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Independent bookshops are the heart of their communities, and we are big fans of all the amazing work booksellers do getting the right books into the right hands. If you need a recommendation, there’s no one better to ask than a bookseller. We’ve asked some of our favourite independent booksellers for their favourite reads in the run-up to Christmas, so read on to discover what they’ve been loving – and maybe find a new local literary haunt.
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 . . .

I’ve had Either/Or by Elif Batuman (Jonathan Cape) on my shelf for a while and I’m looking forward to finally sitting down with it over the Christmas period. I absolutely adored The Idiot, and I’m so excited to check back in with Selin, the wonderful protagonist, in Batuman’s latest. (Beth)

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

The book I’ll be giving as a gift is Home is Not a Place by Johny Pitts and Roger Robinson (HarperCollins), a beautiful collection of photographs, poetry and essays following the authors’ journey to document Black British culture along coastal locations. (Helena)

My book of the year . . .

My book of the year is Come Back In September (Quercus), Darryl Pinckney’s chronicle of his time under the tutelage (both formal and informal) of the writer Elizabeth Hardwick. I adore Hardwick’s writing and was likely to enjoy the book anyway, but Pinckney’s sentences are so upending, his changes in mode – from tender and awestruck recollection to spiky, short-tempered reminiscence – so unexpected and exciting that it’s hard not to think of this as one of the very best books of its kind. (Marc)

The shop front of The West Kirby Bookshop, Wirral

The West Kirby Bookshop, Wirral

A new, 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 Bookshop.org.

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

The book I’m looking forward to reading over Christmas is Brigid Brophy’s The Snow Ball (Faber). Originally published in 1964, The Snow Ball is a seductive, hedonistic, witty novel that I fell in love with in 2020 when it was reissued by Faber. Set in a large Victorian house on New Year’s Eve, it’s a very appropriate read for this time of year and a book I’ll return to every Christmas. ‘Mozart, sex and death’ . . . what more could you ask for?!

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

The book I’ll be giving as a gift is Matt Lodder’s Painted People: Humanity in 21 Tattoos (HarperCollins). Matt Lodder is a professor of Art History and Theory at the University of Essex whose research focuses on the history of tattooing. Painted People is a fascinating, ambitious book that traces tattooing from prehistory to the present day – with a stunning cover and beautiful endpapers, too!

My book of the year . . .

My book of the year is Sheena Patel’s I’m A Fan, published by Rough Trade Books. This book had such a moment this year, with fantastic press coverage and bookshop support, which is always amazing to see for a small press title! Exploring sex, power dynamics, politics, social media – and much more besides – reading I’m A Fan was an incredibly refreshing and revelatory experience. Tell all your friends and get this on your Christmas lists!

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 . . .

The Madness: A Memoir of War, Fear and PTSD by Fergal Keane (William Collins), one of the BBC’s most distinguished war correspondents who was on the frontline of world conflicts over thirty years. I have grown up listening to and watching Keane’s news reports of atrocities, truth and journalism and greatly respected and trusted his input over many other journalists. This book is an intensely personal and powerful book that I have been anticipating, for a better understanding of the man behind the headlines and head space.

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

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, illustrated by P. J. Lynch (Walker Books). I have always adored this poem by Frost since I was a child, and despite the fact that it was written one hundred years ago it is still as poignant and magical today. Coupled with P. J. Lynch’s stunning illustrations it is the most precious gift, transcending any age or experience. It’s the sort of book I want to jump inside and live in as both the illustrations and the words have such a power and pull. Every time I read it, it speaks of something different. Both sad and joyous, through childhood and adulthood. It will also be the main theme feature of Little Acorns Bookstore’s Christmas windows this year.

My book of the year . . .

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Faber). What a gorgeous, exquisite and compelling novella that deservedly reached such high literary award recognition; full of hope, love and remarkable mastery. Certainly one of the best books of the decade.

Days Like These: An alternative guide to the year in 366 poems by Brian Bilston (Picador Poetry). I just have to include this as it is bubbles, bustles and bursts with astute wit, humour, reality, intriguing information and insight. One of those rare books you can dip in and out of, no matter your age nor mood, and I love that it is in the poetic form and accessible to all.

