So, obviously you want to know a) why and b) what the hell it's got to do with books and writing.
Well, what happened was that I bought a goat. As you do. One of those goats that helps (I hope) familes who have horribly little in places in the world that even my writerly imagination finds it hard to handle. So far so good.
Then Oxfam wrote to thank me. Which I wish they hadn't done because a) I didn't need thanks and would rather they'd spent their [my] money on helping people and b) that's when they made their Big Mistake.
OK, I forget the exact words of the beginning of their letter. But it was something like, "Congratulations for not choosing a boring present such as..." - wait for it - arghhh - "a book token." NO! How is a book token boring? A book token allows the recipient to enter any world of his choice, to have his mind opened, heart inspired, soul thrilled, world changed. And I thought that Oxfam, which is supposed to see education as a key to surviving and thriving in this unfair world, viewed books as the key to that key. Books, although hugely pleasurable, and even mainly pleasurable, are much more than that.
For Oxfam to think that the possibility of choosing a book was boring was absolutely enough to stop me giving them a penny ever again. Sorry. Someone else can have my penny and I hope it ends up in the same place, doing the same job, but not through the hands of someone who thinks that books are boring. I realise I am over-reacting and of course I absolutely hope that Oxfam continues to thrive in its excellent work, but I have to make choices about whom to support and it is on such things that my choices hang.
Now, this brings me to my original point: 'tis the season for some of us to be thinking about Christmas. And my Christmas wish is that we should all buy books for as many people as possible. For everyone from babies to retired people, books offer lifelines and life changes. They are humanity personified. They can save the world. I have been lecturing about this to librarians, after reading some fascinating neuro-stuff about what fiction does to the brain, the persona, the person. I could explain [at length] about this, but you'll be glad to know that I won't. If you're interested, go to the On Fiction blog, written by neurosciency people who love fiction, and click on Academic Journals in the links on the right. Most especially, find this amazing and mind-widening article - but brace yourself for a serious title: "Bookworms versus nerds: Exposure to fiction versus non-fiction, divergent associations with social ability, and the simulation of fictional social worlds." It will make you want to prescribe fiction to everyone. Or inject it forcibly into their veins. Seriously. Read it. If you click on the Academic Journals link, you'll find the downloadable pdf file. (Don't forget to come back).
But, forget my lectures. [HOORAY!] What I'd like is for you to start inspiring each other with books to buy for friends and loved ones at Christmas or any other time of the year, by putting your recommendations in the comments beneath this post.
The only rule is that you can't recommend something that someone else has already recommended. Just give us title, author, who would like it and briefly why. Recommend up to five. Doesn't matter if they were published this year or not.
- For women - The Device, The Devil and Me by Stephanie Taylor - and please buy it from The Linen Press website - an emotional rollercoaster, a raw and honest look at mothers, daughters, loss and love. And, I should warn you, cancer. I was so gripped that I read it in two sittings.
- For men or women who love lit fic but also quite like it when it's short and has a bit of interesting history attached to it - The Falconer by Alice Thomas. Again, if you could buy it from the independent publisher's website, Two Ravens Press, that would be fab. AND they offer discounts. Hooray - independent, fabby AND discounty. I am reading it at the moment and it's goooood. Strange, ethereal, but good.
- For young people over 11 - The Witching Hour by Elizabeth Laird - a poignant look at life during the gruesome religious hatred of the Killing Times.
- For the youngest members of the human race - anything by Catherine Rayner, such as Sylvia and Bird or Harris Finds His Feet or Augustus and His Smile. Wondrous stuff - and she's a lovely person too, which counts for a lot. She would never say a book token was boring.
- For anyone who loves short stories of the absolute classiest order - a choice (you could buy both...): The White Road by Tania Hershman or (and???) Words from a Glass Bubble by Vanessa Gebbie. (Buy both from Salt Publishing).