The biggest books for autumn 2020 from fiction and poetry to essays and biographies.
2020 has been quite the year and, thanks to lockdown, many of the year’s most exciting books are finally getting released this autumn and they’re rubbing shoulders with some of fiction’s biggest names, long-awaited feminist essays, coveted cook books and beyond.
Fleur Sinclair, owner of Sevenoaks Bookshop, explains: “Autumn is always a busy time for books and booksellers – but this year is busier than ever! Publishers tend to save their biggest books to launch in October so they can be bought in huge quantities and be perfect Christmas gifts. But this year, because of Covid-19, hundreds of other new books have had their publication dates pushed back, meaning that there are even more books hitting the shelves at exactly the same time. The challenge for us is to make sure all new books get enough attention and space on our shelves; not just managing the big name and celebrity authors’ books.”
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With releases from Nigella Lawson, Nadiya Hussain, Ant & Dec, Elena Ferrante, Caitlin Moran, Laura Bates and Nikita Gill; an anthology of women writers of African descent featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Malorie Blackman, Bernardine Evaristo, Aminatta Forna, Andrea Levy and Nawal El Saadawi; the return of Bookshop Day on Saturday 3 October, which will feature virtual author events, celebrations and a limited edition bag from Charlie Mackesy (creator of The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse and one of Stylist’s most moving covers) – get your bookshelves cleared and ready: it’s going to be quite the ride.
Read on to discover autumn’s unmissable thrillers, essays, escapist reads, poetry and more.
The essential fiction
Everyone get ready to head back to Naples with Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life Of Adults translated by Ann Goldstein (out now, £20, Europa) as she once again casts her spell conjuring up the winding streets of an Italy hiding the secrets, love and longings of her characters. There’s also much excitement about new books from well-loved writers including the marvellous Curtis Sittenfeld (her new short story collection Help Yourself is out 1 October), William Boyd, Jonathan Coe, Susannah Clarke, Richard Osman and Ruth Jones.
Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (£14.99, out 15th October, Fig Tree) is getting a lot of love already as she hits the zeitgeist with a book about being ghosted while making on-point observations about modern life. The great Marilynne Robinson returns with Jack (out 29 September, £18.99, Virago) set in her ever-expanding mythical world of Gilead and will be all over everyone’s must-read lists. Also not to be missed is the Booker-nominated Real Life by Brandon Taylor (out now, £9.99, Daunt Books), which is a power punch of a book exploring race, sexuality, past and future.
The Harpy by Megan Hunter – small but perfectly formed – is a tale of marital vengeance you won’t be able to put down (out now, £14.99, Pan Macmillan) and Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier is another must-own (£12.99, HarperCollins), by turns bonkers and brilliant as two women’s worlds clash to create something utterly moving. Definitely don’t miss the return of Sophie Mackintosh with Blue Ticket (out now, £12.99, Penguin) which gets to the root of women’s ambivalence and confusion around becoming mothers set against an unsettling dystopia; she’s amazing.
A Girl Made Of Air by Nydia Hetherington (out now, £14.99, Quercus) is a spellbinding piece of escapism that’s perfect for autumn evenings; A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf (out 15 October, £12.99, Myriad Editions) is an epic love story between an Irish immigrant and a Black slave that you should pre-order now; and Natalie Haynes returns to her celebrated stomping ground with a women’s take on the Greek myths with the joyous Pandora’s Jar (out 1 October, £20, Picador).
YA titles to watch are Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (£7.99, HarperCollins) which turns Salaam’s experiences (he is one of the exonerated men from the Central Park jogger case in 2002 that led to him and four other boys being wrongfully imprisoned) into a story of racial injustice that’s also imbued with hope. The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed (out now, £7.99, S&S) is also a book that looks at the intersection of Blackness and class in the US and is utterly brilliant.
The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (out 1 October, £16.99, Oneworld) is getting much love for its story of Kirabo, who explores what it means to be a woman set against the backdrop of Idi Amin’s Uganda and What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (out 1 October, £16.99, Little, Brown) has received glowing reviews from the New York Times about its funny and moving story of two women – one of whom has terminal cancer. Finally, all the cool kids will be reading Earthlings by Sayaka Murata translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori (out 1 October, £12.99, Granta). With a jaw-dropping ending and a tale of incredible times, it’s amazing.
Essay collections for every shelf
The authors of Slay In Your Lane, Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, are returning on 1 October with Loud Black Girls (£14.99, 4th Estate) featuring essays from 20 established and breakout Black British writers. With insights from Candice Brathwaite, gal-dem’s Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Sophia Thakur, Jendella Benson and Toni-Blaze Ibekwe, who tackles what the future is for Black women, this is an unmissable buy. Later in the autumn, the wise and witty Otegha Uwagba tackles Whites: On Race And Other Falsehoods (out 12 November, £6.99, 4th Estate) exploring allyship, interracial politics and the gap between what is real and what is perceived by white people…
There’s also the paperback release of New Daughters Of Africa (£11.99, Myriad Editions, out now) edited by Margaret Busby, which embraces every genre you can think of: fiction, poetry, letters, drama and journalism from such jaw-dropping names as Roxane Gay, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Yrsa Daley-Ward.
This autumn also sees the welcome return of The Last Act Of Love’s Cathy Rentzenbrink with Dear Reader (£12.99, Picador, out 17 September) which is an ode to reading and the comfort of books – plus a delightful guide to some unmissable reads you might not know. And make way for one of 2020’s biggest releases: Nigella’s Cook, Eat, Repeat (out 29 October, £26, Chatto & Windus) which combines beautifully written musings on food and recipes and will be on everyone’s Christmas lists.
