Generally speaking, it is safer to stick to architecture. And the architectural motif you will find most of is the cute and curvy design inspired by plants and animals. The vogue for these forms is slickly promoted by Hugh Aldersley-Williams in Zoomorphic: New Animal Architecture (£19.95), which was brought out by Laurence King to accompany the exhibition on the same theme at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Seductively illustrated with recent projects, built and unbuilt, resembling armadillos, a sea urchin and even a starfish, the book discusses the symbolism and practicalities of the subject.
The Sydney Opera House is hardly up to the minute. Yet Jorn Utzon's collection of sail-like shells became the most iconic building of the 20th century and was a precursor of today's biomorphic architecture. Less gloriously, the book describes the project's agonised struggle with technical imponderables, soaring costs, and political machinations – all of which are presently being revived at the Scottish parliament. In The Saga of Sydney Opera House (£19.99), Peter Murray relates the murky affair with a splendidly light and fair-minded touch.
Of course, sumptuous coffee-table books have always been the perfect festive offering – as long as your budget stretches that far. Yet such books need not be restricted to the favourite themes of fashion, art, design and architecture. Thames & Hudson devotes its latest tome to one of the lowliest building materials – the brick. Even so, Brick: A World History by James Campbell and Will Pryce (£39.95) does not stint on mouthwatering colour photography and breadth of coverage. The book stretches across 5000 years of history and circumnavigates the world to bring to light examples for fine brickwork from ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats to Rick Mather's 1995 extension to Keble College, Oxford, earning it the accolade of being the first ever comprehensive study of the brick.
In recent years, the big boom in architectural publishing has been in guidebooks — which make fail-safe gifts for those who want to discover more about their local area or desire a preview of their holiday destination.
Now that Yale University Press has taken over the hallowed Pevsner architectural guides from Penguin, it is steadily updating them. The latest heavyweight volume co-written by Simon Bradley is devoted to Westminster. In parallel, Yale is continuing to publish the more recent softback series of guides, which are more sightseer-friendly – and lighter on the wallet, too. In the latest of these, on Bath (£9.99), Michael Forsyth describes 11 architectural walks through the city centre.
The minuscule pocket guidebooks invented by Ellipsis have likewise been taken over by another publisher. Batsford is now updating and expanding the series in slightly larger format but the guides are still suitable as stocking-fillers, and include Samantha Hardingham's ever popular London – A Guide to Recent Architecture (£12.99).
As well as growing in number, architectural guidebooks are also expanding in geographical coverage. Kenneth Powell has trumped his own highly acclaimed New London Architecture of 2001 with New Architecture in Britain published by Merrell (£29.95). A hefty and lavishly illustrated hardback, it manages to pack in more than 100 of Britain's best up-to-the-minute buildings, including Selfridges in Birmingham by Future Systems.
Finally, a couple of less reverential tomes to tickle you, or your children's, fancy. Vicki and Mortimer's Book City London (£8.99), available at the RIBA bookshop, is written and drawn by Colin Priest as a guidebook of famous London sights for children. And if you happen to live in Hull, Liverpool or even Winchester, The Idler Book of Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK (£10) is the one for you. Published by Boxtree, it is edited by Sam Jordison and Dan Kieran with an angle that is more social than architectural. It praises Islington, for instance, with the statement: "Nowhere else can you come across so many people in their 30s dressed as teenagers."
Could it be that they're all, er … architects?