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At Faber, we’re big fans of independent bookshops – they know what’s new and what’s good better than anyone else. That’s why local indie booksellers are the perfect people to ask if you need a book recommendation. As we get closer to the Christmas season, we’ve asked some of our favourite independent booksellers which books they’ve been loving. Why not visit them in person if you need more literary gift inspiration?
Photo of indie bookshop The Book Hive

The Book Hive, Norwich

Situated in the heart of Norwich’s Lanes, The Book Hive houses a unique collection of books in a cosy setting, chosen by the booksellers’ whims rather than more traditional layouts. You can order direct from them by filling in their order form or browse a selection of their favourites online.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

Emily Wilson’s Odyssey and Iliad. The talk about these books has been so big for so long and they just keep on selling. When Emily came to The Book Hive’s inaugural festival this autumn and talked about – and performed! – her amazing new Iliad I thought, I can’t just hear about this anymore, I have to read it myself.

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

John Crace’s Depraved New World. Oh, how we could do with a laugh at the moment. The dismal state of British politics and its politicians are only good for two things: ridicule and humiliation. John’s erudite and very funny political sketches are chilling in what they reveal about the truth and also hugely entertaining. This new book is no exception.

My book of the year . . .

The Glutton by A. K. Blakemore. I don’t really have the words to do it justice. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea and if it’s not yours, I don’t want to know. You’re wrong. Read it and be reminded of what the sheer power of putting marks on paper and giving them to someone else to look at is capable of. A towering, breathtaking triumph.

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman. The most important book ever published.

Drop City Books Shopfront

Drop City Books, Hanley (Stoke-on-Trent)

The newest bookshop on our list, Stoke-on-Trent’s Drop City Books, opened their doors this October. Bookseller Ruth told us some of what she’s been loving in the shop’s first weeks of opening. You can visit them in their brand new shop in Hanley or shop online at their bookshop.org page.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

Bear by Marian Engel – what’s more festive than a story about a librarian who enters into a sexual relationship with a grizzly bear? A bookseller and very cool person I know recommended it to me, and Margaret Atwood described it was ‘plausible as kitchens, shapely as a folktale’. Double sold.

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

The Law in 60 Seconds by Christian Weaver. There’s no-one I don’t recommend this book to. Easy to read, practical examples, essential information, fits in your pocket. As RuPaul definitely didn’t say: ‘If you don’t know your rights, how in the hell you gonna defend the rights of somebody else?’

My book of the year . . .

Sophie White, Where I End. Strange, gross, remote Irish island folk horror that has some real stuff to say about motherhood, family, mortality, disability and small-town vibes. So scary, but you can trust Sophie White, she’ll get you out alive. You’ll like this if you watched Hereditary and thought it was a bit subtle.

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

Every New Year I go back to Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown (she is top of my ‘people I opened a bookshop to meet’ list). This book articulates things I don’t know how to say but that I feel way, way deep down in my organs. It’s a book about activism, and it’s a book about how there can’t be any activism without joy, vulnerability and courage.

The shop front of Little Acorns Bookstore

Little Acorns Bookstore, Derry

Little Acorns Bookstore is the largest independent bookstore in the north-west of Ireland. These recommendations come from owner Jenni. You can buy from Little Acorns via their Bookshop.org profile or check out their website.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

I’m late to catching up on the Booker Prize nominees, and this year is certainly no exception with such a vast, varied wealth and stealth of styles and genres on offer. I intend to lock myself away with The Bee Sting by Paul Murray, published by Hamish Hamilton. I hope to follow then with the other two shortlist titles by the other Pauls: Prophet Song by Paul Lynch and This Other Eden by Paul Harding. Here’s to a lot of snow this Christmas!

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

The Late Night Writers Club: A Graphic Novel by Annie West. A rowdy, rich, riveting book of Irish literary brilliance, artistic abundance and absolute joy. I’d love to live inside this book; tucked into the page corners and invisibly eavesdrop. Every writer, published or unpublished, bookshop and publisher should have a copy of this – literary balm, calm wisdom which just bursts with colour, cleverness and humour, a bible for book lovers.

My book of the year . . .

