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Marcus Ryder, co-author of Black British Lives Matter

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

Born in Blackness, Howard W. French
Every couple of decades a book is published which changes the way we look at history and more importantly reshapes the narrative of the role Africa and Africans play on the global stage. I am a massive fan of Howard French, his scholarship is beyond reproach, and I am instinctively drawn to any work which recasts Africa to more than just a backdrop to European protagonists, giving Africans real agency in global events that shaped the world we live in today.

The book you will be gifting this year

Long Way Down, Jason Reynolds
A beautiful graphic novel about communities, black love and black pain in America. It is the kind of book that you will start flipping through after Christmas dinner and then find you have not spoken to any of your relatives for the next three hours. The intensity of the story line is constantly balanced by the incredible watercolour illustrations by Dancia Novgorodoff.

Your book of the year

What White People Can Do Next – From Allyship to Coalition, Emma Dabiri
In this short book Dabiri evokes the political traditions of revolutionary black and feminist thinkers from the Black Panthers to Angela Davis. She takes the word of the moment ‘allyship’, coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 and exposes the emptiness in such words and even the danger in some of these untested concepts. But she not only criticises the lazy thinking behind the idea of ‘allyship’ and much of the discussion around ‘anti-racism’, she also offers real solutions as to how we can replace and improve on these ideas to build a better society.

Fíona Scarlett, author of Boys Don’t Cry

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

The Art of the Glimpse, Sinéad Gleeson
This beautiful anthology of one hundred Irish short stories has been sitting on my bedside locker for far too long. I’m really looking forward to delving into Sinéad’s thoughtful selection of Irish voices, celebrating the old, the new, the familiar and forgotten.

The book you will be gifting this year

A Lick And A Promise, Imelda May
A stunning poetry collection from the fabulous Imelda May, raw, honest and utterly convincing, just like her music. It’s such a striking edition too from its gorgeous clothbound cover to its sketches throughout. The perfect gift.

Your book of the year

Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
This is a hard one, I’ve read so many phenomenal books this year, but Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These has haunted me ever since I turned the last page. A small book that packs an almighty punch, and one that I’ll be returning to again and again.

Rebecca Watson, author of little scratch

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

I am going to finally read Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan which I have been reliably informed is brilliant.

The book you will be gifting this year

I choose books for people depending on their character, rather than giving them my own favourite – it’s a satisfying process. In December I find an independent bookshop and wander up and down the shelves thinking about the people I’m buying for, thumbing copies of books, until the right one stands out to me. That said, the book that I have landed on more than once is Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station. It’s very funny, thoughtful, horrible. I love it.

Your book of the year

Someone could tell me to stop talking about James Baldwin, but what would be the point, it wouldn’t work. Today I’ll elect Another Country, though tomorrow I might pick another. He’s my author of the year. I finished his last novel in September, so now that I have none left I just spend my time telling other people to read him instead. I haven’t read many new books this year – though Tabitha Lasley’s Sea State, which I read just as the year was starting, still remains with me, which says something.

Francis Spufford, author of Light Perpetual

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

When Christmas comes, I’ll have time to pick up the new Richard Powers, Bewilderment. I’ve enjoyed all his books, and he’s always been a great novelist of ideas, but somewhere around The Time of Our Singing his intellectual agility began to click into a subtler and deeper integration with the human observation in his work, and since then he’s just been astonishing.

The book you will be gifting this year

Several of my very serious literary friends who need more frivolity in their lives are going to be getting copies of Chaz Brenchley’s Three Twins at the Crater School, an artful but unironic recreation of the old-fashioned girls’ boarding school story – played seriously, with no winking at the audience – which happens to be set on a British colonial Mars round about the year 1900. Because, why not?  Midnight feasts, pith helmets, aliens. A book with no reason to exist except as a labour of daft, gratuitous love.

Your book of the year

It’s tricky to choose, because it’s been a good year for books while being a bad one for almost everything else. I hesitate over the compassionate virtuosity of Jon McGregor’s Lean, Fall, Stand, but in the end I come down on the side of Sarah Hall’s pandemic masterpiece Burntcoat, in all its darkling mortal beauty.

