, daring in its intellectual inquiry and unwaveringly humane, it’s little surprise that the book once again saw Eaves nominated for the Goldsmith Prize. The opening section of Murmur was also shortlisted for the 2017 BBC National Short Story Award.

5. A subscription to an independent literary magazine

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There’s a lot of talk these days of buying the ones you love subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix or Spotify. But this year, why not support some independent creatives instead of lining the pockets of huge media corporations, while also bringing some literary delights to the doors of those you care about for the next year?

Purchasing a subscription (or three, or thirty) to a literary magazine (like The Brixton Review of Books, Litro, Tin House, The Emma Press,  the TSS or Oxford American, to name but a few) help readers around the world discover new writing. Not only are they a great way of getting cheap (sometimes almost free) reading material on the regular, you also get added cool-person points for supporting some right-on creatives.

6. This is the place to be

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Nominated for the Gordon Burn Prize, as well as the PEN Ackerley and the Bread & Roses awards, This is the place to be, by Lara Pawson, is one hell of a good read. Small enough to fit in your stocking, it still packs a massive punch in the proverbial “feels” as it moves with a delicate precision through personal anecdotes of the author, taking us from the market at Walthomstow to the harrowing experiences of war in Angola. There’s an immense honesty within this book that carries us through from start to finish – with each vignette or mini-story contained within it perfect for sharing together around a Christmas fire or over a large bottle of brandy.

(You can take our word for it, too – check out our review here)

7. We do Christmas

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From the minds of the creatives who brought you the supremely funny ‘We go to the gallery’ – which kick started an entire range of literary stocking fillers itself – comes the latest in their line of excellent ‘adult children’s books’; semi-funny spoof versions of the books we grew up reading as children.

Have a sneak peek inside their new book, ‘We Do Christmas’, below (and then buy it, of course).

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8. Tequila Mockingbird – cocktails with a literary twist

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Looking for something for the book lover and cocktail enthusiast in your life? This small (perfect stocking filler size, in fact) is an ideal companion to any literary party. Tequila Mockingbird is a witty collection of 65 different recipes includes classics like Love in the Time Of Kalhua, Vermouth the Bell Tolls and A Rum of One’s Own. Recipes are paired with wry (rye?) commentary, bar bite suggestions and drinking games.

9. Something special from the Folio Society

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Looking to hide a real genuine treat at the bottom of someone’s stocking? Then why not check out these extraordinarily beautiful books from The Folio Society’s Christmas selection, including this limited edition of Sherlock Holmes.

10. Literary gift sets

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Why just get someone a book, when you can also get them an entire Christmas gift set inspired by a classic literary novel? Why not check out the wonderful gifts from the Literary Emporium.

11. Who could forget the Christmas socks?

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It wouldn’t really be Christmas without some socks to open on Christmas morning. Add a literary twist to this year’s Christmas socks with these Fahrenheit 451 inspired designs from the Literary Gift Co.

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Author’s incomes continue to fall as literary fiction sales collapse

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At the start of 2016, Nothing in the Rulebook reported that authors’ incomes had collapsed to “near abject” levels – with professional writers earning on average just £11,000 a year.

Now, the trend seems to have accelerated, with a new report finding that a “collapse” in sales of literary fiction had seen advanced paid to writers diminish even further – meaning ever fewer authors were able to support themselves through their craft alone.

Indeed, the authors of the report, commissioned by Arts Council England, note that the shifts in the dynamics of the publishing industry have fundamentally changed the entire model on which writers previously built their careers.

The traditional model of writing could be said to begin with an author penning a masterful manuscript, subsequently being discovered by a powerful agent who lands said author an enormous book deal with a large advance. This supplies the necessary funding for the writer to pen further masterful manuscripts, with the same effect, all the while as their book sales continue to supplement their income. And so on ad infinitum.

Yet as 98% of writers report falling advances – with some noting cuts falling dramatically from over £50,000 per book to less than £5,000 – it seems this fall in writerly wages directly correlates with a collapse in sales of literary fiction.

Indeed, analysis of sales data from Nielsen BookScan found that hardback book sales slumped by £10 million between 2007 and 2001, with paperback sales falling even more dramatically – falling by over £40 million between 2011 and 2012 alone.

And, where once the book sales of ‘established’ or ‘major’ literary names could be relied on to supplement publisher’s investment in new or emerging writers, even these can no longer provide the financial support publishers need to sign on new talent.

Within the last 10 years, the only literary works to have sold more than 1 million copies include Atonement by Ian McEwan, the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, the Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Last year’s best selling novel was Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins, which sold 187,000 copies – roughly half the number of 2015’s best selling novel, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.

As this collapse precipitates a further fall in income for new writers, the authors of the report note: “Outside of the top 1,000 authors (at most), printed book sales alone simply cannot provide a decent income. While this has long been suspected, the data shows unambiguously that it is the case. … What’s more, this is a generous assessment. After the retailer, distributor, publisher and agent have taken their cut, there won’t be a lot of money left from 3,000 sales of the 1,000th bestselling title. That we are returning to a position where only the best-off writers can support themselves should be a source of deep concern.”

So, what is to be done?

The image of the struggling – perhaps even starving – artist is one that is now so stereotypical as to be cliché. And while we here at Nothing in the Rulebook have tried subsisting on a carefully balanced diet of hopes and dreams, it’s fair to say it can leave a certain ache in the stomach.

With the trend in falling book sales and incomes continuing at pace, it seems as though aspiring writers must look to supplement their endeavours with funds from elsewhere.

Such is the current state of affairs that the authors of the report note that the traditional model and dream of a writing career “is now severely challenged. If you want to be on the inside of those networks and live in London, a £13,000 advance, spread over several years of work, won’t cut the mustard. Writers must, for better or worse, take on more financial risk in order to write.”

While the most obvious course of action may be to look at taking on a full or part-time job, such a decision may not necessarily be the best for one’s own writing. As Charles Bukowski put it: “To not to have entirely wasted one’s life working, seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.”

But perhaps in the digital age, old challenges can be met with new solutions. For instance, Crowdfunding projects can see writers’ dreams become realities – such as Josh Spiller’s exciting new speculative fiction project, The 8th Emotion, which has received through crowdfunding the necessary financial backing that is perhaps no longer there to be found via traditional publishing models.

Indeed, as the print publishing industry appears to rely ever more on sales from cookbooks than literary fiction, aspiring writers may need to seek ever more imaginative ways to get their (much needed) new ideas and writing out there.