The Letters of Seamus Heaney, edited by Christopher Reid. This year was the tenth anniversary of Heaney’s death and we held a very special commemorative poetry reading afternoon of his work in the bookshop, which involved people of all ages and backgrounds. As a son of this area, Heaney is one of our own and everyone has a connection. This book is a truly beautiful, revealing, respectful volume of correspondence with such a generosity of spirit, humour, empathy and thoughtfulness. It encompasses the family man, the friend, the teacher, the writer and the ordinary man so eloquently and humbly and you will identify with each and all. A precious, personal, love of language and letters.

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

The annual delicious Christmas indulgence of destination and romantic fiction for pure escapism by Karen Swan, and like a box of chocolates, I shall devour in one or two sittings. Swan’s latest, Christmas by Candlelight, is published by Pan Books. Her readers are like a secret society – all year we feast on award-winners, non-fiction, and other genres and then, come year end, we all excitedly await Swan’s next indulgent offering. Who doesn’t want a warm hug, between-the-covers seasonal bliss, love and a girl-next-door? So, please, do not disturb until 1 January.

Photo of Shalimar Books

Shalimar Books, South London

Shalimar Books has been the leading distributor of South Asian books in the UK for over fifty years. You can visit thcm at their bookshop on Kennington Lane in South London, or order through their website. Their recommendations come from Chetan.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

Has to be The Illuminated by Anandita Ghose. As sophisticated in the quality of its prose as it is provocative in its thematic focus on questions of identity, this looks to be a remarkable novel of ideas and marks the arrival of a tremendous new literary talent. An exciting work of fiction which appears to be an astonishing debut.

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

Burning My Roti: Breaking Barriers as a Queer Indian Woman by Sharan Dhaliwal. This scintillating and beautifully presented book celebrates the strides South Asian women have made, whilst also providing powerful advice through personal stories by Sharan and other South Asian women from all over the world. It’s certainly a lovely-looking gift too!

My book of the year . . .

From a writer I greatly admire, and it’s Mother of Strangers by Suad Amiry. Transporting us to Jaffa between 1947 and 1951, this fable-like historical novel of young love is darkly humorous and very touching. Suad Amiry has written a vivid and devastating ac­count of a seminal moment in the history of the Middle East; the beginning of the end of Palestine, and a por­trait of a city irrevocably changed.

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

The classic Bombay Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto. Even a hundred years after his birth, Manto’s hard-edged, moving stories remain startling and provocative. In searching out those forgotten by humanity – prostitutes, conmen and crooks – Manto wrote about what it means to be human. It’s a rebellious yet human portrait of India’s bustling Bombay, as told by one of the greatest Urdu writers of the last century.

The shop front of The Portobello Bookshop

The Portobello Bookshop, Portobello (Edinburgh)

An independent bookshop based in Edinburgh’s seaside community of Portobello. Check out their website, or visit them in person on Portobello High Street for more recommendations and fantastic events.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

Blankets: 20th Anniversary Edition by Craig Thompson. I’ve never read this hugely popular graphic novel before and so was intrigued when it arrived on the shelves in this lovely new edition. Blankets is heralded as a beautiful love story, as well as a moving exploration of family ties, all set against a wintery, snow-covered backdrop. As one of the larger graphic novels we have at the shop, it feels like the perfect choice to get lost in during those lazy, indistinct days between Christmas and Hogmanay and I can’t wait. (Niamh)

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan. Keegan is by far a favourite of mine, whose deft skill and articulation sparkles in the short form. This is a particularly wonderful book to give as not only does it introduce friends and family to Keegan’s work but it also, at sixty-four pages, can be leisurely perused over the festive period when it’s dark and cold outside, making for a languid read late in the day. (Kira)

My book of the year . . .

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey, a vital novel pulsating with life and substance. Lacey explores identity, desire and devotion, blurring the lines between fact and fiction and rewriting American history in the process. What sounds like a dense and difficult book is instead a joy to read and I found myself racing through this in a few days, desperate to uncover more about the fictional, elusive X. (Lily)

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. Shepherd’s descriptions of her beloved Cairngorms are some of the most evocative and moving nature writing I’ve read, focusing in detail on fundamental elements like water, stone, snow and more whilst also never letting the reader forget the overwhelming vastness and harshness of the region. It’s the perfect read for long winter nights when it’s a wee bit too cold to be out walking! (Molly)

The shop front of The West Kirby Bookshop, Wirral

West Kirby Bookshop

An independent bookshop in the heart of West Kirby on the Wirral, Merseyside. Our recommendations come from owner Jordan. You can browse the West Kirby Bookshop’s recommendations and purchase from them on their website.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

I’m really looking forward to reading Mistletoe Malice by Kathleen Farrell. Originally published in 1951, it’s just been reissued by Faber and promises to be a subversive tragicomedy, set in post-war England as a family reunite in a seaside cottage for Christmas. Farrell’s writing has been compared to Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark and Jean Rhys – three of my favourite writers – so I’m very excited to get started!

