Book review: December Stories I, by Ian Samson

december_sstories

What’s that sound in the air? The crisp crunch of carollers footprints in the even evening December snow, perchance?

Not a bit of it. That sound you hear is applause; the clapping of hands from all those souls for whom the festive period is never as simple as the unbridled joy and consumerist cheer that the overwhelming majority of corporations and media establishment would have you think everyone is feeling at this time of year.

Because, of course, the month of December means a multitude of different things to different people at alternate points in their lives. The meaning of Christmas (if there is such a thing) changes as our feelings evolve and our memories build upon one another. The sweet stirrings of excitement many felt as Children on Christmas morning contends with the emotions pent up in familial tensions and blends over the years with Christmases of all stripes and colours; of loneliness, disappointment, anger and – yes – joy, into feelings that are not simple or binary emotions; but not necessarily the poorer for that.

Yet this complexity is so rarely discussed or acknowledged. And it is rarer still to see it put down in any form of creative medium. And so the aforementioned applause comes because it is precisely this complex diorama of festive feelings that is displayed so well, so vividly and so wonderfully in Ian Samson’s latest book, December Stories I.

Published by a team of fabulous independent creatives over at Belfast-based No Alibis Press, December Stories I comprises ‘short stories, vignettes, axioms, the odd recipe [emphasis on ‘odd’], art criticism, meditations and literary curiosities relating to all things festive’.

This collage of 31 entries – one for every day of the titular month – offers readers a plethora of different viewpoints with which to view the Christmas period. And it is within these tales – of terrible Christmas poetry, strict instructions from teachers to parents before the holidays, Floridian barbecues and meditations on faith (among so many others) – that we encounter the rich and so often contradictory feelings and emotions that make Christmas what it is.

Funny, sad, lovely and above all else utterly empathetic, December Stories I, is the perfect antidote to piped Christmas Muzak played on repeat from October onwards. And it also offers something else to people who may otherwise find themselves rushed off their feet at this time of year with work, social engagements and requisite consumer splurges and extensive (and expensive) grocery shopping: a chance to pause. Indeed, Samson’s book gives everyone who reads it the opportunity to take time out from everything else that may be going on and reflect – perhaps even meditate – on what Christmas means, and has meant, for them over the years; and also, perhaps more importantly, what it can mean for others, too.

Human beings are wonderful, surprising, contradictory things – and few times is this more apparent than during the Christmas period. Samson captures all of this effortlessly and brilliantly, making December Stories I an essential item on everyone’s Christmas wish list (we suppose you could wait for the January sales; but where would be the fun in that?)

You can watch Samson reading one of the short stories from the collection, ‘Two words’ in this lovely short video below.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The best literary stocking fillers for Christmas

stocking

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

december_sstories.png

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

Penguins-Little-Black-Cla-009

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

future library

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

Will Eaves stocking fillers.png

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

literary-magazines-rack

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

thisistheplaceFRONTsmall

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

MIRIAM_WE_GO_Xmas_2_940x

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).

MIRIAM_WE_GO_Xmas_p22_1060x

MIRIAM_WE_GO_Xmas_p12_1060x

8. Tequila Mockingbird – cocktails with a literary twist

tequilar

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

hlm_book

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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?

Fahrenheit-451-book-socks_01_2048x2048_3d537faf-a2a7-4d61-8c91-9517c4458279_1024x1024

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.

Perfect literary stocking fillers

 

stocking

The average British family is set to spend almost £800 on Christmas this year – and their American counterparts will themselves spend around US$950. That’s an awful lot of turkey and cranberry sauce to go with all those horrible socks for your uncle and those whisky stones for your hipster brother – not to forget that Rick and Morty version of Monopoly for your sister or that tartan scarf for your mother-in-law to go with all the other tartan scarves you’ve bought her every other Christmas.

While there’s nothing wrong with copious amounts of cranberry sauce or horrible socks necessarily, it goes without saying that Christmas is so often a time of purchasing for the sake of purchasing only in honour of the religion of consumerism, rather than anything more meaningful. There’s obviously a problem here, as David Foster Wallace would put it: “if you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning from life – then you will never have enough.”

So what purchases can you make this year that provide more of that “real meaning”? Well, we’ve come to the conclusion that some of the best purchases you can make this Christmas may be on items that have a far longer shelf-life and far greater usability than Star Wars fruit and utensils.

