The Chalk annual Christmas bash and book swop is looming and I have yet to choose my ‘pre-loved’ book to review, wrap and consign to the party pile. Shall I recycle the one I received last year, none other than Fifty Shades of Grey? I’m sure our students rigged that result and I still haven’t read it (six free pages on Amazon were enough to convince me not to). Or should I generously donate the inspiring book of creative writing exercises a thoughtful friend brought me from America a few years ago? Can I bring myself to part with an Evelyn Waugh or a Raymond Chandler? Do cheat and slip in a Penguin Classic I haven’t read since Uni? It’s a tough call.
Even harder is choosing books for Christmas presents. These seem to fall into the following categories:

  1. Generic books bought in bargain bundles on cookery/gardening/interior design – surely Sue does one of those? I know I’d like to learn one hundred more creative ways with cupcakes…
  2. Books to impress – Booker/Costa/Orange short-listers, obscure books by Latin American or Chinese writers, worthy books with a philosophical bent. (I still haven’t read Ben Okri’s Famished Road, Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children or The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho but guilt prevents me giving them away).
  3. Popular books. Gone Girl, Girl Online, anything by Victoria Hislop, Nick Hornby or David Nicholls. Often the title is the best thing about them i.e. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian or Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. People who don’t read books buy these for their friends who do. This is how I ended up with The DaVinci Code, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and a lot of chick-lit on my shelves (though the latter could also be because all my relatives think I am sad and single).
  4. Celebrity Biographies often written by people barely old enough to warrant a retrospective and often given to people with only a tangential interest in the subject. Just because the recipient is gay doesn’t mean they want to plough through 356 pages of Graham Norton’s memoirs; a juvenile trip to Babes on Ice doesn’t mean your mate wants Torville and Dean’s life story; a passing interest in footie does not put Harry Redknapp’s autobiography at the top of a letter to Santa, but I got a three for two offer in W.H. Smith’s so…
  5. Books you’d like for yourself. These may be accompanied by the telling phrase I must borrow that once you’ve finished it… This year, my lucky friends, look out for the Private Eye Annual, John Lahr’s biography Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh,  Ali Smith’s How to Be Both and a guide to Fuerteventura…

Ardella Jones
Remember if you are stuck for gift ideas for creative friends a Chalk the Sun workshop/gift voucher is always a desirable present