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

Lots of friends will be receiving Shopping Lists: A Consuming Fascination by Ingrid Swenson. A small but perfectly formed gift book, Shopping Lists is a collection of found shopping lists from the same North London Waitrose. It’s a fascinating little book that is perfect to dip in and out of, showcasing the weird and wonderful ways we keep note of our errands. As Stanley Tucci says, it’s ‘f****** genius!’

My book of the year . . .

My book of the year is Kala, the debut novel from Colin Walsh. Set in a fictional town on the West Coast of Ireland, Kala is an incredibly gripping literary thriller that explores adolescence, friendship, loss, class, small-town secrets, and much more besides. Kala has been incredibly popular with lots of our customers this year, and sparked so many wonderful conversations in the bookshop. If you’re looking for a fully immersive read to hunker down with during the colder nights, this is the one for you!

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

After hearing the news that there’s going to be a new Miranda July novel published next spring, I’ve added one of my all-time favourite books by her, The First Bad Man, to my end of year reading list! The First Bad Man is one of the funniest, strangest novels I’ve ever read. It’ll get right under your skin, in all the best possible ways.

Shelf Life Bookshop, Cardiff

Shelf Life, Cardiff

Bookseller Rosie started Shelf Life Books and Zines in 2019 as a pop-up, aiming to make space for marginalised voices and highlight independent publishers, micro- and self-published books. In August 2020, Shelf Life moved to its current location in Cardiff’s Castle Emporium, where you can visit them today.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

The Premonition by Banana Yoshimoto. Her previous novel Kitchen is, in a roundabout way, one of the reasons Shelf Life exists so I’m excited to read this with our book club for December!

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

The book I’ll be giving as a gift is Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. This year’s not been an easy one for everyone and I find Solnit’s writing to be incredibly affirming and restorative, especially this one which is about finding solidarity and remaining hopeful and active through trying times.

My book of the year . . .

Impossible to call! I just read Split Tooth, newly published this year by & Other Stories, and that’s definitely heading into the top three – loved it!

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

The old favourite I’m returning to is Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry by B. S. Johnson. I recently moved house so I’ve been re-reading some old gems that I’d forgotten I own – this one’s a funny and fast fourth-wall breaking adventure into using the principles of double entry bookkeeping to seek revenge for life’s little misfortunes!

Sam Read Bookseller Grasmere Shop

Sam Read Bookseller, Grasmere

Established by the eponymous Sam Read in 1887, the award-winning Sam Read Bookseller have been selling books in the centre of Grasmere for over 130 years. Their recommendations come from bookseller Will.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

Christmas is a lovely time to snuggle up with short prose on these shortest of sleepy winter days. Here are two suggestions that would fit the bill for variously earthy and weird experiences.

Nancy Campbell (ed.), Nature Tales for Winter Nights. A tempting treasure trove of seasonal nature writing from storytellers across the globe, gathered together by brilliant poet and memoirist Campbell. Keep company with naturalist Linnæus on horseback in Lapland, hear of frost fairs on the Thames, and from Alpine adventure and polar bird myths to courtship in the snow in classical Japan and fireside stories told by indigenous voices, this is a snowglobe of reading possibilities.

Katy Soar (ed.) Circles of Stone: Weird Tales of Pagan Sites and Ancient Rites. A seasonal volume in the wonderfully spooky Tales of the Weird series gathers stories of otherworldly happenings around stone monuments, all taken from the periodicals and journals of the British Library collections. Fearful carvings! Spirits haunting Stonehenge! There’s nothing monolithic about these approaches to monoliths.

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

For grown ups in our lives. . .
Helen Rebanks, The Farmer’s Wife. A skilfully told memoir of love and loss, motherhood, farm life and food and the women who often go unrecorded in farming stories. Rebanks skilfully weaves memories and recipes prompted by different times of day. Eleanor Crow’s lively illustrations capture the feeling of the modern farm kitchen, animal life around the farmyard and the fells just out the window.