We are, 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. They’re also good for us, too. 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.

Star Wars images

So which books should you buy for those special people in your life whose stockings you need to fill? To help you narrow your options down, take a look at some of our suggestions, below:

1. Christmas with dull people, by Saki

9781911547181-643x1024-232x369

‘They say (said Reginald) that there’s nothing sadder than victory except defeat. If you’ve ever stayed with dull people during what is alleged to be the festive season, you can probably revise that saying.’

Hector Hugh Munro, better known by his pen name, Saki, was a master of wit and satire in the Edwardian era. Here, Daunt Books has reproduced four of his short stories that explore one the most dangerous aspects of Christmas: dealing with dull people. Saki expertly, and with an incredible precision of wit, deconstructs those most ghastly and perilous aspects of the holiday period, from being given unwanted gifts to writing thank you notes. Short and sharp enough to devour before breakfast on Christmas Day – and, crucially, small enough to fit in any size of present-filling footwear – this is an excellent stocking filler for anyone who pleasures in moaning about the festive holiday before getting into the swing of it all.

2. Penguin Little Black Classics

Penguins-Little-Black-Cla-009

126 little books to choose from – each around 60 pages long – 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. This is the place to be, by Lara Pawson

thisistheplaceFRONTsmall

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.

4. On being nice, by the School of Life

on-being-nice

Most books that want to change us seek to make us richer or thinner. This book wants to help us to be nicer: that is, less irritable, more patient, readier to listen, warmer, less prickly. Niceness may not have the immediate allure of money or fame, but it is a hugely important quality nevertheless and one that we neglect at our peril.

Produced by those wonderful folk at The School of Life – the same folk who gave us this lovely meditation on what literature is actually forOn being nice states that niceness “deserves to be rediscovered as one of the highest of all human achievements”. In the era of Donald Trump, Brexit, rising hate crime and geopolitical tensions, it’s a lesson we would do well to learn, whether it’s Christmas time or not.

5. The Corbyn Colouring Book: Austerity-free edition, by James Nunn

51P08mCAQRL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_

Speaking of people being nicer to one another, how about the latest iteration of the Corbyn colouring book? In a year that saw over 40% of the UK vote for the radical socialist and hope-filled policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s labour party – forcing the much-maligned (and malignant) Conservative government to sign a desperate deal with the terrorist-sympathising DUP – this book is a fine addition to the new canon of colouring books for adults.

Designed by James Nunn, the new version invited you to “relive the excitement of #GE2017 over and over again.” To the colouring pencils, comrades!

6. These delightful short quasi-novellas by BBC National Short Story Prize shortlistee Will Eaves

Eaves1

The Absent Therapist (TAT) saw Will 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.

7. Ignore those rip-off ‘Children books for adults’ – get the original instead
we-sue-an-artist-767x1024

It now seems as though the shelves of all bookstores and department stores are full of these ‘adult children’s books’; semi-funny spoof versions of the books we grew up reading as children. You know the ones – “The Ladybird book of the Wife”; “Five go to an office Christmas party”; “Mr Tickle gets arrested for sexual assault”, etc. etc.

The trouble with these books, however, is that they are so obviously part of a fad trend built up by the publishing industry to keep their noses afloat as sales of literary fiction crash. And while that might be excusable, the fact that these are rip-off copies of an idea by one independent artist – who was then sued for copyright by Penguin only to see the publishing giant steal her idea for their own gain – leave a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.

So, this Christmas, don’t pick up the latest gimmick – go for the original thing and get a copy of ‘We Go to the Gallery’ from Dung Beetle Books.

The best literary stocking fillers this Christmas

stocking

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

9780571323289

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

9781419722257

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

51pcib4e9l-_sx323_bo1204203200_

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

Penguins-Little-Black-Cla-009

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

Eaves2

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

9781783705481

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

dof1wmv0iynqwdzkr1dl

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

star-wars-kama-sutra-book1-640x534

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?

The best literary stocking fillers

stocking

The average British family is set to spend over £800 this Christmas. It’s possible that quite a lot of that will be splurged on some of the wide range of Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise currently piled high in every shop window – from your Lightsaber BBQ tongs to your BB-8 oranges.