Leone Ross, author of This One Sky Day

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

I can’t wait to read Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir by Akwaeke Emezi. I read the first page a few months ago, and dissolved into a puddle of part-delight, part-deep envy, which as every writer knows, is the highest of compliments. This intense and beautiful memoir clearly requires immersion and respectful commitment.

The book you will be gifting this year

I want to gift every woman – mid-life and otherwise – with Invisible to Invaluable: Unleashing the Power of Midlife Women. A series of honest conversations between its two writers, one Black British, one White British, this ode to women born between 1950 and 1975 argues they are an astonishing, untapped resource for all communities.

Your book of the year

It’s still Diary of a Film by Niven Govinden: I love its tender intelligence, its reflection on creativity and ownership and fragile ego; its immense and understated vulnerability.

Georgia Pritchett, author of My Mess is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

Bob Mortimer’s autobiography, And Away. I love his choice of words and I love his eye for detail. I’m not sure if it will all be true but that doesn’t matter. His stories are so whimsical and his flights of fancy so fearless, I am fascinated to see how he managed to wrestle it onto the page.

The book you will be gifting this year

Daisy May Cooper’s Don’t Laugh, It’ll Only Encourage Her. How did any of us cope PD (pre-Daisy)? She’s so funny and so refreshing. And she’s equally skilled as a writer and a performer, so this is a book that needs reading AND listening to.

Your book of the year

The Manningtree Witches is written by the poet A. K. Blakemore, who uses language so beautifully and so inventively. It is a fascinating story told from the point of view of the kind of women history has tried to silence. I’m in awe of her powers of description.

Anil Seth, author of Being You

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann, Ananyo Bhattacharya.
Von Neumann was a unique figure in twentieth-century science and mathematics, laying the foundations for much that we now take for granted – and much that is still to be explored.  His work on cybernetics has been foundational to my own research in neuroscience, and I’ve encountered snippets of his fascinating personal life in various places over the years. I’m excited to read Bhattacharya’s engaging new biography of this legendary polymath.

The book you will be gifting this year

Helgoland, Carlo Rovelli
Rovelli is an inspiration to me, when it comes to popular science writing. Having been drawn in by his previous books – especially The Order of Time – I’m keen for everyone to read Helgoland, his most recent book: a wonderfully lucid and poetic account of the foundations of quantum physics. It combines a compelling history with his own intriguing – and for me very appealing – views about the basis of all things in their interactions.

Your book of the year

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
I have been raving about this book to all comers. Like all Ishiguro’s his newest book has an elegance and transparent clarity that makes me dwell on every sentence. He draws you into a different world, and a different way of being in a world, the disturbing contours of which are gradually revealed as the narrative unfolds.  There are scenes from the book which will never let you go.

QI Elf James Rawson, co-author of Funny You Should Ask . . . Again

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

For Christmas I’ve asked for The Haunting Season, a selection of eight ‘ghostly tales for long winter nights’. There’s nothing I love more than a good ghost story, especially around December time, and some fabulous writers have contributed to this collection, including Natasha Pulley and Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

The book you will be gifting this year

The book I’ll be gifting this year is The Devil’s Atlas by Edward Brooke-Hitching. Full disclosure: Ed is a QI Elf and friend, but that’s honestly got nothing to do with it. The Devil’s Atlas is a beautiful hardback with stunning prints of depictions of the underworld from throughout history and across the world.

Your book of the year

My Book of the Year is John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. Based on the podcast of the same name, it’s a series of short essays critiquing and celebrating disparate aspects of the world we live in, covering everything from the song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ to Teddy Bears and Diet Dr Pepper.

 

Peter Swanson, author of Rules for Perfect Murders

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie
I was digging through my Christie collection and realised that I’d never read this particular Poirot. At least, I don’t remember reading it. So now I’m gleefully saving it for Christmas eve.

The book you will be gifting this year

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, Paula Byrne
A lovely biography of one of my favourite writers, the funny and brilliant Barbara Pym. This book is perfect for the two other Pym fans in my life.

