There’s a box in my parents’ house that is brought down from the loft every Christmas. Inside is a treasure trove of family memories, books far older than me with dusty paperboard covers and faded colours, pages full of animal tales and winter adventures. There’s the Mole Family Christmas, complete with cassette tape ribbon well-worn from repeated listens. Or Bertie’s Escapade, the tale of an ambitious pig who goes carolling with his farmyard friends. There are some common favourites: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Jolly Christmas Postman, a copy held surprisingly intact with its accompanying fairytale mail (evidence no doubt of our childish respect for the important missives of Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs.)
This collection was added to over the years with neat paper packages under the tree, appreciated only after the flashier toys had been opened and all the candy eaten. These unassuming packages are the gifts that have lasted far longer than the train set or the big blue truck, still now a tiny portal in to past festive seasons.
It’s little wonder that books remain my gift of choice. It’s not only their neat shape for wrapping that makes them appealing, but also their variety and beauty. Even if never read, a book will look pretty on a coffee table or propping up a wobbly leg.
Many publishers have risen to the challenge of the e-book by printing ever more beautiful editions, reminding us that the physical object is part of a book’s great appeal; the choice of font, the end paper and paperweight all bound up with a cover design that is your own personal piece of artwork to carry with you whilst you devour the contents (or at least snap a bookstagram.)
With such variety it’s possible to find a book to suit every interest, no matter how obscure. Whatever the topic, you can be sure someone has written a book about it. It’s a pleasure to wander the rows of a well-curated bookshop, encountering unusual histories of mountains or river journeys, instructions for knitted rock stars or biographies of lesser-known physicists.
As often as I’ve made a careful and considered choice, there’s just as many books that have come to the rescue at the last minute. I suspect I’m not the only one who’s wandered in to Wighterstones on a Christmas Eve to find a good gift for that difficult cousin. There’s plenty of suggestions amongst their tables of cookbooks and calendars. Still beyond, there remains the quiet orderliness of their shelves, belying the December bustle.
One year we gave each other second hand books. It was an extra challenge to hunt through the various charity shelves to find something just right. Some charity bookshops give book plates this time of year that say where the book was bought and where the proceeds will go.
In a season of excess there is something delightful about the slow pace and simple pleasures of a good book. It’s the perfect accompaniment to most every other winter cliche, be it mulled wine by the fireside or vegging out after overeating. So, give a book a home this Christmas. The possibilities are endless.