Star Wars images

While we’ve been puzzling over just what it is exactly about oranges that makes them suitable Star Wars-themed, we’ve come to the conclusion that some of the best purchases you can make this Christmas may be on items that have a far longer shelf-life and far greater usability than Star Wars fruit and utensils. Although of course that Star Wars Darth Vader toaster is a must-buy for all your estranged aunts, uncles, first and second cousins.

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. They’re also good for us, too. Perhaps even better than the vitamin C you’ll get from those Star Wars oranges. 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 who aren’t getting that Vader toaster? 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. Penguin Little Black Classics

Penguins-Little-Black-Cla-009

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?

  1. The Absent Therapist, by Will Eaves

 

absent therapist

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.

  1. On Inequality, by Harry Frankfurt

On inequality

Certainly one for the more miserly Christmas gift receiver, who will undoubtedly point out that the credit-fuelled Christmas expenditure is forced upon the poorest in society by those marketing and corporate execs who bombard us with advertisements designed only to make us consume endlessly on a finite planet. But this fascinating book by New York Times bestselling author Harry Frankfurt addresses one of the most divisive and important issues of our time – inequality.

  1. A Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice

Guinea Pig

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Few people realise that this same truth applies to Guinea Pigs. This brand new abridgement to the classis Jane Austen novel helps set the record straight in this regard.

  1. A satirical spoof of the classic ‘Peter and Jane’ series

Penguins new Ladybird books

Penguin’s new series of spoof Ladybird book titles, modelled on the Peter and Jane learning reading books from the 1960s and 70s have been selling out in their hundreds of thousands as potential stocking fillers. They feature “The Ladybird Book of Sheds” and “The Ladybird Book of the Hipster”. Yet they have been inspired by books they initially threatened legal action over – the wonderfully satirical ‘We Go to the Gallery’ by Miriam Elia. Instead of going for the spoof of the spoof, why not get your loved ones the real thing?

  1. The Jeremy Corbyn Colouring Book, by James Nunn

Jeremy Corbyn colouring book

A fantastic twist that has accompanied the explosion in popularity of adult colouring books, as well as in left-wing literature, James Nunn’s Corbyn-themed colouring book is a wonderfully interactive gift for people on all wings of the political spectrum. Not only topical – Corbyn is, after all, a massive part of our cultural consciousness at the moment – the book also shines a light on a man whose message of kindness, respect, love and honesty surely fits perfectly with the true meaning of Christmas.

  1. Where’s the Wookie?

Where's the wookie

If you really can’t avoid getting in on all the Star Wars hype, we can’t think of many better stocking filler options than this suitably fitting take on the classic ‘Where’s Wally’ book series. You might think that an eight-foot tall walking carpet is not going to be difficult to spot, but you’d be surprised. This book will have you scanning some 40 pages depicting elaborately detailed scenes from the Star Wars universe in search for Chewbacca. Sure to distract people of all ages from trying to work out where that Vader toaster is.

The satire that sold a thousand stocking fillers: Ladybird books mimic satirical hit ‘We Go to the Gallery’

Penguins new Ladybird books

Two titles from the new Ladybird book series, published by Penguin

Book publisher Penguin has launched a new series of spoof Ladybird book titles, modelled on the Peter and Jane learning reading books from the 1960s and 70s.

The eight books include ‘The Ladybird Book of Sheds’, ‘The Ladybird Book of the Hipster’, and ‘The Ladybird Book of the Mid-Life Crisis’, as well as ‘How it Works: The Husband’ and ‘The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness’. They feature original Ladybird artwork alongside new, deadpan text from Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris.

“Leanne has been staring at this beautiful tree for five hours. She was meant to be in the office. Tomorrow she will be fired. In this way, mindfulness has solved her work-related stress,” goes the mindfulness spoof, later adding, alongside an image of a woman in a field of flowers: “Sophie is concentrating on her breath. It smells of Frazzles. She says she has light for breakfast, air for lunch and love for supper, but Sophie has also secretly had some Frazzles.”

Book sellers have already shifted over 600,000 copies of the mini-hardbacks in less than two months, as people rush to fill stockings for Christmas, according to book sales monitor Nielsen.

All eight of the titles are in the top 50 selling books, with the biggest sellers – ‘How It Works: The Husband’, and ‘How It Works: The Wife’ – both in the top 10.

Penguin originally printed 15,000 copies of each title, but the publisher now has over 1.5 million copies in print. Some bookstores have reported struggling to get their hands on stock, with the titles proving so popular.

