Yes, it’s what you’ve all been waiting for: this year’s edition of Books and Chocolate, also known as The Ultimate Easy Christmas Gift. If you’re on a tight budget, if you’ve left everything until the last minute, if you’re struggling to think of present ideas but want to buy thoughtful, bespoke gifts: this post is for you.
The “ultimate book gifts” concept is simple and one you’ll be familiar with if you’re a loyal, longterm reader. (If you’re new here: welcome. Plenty of posts to catch up on – 3,645 of them to be precise.) The concept is that you take a very good book with a cover that is beautiful, graphic or otherwise noteworthy and you add to this a bar (or flat box) of chocolate with equally beautiful or graphic wrapping. The important thing here is looks; for this gift to work, for it to look like a little parcel of loveliness, we really must judge the book (and chocolate) by its cover.
(The fact that the contents of the books and chocolates are also very carefully chosen for exceptional quality should not be overlooked, but for the moment I’m just trying to drive home the whole premise of this gift idea which is that the bundle you put together should be pretty or arty or both.)
Let’s recap again – just to drill this home – before I go in with some suggestions.
Good-looking book + equally good-looking chocolate = relatively inexpensive, easy and thoughtful gift that is easy to wrap and post.
I use recycled, recyclable Kraft paper (I buy it here*) but you can also get very plain brown paper in huge rolls and use colourful ribbons or tags to spruce up. No specialist shopping required, you can order it all from your sofa. (I’ve linked to the easiest options, feel free to search around for stockists and alternative retailers.)
Here are this year’s picks. Remember that you can refer to previous years for more ideas; the 2021 Edition is here, the 2020 Edition is here and the 2019 Edition is here. I tend to trawl the big literary prize lists for my books and chocs contenders so that the suggestions are relatively new and the recipient will be less likely to have read the book, but there are obviously endless options. I’m just taking away the hard work!
One massive oversight I made this year: I didn’t have my usual bars of Tony’s Chocolonely to hand when I was shooting my images. Tony’s bars are chunky, colourful, delicious and relatively inexpensive: I cannot recommend them enough as a Book n Choc pairing. You can find most of the flavours online here*.
Tony’s Choc also brings the price-per-bundle down considerably – Tony’s and a paperback can come in at around a fiver if there are offers on, whereas a hardback and a beautiful Liberty print box of truffles might be nearer to twenty-five pounds. But all price points are covered and the majority come in around the £10-£15 bracket, which I think is pretty fair for such a good gift.
Here we go with the 2022 Edit:
Burntcoat + Hip Oat Milk Chocolate
The Book: Wow, what can I say about this little firecracker of a book? It’s perfect holiday reading, short enough to be done with in a day (though you’ll want to go back for a second read almost immediately) but so intense and thoughtful and so brilliantly executed. It may well be my book of the year. It’s like reading poetry, almost, except that it doesn’t make me want to fall asleep. It has love, it has death and it has a pandemic storyline that’s not quite what it seems…
The Chocolate: Hip Oat Milk chocolate. It’s surprisingly good, this chocolate, despite it being dairy-free and my benchmark formula being Cadbury’s Dairy Milk pre-recipe-change. It’s so creamy that you barely notice the lack of milk.
Trust + Luscious Orange
The Book: this, pleasingly, is a proper literary puzzle. Four versions of a person via four contrasting sources, all set in 1920s New York. Who isn’t going to love this as a rip-roaring fireside read over the holidays? It’s clever and it’s beautifully written – longlisted for the Booker Prize this year I think that it’s a book choice that will impress.
The Chocolate: Willie’s Cacao Luscious Orange should come with a warning. It’s so bitter. It turns my mouth inside out. Lots of people love the most bitter chocolates but if you don’t, I’m going to suggest swapping in a big bar of Tony’s Chocolonely – this red one here* to contrast with the book cover. Consider yourself saved.
