You’re Not Just Buying Him Socks Again? What book to buy Uncle John (and everyone else) this Christmas.

Christmas 2020 promises to be one like no other. Most of us will be at home. There’ll be less visiting but more home fires; less cocktails in bars but more mulled wine and mince pies on the couch. Presents are less likely to be handed out from under a tinsel-laden tree but instead delivered by a postman.

Never has a Christmas seemed more the season of books.

Never has a Christmas seemed more the season of books. What could be more suited to this quieter celebration? What suits a fire and mulled wine so well as an absorbing read? What other present can you lift open and write a greeting on the inside, which will still be there in three decades? Nothing is easier to wrap or fits so easily through a letterbox.

Maybe, without being able to browse the shelves of a bookshop, you feel less prepared about what books to buy. All this autumn, Sarah Cassidy and I have been reviewing this season’s great books on the first season of Good Luck With The Book, a bi-weekly podcast on Spotify, Apple etc., where we discuss anything from Donal Ryan’s fiction to Mariah Carey’s autobiography.

Here’s a quick guide to what we’ve absolutely loved this autumn, in categories which will make your present-buying life a little easier (so you won’t be relying on socks, ties, or 3for2 gift sets from Boots). Of course, these are just suggestions; any books can be enjoyed by any gender/age profile. We’ve simply based our suggestions on the people in our own lives and what we know they’d like.

If you’ve a child in your life aged seven and under:

  • The Great Irish Farm Book by Darragh McCullough Illustrated by Sally Caulwell: You’ll be the favourite aunt or uncle if you show up with this book to that nephew who never stops talking about tractors or diggers!
  • The One with the Waggly Tail – Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood edited by Sarah Webb, illustrated by Steve McCarthy: You’ll sing along. They’ll sing along. It’ll bring back some serious memories!
  • The Midnight Fair by Gideon Sterer: A spectacular and cinematic wordless picture book about the secret life of animals. Why not let your son or daughter, niece or nephew tell you the story in their own words?

For those a little older:

  • 130 Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths: Andy and Terry are back in the treehouse where they make books together. Andy writes the words and Terry draws the pictures… or they would if it were not for all their adventures distracting them.
  • Code Name Bananas by David Walliams: Go back in time for a whizz-bang epic adventure of action, laughter and secret plots. What’s nice about this is it is a standalone book – no need to worry about previous titles in a series.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End by Jeff Kiney: Greg Heffley and his family hit the road for a cross-country camping trip but they find themselves stranded at a campsite that’s not exactly a summertime paradise. A no-brainer for the thousands of Wimpy fans around Ireland!
  • Lily Steps Up by Judi Curtin: My niece waits with bated breath for the new Judi Curtin each year! She has collected all of her books and even has the Judi Curtin pencils and tote bags, which she keeps in mint condition. She reads the Eva series and the Alice and Megan series on a loop! You can’t go wrong with any of these.
  • Come On Life by Nikki Lilly:  Nikki Lilly’ story is inspiring, how she has thrived despite having AVM (go look her up!). In this book, she shares her insights into navigating the highs and lows of being a teenage girl.

Literary Reads

  • A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa: An utterly original debut. On the opening line, the book declares its manifesto: ‘THIS IS A FEMALE TEXT’. Sarah’s favourite book of the year. A masterpiece.
  • Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan: James Joyce once said, ‘The object of any work of art is the transference of emotion.’ If that is so, Strange Flowers is an incredible work of art. A book of empathy and profound sensitivity. You’ll cry, but the tears will feel good. Jamie’s favourite novel of the year.
  • As You Were by Elaine Feeney: A story of three women from different backgrounds in the same hospital ward. Feeney writes with such love for her characters. Another incredible fiction debut.
  • That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry: The masterful third collection of short stories by the internationally renowned writer. Each tale is full of black humour but also plenty of heart and wit.