For all those who would not claim to be grown ups. . .
Sophie Anderson and Melissa Castrillon (illus.), The Snow Girl. A visit to Anderson’s enchanting modern fairytale world is a wintery rural affair. Tasha and her parents have moved in with her grandpa to help tend the farm and look after his adorable goats. At the first sign of snow, Tasha builds a snow girl with her grandpa, and wishes for her to be real. What if wishes came true? This is the story of what happens when Tasha meets Alyana, a girl made of winter, and of the coming of spring.

My book of the year . . .

Jessica Johns, Bad Cree. Johns’s debut novel is clever, funny, moving and haunting. Mackenzie has moved to Vancouver to try and escape bad memories at home in rural Alberta, but grief follows her like the crows that spill out of her dreams and into the city. When she wakes one day with a crow’s head in her hands, it becomes clear that the boundary between the real and the dreamt is not as firm as she thought.

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

Craig Thompson, Blankets. I read Blankets shortly after it was first published, and it’s a graphic novel I’ve since recommended often. It’s a doorstop of beauty. The interior artwork is expressive, sweeping and detailed, and the story is a heartfelt one of first love in a rural setting in the depths of winter. I was so obsessed that I often go back to the instrumental soundtrack Portland’s Tracker made to accompany the book. Faber has just published a beautiful twentieth-anniversary edition too, making it the perfect time to revisit.

The shop front of Red Lion Books

Red Lion Books, Colchester

Proudly independent since 1978, when the Donaldsons first set up shop, Red Lion Books sits in the heart of Colchester. Visit them in person or order via their website, over the phone, or by email. Their recommendations come from Jo.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

Is this year’s Jólabókaflóðið (Icelandic for ‘Yule Book Flood’). At Red Lion Books, we choose one title and then invite our customers to read the same book, through the night, on Christmas Eve. To keep up the tradition there are rules – we ask that you don’t open it until Christmas Eve. We can’t give away the title but this year the book takes place on Christmas Eve.

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell. Katherine’s take on the world is completely fabulous and she pulls you along on her journey through it. She opens your eyes along the way and fills them with wonder.

My book of the year . . .

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin was our book club choice and despite being about gamers, it appealed to all types of bookies across several generations, looking at the complexities of friendship.

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

No book ever! As a bookseller I’m consistently shown new books and my thoughts are always looking ahead to the next big thing. Something that I return to each year is the Faber Poetry Diary. My personal diary is digitalised but I used the diary to record what I have read, plan to read, want to read!

the bound bookshop shopfront

the bound, Whitley Bay

Sister-bookshop to the North East’s famous Forum Books, the bound bookshop opened in 2021 to bring Whitley Bay an eclectic selection of books. Their recommendations come from Emma and Helen.

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas . . .

Emma: Still Life, Sarah Winman. One of those perfect books that is great for any occasion, but the themes of family and community are perfect for the festive season.

Helen: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s almost embarrassing to admit I’ve still to read this one especially when it’s not only won all the prizes but the hearts of so many readers – fellow indie booksellers and customers alike. But with its new winter cover and the prospect of time to get properly rapt, it’s the perfect choice.

The book I’ll be giving as a gift . . .

Emma: The Starless Sea, Erin Morgernstern. A dreamy celebration of reading and the telling of stories. Let the magic whisk you away. . .

Helen: How Does Santa Go Down The Chimney? by Mac Barnett ill. Jon Klassen. Because grown ups shouldn’t forget the magic and joy of children’s books and this one has ALL the festive warmth and hilarity everyone needs.

My book of the year . . .

Emma: Every Exquisite Thing, Laura Steve. This gorgeous YA retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray had me gripped from the first page to the very last. Perfect for BookTok fans who want something a little strange in their stocking this Christmas!

Helen: Cuddy by Ben Myers. A hymn to the North and our unofficial patron saint – what a book! Quietly blown away by Cuddy. . . it feels like it came up through Ben’s boots and was always meant to be. Truly stunning.

The old favourite I’m returning to . . .

Emma: Boy Parts, Eliza Clark. We’ve all been Eliza Clark superfans for years here at the bound, and it’s a book that never fails to shock us time and time again. I just saw it onstage in London too, and it was amazing!

Helen: A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.
As warming as the first mulled wine, gorgeously nostalgic and a firm festive favourite – wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
‘All the Christmases roll down towards the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street. . . ’ I mean. . .

Looking for more great recommendations to make your Christmas shopping easier? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide.