Beautiful Books for Christmas 2019

Beautiful Books for Christmas 2019. Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a book-lover in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a beautiful book.

Whether it's classics or cookbooks, graphic novels or poetry, this selection of some of our most exquisitely designed stories is ready to give your bookshelf a makeover and win you some brownie points this festive season.

Adult fiction

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (2020)

Avni Doshi’s debut novel, which has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020, is about Tara, who abandoned her arranged marriage to join an ashram, and rebelled against all social expectations. Years later, she is an old woman with a fading memory, and her grown-up daughter is caring for a woman who never seemed to care for her. Burnt Sugar is about the love between a mother and daughter, and the ties that bind them together despite years of tensions.

D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber (2020)

This modern-day Dickensian fable is ideal to curl up with this Christmas. Michel Faber, the author of The Crimson Petal and the White, creates a story set between England and the wintry land of Liminus, a world enslaved by the monstrous Gamp and populated with enchanting creatures. The story begins as the letter D disappears from the language, and Dhikilo is summoned to the home of her old history teacher Professor Dodderfield and his faithful Labrador, Nelly Robinson. This tale is a celebration of friendship and bravery in an uncertain world - something that hits all too close to home this year.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (2019)

This fantasy epic, set in a world where there is a secret underground library labyrinth, is beautiful in both hardback and paperback, so you have your choice of which to purchase (if you're really looking to splurge, this beautiful deluxe edition is available from the Penguin Shop).

The novel follows Zachary, who discovers a book which contains a story from his childhood. On his search for how this came to be, he is led to a masked ball, where he encounters a series of mysterious characters, and discovers the existence of the labyrinth, which is under threat.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019)

With his trademark ink and watercolour, Mackesy’s lovingly hand-drawn fables on kindness, friendship, vulnerability and love are as beautiful in looks as they are in meaning. There's a reason this has been one of the most talked-about books of the year.

The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories by Various (2019)

Know someone who just can’t get enough of the festive season, Christmas jumper and all? Leave a copy of this collection under their tree, and bask in their eternal gratitude. Filled with Santas, ghosts, trolls, unexpected guests and, of course, Christmas miracles, this selection of stories is like a treasure trove of some of the best writing from around the world.


Suffragette Manifestos (2020)

This book brings together speeches, pamphlets, letters and articles from the suffragette movement. The writers include aristocrats, actresses, mill workers and trade unionists, resulting in a collection that gives a rounded history of the suffragettes. 

This stunning book is part of the Penguin Great Ideas series; 20 new titles were added this year, 25 years after the launch of the series. The striking covers were art directed by David Pearson, the series’ original designer. 

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has taken on increasing, and eerie, relevance in recent years, so it’s the perfect time to buy someone this new hardback edition of the book.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in the year of the title, when life in Oceania is ruled by the Party. In this world, under the watchful eye of Big Brother, Winston Smith yearns for intimacy and love - “thought crimes” that could lead to his imprisonment and death. Chilling and absorbing, this is an essential read.

Sanditon by Jane Austen (1817)

Follow the story of Charlotte Heywood as she settles in at a newly established seaside resort. Written in the final months of her life, this is quintessential Austen with a cast of hypochondriacs, speculators and busybodies – and naturally a dashing gentleman. This edition, with its striking yellow and blue jacket, is one of the latest in the Clothbound Classics series.

Passing by Nella Larson (1929)

Nella Larson’s landmark novel Passing is about Clare Kendry, who’s severed all ties to her past. Clare – fair-skinned and ambitious – is married to a white man who has no idea of her African-American heritage. When she renews a childhood friendship, both she and her friend Irene are forces to confront fears they’ve buried.

This beautiful new edition of Passing is part of the Penguin English Library, collectable general readers' editions of the best fiction in English. 

The Penguin Classics Book by Henry Eliot (2018)

What could be more perfect for a fan of the classics than a whole book dedicated to them? In this reader’s companion, Penguin Classics editor Henry Eliot looks at 4,000 years of literature, encompassing 500 authors and 1,200 books, brought to life with lively descriptions, facts, and of course beautiful cover designs, all bound up in a luxurious clothbound package.

Childhood classics, old and new

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (1978)

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a few sniffles over a very special pile of snow... you'll see the animated version on TV no doubt, but nothing beats the original picture book about the young boy and his intrepid night-time adventure with a certain friendly Snowman. This special 40th anniversary edition from 2018 includes a limited edition print and a letter from Raymond Briggs, as well as the beautiful illustrations. Perfect for fans new and old.

The Origin of Species by Sabina Radeva (2019)

Charles Darwin’s book on the theory of evolution may not seem like a 'natural' choice when picking a children’s gift, but this beautifully illustrated picture book, lovingly created by molecular biologist and illustrator Sabina Radeva, brings The Origin of Species  to life in a fun way. 

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (2019)

From Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong'o, this a powerful exploration of colourism featuring artwork from much-loved illustrator Vashti Harrison. One of this year's most high-profile and celebrated new children's books, it also one of the most beautiful.

Matilda at 30 by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake (2019)

No Roald Dahl character continues to resonate quite like Matilda, his young, book-loving heroine. 2018 marked 30 years since Matilda was first published and to celebrate Quentin Blake created three new covers, celebrating what Matilda might be up to aged 30 – chief executive of the British Library, an astrophysicist or a world traveller, perhaps? These collectable editions are perfect for those who grew up thinking they were Matilda and for all those future Matildas.

The Bandit Queen by Natalia O’Hara (2019)

Following their delightfully dark fable, Hortense and the Shadow, sisters Natalia and Lauren O'Hara have teamed up again to give us The Bandit Queen – a whimsical tale about a young girl stolen away by a group of bandits and how family can be found in the most unexpected of places.

Poetry books

The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill (2020)

Nikita Gill follows up 2019’s beautiful retelling of Greek myths and fairytales, Great Goddesses, with another journey into the mythical. This time, her protagonist is Paro, a girl full of heart and born into a family reeling from the ruptures of Partition. As Paro crosses the precarious lines between childhood, teenage discovery and adulthood, Gill (who is also a great supporter of poets) takes us on a journey where reality meets epic mythical landscapes.

The Poetry Pharmacy Returns by William Sieghart (2019)

If you know someone who could use a few well-chosen words to help heal the soul (who couldn't?!), then look no further. William Sieghart has collected an assortment of poems in this clothbound compendium for just such a purpose – to remedy and reassure, comfort and console. 

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Retold by William Shakespeare and James Anthony (2018)

Shakespeare’s sonnets are some of the Western literature’s best-known lines of verse, but their language – and explanations of it – can sometimes take away their magic. Here, James Anthony has rewritten the original 154 poems in modern language, while retaining the rhythm and rhyme of the originals. This compact hardback features Anthony’s new sonnets laid out alongside their Shakespearean counterpart. It’s perfect for fans of the Bard, poetry or just great love stories.

The Zoo of the New by Don Paterson (2018)

Quite simply some of the best verse ever written, in English language and beyond. When putting together this collection of old favourites and new discoveries, poets Don Paterson and Nick Laird looked for work that felt timeless, from the ancient Greek words of Sappho to the more recent work of Denise Riley, via Eliot, Shakespeare, Plath and more.

Interesting lives and biographies

This Is Me by Mrs Hinch (2020)

For fans of keeping things spick and span, Mrs Hinch’s memoir is the perfect, beautiful book.

The author, whose real name is Sophie Hinchliffe, has had a whirlwind few years, with the success of Hinch Yourself Happy. In this memoir she shares the highs and lows of her journey, as well as her biggest fears and darkest challenges. 

JFK by Fredrik Logevall (2020)

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Fredrik Logevall takes on the enigmatic John F. Kennedy in this biography. Although JFK was born to a wealthy family and had a meteoric rise to become president, he still proves elusive to many.

In this book, the first of two volumes, Logevall pieces together the “real” JFK through material unseen or unused by previous biographers.

Volume one, with a striking cover designed by Chris Bentham, covers the first 39 years of JFK’s life. 

Gorgeous cookbooks to help you impress

Ottolenghi FLAVOUR by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (2020)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s stunning new cookbook, written with Ixta Belfrage, features innovative vegetable dishes that will excite and inspire, encompassing simple recipes for weeknights, low-effort high-impact dishes, and standout meals for the relaxed cook.

The book is split into three parts: process, which explains cooking methods to elevate vegetables; pairing, which lays out four basic combinations that lead to great flavour; and produce, which is about impactful vegetables.

Recipes include Aubergine Dumplings alla Parmigiana, Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter, Miso Butter Onions and Romano Pepper Schnitzels. And not only will it help you create delicious food, this is a book that will look as beautiful in your kitchen as the dishes you make.

The Roasting Tin Around the World by Rukmini Iyer (2020)

Rukmini Iyer’s cookbooks – which champion the roasting tin method – have become a phenomenon.

The latest addition, The Roasting Tin Around the World, covers all corners of the globe. Iyer has selected classic recipes from around the world, and adapted them for the roasting tin. 

Featuring 75 dishes, including vegetarian and vegan recipes, this is an essential addition to a cookbook collection. 

East by Meera Sodha (2019)

Inspired by ‘The New Vegan’ column she writes for the Guardian each weekend, Meera Sodha draws on the cuisines of Asia for the vegan and vegetarian recipes in her gorgeous new cookbook. From snacks to mains to desserts, East is full of simple recipes with easily findable ingredients that will have even the most ardent of meat-eaters swooning over these moreish recipes.

For more books for food lovers, click here.

Nature books

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (2020)

This pocket-sized treasure is the perfect gift for fans of nature, poetry and dreamy illustrations. Robert Macfarlane’s “spells” each conjure a different animal, bird, tree or flower, while Jackie Morris’ illustrations bring the spells to life. The result is a book that celebrates the wonder of nature, and that amazes and brings joy. 

The Private Life of the Hare by John Lewis-Stempel (2019)

While the hare is a rare sight in real life, they have long inhabited our legends and stories. But what do we actually know about this elusive animal? In this lovely, almost-pocket-sized book, renowned nature writer John Lewis-Stempel explores the myths, history and reality of one our most enigmatic creatures.

Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (2020)

The bestselling author of H is for Hawk returns with Vesper Flights, a collection of essays exploring the human relationship to the natural world.

Macdonald’s book combines some of her best-loved pieces on the subject, alongside new written. Topics covered include hunting mushrooms, nests and the tribulations of farming ostriches. 

A Wild Child's Guide to Endangered Animals by Millie Marotta (2019)

There are over forty animals in this book, and each one of them is at risk of disappearing from the world forever. This lavishly illustrated guide allows us to explore lush habitats and the creatures that live within them while instilling a conservational spirit within its readers – it’s definitely a good one to read along with children too.

For more books for nature lovers, click here.

Visit our Christmas gift guide for more inspiring ideas for gifts.

More books for Christmas

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