The big-name feminism
If you only buy one book this month, then may we recommend Laura Bates’ Men Who Hate Women (£16.99, S&S, out now) which uncovers misogynist networks and how these extreme ideologies can infiltrate all walks of life – it’s not an easy read but it’s a necessary one. Caitlin Moran’s much-anticipated More Than A Woman (£20, Ebury, out now) explores middle-age and her own feminist lessons while the ever-brilliant Sarah Perry tackles Essex Girls (£7.99, 1 October, Serpent’s Tail) and how women such as Rose Allin, abolitionist Anne Knight and Kim Kardashian (not from Essex but showing off the traits) know how to shake things up.
The unmissable thrillers
Louise O’Neill is back (thank you – one good thing to come out of 2020 then) with After The Silence (£12.99, Riverrun, out now), a brilliant and devastating exploration of a buried crime that will leave you reeling. Caroline Corcoran’s The Baby Group (£7.99, Avon, out 17 September) is the perfect autumn thriller that delves into envy and the gap between public and private personas while Tana French returns with the standalone The Searcher (£14.99, Viking, 5 November) later in the year. Also, we galloped through the delicious One By One by Ruth Ware (£12.99, Harvill Secker, out 12 November), which is the perfect mash-up of Agatha Christie meets the staff of a tech start-up – in a secluded luxury mountain resort. What more could you ask for?
Poetry to soothe and explore
The Girl And The Goddess (out 1 October, £12.99, Ebury) is the new coming-of-age story from Nikita Gill that explores Hindu mythology and the cultural influences that have shaped the writer and her work. With a gorgeous cover (it’s important), this a much-needed escape into a lyrical world.
Katherine Lockton’s survival from falling from a building aged four and the traumatic experience of sexual assault inspired her debut poetry pamphlet Paper Doll (£4, Flipped Eye, out on 24 September), striking a landmark for the UK’s Latinx community. The collection reflects on the ways a woman ‘falls’ in society and feels a sense of failure, physically, emotionally and spiritually, as a result.
Ireti Odugbesan’s Soft Tissue explores the connection between body and emotion with sections separated into Skin – soft, Ligaments – stretched, Blood vessels to name a few (£6.99, Troubadour, out now) and pinpoints the way our physical and emotional lives are so intertwined.
Border Lines: Poems Of Migration (out now, £11, Everyman) tells stories of migration and movement through poetry – making it a vital and necessary read with nationalism continuing to rise. Contributing poets in the collection include Bernardine Evaristo, Mary Jean Chan, Jackie Kay and Zaffar Kunial.
Finally, She Will Soar by Ana Sampson (out 17 September, £17.99, Pan Macmillan) is a selection of brilliant work by Carol Ann Duffy, Sarah Crossan, Emily Dickinson, Salena Godden, Charly Cox and Hollie McNish to name a few.
The Louder I Will Sing by Lee Lawrence (out 17 September, £16.99, Sphere) explores the life of Lee, whose mother Cherry was shot and paralysed from the waist down by police in a 1981 raid on her Brixton home. Sparking riots and a demand for justice in Lee that continues to this day, it’s a book that unstintingly highlights how systemic racism in the UK continues to flourish 40 years on.
Later this autumn will see the arrival of Grace Dent’s memoir Hungry which is charming, readable and resonating (out 29 October, £20, Mudlark). Legendary DJ Annie Nightingale’s book Hey Hi Hello (out now, £20, White Rabbit) is a mash-up of memoir and interviews with incredible names such as Billie Eilish, David Bowie and The Beatles while Diamonds At The Lost And Found by Sarah Aspinall (£14.99, 4th Estate, out now) is an ode to her mother, who resisted a conventional life in favour of adventures spanning from Southport to North Carolina.
Claudia Winkleman’s Quite (out 1 October, £16.99, HQ) is just a delight. A Winkleman-imbued celebration of life, what’s important (eyeliner obviously) and her general talent for making everyone feel good. For film obsessives, director Oliver Stone’s Chasing The Light: How I Fought My Way Into Hollywood (£25, Octopus) is a rollercoaster of a read that deep dives in 70s, 80s and 90s film-making. Meanwhile, Rupert Everett is back with To The End Of The World: Travels with Oscar Wilde, an exploration of his film career, Oscar Wilde and what success really means (out 8 October, £20, Little, Brown).
For US politics geeks, JFK Volume 1 1917-1956 by Frederik Logevall is just the first (massive) volume that explores the rise and destruction of JFK (out now, £30, Penguin) and we totally immersed ourselves in it. Finally, give yourself some love with Adam Buxton’s funny and moving Ramble Book (£16.99, HarperCollins, out now) which reveals the thorny-but-loving relationship with his dad and what makes him possibly the nicest man in podcasts/film/TV/Louis Theroux’s life.
For an uplifting and educational read, The Lonely Century by Noreena Hertz (out 10 September, £20, Sceptre) is about how we can overcome our divisions to rebuild a society that works as one while Rebecca Reid’s The Power Of Rude (£13.99, Trapeze, out now) is an exhilarating call-to-arms that recommends women set aside their nice sides and start asking for what they need.
Failosophy: A Handbook For When Things Go Wrong by Elizabeth Day (out 1 October, £10, HarperCollins) is an irresistible bedside book which reveals all of the lessons Day has learned via her How To Fail podcast and features gems from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lemn Sissay, Emeli Sandé, Meera Syal, Dame Kelly Holmes and Andrew Scott among others.
Images: Unsplash; courtesy of publishers
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown