I had very few problems choosing presents this Christmas, for I simply gave everyone I could think of one of the novels I had to read as a Booker judge, suitably embellished with my marginalia (which I suspect means they will already have been flogged to the University of Texas for a hefty sum), but I was somewhat alarmed to see the message had not got through, and all I received in return were wretched book tokens. If you are in the same boat, I recommend you swap some for a copy of The Chatto Book of Cabbages and Kings, an anthology of Lists in Literature compiled by the horribly well-read Francis Spufford. Its contents are quite fascinating.
Displaying great metaphorical control and critical expertise, the editor offers in his Introduction a miniature dissertation on his subject which is sickeningly well-crafted and stamped with the imprimatur of genuine authority. One can only quail respectfully in the presence of one who confidently asserts ‘There is only one list in