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Gangsters framed

The most potentially dangerous pre-Christmas title I have seen is Joni Hilton's Family Fun Book (Running Press Pounds 8.99), a Canadian import full of suggestions for creating "a lifetime of memories" all year round, although there are sections on Chanukah and Christmas. This is to be accomplished, we are told, by making your own good, wholesome entertainment and generally being nicer people.

Hilton is keen on "secret good deeds" and anonymous gifts. "Ring the bell and run", she advises, alarmingly, when she recommends leaving goodies on the doorstep of a needy family. If you make it home without being arrested, there are ideas for turning your nest into a Martha Stewart set. Go on, wrap your presents in birch bark, make your own butter ("this tedious task should surely be shared by all the family," says Hilton), grow sprouts on your socks and enjoy.

That's enough goodwill. It's time to kick smaller relatives off the sofa and fight over the remote control. The latest hefty volume of Phil Hardy's fabulous Aurum Film Encyclopedia is Gangsters (Aurum Pounds 35), which will get your best loved film buff through a lifetime of Saturday afternoon TV B-movies and film trivia arguments. It's stuffed with a year-by-year line-up of classics from Little Caesar (1930) to LA Confidential (1997) and the scope is truly international, taking in Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. It's worth the money for the hardback (which makes a great seasonal offensive weapon), but other titles in the series, including Westerns and Science Fiction, are in paperback at Pounds 25.

For those who will be polishing up their screenplays over the holiday, the Variety International Film Guide 1999, edited by Peter Cowie (Faber Pounds 14.99), has advice on where to send it and where to find a film festival in, for example, autumn half-term next year (Valladolid in Spain, if you're lucky). The World Box Office Survey is compulsive and contains the strangely depressing news that Bean was the most popular film in Estonia, Croatia and Finland in 1997. If the Family Fun Book did not annoy your relatives enough, the Variety guide includes a ready-written lecture on Pedro Almodovar (its director of the year).

To make peace, give everyone a Magic Roundabout tale to nurse during a psychedelic snooze over Christmas Day tea. The Adventures of Ermintrude, Dylan and Brian (Bloomsbury Pounds 5.99 each) will appear alongside The Adventures of Dougal later this month. The manuscripts were rescued from the garden shed of the late Eric Thompson, who created the English voice-overs for just Pounds 15 an episode.

The greatest great escape of the year must be Christopher Ondaatje's Journey to the Source of the Nile (HarperCollins Pounds 20), a lavish and inspirational documentary waiting to happen.

Ondaatje retraced the routes of the Victorian explorers (Richard Francis Burton, John Hanning Speke, David Livingstone and others) who sought to solve the mystery of the Nile. Unlike them, he knew where he was going, but he could not predict the diversions en route. His account will see armchair adventurers through to New Year resolutions.

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