If you like buying books as Christmas presents for people, or just enjoy treating yourself to some good reads over the break, here's a couple of non-fiction titles that are great to gift. Penguin very kindly sent me these, and at first I wasn't sure I'd like The Zoo – not that you should ever make first-glance judgments of course. As a vegetarian and animal-lover I have mixed feelings about zoos, on one hand I know that without the existence of zoos several magnificent animals would now be extinct, and they provide a place to get close to beautiful beasts you'd never see in real life (I once had a nice moment with a polar bear in New York's Central Park Zoo where he sat with his back against the glass window and looked down at me for several minutes – I lost the don't-blink contest). On the other hand, it's a bit selfish to take pleasure in being close to animals who belong in other parts of the world and will never know what freedom looks and feels like (Google that sad picture of a polar bear staring at the painted backdrop of the Arctic in his pen).
Isobel Charman's history of the founding of London Zoo is not a philosophical discussion of should we/shouldn't we, though of course there are cases for both woven throughout this rich tale of the world's first ever official zoo. It's a history of how and why, with lots of almost-unbelievable events and characters along the way (all true, though) amidst a backdrop of nineteenth century British life. I love history books, and this one is incredibly well researched and written, a lively pace keeps you wanting to know what happens next. It's also a very beautiful book (still going by appearance, sorry), that makes for an aesthetically pleasing gift.
What's more Christmassy than a book about actual Christmas? Mark Forsyth's Christmas Cornucopia has stocking filler written all over it (not literally). I love finding out the origins and meanings of things, and this wee book tells us the true stories behind why the twenty-fifth of December was chosen as Christmas Day, why we sing carols, celebrate Advent, who invented the Christmas Dinner, and even has a full biography of Santa Claus. It's so fascinating, and makes you marvel over how this mass communal way of practising these traditions came about. Definitely one of my favourite non-fictions I've read this year, and the kind of thing that's great for both older kids and adults alike to unwrap on the big day.
The Zoo by Isobel Charman £16.99 by Penguin/Viking (£8.94 on Amazon)
A Christmas Cornucopia £9.99 by Penguin/Viking (£6.99 on Amazon)