My Books of the Year 2020

Books of the Year 2020

1st January 2021

As we start the New Year this is my opportunity to look back at my favourite books that got me through that awful year of 2020. For all of us who love books they really got us through that difficult year. We could lose ourselves in stories and head of on adventures or we could read some non-fiction and learn from history or read books on natural history. How would we have got through 2020 without books.

This is also my opportunity to thank all the authors and publishers who have trusted me with their books. To each and everyone one of you all I can do is thank you. It is also a chance to mention bookshops. All have struggled through the lockdowns and have had to adapt. All are still struggling and need our support through the months ahead. Bookshops are vital for every community just like libraries. We would be poorer without them. They have managed to adapt by click and collect or many delivering free to people living local and who have been isolating. It has been inspiring to hear and read their stories.

Without further ado here are my ten shortlisted fiction and ten non-fiction books of 2020 and at the end I have chosen my fiction and non-fiction books of the year.

MY TEN SHORTLISTED FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

Published by Fourth Estate.

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020

Longlisted for the Booker Prize

The long-awaited sequel to Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies and the conclusion to the fabulous trilogy. I have to admit this was my tip to win the Booker Prize and make it a hat-trick of wins. I still think this is just some of the best writing in many years.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Published by Doubleday

I have been a fan of Rachel Joyce’s writing for some years now and Miss Benson’s Beetle is set in 1950 a story of adventure and friendship.

Summer by Ali Smith

Published by Hamish Hamilton

Longlisted for the Highland Book Prize

The finale to the seasonal quartet. Like each season the quartet seems to have gone so fast. All four to cherish in the years to come.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Published by Tinder Press

Winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Waterstones Book of the Year 2020

This is one book I have been speaking about since I was lucky enough to receive a review copy and was one of the first books of 2020 that I read. Instantly I knew this was something incredible and without doubt Maggie’s finest hour in writing.

A story based on the story of Shakespeares wife Agnes (Anne Hathaway) and their young son Hamnet. It will break your heart but stunningly beautiful. Deserved of all the plaudits.  

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Published by Viking Books

This is just a brilliant debut from the TV quiz master Richard Osman. It has gone on to become one the biggest selling books of 2020. A novel set in a quiet retirement village. Readers will love the characters involved. Warm and very funny.

Winterkill by Ragnar Jónasson 

Published by Orenda Books

Sadly, the finale in the Dark Iceland series. As chilling as an Icelandic winter this is gripping finale as Ari Thor returns to solve the death of a young woman found dead beneath a balcony. Suicide or something much more sinister?

Shuggie Baine by Douglas Stuart

Published by Picador Books

Winner of the Booker Prize 2020

The Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year 2020

Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction 2020

Bleak and heartbreaking. A story set in Glasgow in the early 1980’s of young Shuggie Baine and Agnes his mother. Even now I keep thinking of this story.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Published by Orion Books

Selling well over one million copies the international bestseller. A heart stopping thriller that had me guessing until the very end. Why did Alicia Berenson who had a perfect life and marriage suddenly shoot her husband dead five times in the head. Six years later and incarcerated she has not spoken a word.

Three – Fifths by John Vercher

Published by Pushkin Vertigo

Set in 1995 in Pittsburgh and a story of race, class and violence. A powerful novel, that is so brilliantly written. Nominated for many literary awards.

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Published by Raven Books

The Year is 1634 and Samuael Pipps the great detective is being transported to Amsterdam from the Dutch East Indies to stand trial for a crime he says he did not commit. He could face the death penalty. But as the ship sets sail things begin to happen on board.

MY TEN SHORTLISTED NON-FICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The Ratline by Philippe Sands

Published by W&N

A breathtaking account of the life of  SS Brigadeführer Otto Freiherr von Wächter. Painstakingly researched. Otto managed to escape justice as he was indicted for mass murder. Escaping via the Austrian Alps and then to Rome where he was helped by a Vatican Bishop. Powerful and reads like a thriller.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Published by Little Toller

Winner of the 2020 Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing

This is Dara’s diary from Spring to Winter looking at the natural world and his own life at school as well as being an environmentalist and conservationist. Beautifully written.

