A literary gift range – curated by the evergreen critic – takes one of these pictures (unsold covers in front and back) and lays it out under the tree (picture side up)
“I’ve been reading ever since I opened my front door and was greeted with handouts and presents,” says Heather Mallick, the Telegraph’s literary-affairs editor. “The one I always end up giving is the Book of the Month Club, bought for the first time when I was about three. My mum then bought it for me at Christmas as a subscription. It was a 10-year membership and we got new copies every month. I still have all of the first dozen, along with two for her, each one giving away a collection of five books. The products themselves were boring so you wouldn’t use it. It’s nice, though, being present-induced.”
Mallick identifies two basic categories for these exquisite gifts: “What I know best, I love: I love to lend them to other people. And if you don’t know them, make them their own. I love reading, so I’d rather show other people my true interests, rather than make them mine.” But the reader knows that they are gifts.
Books for everyone from children to 75-year-olds and everything in between
Shelley Regner’s Christmas to Drink Like a Spy!
All there is to it: a mystery anthology of recipes by chefs and best-selling authors, all title-checked by Regner (right). “I’m a self-taught cook,” she says. “I’m terrible. I pick out a recipe on the internet and end up reading the whole thing. It’s brilliant because I don’t need to read the whole recipe.”
She loves this because she considers it a gift for someone who is particularly food-phobic, for whom “cookbooks and recipes can be huge turn-offs”. Including Jeremy Hemsley, Caroline Blakiston, Ayesha Rankin, Tom Kerridge, and David Lebovitz. The recipes don’t suck.
For anyone between seven and 20 years old – she’s offering them gifts that go right with Christmas chocolates: “That age group have a serious inclination towards the kind of self-indulgent books you see on Asda shelves.”
Spinster by Philip Pullman (Prince/Random House)
Pullman’s true masterpiece: a journey of imagination, including travel essays and dystopian dystopias, and readers old and young can enjoy the likes of the boy who was born to spinster mothers, his female friends, and not much else. The next edition – published in January 2019 – is by the daughter of Pullman’s friend, David Goodhart.
The Game of Chess with Don Buchan: The World of Grandmasters/Little, Brown
Admirably mainstream: literary antecedents include Iain Banks, Julian Barnes, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, and Anthony Horowitz. As well as an introduction from Joan Bakewell and a chronology of key chess matches in history, there are illustrations of the chessboard itself and fighters from World Chess Federation titles. One example: the match between Julius Caesar and Vladimir Kerensky.
Crown to Treasures by Tamora Pierce (Chatto & Windus)
Pierce (left) revisits her favourite 10 novels. “They’re all plays, of sorts,” she says. “I love novels so much and I’m not ashamed to say I love a lot of them. There’s one from every year in history.
“Being able to read about them in a friendly, accessible way is an extremely rewarding and heartening thing. Sometimes I think fiction is hugely popular because it is not worth the bloody effort to read it all!”
Mallick recommends Tessa Hadley’s debut, The Bright Fog, written 50 years ago and not yet in print, “when it was critical. I’ve reread it recently and it’s wonderful.”
A Christmas Gift for All Ages by Walter Dean Myers (Canongate/Soft Skull)
Suggested by Mallick: a collection of silly jokes (cheese in particular), set in the Marvel