Rukmini Iyer's Christmas Picks

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We’ve asked some friends of the shop to let us know what they’ll be reading and giving this Christmas. Here, Rukmini Iyer, author of the brilliant Roasting Tin series, tells us about some of her favourite seasonal reads. You can buy all the books via our online store here.

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig

I’d previously only read Zweig’s Marie Antoinette (funnily enough, purchased in the biography section of the London Review Bookshop several years ago). It didn’t disappoint; when Beware of Pity came to me on recommendation, I was reminded almost immediately of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, which is based on Zweig’s writings. It’s an immersive novel that takes place at the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire – almost a young man’s coming-of-age story. I don’t want to spoil the plot by writing too much about the characters, so would encourage you to read it instead – easily the best novel I’ve read in the last few years.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

A perfect gift for fans of the Wolf Hall series, charting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell. I’d say this is the most accessible novel of the trilogy, written simply and with building tension – the last quarter of the book is as page-turning as any airport novel – which I mean as a compliment; I quite literally growled at anyone who tried to come near me as I raced towards the finale. (And as an aside, after seeing the actor Henry Cavill pose with his dog and deciding that the dog looked like a canine version of Charles Brandon, I decided to cast an all-dog version of the characters in Wolf Hall – Mantel’s Cromwell is, of course, a canny looking brown-and-white collie.)

Summer Kitchens by Olia Hercules

This is one of the most exciting cookbooks I’ve read in years: Olia writes about the traditions of cooking in Ukraine’s summer kitchens, with recipes, anecdotes and insights into the history and customs of a fascinating food culture. Her writing is superb – evocative and accessible. I have so many recipes bookmarked to try, from hand-made pasta with walnuts and yogurt to dumplings, but one of the nicest sections of the book is a series of letters at the end, where people have shared memories of their summer kitchens with Olia. Excellent read-on-the-sofa material, with a notepad nearby for meal-planning.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Ryan Stradal

A novel for food-lovers, this coming-of-age story features a young girl who becomes a chef. Written from the perspective of people who meet her at key points in her life, this is a delightful read, with sections that’ll stay in your memory long after the novel is finished. One of my favourite scenes featured the heroine’s early experiments cross-pollinating the hottest chillies in the world to create a chilli that’s off the (Scoville) charts hot. She’s under 10 years old at this point, and sells the results a nearby restaurant for pocket-money. The novel highlights the importance of seasonality and the joys of using good produce, with a moving backdrop of love, loss and food as memory.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

This novel is genius, and deserves to be more widely read. Set in the USA, it charts the story of an unlikely group who plot to emancipate the chickens from an American battery farm. While I particularly enjoyed the chapters written from the point of view of a chicken, the novel as a whole (written from the point of view of various humans) is perfectly pitched and plotted. I can’t imagine many readers of the book wouldn’t already have views on battery vs free-range hens, but even I came away from it feeling a renewed commitment to working out the provenance of animal products, and wondering not for the first time if I should go back to being a vegetarian.

Carbs by Laura Goodman

This is my most bought cookbook as a gift for friends. It’s a joyful and unashamed love letter to potatoes, pasta, rice and bread – my favourite food groups. The recipes are staples in my house – the kimchi bacon fried rice and halloumi courgette muffins are particular favourites, and the book itself faces forwards on the shelf so I can admire the beautiful cover design. As an added bonus, Laura Goodman’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny – the introductions to her recipes are the wittiest I’ve read. I look forward to her next cookbook with anticipation.

View the whole list on our online shop.

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