Hannah Kate

poet, short story writer and editor based in Manchester

A Selection of Literary Christmas Presents

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On Saturday 5th December, Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM was all about literary Christmas gifts. Around this time of year, there are a lot of lists of ‘best book gifts’ floating around, so I thought I’d approach this slightly differently. So, my take was… why not take the standard, cliché and replace them with their literary counterpart? (Bear with me… this will make sense very soon…)

Instead of giving chocolate, why not give…

JoanneHarris_Chocolat

Chocolat by Joanne Harris (1999) tells the story of Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk, and the effect they have on an isolated and austere French village when they open a decadent chocolate shop during Lent.

Instead of giving perfume, why not give…

perfume cover

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind was first published in English in 1987 (translated by John E. Woods). It is the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a young man born in 18th-century Paris who embarks on a sinister quest to distill the ‘perfect’ scent. This will perhaps be a surprise to someone hoping to find a bottle of Minajesty under the tree, but I’m sure they’ll thank you once they’ve read this best-selling novel.

For my next selection, I had to think about what other ‘stock’ gifts we give during the festive period. It could be calendars – which could be replaced with copies of Edgar Wallace’s 1930 The Calendar, a thriller set in the world of horseracing. Or if you prefer a more edible gift, you could replace a fancy hamper with a copy of Bread and Wine, Ignazio Silone’s 1936 anti-Stalinist novel. But instead of these, I went for a true classic…

Instead of giving socks, why not give…

socks cover

Socks by Beverly Cleary was first published in 1973, and tells the story of the eponymous tabby cat as he comes to terms with a new arrival in the Bricker family.

Instead of giving soap, why not give…

Fightclubcvr

Okay… so I sort of bent the rules on this one, but I thought it was funny. Although the word ‘soap’ doesn’t appear in the title of Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel, the image of the stamped bar of soap is now fully associated with Fight Club. The book – known to many through the 1999 film adaptation starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton – is narrated by an unnamed character, who battles insomnia, disillusionment and a rather pugilistic friendship with a man called Tyler Durden.

Instead of giving a jigsaw, why not give…

velvet claws

While I was having a little hunt around for a book called ‘Jigsaw’, I accidentally stumbled on these little gems – and now I really want one! Marketed in 1934 as a novelty gift combining two hugely popular things (detective fiction and jigsaws), the Harrap Jig-Saw Mysteries were a full-length detective novel that included a 150-piece jigsaw as one final clue to the solution (which was apparently also sealed so you couldn’t sneakily jump ahead). As far as I can tell, there were three titles marketed: The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner, Murder of the Only Witness by J.S. Fletcher, and The Secret of Tangles by Leonard R. Gribble. A beautiful little treat from the Golden Age of detective fiction, these books can occasionally be found at secondhand booksellers – though most don’t have the complete jigsaw or the sealed solution.

Finally, I considered the humble Christmas stocking. When I was a kid, the standard stocking fillers were a little orange – which could be replaced with Cherie Priest’s 2010 Clementine – and a handful of chocolates – which, of course, should be replaced by a copy of J.M. Barrie’s 1901 play Quality Street (after which the well-known chocolates are named). But what would you put in a stocking if someone has been naughty?

Instead of giving coal, why not give…

king coal

Upton Sinclair’s 1917 novel King Coal is set during the 1910s, and takes its inspiration from the 1913-14 Colorado Coalfield War. Protagonist Hal Warner adopts the name ‘Joe Smith’ and gets work with the General Fuel Company, in order to investigate the working conditions for miners. After an explosion at the mine, Hal finds himself involved in union organization and a bitter strike. The sequel, The Coal War, was published in 1976, 8 years after Sinclair’s death.

To hear more about all of these books, you can listen to the show here:

Hannah’s Bookshelf 05/12/2015 by Hannah’s Bookshelf on Mixcloud

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