Stories to get lost in:

  • Grown Ups by Marian Keyes: Published in spring, PRH have just brought out a beautiful Christmas edition of Grown Ups. Perfect for fans who haven’t yet had a chance to tuck into the latest bestseller.
  • Home Stretch by Graham Norton: A great read for someone who likes a ‘country town’ novel or interested in LGBTQ themes.
  • Postscript by Cecelia Ahern: Sequel to PS, I Love You is now in handy paperback. Perfect for posting! 

For that 20/30somethings:

  • Gaff Goddess by Laura De Barra: Out earlier this year, it keeps selling and selling. Straight-talking and hilarious, her step-by-step guides will prepare anyone to handle the most common household emergencies with style. Great for those living away from home for the first time!
  • The Skin Nerd Philosophy by Jennifer Rock: Informative and realistic look at skincare. An ideal gift with a product or two from the Skingredients range.
  • Rory’s Story by Rory O’Connor: If you have heard any of Rory’s interviews about this book, you’ll see this is the perfect book for anyone who wants to be inspired by an ordinary man’s journey towards mental health.
  • Not a Life Coach by James Smith: If you follow Smith’s Instagram page, you’ll understand this Aussie’s straight-talking approach. There’s no BS with Smith, just some really smart advice.

For the 30/40 somethings:

  • The Switch by Amanda Byram: Byram is super honest about her diets and obsessiveness with the gym, until she finally made ‘The Switch’. Filled with lots of practical tips and tricks on how to stop negative self-talk and begin to like yourself.   
  • One Day at a Time Journal by Abby Wynne: A diary full of positive quotes and insights. Start each day right in 2021.  
  • Failosophy by Elizabeth Day: Compact hardback so super handy for posting. Based on the hugely popular podcast. A handbook for when things go wrong.
  • Oh My God, What a Complete Diary 2021 by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen: Perfect for fans of the Aisling series!
  • Okay, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea by Patrick Frayne: A big favourite on the Good Luck with the Book Podcast. If you were a teen of the 90s (male or female!), you’ll love this book. Both funny and moving.

For your uncle/aunt/grandparents:    

  • Books from the Attic by Alice Taylor: Her books have been perennial favourites since Taylor wrote the bestselling To School Through the Fields. Here, she writes about the books she has loved.
  • Wild Woods – The Magic of Ireland’s Native Woodland by Richard Nairn: With the pandemic we’ve all been walking more than ever. This is a beautiful gift for anyone who has found themselves lost in nature in 2020.
  • Love by Roddy Doyle: A new novel exploring all the various forms of love and fidelity. Our verdict, ‘We loved the book but could’ve strangled Joe!’
  • A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough: An absolute icon. We can’t get enough of him. Whose eyes wouldn’t light up opening this?
  • Thirty-Two Words for Field by Manchán Magan: A journey through Ireland and the Irish language. This personal account enriches how we perceive Ireland. Perfect for any Irish history buff.

For all the cooks/foodies out there:

The absolute no-brainers (everyone will love them!):

  • Twilight Together by Ruth Medjber: Visually stunning, uplifting and deeply moving, if there is one book you will want to remember 2020 by, this is it.
  • The Art of the Glimpse edited by Sinéad Gleeson: Quite simply the most comprehensive/best anthology of the Irish short stories that we can think of. 
  • The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy: A picture book like no other, the illustrations and simple truths would brighten even the dreariest day.
  • Never Mind the B#ll*cks, Here’s the Science by Prof. Luke O’Neill: He won our hearts on the Late Late Show. A perfect book in an anti-science fake-news world.
  • An A to Z of an Irish Christmas! by Sarah Cassidy and Kunak McGann: A perfect little gift to post to those who might not get home this Christmas. A little something to smile about.

Of course, we can’t include every great book (sorry if we missed your favourite). Good Luck with the Book Episode 6: It’s a Wonderful Podcast is available from the 29 November. It’s available on all major podcast platforms: Of course, if you do shop for a book, please remember to support Irish. So, our bookshops are there for us to enjoy by the time Christmas 2021 comes around.

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