Christmas book suggestions

So, I just braved Dublin City Centre to buy all my Christmas books (presents and personal reads), and whoever came up with this ‘Black Friday’ nonsense should be brought up charges of some kind.

I’m not even joking – I’m suggesting retribution of the biblical variety, and none of that New Testament pussyfooting; at the very least, I want a rain of sulphur to come down and clear the streets to my bookshops.

Anyway… I bought some books to read over the next month or so, and it occurred to me that some folk out there might be looking for a few Christmas book suggestions, so I thought I’d bash out a quick list of books that aren’t currently on the bestsellers lists, that you’ll likely find buried in their respective genre-section, and each one is worth digging out, either for yourself or a loved one.

Here goes then…

…if you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh and laugh (and laugh), the way to go is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. If you, or the reader in your life, likes their comedy to come with a little more kick than your basic set-up and punch, you have to check this book out.

Once you come to know the story of Ignatius J. Reilly, you’ll find shadows and imitations of the big man haunting you for the rest of your days, and (if you’re anything like me) you’ll have a private chuckle each time.

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”

Credit where credit is due though, Ignatius is one of the most quotable characters in literature – “Is my paranoia getting completely out of hand, or are you mongoloids really talking about me?” – doesn’t even come close to the tip of the iceberg.

“The good people sleep much better at night than the bad people. Of course, the bad people enjoy the waking hours much more.”

…it’s Christmas, you’re looking for a sports biography of some sort, well – quite frankly – they’re going to be plastered all over the pimp my book-sales shelves on the high-street, and you’re better off just buying whatever is there for the sports fan in your life (that way they can chat to their friends about at work in the New Year – when they’ve all flicked through the same book).

If you do fancy digging a little deeper though, Cloughie: Walking on Water is a good read and tells the story of legendary Football (which is to say Soccer) manager Brian Clough, and if you’re gifting this for someone under-30 it’s entirely possible that they know nothing beyond the name of the great man – but there’s a hell of a story to tell.

For non-soccer fans, David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins: my pursuit of Lance Armstrong is good, and Forever Young: The Story of Adrian Doherty, Football’s Lost Genius by Oliver Kay was huge here in Ireland (it’s a book about a soccer player, but it’s not a story about soccer).

…if you’re in the market for a thriller – well, honestly, I haven’t read many this past year – but the first one that comes to mind is The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

It’s a classic of the genre, and I can think of half-dozen modern thriller writers/characters who owe no small debt to the stories of Tom Ripley.

“He liked the fact that Venice had no cars. It made the city human
“How do ou feel about your prophesied destiny?”

… hopefully, you have a Fant/Sci reader in the house (because they’re awesome); I’m going to head left-field and suggest a book (series, in fact) that I don’t personally like, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (book one of the Wheel of Time).

I could go on at great length (and have on sites I’ve contributed to) about my issues with WOT and Robert Jordan’s writing, but I’ll put my hands up and admit that there are a lot of aspects to the series which are both wonderful and addictive, and if you’re buying for a reader who has less developed tastes (by this, I simply mean I’ve read so much that I know what I like/dislike to a highly defined degree), especially someone looking to gateway into the fantasy genre, you could do a lot worse than start here.

Although I don’t watch TV, I’ve seen that WOT is a TV series now – the books, they’ll be better, and you’ll certainly get an appreciation of the world/characters/plots that they just won’t have the air time to portray on the screen.

…perhaps historical fiction is the book you’re looking for; I can’t think of a better writer in the genre than Robert Harries and would recommend checking out Fatherland.

It’s been half-a-lifetime since I read this book, and the story still lives as clear as day in my memory, and (this is almost a spoiler FYI) if you are buying this for a reader who likes their books to come with a twist, then – Yes, Yes, YES! – they’re going to love Fatherland.

“Anyone found not enjoying themselves will be shot.”

It’s a perfect example of the magician pulling up their sleeves, telling you there’s a trick coming, explaining how it will be done, and then blowing your mind with the reveal anyway.

“Death and what came after death was no great mystery to Sabriel. She just wished it was.”

…and kids read too (at least they do if you’re doing it right); perhaps have a lookout for Sabriel by Garth Nix.

I’m not entirely sure why, but you don’t tend to see his books getting a lot of attention these days (this could likely be completely untrue if you’re reading this in Australia).

There is, of course, a finite amount of time a single forty-year-old man can spend hanging around in the children’s books section before I start to arouse the suspicion of the Daily Mail readers of the world – so, maybe his books are still a lot more widely read than I realise.

I can say that I’ve read many of Gareth Nix’s children’s/YA books over the years (mostly found in charity shops), and more often than not, they fall into the category of hidden gems.

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”

…honestly, given the year we’ve had in the world (Covid being just the first headline), I can’t image why you’d look to buying non-fiction for the holiday season, but each to their own – there are no wrong answers with well-written books, just differences in tastes (The Wheel of Time being a perfect example).

I’ve revisited a lot of Oliver Sacks over the last year, Hallucinations most recently, and you really can’t go wrong with his books. They’re meaty, require both intellect and patience to appreciate, but they’re also really accessible, and there’s a kind of childlike enthusiasm in the writing that’s really compelling.

I suppose, if you’re buying someone N/F for Christmas, they’re not likely to be put off by reading heavyweights like Noam Chomsky, Robert Service, Christoper Hitchens… if I was picking a particular book from collected bibliographies of those three names, I’d go with Services biography of Stalin – it goes way beyond interesting – but you could say that about every book featuring one of those names on its cover.

…you know, I’ve just read back through that list and realised I’ve only mentioned a single female writer (generally, the only distinction I make in writing is whether or not it was originally produced in English).

JK Rowling, Mo Hayder, Erin Morgenstern, Phillipa Gregory Paula Radcliffe and Helen Fielding could easily replace a name in every category I’ve mentioned (although I fully admit that a shout out to Harry Potter is a bit lazy) – and for balance, John Connolly can write a mean thriller when the winds blowing in the right direction.

Whatever you read this Christmas, just make sure it’s a book you want to read, and not one you feel you should read – that really is my number one tip for improving your reading habits.


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