Readers on their favorite books of 2020: ‘I’ve given it to everybody I do know’ | Books
In Caste, Wilkerson explains why racism does and not only flourishes but is actively institutionalized, and why white privileges must be recognized. Reading Caste has helped me to see the inequalities in MY own society, how many patriarchal cultures and religious blackmail are a serious detriment to the progress of African societies and how we, if we do not change the system, will remain disenfranchised and in ours Chains forged by their own hands are held back.
Umaymah Abdullahi, Nigeria
Shuggie Bain will take the crown for me this year. I think of Shuggie and Agnes and the cycle of poverty, addiction and abuse almost every day. I stopped drinking during the first lockdown in April and read it in September and it really impressed me. It’s incredibly well-written and devastating, but beautiful at the same time.
Jamie Klingler, Camden
An absolutely fantastic debut about a neurodiverse girl seeking justice for the women of Scotland killed as witches. Both a genuinely compassionate treatment of its subject and a snappy read that I’ve given almost everyone I know from around 12 (and they invariably loved it, too).
Poppy Collinson, Edinburgh
An inspiring journey around some of the UK’s cemeteries bringing back to life the dead that rest in them. Fascinating stories and personalities, many of which have long since been forgotten, provide opportunities for reflection and, perhaps strangely, hope. Equally inspiring are the stories of the people who care for the cities of the dead today, be they leaders or relatives of those who have gone before and continue to honor them. Wonderful read that enlightens us about a journey we will all make one day.
Jim Whyteside, East Renfrewshire
This is a bold debut and wonderfully shabby. It’s about a young artist who photographs anonymous young men, and the book goes to some very dark places. Think Fleabag meets American Psycho. In terms of undermining the male gaze, it is reminiscent of The Collection by Nina Leger, but a lot more fun.
Gill Darling, Manchester
Having a book that suggests there is a way to fight global warming and then laying it out for you doesn’t mean sneezing – but linking it to a good story makes it special too. The first chapter in India during the heat wave is chilling out, no pun intended. This is Robinson in top form.
Graham Vingoe, Barnstaple
Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark
It’s 1,200 pages and not for the faint of heart. But what a wonderful biography. The amount of research by Clark is incredible and so beautifully written. The book covers all of Plath’s life and poetry and makes one very sad that she decided to end her life in such a horrible way.
David Abington, Isle of Wight
The Sisters Strange by John Connolly
A novella that the author wrote and published in daily installments in April and May to apologize to readers for the late release of his new book. I think he did a fantastic job. Sometimes it felt like a talented musician was improvising something great out of nowhere. He managed to get me addicted through and through and gave me something to look forward to every day in dark times.
It clearly took a lot of effort for him and his support team, and the thought of a stranger sacrificing time (and income) to make a gesture of solidarity helped me be a little more generous with my own time and patience. It is the book I will remember most of the many who have helped me this year.
Kieron Spackman, Bilbao
Best known for their quasi-historical fantasy Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, I was seduced by their long overdue return. The ignorant protaganist of the same name (named after the Italian architect of the 18th century) is unintentionally alone in a parallel and silent inner world. Sound familiar? Clarke’s voice and pace are sure and captivating. Like the real Piranesi, these visions are sure to endure.
Mark Thursten, Kingsdown
A brilliantly written novel full of intrigue, admirable characters and a fascinating story. In a small village near New Orleans that is not on any map, residents pride themselves on the fact that the population is getting paler with each generation. The twins Stella and Desirée, the color of barely wet sand, decide to run away, a recurring theme. The story moves through America, from Los Angeles to New York and back again. A tender and thoughtful study of growing up a black person and how you can make your decision about who you want to become.
Kate Chapman, Germany
I loved the way the book combines fiction with reality. The focus on US politics has never been more important and relevant this year, which is why it was particularly appropriate to read this fictional campaign biography of Hilary Clinton. It not only offers a glimpse into the whims of US politics, but also the misogyny that still reigns in women’s lives today. Sittenfeld does not portray Clinton as a role model, but rather flawed and complex and capable of love and the will to do what she feels right. I loved it.
