The countdown has begun. Christmas card sales are hotting up. People are making lists (some people are even ticking things off already – I know, what are they thinking?). And we in the bookshop are here to help. We have some beautiful and serious tomes on subjects historical, so if there is a history buff in your life then come in and browse. Whatever their area of interest, I promise you we will have something.
But what I want to focus on today are the oddities: the strange little books, the things which turn out to be the perfect gift or quirky stocking filler for those difficult-to-buy-for friends and relatives who have everything already.
Let’s start with A History of Britain in 100 Dogs. This has a gorgeous cover (I’m a sucker for a good jacket design) and is full of fascinating facts for any dog lover. From dogs in the Domesday Book to search and rescue dogs and the great British Bulldog – it’s all here. Beautifully illustrated, it would be a great gift for my sister who prefers dogs to people (and in fact I can understand why she might).
For the more cantankerous of relations look no further than Scorn, Matthew Parris’ story of insults through the ages. A lot of these are well worth reviving and might be just what you need post family Christmas lunch. Read it to find out whose book was reviewed thus: ‘If you only read one thing this year… then you are probably the kind of person who will enjoy this’.
Indeed if words are your thing then Vulgar Tongues might also be worth a look. It charts the history of English slang from friendly backchat of Elizabethan prostitutes onward in time, noting derivations, variations and degrees of acceptance of the voice of the people.
Looking something more serious? How about Explorers’ Sketchbooks. This is a simply beautiful, lovely to hold book, the sort of book that makes you realise why the Kindle thing will never catch on (don’t burst my bubble here). So many of the explorers were Renaissance men who combined science and art, and recorded what they saw with such fresh eyes. In notebooks and sketchbooks they created fine pen and ink drawings and pastel watercolours of the vibrant plumage of tropical birds or the subtle greys and whites of polar ice caps. Dip into the book and travel to a new world.
Still enjoy travelling, but from the armchair? How about The Phantom Atlas, the ultimate gift for this type of explorer, which charts the greatest mistakes ever to appear on maps. The mountains of Kong, the ‘island’ of California, the homeland of the nine foot giants of Patagonia and Australia’s inland sea have all at one point been meticulously charted and beautifully drawn on maps to places that don’t exist. This is another lovingly-produced book which would make a great present.
Want something a little more quirky and a touch tongue-in-cheek? How about A Butler’s Guide to Gentleman’s Grooming? A treasure trove of handy hints for the soigné man about town. Perhaps pair this with a moustache mug for maximum effect.
For children we have Vlad and The Great Fire of London, a beautifully-illustrated tale about Vlad the Flea and his friend Boxton The Rat during the Great Fire.
Or something for someone seeking a new hobby? Consider London In Fragments. Tom Sandling’s book documents his finding on the banks of the Thames, from an 80 million year old fossil to a child’s cup from last century. Each piece is beautifully photographed and accompanied by an essay describing how and where it was found, its origins and its contribution to the history of London. It also includes an indispensable chapter of tips and tricks for would-be mudlarks. I guarantee will fire the recipient with enthusiasm to commence their own search for washed up treasures.
Just a funny little book of weird and wonderful facts required? Reach for Rest In Pieces, a strangely macabre history of corpses. Perfect for your goth nephew perhaps? This documents the posthumous travels of the bodies (or sometimes bits of bodies) of famous characters from history. The peregrinations of Einstein’s brain, drinking Nelson’s embalming fluid and many other lively tales of lifelessness are covered.
Finally don’t forget we sell things other than books. For stocking fillers and secret Santa gifts, look to Spitfire key rings, beautiful mini tin jigsaws featuring art from the First World War, make do and mend sewing kits or – for the ultimate in feminist irony – a suffragette pinny (was it for this that Emily Davidson met her end).
Come in and visit, I am certain we can help tick items off your list.