Monday, November 21, 2016

Books for Christmas 2016: Five Splash out in the Bookshop - subversive gift and humour for (not quite) grown-ups

It may seem a strange thing to confess, but at this time of the year we often get asked for book recommendations for 'people who don't read'. This may seem slightly paradoxical, but it's actually code for 'people who don't read a lot, probably not fiction, but I love books, and I really, really want to buy them a book'.

And of course - we can help.

This time of the year there are some innovative and imaginative books which work brilliantly as gifts, either because they are 'dip-in-and-outable' (that's an actual bookselling term), or they are packed full of facts, or puzzles - or just plain funny.

Humour books are perhaps the trickiest of titles to recommend as gifts. After all, a book says as much about you as it does for the person you are buying for. So here at Mostly Books, we want to help you walk that fine line between big smiles and strange looks by offering up our favourite funny books around this Christmas. And let's face it, after the year we've all had, we could do with a chuckle...


If last year was the year of the Ladybird spoof title, this year it's the Famous Five parodies. There are five titles, all written as a homage to Enid Blyton's originals (by ex-bookseller and author Bruno Vincent), with titles like 'Five Go Parenting' and 'Five Go Gluten Free'. Join Julian, George, Dick, Anne and Timmy the dog as they are thrust into the dilemmas of contemporary life with their 1950s morality intact.

Our pick is 'Five on Brexit Island'. If you've fallen out with someone over politics this year, this might just be the book to start a rapprochement...


Following on from the phenomenon that was the Ladybird spoof titles last year, this year they're back with titles such as 'the Ladybird Book of the Meeting' and 'The Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse' ("note: during a zombie apocalypse the police will be busy, and Wi-Fi might be patchy").

Brilliantly done, we reckon the 'Ladybird Book of the Sickie' is this year's stand out title. Remember: imaginary food poisoning is a great reason to be off work. It lasts for a short time, and no-one likes to hear about toilet details...


Whether this year's political developments have left you depressed, euphoric or just plain baffled, relive the rollercoaster ride of 2016 via the Private Eye Annual 2016. Top of our 'go on, take a sneaky look whilst browsing in the bookshop' titles, we actively encourage you to do this next time you're in.

All your favourites are here: Poetry Corner, Celeb, Nursery Times. And the year in 'Private Eye Lookalikes' is worth the entrance fee alone...


Last year, we loved Ranjit Bolt's collection of limericks, 'A Lion Was Learning' and this year Michael Palin - who has penned limericks privately for years - has decided to publish his favourites in a gem of a book entitled 'A Sackful of Limericks' (the ex-Python star is decent enough to admit his eye is firmly on the Christmas market in the extremely funny foreward, bemoaning the fact that none of the Christmas cracker companies had responded to his phonecalls, so he was forced to publish them himself).

The only thing that could make this book better would be copies signed by the great man himself - and we are delighted to say we have signed copies in the shop. Email us to reserve a copy...


An author we know well - and who has been to Abingdon several times - is writer Mark Forsyth, whose previous books such the Etymologicon have been previous Christmas bestsellers. So it's very appropriate that his latest book - 'A Christmas Cornicopia' - is again obsessed with origins, only this time, the origins of many of our Christmas traditions that often have the most bizarre and troubling beginnings.

For example, villagers would often go around guizing (basically "wassailing in masks") and anyone engaged in guizing was known as a 'guizer' (short for disguising) - and that's where we get our Cockney term 'geezer' from. This is full of 'well I never knew that' moments and a great gift. We have signed copies as well - whilst stocks last.


If you are buying for someone who a) loves little-known facts about famous people but b) wouldn't appreciate a Christmas theme, then we thoroughly recommend 'Rest In Pieces', a macabre-sounding and curious-looking book about the curious fates of famous corpses by Bess Lovejoy. It features the strange and sometimes wildly bizarre tales of what happened to a huge range of famous people - after they were dead.

From the theft of Haydn's skull (that took 150 years to solve and remedy), what the CIA did with Che Guevara's corpse and the frankly weird last request of utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, it all goes to show that death really can be the start of the next great adventure...


Talking of secret service personnel (strictly speaking, the CIA only advised the Bolivian government about Che), have you got what it takes to join GCHQ? Find out in what we feel will be the sleeper hit of Christmas, the 'GCHQ Puzzle Book'. Apparently (according to the blurb on the back of the book) British cyber-spies 'love a good puzzle'. Whether they're recruiting new staff, challenging each other to the toughest Christmas quizzes and treasure hunts imaginable, or engaging in disinformation with the popular press, puzzles are at the heart of what GCHQ does. Now they're opening up their archives of decades' worth of codes, puzzles and challenges for everyone to try.

A must-have for anyone in the family who loves puzzles - or fancies themselves as a cyber-sleuth!

If Lords and The Oval are more up your street than Cheltenham and Bletchley Park, then the 'Test Match Special Quiz Book' contains over 3,000 questions from the commentary box.

Pit your wits against Aggers, Tuffers, Boycs and Johnners - and try not to get caught out!

To some people, mention the following words "Viking, Fisher, German Bight" and their eyes will glaze over, and a happy smile will descend upon their face...

Yes, there can be nothing more comforting or British than 'The Shipping Forecast' on the BBC, and this beautiful little miscellany by Nic Compton tells the stories, people, poetry and imaginations that have been inspired across the globe by this most British of institutions - as well as providing a very real service for the nation's seafarers who might fall prey to storms and gales.


And finally, if you long for Britain that has long since disappeared, we have one final recommendation for you - this year's 'Giles Collection 2017'. A whole generation had their political awareness aroused by Giles in the 60s and 70s, and Giles himself was voted the 'best cartoonist of the 20th century'. This year's collection celebrates his most awesome creation, the curmudgeonly Grandma, as she battles power cuts, dockers strikes, and underperforming jockeys in the 3.30 at Haydock. A true legend.

For more inspiration, take a look at last year's recommendations on a similar theme - and here are the best of the rest:
  • The Best of Matt - in our opinion, the worthy successor to Giles in the 21st century.
  • Haynes Explains - the creators of 'The Haynes Manuals' have produced these little guides to explain complex aspects of life, such as Babies, Marriage, Pensioners and Teenagers
  • Speaking In Tongues - Ella Frances Sanders follow up her sublime 'Lost In Translation' with more untranslatable expressions from around the world.
  • The Brexshit Book - if you are having difficulty coming to terms with Brexit, lining up behind Farage, Johnson et al in 'turning your frown upside down' and 'making the best of it', this book may help. Or not. Happy Christmas, eh?

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