Teresa Curtis, Stockport
Kaag is one of those rare writers who can stylishly combine honest autobiography with philosophical ideas. Sick Souls, Healthy Minds is a worthy continuation of his American philosophy: A love story and hiking with Nietzsche. Kaag shows how the founder of American pragmatism can still teach us a lot about life. In the year of the pandemic, I found that James’ view that “joie de vivre” is the key to human meaning and that it is found everywhere – “in activity, perception, imagination or reflection” – is definitely worth considering.
Jerard Bretts, Milton Keynes
Real life is lovely. The prose is so delicious that I wanted to grab a highlighter. The story is a tangled intersection of sex and sexuality; Race and class; the competitiveness of science and the alienation of someone running out of their past as quickly as possible and seemingly falling into the arms of their archenemy. The lyrical descriptions of laboratory techniques in the life science building of a US university almost made me want to pipette and stain. As a scientist, reading a novel against the backdrop of a laboratory was one of my happiest and most educational reading excursions of 2020.
Alison Iboro Offong, Birmingham
Cat Step by Alison Irvine
I’m a slow reader, but Cat Step got me carried away and I read it in a single day which is very unusual for me. It was engaging, brutally honest about parenting, charming and grim alike. It also presented older people as actual people, with history and interests, and not just generic old people. I couldn’t take it off and have bought copies for a lot of people.
Ellen Orrock, Edinburgh
The way this novel deals with dark and traumatic events and puts them in a comedic spotlight also surprised me. I felt like this was a book for everyone. Anyone who wanted to learn more about growing up in Beirut, anyone who wanted to cry a little, remembered, or even giggled. It’s poignant, but it doesn’t burden you with its emotional baggage, and so it takes the cake for me.
Houssam Jouni, London
Humanity by Rutger Bregman
I read about this book in the Guardian. When I read it in lockdown, when kindness to others was more important than ever, it all just clicked – I got to the right book at the right time for the right reason. The message of hope it ends with was also perfect, as it was just about to end, but long before a vaccine was in sight and more deaths and suffering was imminent, not to mention the impact Brexit will have. I’ve read quite a bit this year, but this was the book of the year for me in every way.
A ghost in Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s throat
The book describes the search for the story behind an 18th century poem by a young poet who laments the violent death of her beloved husband. The author writes about her life, her children and her obsession with the poem and its forgotten creator. The book is really unique, enchanting, poetic and moving. I hope it will be recognized as a great quality work in countries other than Ireland too.
Gerry Luchtenberg, Ireland
Everything you would want in a history book during lockdown: incredibly fun, insightful, and full of fascinating human stories. Not your usual Tudors or Nazis, but something that will be very new to everyone. An absolutely first class book – the footnotes are particularly hysterical!
Jennifer Warburton, Sales
Choosing a single book for the whole year is a difficult task, but nothing has made me feel, think, and engage on as many levels as The Devil and Dark Waters. With subplot after subplot and layer after layer, this breathtaking historical fiction crime thriller will leave you awake at night long after you’ve finished it. Every chapter was productive, every character essential, and every page pure brilliance. I can’t wait for his next book. No pressure, Stu.
This novel tells so much about the situation of women struggling with the issue of motherhood. Do I want children? Under what circumstances? Am I emotionally stable enough to do this? Most importantly, the author asks: Do women need men in order to fulfill their dream of becoming a mother? Have we reached a point where men are becoming obsolete and women can rely on sperm banks independently? Can there be a generation of single women with children equally living without men?
Witness X from SE Moorhead
A crisp serial killer thriller with a pinch of sci-fi technology. Convincing, tightly planned, a strong central character. Loved it! Has written Netflix miniseries everywhere.
Michael Sellars, Liverpool
When I look at the list of books I have read that terrible year, I find that the titles that have stayed with me the most have managed to take me to another place or time. Such was the case with The Cat and the City, in which Bradley conjures up an image of Tokyo and its residents, as I remember from my last visit. You can tell that the author lived in Japan for many years. At a time when a trip to Asia is virtually impossible, this book is the next best.
Boyd has returned and has proven he is the best contemporary storyteller. Its characters are complex and nuanced, and Trio’s three main characters are no exception. Their three different lives (one through self-discovery, one through vulnerability, and the other through love and sentimentality) are interconnected and offer three different endings. The prose is clear; The dialogue, great. Trio is a book not to be missed.
Luis Abbou, Brighton