Fail-safe book choices for all ages

By Mary McCarthy (elf name Merry Mc!)

Giving someone a book for Christmas says as much about the giver as the receiver.

You are making a statement : ‘this is what I think you are like’. 

So if you gift someone a manual on how to be the next Trump, or how to pretend you are successful on your Linkedin profile, well, there’s a subtext there, right?.

It’s a risky business and it will be obvious to the receiver if you did your research.

If you were thoughtful about it or you wildly legged it into the bookshop two minutes before they closed on Christmas Eve.

We will be compiling plenty of book lists in the weeks ahead for children and adults, and there are many new books on them, but here are some guaranteed brilliant tried and trusted choices for each of the life stages from age 13 up. 

The Tulip Touch by Anne Fine (1996) 

Suitable for : Early Teens

This page turner and will make teenagers think about how some people have it harder than others. Tulip has an awful home-life and at first Natalie’s parents encourage their friendship. But they don’t really know what the girls are getting up to together. They play some rather silly games, which end up getting them in big trouble.

The Tulip Touch explores the question of nature versus nurture – Does Tulip do such bad stuff because her family life is so tough, it is hard not to feel this is the case. Very well written and one of those books your teen will fly through. No surprise it won the Whitbread Award.

This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees (2011)

Suitable for : Teens 

Everyone says Caro is bad news-but Jamie is smitten. Beautiful, wild, and unconventional, Caro is different from all the other girls and Jamie can’t believe she has agreed to be his girlfriend. But Jamie soon realizes there is much more to Caro. Impossible to put down, this will even hook in that teenager in your life who never reads books.

The Power Broker 

Suitable for : Anyone who loves history and very well written and very long biographies. 

Robert Caro’s Pulitzer-winning biography of the controversial Robert Moses, the “master builder” of mid-20th-century New York could keep you going for six months. It’s a fascinating account of how one’s man’s drive and ambition could affect so many.

Moses, the planner of many of New York’s highways, bridges and parks held massive power over public works in the Big Apple between the early 1920s and the late 1960s. But today his plans are often blamed for the destruction of many neighbourhoods. 

Mr Caro, is now 86, and is working on the fifth and final volume of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson”, his exquisite portrait of the 36th president. The first edition of his Lyndon collection would also make an excellent present for this sub group and then, bonus, you are sorted for ideas for the next few Christmases!

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992) 

Suitable for : Anyone who likes to escape into a great story

This book will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s about a group of classics students at college in New England who kill a local farmer during a Dionysian orgy and then go on to plot another student’s murder. We know what happens from the start, this is not a spoiler, but the psychological journey on how things got so crazy is intoxicating. 

In My Mind’s Eye by Jan Morris (2018) – 

Suitable for : Anyone who is in the later stage of life

Jan Morris wrote a page about what was going on in her life for 188 days and it’s fantastic. Sometimes she is sad, sometimes funny, sometimes she reflects on her views and how they have changed or stayed the same. This 91 year old grabs life with both hands and it’s a refreshing read. 

Jan died in 2020 aged 94. She is such an interesting character and an incredible travel writer. If you ever go to Venice you need to read the book she wrote about that city. She started life as a man, who made her name as a journalist, James Morris, reporting on the first ascent of Everest in 1953 for The Times in London. 

In this thought diary sometimes she feels self pity wash over her – it is harder to do many things when you are in your nineties, and sure at every age don’t we all feel sorry for ourselves – but she always snaps herself out of it. Inspirational stuff!

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