At Waterstones, non-fiction buyer Richard Humphreys said the chain was doing “amazingly well” with the spoof Ladybird books. “These strong sales are down to a number of factors: it’s been Ladybird’s 100th anniversary this year and almost everybody will have a fond memory of the Ladybird books of their childhood,” he said.

But this has been done before, hasn’t it?

While Penguin and others count revenues from these books, many will be inclined to think they have seen something similar before.

In 2014, artist Miriam Elia was behind the runaway success of her satirical art book, ‘We Go to the Gallery’ – a spoof version of the same Ladybird books Penguin is now spoofing itself.

In 44 pages, Elia poked fun at the art world, using simple scenes reminiscent of the Peter and Jane series alongside new vocabulary at the bottom of each page. Described in The Guardian as “funny, smart and – to any parent who has tried to introduce small children to modern art – excruciatingly recognisable”.

We Go to the Gallery - Miriam Elia

Miriam Elia – ‘We Go to the Gallery’

“The rubbish smells,” says the girl, standing by a binbag installation. “It’s the stench of our decaying Western civilisation,” says Mummy.

Elia raised £5000 through Kickstarter to publish the book, marketing the idea by putting sample pages out on social media. By the time the first edition of 1000 books had been released, it had gone viral.

Miriam Elia - We Go To The Gallery

Miriam Elia – ‘We Go to the Gallery’

Those with memories of this will remember that Penguin did not take too kindly to Elia’s ingenuity, threatening her with court action to seize the books and have them pulped.

“It was really distressing,” she says. “I’m not a very professional person. Millions of people around the world were sharing pages of the book, but nobody knew what it was.”

In an attempt to divert away from legal proceedings, Elia rebranded the books under the publishing title ‘Dung Beetle Limited’.

“We set up Dung Beetle Limited as a joke,” she laughs, “and it’s become a corporation with a ‘fulfilment centre’ to send out the books.” By we, she means herself and her older brother, Ezra, who is cited as co-author, and with whom she created a previous hit: The Diary of Edward the Hamster, 1990 to 1990. Their childhood memories of owning a hamster were the basis of this mordant story of an abused pet, which began life as a satire for Radio 4 before becoming a Sony-nominated animation and a book. It is a memorial to the suffering of the only pet the siblings were allowed growing up in north London, when they would really have preferred a dog. “Wednesday May 5: Why exist?” writes Edward. “Wednesday May 7: Two of them came today, dragged me out of my cage and put me in some kind of improvised maze made out of books and old toilet rolls.”

Elia hits back at book publisher

The similarities between Penguin’s new book series and the Dung Beetle copy they threatened legal action over have not been missed by the artist.

In a brilliant, scathing rebuttal on her website, Elia writes:

“Penguin books […] were right to threaten me with legal action when I first released We Go to the Gallery, and right also to force me to pulp all remaining copies of the first edition. They were right to call my work morally bankrupt (which it is), and infer that it would corrupt the minds of young children (which it certainly has). They were right also to lie about the fact they owned the copyright to the original illustrations, because to do good, sometimes you have to be bad.

Indeed in the long run, independent artists like myself are worthless to the national economy, because Penguin employs more people and therefore feeds more children, who will read Ladybird books. I have learnt my lesson. I have learnt that Penguin are a force for goodness, innocence and purity in this shitcan we call real life, and that I was mentally deranged to attempt an upturn of the status quo. In the future I will always ask for permission before I decide to rip the piss. I would also like to apologise to the teams of lawyers who nobly slogged night and day to crush my artistic integrity. Without their weighty correspondences I would never have gained the means to see the error of my ways.  

Furthermore, I would like to personally congratulate the creative team at Penguin- they have ingeniously manages to come up with an original concept, that they copied from me. Almost word for word in places.  And they were right to do that. Their new books clearly demonstrate that it is the working class, not the intelligentsia, who present the greatest hazard to our cultural, artistic and political heritage. And also hipsters, who in their frivolous narcissism also represent a tangible threat to good taste and common sense. They are so right to choose superfluous targets that won’t be there in a year’s time.”

And Elia has gone further, adding a new title to her Dung Beetle series, ‘We sue an artist (and then rip off her idea)’.

we-sue-an-artist-767x1024

Miriam Elia’s latest guide for children to help them learn about corporate intimidation.