The shop front of Argonaut Books

Argonaut Books, Leith (Edinburgh)

Argonaut Books is a community bookshop in Leith. You can browse more recommendations on their Bookshop.org page or visit them in person for a board game night or book club.

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

We’re lovers of the creepy, the weird and the gothic at Argonaut and we’ve been holding off on getting to A Helping Hand by Celia Dale (Daunt Books) as a spooky winter read. A suburban thriller in the vein of Shirley Jackson and Muriel Spark, Dale’s rediscovered classic is unsettling in the best of ways and makes for a perfect bundle-up-by-the-fire choice.

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

The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell (Faber). With a mole-obsessed family member this was a no-brainer. A gorgeous collection of beautiful, joyful creatures. Utterly defiant in the face of a world seemingly getting darker, it reminds us that there’s still beauty to be seen everywhere you look. Team that up with one of the most interesting, versatile writers active today and a stunningly produced indie edition for a perfect present.

My book of the year . . .

Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez (Granta). After falling in love with her short story collections The Dangers of Smoking in Bed and Things We Lost in Fire, we had (probably unreasonably) high expectations for her novel. Believe the hype, it really is that good. Dark, rich, horrifying, twisted, a masterwork of translation and storytelling. Massive in size, scope and talent, undoubtedly our book of the year.

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 select a ‘Secret Santa’ book each year which we wrap up for our customers. This the fifth year we have chosen a book. We were thrilled with our choice last year, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (Faber). I will read this year’s choice on Christmas Eve, but I can’t reveal the title yet!

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

The Golden Mole by Katherine Rundell . . . It’s so beautiful! I was lucky enough to hear Katherine Rundell reading from it and her revealing of and revelling in the natural world is beguiling.

My book of the year . . .

A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe (Faber). We all adore it at Red Lion Books and the paperback publication date means it’s an easy choice for our January 2023 Book Club. Such a gentle touch on a devastating subject.

The shop front of BookBar

BookBar, London

BookBar is an independent bookshop, wine bar and events space in London. Visit them in person on Blackstock Road, or check out their website to pick up a new book or discover their other recommendations. Their recommendations come from founder Chrissy.

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

There’s so much exciting reading for 2023 in my towering proof pile, and so much I’m looking forward to . . . I’m interviewing Ann Patchett for BookBar’s BookClub in January, so I can’t wait to tuck into more of her essays in her recent essay collection These Precious Days (Bloomsbury). Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin (HarperCollins) is one I’m very excited about for next year so I might have to re-read that! And if I’m sent a proof of Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel (coming in April), I’ll be straight into that!

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

Elaine Castillo’s How To Read Now (Atlantic Books) is one I’ll be putting in so many people’s stockings. It’s an extraordinary collection of essays examining how we read and interpret art and culture, how we interpret the world, and how all these things are related to our personal experiences and assumptions. It’s required reading for anyone who works in the arts and who loves thinking about how we engage with culture.

My book of the year . . .

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (Vintage) is unanimously the BookBar team’s Book of the Year. It’s an incredible story that will sweep you up, about two friends who bond as children playing video games and go on to create one of the world’s most successful gaming companies. It’s about creative collaboration, passion, friendship, success and failure, and the ability of creativity to allow you to escape. It will make you see gaming and gamers in the most wonderful way and is one of those novels that you just have to read. Perfect Christmas reading, and a brilliant gift for just about anyone – gamer or not. I promise.

Outside the Corbridge branch of Forum Books

Forum Books, Corbridge

Northumberland’s Forum Books has three shops in the north east of England. Their recommendations come from Heather at the Corbridge shop, based in a picturesque deconsecrated chapel. Visit in person and attend an event hosted from the old pulpit, or shop online via their website.

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

Hex by Jenni Fagan (Birlinn). Witchcraft and feminism meet in one short novel that leaves a powerful impact on the reader. Hex shows that society and women’s rights haven’t come very far in the five hundred years since the events in the novel.

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

A Psalm for The Wild-Built by Becky Chambers (Tor). The perfect short, comforting read for anybody who feels a little lost or anxious about their future. This book is a small, radiant beacon of hope.

My book of the year . . .

The Voids by Ryan O’Connor (Scribe). Ryan has written a mad, beautiful thing – heady, heartbreaking, hilarious, messy and magical. Hold tight.

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