A selection of books from Phoebe's list

A selection of books from Phoebe's list in the SLG Bookshop. Photo: Nadia Jones

Book Buyer Phoebe Blatton shares her 12 top tips for holiday reading and literary gift ideas from the SLG Bookshop, with inspiration for perfect presents, for all ages.

Visit the SLG this festive season to discover all of Phoebe’s suggestions plus our fantastic, eclectic selection of art books, fiction, artists’ editions and more.

1. Portraits and Dreams by Wendy Ewald – £30

In the year of an epic US presidential election, this re-issue of Wendy Ewald’s ‘American masterpiece’ was a timely offering from the photography publishing house MACK. Portraits and Dreams is a fascinating insight into life in the Appalachian Mountains in 1975, when Ewald gave cameras to local children and asked them to photograph their worlds. The new edition includes contemporary pictures and stories by a number of the original children, and once again showcases their unique vision.

2. Travelling While Black by Nanjala Nyabola – £14.99

As people contemplate the implications of travel and mobility during a global pandemic and the climate crisis, this collection of sharply observed and at turns funny and shocking essays is a revelatory and expansive contribution to the genre of ‘travel writing’. It explores what it feels like to move through the world as a person of colour when guidebooks are rarely written with this in mind, and essentially asks what travel can tell us about our sense of self, of home, of belonging and identity when confronting the legacy of colonialism.

3. INDEX CARDS by Moyra Davey – £12.99

These essays by acclaimed artist, photographer, writer, and filmmaker Moyra Davey are written, as it ‘says on the tin’, on index cards, and invoke Mary Wollstonecraft, Jean Genet, Virginia Woolf, Janet Malcolm, Chantal Akerman and Roland Barthes, among many others. This simple and brief format is ideally suited to the age of distraction, but what unfolds is an anthology of layering narratives and elliptical musings that, as filmmaker John Waters has beautifully observed, ‘will catch you off guard with her smudged, elegant, low-tech intelligence.’

4. Equilibrium by Tonino Guerra – £10

Described by the actor Samantha Morton as ‘filmic and surreal but succinct and clear like fresh water’, this novella by the screenwriter for Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Andrei Tarkovsky is the story of a nameless graphic designer whose traumatic past leads him towards a series of strange projects – which includes inventing a new, purposefully incomprehensible typeface and attempting to devise a marketing campaign for stones – and confusing affairs of the heart. A fascinating rediscovery, with an introduction by cultural critic Michael Bracewell, from new indie publisher Moist Books.

5. YES, I AM A DESTROYER by Mira Mattar – £10

Described by poet and essayist Lisa Robertson as ‘a fabulously grotesque encyclopaedia of sensing’, this debut novel by south London writer Mira Mattar is by turns fierce, perverse, lucid and elegant; the kind of prose that makes you gasp with recognition as it rails with bodily resistance against the conditions of a wage-labour society, amongst other things!

6. Poor by Caleb Femi – £9.99

Caleb Femi, the former Young People’s Laureate for London, has been making waves in the last few years with his poetry and films. This collection brings together his words and photography in an exhilarating testament to his life growing up in Peckham, elevating his voice to a global stage and, as author Derek Owusu has written, ‘giving voice to a London many would prefer to ignore’.

7. Blue in Chicago: and other stories by Bette Howland – £12.99

As with too many women writers, especially from working class backgrounds, the extraordinarily gifted Bette Howland all but disappeared from public view some thirty years before her death in 2017. She was an outsider; an intellectual from a working class neighbourhood in Chicago; a divorcée and single mother, to the disapproval of her family; an artist chipped away at by poverty and perfectionism. To read this collection of sharp, bittersweet stories is, as writer Irenosen Okojie puts it, ‘to be handed a gift you didn’t know you needed’. Fans of Lucia Berlin and Lorrie Moore will not be disappointed!

8. Party! Party!! Party!!! Photographs from Weimar Germany by Ed Jones and Christopher Nesbit – £28

This year, the Christmas parties might all be cancelled, but this amazing collection of photographs is bursting with decadence and celebratory spirit. Scenes from Berlin’s infamous heyday in the 1920s – from living rooms and bedrooms to the underground and tourist-filled clubs and music halls of the city – are at once spellbinding and chilling in the context of the history that was unfolding in Europe. At once a glorious and futile experiment in the art of partying, and a moment in which creativity and difference shimmered.

9. Deviant Disciples edited by Intan Paramaditha – £8.00

At the SLG Bookshop, we are huge fans of the poetry chapbook series ‘Translated Feminisms’ from Tilted Axis Press, which showcases some of Asia’s most exciting women and nonbinary writers and translators. This latest edition presents five exciting poets from Indonesia of different generations and cultural backgrounds, and once again shows how language can critique, disobey and explode the parameters of western-centric feminism.

10. Offline Activities by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford – £10.99

This coupon-style booklet of 52 activities for offline fun is just what you’d expect from graphic design duo Shopsin and Fulford, who are known for their ingenious and charming collaborations. A perfect stocking filler, this book invites you to engage with a new inspirational suggestion and quote each week, bringing a little analogue chance and mystery to the coming year.

11. The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – £14.99

This exquisitely illustrated pocket book of ‘lost spells’ encourages children to communicate with the more ‘commonplace’ nature around us, from the Red Fox to the Silver Birch tree, and invites them to bear witness to nature’s power to amaze, console and bring joy. This enchanting stocking-filler is sure to inject a little magic at this time of year.

12. The Secret Life of Farts by Malin Klingenberg – £12.99

After the trials and tribulations of 2020, this wacky and wonderful guide to the world of flatulence will – quite literally – blow the blues away!

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