Buy Willie’s Cacao Luscious Orange*
An American Marriage + Pana Fruit & Nut
The Book: read it as an examination of America’s unjustice system or read it, as I did, as a minute study into the idea of loyalty within a marriage that’s stretched to its limits. I found this a fascinating story with a surprising end; many of the characters’ principles seemed so at-odds with my own.
The Chocolate: Pana make organic, dairy-free gluten-free vegan chocolate that’s genuinely a brilliant alternative to the traditional options. I haven’t quite tried all of the flavours, but the Mylk, Fruit and Nut and Golden Comb are utterly delicious. Delicious.
Buy An American Marriage by Tayari Jones*
Buy Pana Organic online here*.
Circe + El Blanco
The Book: A riskier choice as this was published in 2018 and many will have read it, but equally a very safe choice because every single person I speak to about this book, from every age group and every walk of life, loves it unreservedly. It has history, it has magic and it has myth and whoever lands it won’t be able to put it down.
The Chocolate: good God it’s a hard job taste-testing all of these chocolate bars… El Blanco is a grown-up version of a Milky Bar – without the sickly sweet edge. Usually white chocolate is heavy on the vanilla so you have to get used to the aftertaste of real cacao here but after a few squares the Milky Bar Kid is a distant memory.
The Marriage Portrait + Rococo Rose
The Book: can you go wrong with a book by Maggie O’Farrell? I think not. This one is set in Renaissance Italy and follows the story of sixteen year-old Lucrezia de Medici as she tries to survive marriage and court and all of the associated dramas that I wouldn’t be able to handle at forty-one, so fair play to her and all that. Whenever I read these historical novels with the brutal births and family members being decapitated and so on it always amazes me that the women enduring these things were what we would now consider to be children. This is a rip-roaring read and I think we need to especially appreciate the amazing front cover… If ever a book was made for this feature!
The Chocolate: I get it. Rose-flavoured chocolate is a Marmite choice. (I dislike Marmite FYI.) Personally I love the slightly perfumed taste, as though you’re eating something that’s been sitting around in a flower shop. I love the contrast between dark chocolate and delicate rose – I’m also a fan of Turkish Delight, so there.
Buy The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell*
Cleopatra & Frankenstein + Charbonnel & Walker
The Book: this is joint-favourite book of the year along with Burntcoat. If I had to choose one I’d go for this, mainly because there’s more of it and I related to the characters more and I also love modern-day New York as a book setting. Nothing makes me want to jump on a plane more than books set in New York. This is an unlikely marriage story (there seems to be lots of marriage going on in this year’s edit!) that is sweet and unsuitable and doomed and yet you can’t stop reading. It’s almost as though the charm is in the undoing. I loved everything about it – the dialogue, the setting, the brilliant humour – even if I found Cleo jaw-clenchingly annoying. I loved to hate her.
The Chocolate: Charbonnel & Walker Salted Caramel truffles are a classic and it’s impossible to just eat one. Obviously a lot more spendy than a singular bar of chocolate, but if you wanted to up the stakes and make your gift extra lovely then this ticks all the (round) boxes. The limited edition packaging makes them even more special and even more suited to Books n Chocs. Liberty print + Charbonnel, a combination made in heaven.
Buy Cleopatra and Frankenstein*
Buy Liberty Charbonnel & Walker*
Small Things Like These + El Blanco
The Book: Claire Keegan has written a perfectly formed short novel that leaves you feeling oddly satisfied, despite the grim foundations of the storyline. I read that it was supposed to be about the Madgalene Laundries in Ireland and the widespread, frightening control of the church but in fact it felt like a story of hope and heroism and simple right-and-wrong morals. It’s set at Christmas and it feels like Christmas, like a traditional, warm tale that you might read again and again, year after year. For fans of tenderly-written prose that delves into the lives of others and makes those lives feel real, there couldn’t be a more perfect festive treat. It’s like peering through a snowy window into someone’s candlelit living room.
The Chocolate: El Blanco again. I’ll just have to try it, again…yes it’s still good.
