A row of books

Christmas is a great time to gift books. Dr Christine Berberich, Reader in Literature and Global Engagement Lead for the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature, gives five suggestions of perfect bookish Christmas presents.

Christine Berberich

5 minutes

I'm obsessed with books. I simply cannot go past a bookshop without browsing and buying at least one new book. My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of double rows of books and there are precariously stacked towers of book on other surfaces as well. No idea when I'll ever find the time to read them - but, in the words of one of my favourite novelists, Anthony Powell, 'books do furnish a room'.

Christmas is a great time to gift books - they are the perfect stocking filler and a good book is the kind of present that just keeps giving as we can return to it again and again. Book shops are generally doing their best to market their 'seasonal' stocking fillers but it can still be pretty overwhelming to go into a bookshop and try to find that ideal present for that special someone - so how about a few suggestions?

As a specialist in, especially, literature of the Second World War my suggestions might not look very Christmassy - but they will hopefully still appeal to a wide-ranging readership. Some of these are my perennial favourites that I return to again and again for comfort, others are new 'discoveries' I made this year.

So get yourself out there, support one of your local independent booksellers and stock up on some amazing presents - or just treat yourself to them.

1. Elena Ferrante, The Neapolitan Novels, starting with My Brilliant Friend (2011). This perfect book is my gateway into my favourite city Napoli. Reading it, I can 'see', 'feel' and 'smell' the city all around me. The novel is the first in a tetralogy that charts the life-long friendship between Lila and Lenù, two girls born into a poor Napoli neighbourhood and trying very hard, and in very different ways, to escape to a better life. If you fancy reading more about this novel, or others set in Napoli, check out my article on 'Five Books to read that bring Naples to Life'.

2. Nora Krug, Heimat (2018). This graphic novel was in my own Christmas stocking last year and is a book I will cherish for years to come. It is an intricate and soul-searching account of a German woman engaging not only with her country's but her family's engagement in the Nazi regime. Poignant and hard-hitting.

3. Catherine Chidgey, Remote Sympathy (2020). This polyphonic novel, nominated for the 2022 Women's Prize for Fiction, interweaves the lives of a Jewish doctor, an SS Officer, his wife and the citizens of Weimar during the Second World War. Thought-provoking and extremely carefully researched it is one of those very rare things: an excellent piece of fiction that respectfully and carefully deals with the Holocaust.

4. Graham Hurley, Kiev (2021). I started reading this novel in early April 2022, just weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and I have to admit that it completely blew me away. A meticulously researched piece of historical crime writing the novel focuses on Ukraine during the Second World War, a country torn apart and caught between the warring factions of departing Soviets and invading Nazis. Here is a more in-depth review of this fantastic novel.

5. Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (1989). One of my all-time favourite novels this is the one I return to at least once a year - and not only because I teach it annually. The life-story of an English butler, set in 1956 with narrative flashbacks to 1923, this novel conjures up an England of country houses and polite servants so familiar from film and TV but that is actually challenged by Ishiguro's sparse narrative style that leaves us realising that something is definitely rotten in the state of Darlington Hall and 1920s England.

Happy Holidays. And Happy Reading.