I love giving and receiving books at Christmas. My boyfriend Rich always buys me a beautiful copy of a book every Christmas and birthday and I love my little collection.
But with so many books to choose from, how do you know which one to pick? Here are some of my favourites, ones that I love and always recommend. While most of these aren't recent (by any stretch of the imagination) they are, as far as I'm concerned, all brilliant and worth a spot under your tree.
Monkeys With Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas
This is a great one for the writer in your life. It's a Creative Writing course in book form. I refer to it lots and, as my next novel slowly uncurls itself, I am planning to re-read it again to help me through it. One that I'd recommend to all my writing friends.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
This is a book that both Rich and I rave about because it is so rich and full. How much of it is true I don't know, but I do know that a lot is based on his own experience. It's the story of Lin, who escapes from jail in Australia and gets to India. I won't say anymore than that because it's all too good to give away. But it's a fantastically thick book that allows you to just fully immerse yourself in it. It also cuts incredibly close to the bone - he doesn't pull punches when he describes the slums or drug-taking. It's often uncomfortable, but that is why I recommend it. It also contains one of the most startlingly clear descriptions of grief that I have ever come across.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
This is a tome of a book, but as a lover of Arthurian legend, it's one of my favourites. Bradley retells the legends as one big, coherent story and it is wonderful. As with all legends, there are elements that don't make sense as they vary from telling to telling. But Bradley somehow manages to take all those pieces and craft one great story. Atmospheric, with great characters and places - I'd heartily recommend it. And, having said that, I think I'm due a re-read...
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
At this time of year, I love big baggy books to snuggle up with. This is one of my favourites and, despite its size, probably the Dickens I'd urge most people to read (along with A Tale of Two Cities - so go wild, get both!). Full of characters, a big complex plot and lots of twists and turns - it's a great curl up by the fireplace and indulge sort of read.
Possession: A Romance by A.S, Byatt
Possibly one of my favourite books ever. I was really sad when I realised that my battered, tatty, well-loved copy was lost in one of our moves. It's the story of Maud and Roland, modern-day academics who come across explosive information about a possible relationship between their subjects, Christabel La Motte and Randolph Ash. It hits all my lit kinks - two narratives, historical fiction, rich in detail and nuance and a cast of perfect characters. Oh it's just wonderful - full of poetry from La Motte and Ash, full of twists and turns and beautiful language. Just read it, ok?
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
I haven't read any of Shriver's other work, including her most famous book, We Need To Talk About Kevin, but this book is so good I probably should. I picked this up a the library years ago and I still think about it, images and scenes are still lodged, perfectly vividly, in my mind. Yes, it's that good. The book starts with Irina McGovern, settled with reliable Lawrence, attending a party where she meets Ramsey - a much less reliable snooker player. By the end of the chapter, Irina chooses to kiss or not to kiss Ramsey and from there the novel splits into a parallel-universe structure - one world where she kissed Ramsey and another where she didn't. Both worlds are fully realised and - my favourite thing about this book - is the fact that there was no right choice. Neither world is perfect and provides all the answers to Irina's questions, worries or issues. If a book is still lingering in my mind years later, to the point where I'm recommending it as a potential gift - it must be good!