Lessons in Chemistry + Pana Fruit & Nut
The Book: well this is an absolute treat. Tackling sexual inequality in 60s America but in the boldest, wittiest, most colourful kind of way. The book cover couldn’t be more apt: it really does feel like a bright, primary-coloured romp and the writing seems to never stop smiling at you, even when it tackles very serious topics. And the narrative is easily as relevant to today’s world as the decade in which it’s set. It makes you furious but furious with a grin. I love this. Love it. A cheerful gift indeed.
Carnival of Snackery + Rose & Violet Creams
The Book: diehard David Sedaris fan here so it’s little wonder I enjoyed his latest book so much. Brimful with sharp observations about the world and with zero filter. Which is possibly inadvisable in today’s world but it’s a refreshing change to bear witness to someone’s unedited thoughts, even if they reveal the author’s biases and prejudices. It’s supposed to be a kind of brain dump, really, and I like the honesty. Sedaris makes me laugh like no other writer – his diary entries about his book tours and the people he meets along the way are comedy gold.
The Chocolate: oh hello. These are so good they’ve sold out everywhere. Which is unfortunate as the larger box costs the same as a small aeroplane. Again rose chocolate, which is one of life’s great dividers, but this is different: it’s rose cream. In half of them. And violet cream in the other. Before you make sick noises over your phone, I have converted at least half a dozen people to these and all have been pleasantly surprised. I can’t get enough of them, clearly, seeing as though my box is now empty.
Night Crawling + El Blanco
The Book: some will dislike this book, especially those who just like to get on with a story rather than stopping every other sentence to decipher a metaphor or untangle a bit of abstract wordplay. But it’s powerful and interesting and I’ll add a trigger warning: it’s dark and rife with sexual abuse and violence. Written by a teen, based on truth, it’s not a jolly pick for under the Christmas tree but it’s really not supposed to be.
The Chocolate: El Blanco. To be honest I’ve had enough of this now. Why did I feature this so many times? I never want to see this chocolate again.
Buy Night Crawling by Leila Mottley*
This Is Going To Hurt + Salted Caramel
The Book: so good, so easy to read, so incredibly funny and so incredibly engaging that I’ve read this book (possibly) more times than any other in the past decade. I love the style, so irreverent and funny – even when it’s dealing with life-destroying medical emergencies – absolutely putting you in the mind and in the place of the Junior Doctor it’s written by. This book throws open the doors on both medical practice and the inner workings of the NHS and it couldn’t have been done in a more brilliant way. It’s laugh out loud, it’s often horrendously gross and it’s possible a really inappropriate present for elderly relatives, but I say….go for it.
Buy This is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay*
Mrs Caliban + Liberty Charbonnel
The Book: courtesy of my friend Tine, who has all of the best book recommendations and spends half her life in Toppings of Bath, arguably the best book shop in the country. Anyway, she couldn’t believe I hadn’t read Mrs Caliban as the storyline is so up my street. Subverted suburban life. Frustrated, sad American housewife with a broken marriage and lost child meets large, amphibious, alien-like creature and begins sexual relations with it/him. I mean. Could a book be more suited to me? I love this barmy stuff. This is short and thought-provoking and there’s nothing else like it. A joyous, unique, off-beat gift that shows you know your literature. Cheers Tine for making me look more knowledgeable than I actually am…
Buy Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls*
Buy Liberty print Charbonnel & Walker*
Cooking + Luscious Orange
The Book: could it be Books n Chocs without a cookbook? This year’s choice is simply called Cooking and it’s a wonderful scrapbook of essential recipes with small photos that you can imagine were originally stuck on with bits of tape, and then scatterings of lists throughout instructing on the types of leaves and herbs and what to do with them, or the essentials to keep in your pantry. This isn’t one of those books that relies on amazing photography and food styling – it’s almost all in the words. And it’s fabulous. One to keep out and peruse at every meal time and with every cup of tea. It’ll be dog-eared and stained within the year and this is exactly how it’s meant to be.
And there you have it my friends. Remember to take a look at the suggestions from previous years – there are some excellent combos! Any questions or further suggestions then please drop them into the comments box below.