Paul Beatty (Hannah Assouline)
Review Words : Stanfords | 07 December

5 of the year's best books that will make great Christmas presents

Dan Lewis from Stanfords books rounds up some of his favourite publications from 2016 that will make great Christmas presents, from award-winning fiction to colourful travel books

Explorers’ Sketchbooks by Huw Lewis-Jones and Kari Herbert

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Explorers’ Sketchbooks is a thing of beauty. Compiled by historian and editor Huw Lewis-Jones and travel writer and photographer Kari Herbert, daughter of the arctic explorer Wally Herbert, this is a fascinating glimpse into the minds of some of history’s most intrepid adventurers.

Sketchbooks and journals belonging to famous figures, such as Captain Scott, sit alongside those belonging to less well-known but no less daring individuals, like Saharan explorer Alexandrine Tinne, and bring to life first-hand accounts of their travels.

The joy with which it was put together, with Lewis-Jones and Herbert rummaging around archives and desks for long forgotten documents, is palpable and makes for a very special book.

Check out a Gallery of images from Explorers’ Sketchbooks


The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

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Amy Liptrot’s breathtaking debut stormed home with this year’s Wainwright Prize for nature writing, going on to become a nationwide bestseller, and rightly so. It's an unexpected book, written by a fresh and exciting new talent.

What makes The Outrun almost unique is its honesty, not just in terms of the author’s discussion of her battle with alcohol addiction, but also in the way nature seeps into her life and the narrative. 

This is not a straightforward story of the cathartic effects of the natural world on the human spirit. Perhaps because of the nature of addiction, there is no climactic and final redemption. 

As she attempts to level out and find her way back on her native Orkney, Liptrot simply opens up to the world around her. Through her perfectly judged prose, we are ourselves allowed in.


The Un-Discovered Islands by Malachy Tallack and illustrator Katie Scott

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Another beautiful book that marries intriguing stories with beautiful imagery is this collaboration between writer Malachy Tallack (Sixty Degrees North) and illustrator Katie Scott (Animalium). The premise is simple: to explore islands that have remained un-discovered because they simply do not exist.

These are places that, for one reason or another, were at one point believed to exist, but now are known to have been merely legends or, in some cases, deliberate human inventions.

Tallack presents these tall tales with tremendous eloquence, but the whole thing is made complete by Scott’s superbly detailed drawings, which add a weight to the myths that may well leave you wondering if these places are real after all.


The Sellout by Paul Beatty

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A couple of years back, the Man Booker Prize announced that it would open up to allow entries from writers from all over the world, rather than just being restricted to authors from the Commonwealth. That was in 2013, and, though some expressed concerns that this would lead to the prize losing its identity, the world kept spinning.

Come 2016 and, thankfully, the biggest story doesn’t seem to be that the winner is an American, but rather that the winning book is funny. Man Booker winners have had moments of humour before, and more outright comic novels by DBC Pierre and Howard Jacobson have taken home the prize, but Paul Beatty’s absurdist satire on racial identity is downright laugh-out-loud funny.

At the same time, this surreal tale of a young black man’s attempts to bring back school segregation feels fearless and painfully germane to the current state of US society.


Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney

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The author of the Costa Book of the Year-winning The Tenderness of Wolves and 2011’s The Invisible Ones returns with this epic historical adventure. 

One of Penney’s strengths has always been her ability to temper the vast amount of research she conducts for her novels with a lightness of touch that allows the details to complement the narrative rather than overwhelm it.

The starkness of Greenland’s landscape, in particular, creates an evocative backdrop as we travel back in time to uncover what exactly Flora Mackie might be hiding about the fate of Lester Armitage and her erstwhile lover Jakob de Beyn.

This is a romantic novel for people who don’t like romantic novels.


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Main image: Paul Beatty (Hannah Assouline) 

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