Rootbound by Alice Vincent

Published by Canongate

Longlisted for the Wainwright Prize

Part memoir, botanical history and biography. This is just a beautiful book about what the outside world can do even by bringing it indoors. Insightful and beautifully written.

The Lost Spells by Jackie Morris and Robert Mcfarlane

Published by Hamish Hamilton

If you loved The Lost Words then you will automatically know and love the follow up or the kindred spirit to The Lost Words. Breataking in its beauty in both words (Spells) by Robert Mcfarlane and the artwork by Jackie Morris. It is never too far away and how it has helped during periods of lockdown and being isolated. It is just georgeous!

The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts

Published by Doubleday

I was just blown away by this incredible book. Across the landscape that is Siberia are the lost pianos that were created during the boom years of the nineteenth century. Sophy Roberts travelled this land in search of the pianos. This remarkable book is her story.

Jeoffrey: The Poet’s Cat – A Biography

Published by The History Press

Jeoffrey was a cat that lived over 250 years ago and with the poet Christopher Smart were confined in an asylum. This is the story of Jeoffrey the cat and how it came to be in one of the greatest poems of all time’Jubilate Agno’.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Published by Viking Books

Barack Obama started to write his memoir as he boarded Air Force One as he left the White House as President of America. This is the first part of what will become one of the great political memoirs. Obama writes with the calmness and assurance and with humour that we came to know and love. It is just a fabulous read.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Published by William Collins

What was it like to be around Churchill and his family through the countries darkest period, the blitz? This is the book to read. It is a gripping and page turning read that was painstakingly researched by Larson.

Beethoven: A Life in Nine pieces by Laura Tunbridge.

Published by Viking Books

In 2020 we celebrated the birth of truly one of the greatest composers the world had ever seen. Ludwig van Beethoven. Yet there are so many myths. Here Laura Tunbridge looks at parts of his life in each chapter and a piece of music. Not to be missed if you love Beethoven.

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia

Published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books)

Winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2020

Some books just leave me speechless. The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia was one of those books. A stunning book that looks at the Oceans and the need to trade goods but in the end not only goods but culture. Not a small book in over a thousand pages but a book that will stand the test of time. A masterpiece and a deserving winner of the Wolfson History Prize.

And so now I have to find my fiction and non-fiction book of the year. There have been so many incredible books this year and selection ten fiction and ten non-fiction was hard enough. So hear are my two books of 2020.

My Fiction Book of 2020

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Published by Tinder Press

It had to be Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. This story of grief and loss has staye with me throughout this year and I cheered the when Maggie O’Farrell won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. How on earth does Maggie follow up on Hamnet. If you have not read Hamnet yet then this is one book that you must read. So much is weaved into the storyline about Agnes and Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, about a Kestrel and then there is the flea that finds its way aboard ship in Alexandria and the time of the plague that shut the playhouses in London and the devastation it would cause. Maggie’s writing is just dazzling.

My Non-Fiction Book of 2020

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia

Published by Allen Lane (Penguin)

A difficult decision to find my favourite non-fiction book of 2020, but ultamately The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia won through because it is a remarkable piece of writing. One of the greatest books on world history. I read The Boundless Sea through part of the Summer and just became lost in the book. Inside there are pages of maps and colour photographs that go to make up one book that takes pride of place among my non-fiction books. To even begin to think about writing a history of the oceans is heartstopping to produce a work that is a masterpiece. From pirates to kings to sailors and slave ships to conquerers they are all here. One day I will re-read and travel the worlds oceans through time again. Worthy winner of the 2020 Wolfson History Prize.

So there we are my books of 2020. A year that books got us through the worst year we have ever known. We will need books just as much in 2021. So here’s to all the writers and publishers and bookshops across the UK.

Have a Happy, peaceful and safe 2021.

Happy reading.

John

One thought on “My Books of the Year 2020

  1. I’m enjoying The Thurs Murder Club and I agree, I love Rachel Joyce’s books. Very well done and heart warming. I read Autumn earlier in 2020 – was a bit confusing for me. But I see that it’s part of a series…

    Like

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