Your book of the year

Billy Summers, Stephen King
Every year we are gifted with a new Stephen King novel, but this past year he brought out one of his best. A suspense-filled tale of a hitman trying to stay alive after one last job, it doubles as a book about the writing process and what it means to tell your own story.

 

Nicola Upson, author of The Dead of Winter

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

The Lamplighters, Emma Stonex
A mystery, a ghost story and a love story covers everything I want from a book at Christmas, so I’m trying to resist this until then. Inspired by real events, it’s about three lighthouse keepers who disappear from a remote tower off the Cornish coast and the wives they leave behind. I’ll be reading it in Cornwall, while a heavy sea hurls itself against the cliffs, and the beams from Wolf Rock and Tater Du shine faintly in the distance.

The book you will be gifting this year

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present
, Paul McCartney
My partner knows a ludicrous amount about The Beatles, so I’m gifting her The Lyrics in the hope that the stories, letters and photographs from McCartney’s personal archive will offer something new and surprising even to a lifelong fan. The boxed set of two books, each of five hundred pages, is a thing of great beauty; I’m hoping Mandy will be thrilled enough to return the favour when Kate Bush does something similar!

Your book of the year

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, Paula Byrne
I’m a late convert to the exquisite novels of Barbara Pym, but A Glass of Blessings is one of my all-time favourite books. In Paula Byrne, Pym has found her perfect biographer: lively, subtle and incisive, just like the novelist herself. Pym must have been fabulous company; this joyous celebration of her life and work is the next best thing.

Sam Byers, author of Come Join Our Disease

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

I’m hoping to clear a bit of space for Olga Tokarczuk’s monumental The Books of Jacob, which I’ve been looking forward to for some time.

The book you will be gifting this year

No doubt a few people will be getting copies of Rachel Cusk’s exquisite Second Place. I also think Jonathan Franzen’s latest, Crossroads, which despite its size I raced through in a few days, is exactly the kind of generous and immersive novel the holidays were made for.

Your book of the year

I don’t really pay much attention to whether something came out this year, so my books of the year are really books of other years, but there’s no question my most memorable, moving and in its own way mind-altering reading experience this year was John Ashbery’s Flow Chart, which I began reading largely by accident but which rapidly became an obsession, reordering time and psychedelically altering my perception of experience as I read it. And speaking of time, I must mention two other books which have remained in my consciousness for months after reading them: Agustin Fernando Mallo’s Nocilla Dream, which showed me at least one possible future for the novel, and Ariana Reines’s A Sand Book, which laid bare for me our surreal, complex, deeply pained present.

Emma Carroll, author of The Week at World’s End

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

Burntcoat by Sarah Hall because I’m a huge fan of her writing. I’m always listening out for the potential next read and have heard such great things about this one.

The book you will be gifting this year

October, October by Katya Balen. One of the freshest, brightest most extraordinary books for children I’ve read in years. The cover art by Angela Harding is also a thing of beauty.

Your book of the year

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart or The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey. Though technically big prize winners last year, I read them both in 2021 and was blown away by their poetry and humanity.

Steven Isserlis, author of The Bach Cello Suites

The book you can’t wait to read over Christmas

Hmmm . . . this is a tussle. I’m longing to read both Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, which sounds completely fascinating and attractively mad, and Silverview, John Le Carré’s posthumous novel. Le Carré never lets one down, but reading it will make me feel sad at his absence, so I think I’ll go for the Ishiguro.

The book you will be gifting this year

The book I’ll be gifting this year is the one I’m reading right now, The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles – partly because he has the rare ability to create characters that one can really love. When I first read his A Gentleman in Moscow, I thought, ‘He must be a wonderful man because he understands true goodness.’ I’m happy to say that, after an initial exchange on Twitter, we became friends; and my hypothesis was proved true.

Your book of the year

My book of the year was actually written in 1933! But, having chosen two such famous authors, I thought I’d go for an almost forgotten one, Dorothy Canfield. Previously I’d read Her Son’s Wife, which made an enormous impression on me; this year I read another, Bonfire. Her characters are three-dimensional – never spectacular, but always believable. I love the unpretentious but somehow challenging humanity in her writing.