01 December 2021, The Tablet

That’s the spirit

That’s the spirit

The ideal gift book is, I say, small, cheap and universally pleasing. It’s something you can give as a present with a bottle, or slip a tenner inside for a young person, or add to a functional present, socks or similar, to make it more fun, or present as a prize at your Twelfth Night party games. By cheap, I mean up to £10, though inflation being what it is, my upper price has somehow nudged a bit beyond that. And a few books have crept up beyond pocket-sized this year.

But not the ones from Renard Press, a ­terrific small publisher which has produced just the thing with two lovely little Christmas greeting books with a festive essay inside, and an envelope for posting (£3.99 each or £19.95 for a pack of 10). One is Washington Irving’s The Christmas Dinner, an account of spending the day in traditional style with an old squire and his family. It ends, “if I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature and make my reader in more humour with his fellow beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not then have written entirely in vain.” That’s the spirit. The other, by Willa Cather, has the inviting title of The Burglar’s Christmas, and is all about a mother’s forgiveness for an errant son. A quarter of proceeds from each goes to a refugee charity.

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