Books are the best gift. Always welcome, often surprising, long-lasting and enriching. I love to give books as gifts, so I’ve gone through my book shelves and chosen a few that would make great gifts for Father’s Day. There’s something for everyone here – whether the man you’re giving to is into health, travel, business, sleuthing, poetry, is literary minded or a foodie, into motorbikes a bit of a twitcher or just curious about life.
The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson
Bryson speaks directly to every man’s inner self, channelling all aspects of manhood from being a husband to getting older to feeling slightly grumpy about a Marks & Spencer food-hall not being exactly where he supposed it to be. This is a delightful, purposeful ramble through the UK’s landscapes, with reflective moments on the state of the town centres of Britain, Bryson’s signature summing up of politics and what’s wrong with politicians, lots of wry chuckling, and the occasional genuine laugh-out-loud moments. For me it was the chap in the stands behind him at a football match having issues with 18th century German metaphysics – ‘fucking Kant’. I woke my husband up snorting at that, so I owe him a good read.
Gut, by Giulia Enders
Not a hint, but one of the most notable recent books about the life inside us, our gut flora, those cheerful little microbial suckers that keep us healthy and now it’s believed have a hot line to our brains. If your man is keen on what he eats and how it makes him what he is, this is the book. Enders sets out to ‘free toilet talk from its taboo’ and does so much more in this book, in surprisingly readable style. Besides being a medical professional, she’s also human, and thinks the world of medical academia should share its research findings earlier and more readily. Cute little scribbly cartoon illustrations are by her sister. And everyone needs a copy of the Bristol Stool Chart.
Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Bite-sized rethinking of the world of work. If your man is inclined to think business plans are the kiss of death and mission statements are for wankers, he’ll love this. It might not change his life, but it permits him to think differently and will make him feel good about it. I’m still dipping into this, but have seen enough to think there’s stuff in it you might adopt – a few kernels of different wisdom. New York Times best seller so it must be good.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Does your man love a good sleuthing mystery? Well Kate Atkinson is one of the best. This very accomplished English writer has a huge following. I love her for many reasons, one being that she’s a female writer with a strong male narrator. And it’s Jackson Brodie, somewhat jaded but still rugged, charismatic and very human – as evidenced by his petty viciousness about the dastardly David Lastingham, who’s now married to his ex-wife. The plot lines are brilliant and this is high-end mystery writing, with cultural references to make your man feel just a little bit smart and connected. This is the first of the Jackson Brodie mysteries, so plenty more to enjoy.
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
The master at work. If you have a man with a literary mindset, and he doesn’t have a full set of McEwans, this is the book to impress with. Possibly the most rip-roaring good story of all his books, it’s a fantastic, imaginative read, with just enough cold war ennui for a sense of threat, and enough of a recent setting, in the early seventies, to make it feel contemporary. The twist at the end is mind-bogglingly clever in the way that only McEwan can do. This book compliments your man and makes you look good for giving it. It’s your go-to.
Writing at the Kitchen Table – Elizabeth David, the Authorized Biography, by Artemis Cooper
Got a man who likes to get in the kitchen? This is the biography of British cook Elizabeth David, the woman credited with introducing olive oil into the UK after the second world war and getting friends around her kitchen table for impromptu roast chicken feasts in the time of rationing. She’s opinionated, wilful and charismatic and just a little bit tragic as well, and it all makes for great reading. Plus there’s photos in the middle and she looks great in her pencil skirts and crisp white shirts poised in her wonderfully cluttered kitchen in London. When she died they auctioned the contents of her kitchen at Sotheby’s and people bid hundreds of pounds for jugs of wooden spoons. A lady who mattered to people and is still a seminal figure.
Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter, by Antonia Fraser
These were the first words Pinter said to Antonia Fraser when they met at a party and she ducked over to him to say goodbye, not having managed to catch him earlier. If your gift recipient is a bit of a poet and a romantic to boot, there’s no better choice than this. Fraser and Pinter are the two great literary figures of the 20th century in Britain, and their love affair came out of nowhere – both were married to others at the time – and became the stuff of legend. Worth it for some of the poems he writes for her alone – but there’s so much more, mainly the inside scoop on how extraordinary lives are lived.
The Furthest Points – Motorcycle Travels through Spain and Portugal, by Andy Hewitt
Perfect for motorcycling men who’ve already done the rounds of Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s adventures. Andy Hewitt may not be a household name but he’s no less the true motorbiking enthusiast and his adventures deliver more than anticipated. Written by a friend and fellow indie author, and humorous with deep insights into the care needed for a Harley Davidson during a long ride, and the amazing sense of freedom invoked by the riding experience. Put the wind back in your man’s hair and keep him mild at heart.
Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear, by Lev Parikian
The story of Lev’s quest to see two hundred species of British bird in one year, to make up for the fraudulent bird spotting records he kept at the age of twelve. It’s funny, touching and instantly relatable-to by any man of a certain age who’s thinking about his life to date and wondering whether anything he’s left undone could be responsible for that slight sense of ennui. Unusual, original and a keeper.
Letters of Note, by Shaun Usher
A collection of ‘correspondence deserving of a wider audience’, letters by all sorts of people, famous and less well-known but still remarkable , compiled by Shaun Usher, who posted them on a website for years before making them into a book. All are accompanied by images, of the writers, or of the original letter. There are letters from slaves, from the doctor who cared for ‘elephant man’ John Merrick, a letter from a space exploration scientist to a nun who asked how he could justify the expense of space travel when so many were starving, Virginia Woolf’s heartbreaking suicide note to husband Leonard. A wonderful book to own and to give.
And lastly, a book for the giver
If you love giving books as gifts, you probably love them yourself. And if you’re anything like me, the minute you start looking at books with other people in mind, you find a tome or two for yourself. Don’t forget to indulge there too.
Fiona Stocker is the author of travel book Apple Island Wife – Slow Living in Tasmania, charting one family’s experiences of moving to rural Australia on a hunch.
“Fiona Stocker is funny, really funny. She is also a beautiful writer with an eye for the telling little details. I just loved this book.”
Pip Courtney, presenter ABC Landline
I really enjoy memoirs of this sort. This is a particularly fine one.
The Average Reader, Amazon UK
Main image at top by Lundh Literature courtesy of Instagram.