The biggest books of 2020, fiction, essays, memoirs, coffee table buys, cookbooks and more for Christmas.
While we’re all here for gifts of beautiful food, beauty and jewellery, you can never go wrong with a sumptuously wrapped book. Gorgeously packaged, guaranteed to transport you to another world, sustainable and always welcome, books are not only a thoughtful Christmas gift but are also excellent for Secret Santa presents.
Having said that – matching the right title to the right person is no easy task (especially if they’re a bookworm who read everything as soon as it came out this year) so we’ve broken down some of 2020’s most wanted books into helpful categories to make your life that much easier.
From the fiction prizewinners to comedy reading via books that design lovers will want to artfully arrange on their coffee table to books for younger minds who are searching for some diversity in their reading lists, we’ve put together a winning list of 2020’s best releases. We have some big-name choices in there (Hilary Mantel, Barack Obama, Brit Bennett, Nadiya Hussain and Nigella) but we’ve also selected some indie titles and personal favourites that are definitely worth your gift lists (and also your own bedside table).
We’ve also got some excellent book subscriptions, charity gifting ideas, gorgeous lit-inspired buys and more. So read on and discover some of the best writing, ideas, designs, stories and recipes to come out of 2020. It wasn’t all bad…
The big gifting books for 2020
If the book lover in your life hasn’t already picked up these titles then these are definitely what they’d like to open on Christmas morning: Hilary Mantel’s audacious and captivating The Mirror And The Light (£23.25, Fourth Estate) made us read the Wolf Hall trilogy from scratch and is a striking reminder that we’ve been dealing with pandemics, breaks with Europe and questionable governments for over 500 years.
Barack Obama’s first volume of his presidential memoirs, A Promised Land (£25, Viking) has been the biggest release of the year and gives a very human insight into the White House while Maggie O’Farrell’s beautiful Hamnet (£18.60, Headline) won legions of fans (and nabbed The Women’s Prize For Fiction).
Booker winner Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (£14.99, Pan Macmillan) is also a moving must-read and Curtis Sittenfeld’s alternative reality Rodham (£15.79, Transworld) has an ending that’ll leave any reader sobbing. Finally, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (£14.99, Dialogue) has rightfully been everywhere this year and is an excellent gift for fiction fans.
Book subscriptions and charity ideas
One really wonderful way to mark 2020 and also give a book-loving friend a thoughtful present is to donate £10 to the BookTrust’s Christmas Appeal in their name. They’re sending books to over 14,250 children this Christmas so it really is the gift that keeps giving.
Another inspired idea is The Little Box Of Books which curates book subscriptions for children so they can see themselves diversely represented across the books they read (from £19.99 a month); Imagine Me Stories is a great place to find children’s books for all ages (and also does book boxes) while Love My Read offers children’s books curated by the amazing Malorie Blackman and Frank Cottrell-Boyce (from £12.99) as well as handpicked choices for adults (from £18.99). (Also, if you’re in need of ongoing recommendations, book club app Novellic is just what you’re looking for.)
Incredible fiction for reading fans
2020 has been a breakout year for fiction with some incredible debuts and returns from great talent. Among the unmissable books you need to buy (for friends or yourself) are Sarah Moss’s so readable Summerwater (£13.94, Pan Macmillan); Brandon Taylor’s moving Real Life (£8.49, Daunt Books); Paul Mendez’s brilliant Rainbow Milk (£12.99, Dialogue) and the uplifting Love In Colour collection of short stories inspired by folk tales by Bolu Babalola (£14.99, Headline).
Other good reads include Helen Moffett’s brilliant Charlotte (£12.99, Zaffre) which is an Austen retake with smarts, Francine Toon’s unnerving Pine (£8.99, Transworld) and Jacqueline Woodson’s absorbing Red At The Bone about families, societies and expectations (£14.99, Orion). Also top of our list are Abi Daré’s soul-boosting The Girl With The Louding Voice (£8.99, Hodder & Stoughton) and Sophie Mackintosh’s Blue Ticket (£12.99, Penguin), which will leave anyone reeling.
Books to make someone laugh
Let’s face it – we all need some escapist comedy. So without further ado add these to your shopping list: The Best Of Me by David Sedaris (£14.99, Little, Brown) is a whirlwind tour of this genius writer’s greatest hits, any of Samantha Irby’s essay collections (£9.99 each, Faber) will have you chuckling loudly and at length and Marian Keyes’ sweet and funny Grown Ups (£15.99, Michael Joseph) balances family dynamics with her satirical eye.
Adam Buxton’s Ramble Book (£14.99, Harper Collins) is a moving ode to his dad, his not very wayward teenage years and his patient wife while Jenny Offill’s offbeat and brilliant Weather, about our increasingly polarised world (£12.99, Granta), is a witty and easy read that also gets your neural pathways fired up.
The best books for non-fiction fans
2020 has been a stellar year for non-fiction. Grace Dent’s charming Hungry (£14.99, HarperCollins) is a perfect holiday read that celebrates family plus food with a wry and clear-eyed understanding while The Company I Keep by Leonard A Lauder (out 10 December, £25, HarperCollins) is a gorgeous journey into how he founded The Estee Lauder Companies – taking it from a handful of products in the 40s and 50s to the influential behemoth it is today making it a must-read for all beauty fans.
Susanna Moore’s Miss Aluminium is an entertaining look at 70s Hollywood (£9.99, Orion) and Marina Wheeler’s The Lost Homestead: My Mother, The Partition And The Punjab (£22.99, Hodder & Stoughton) is about her own mother’s escape from an unhappy marriage but also examines past political and personal changes that are still reverberating now. Jamie Windust’s In Their Shoes (£12.99, Jessica Kingsley) is a funny and moving read and The Most Beautiful Job in the World: Lifting the Veil On The Fashion Industry by Giulia Mensitieri (£19.99, Bloomsbury) is a fascinating insiders’ account of fashion.
For music lovers, Sweet Dreams by Dylan Jones (£20, Faber) is an oral history of the New Romantics which is by turns hilarious and jaw-dropping; Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four (£20, Fourth Estate) is a fact-filled, fun tour of the 60s and the rise of pop while Dolly Parton, Songteller (£35, Hodder & Stoughton) is an illustrated memoir and exploration of her iconic lyrics.
Finally, for a touch of the seasonal ghost stories, The Haunting Of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale (£18.99, Bloomsbury) and A Tomb With A View by Peter Ross (£20, Headline) are both brilliant buys.
Beautiful stocking fillers
The prettiest books of the year have to go to Nikita Gill’s poetic life tale The Girl And The Goddess (£10.99, Ebury) and Cathy Rentzenbrink’s exploration of reading books and the comfort they bring in Dear Reader (£12.99, Pan Macmillan); both just feel like art in your hands.
Hoxton Mini Press is also a go-to for gorgeous, sumptuously presented guides including Independent London by Imogen Lepere (£9.95) and The Botanical City by Hélèna Dove and Harry Adès (£25). Finally, Jo Usmar turns Friends’ greatest moments into a wise and witty guide how to tackle the big issues (money, love and taking steps back when you need it) in Friends For Life (£12.99, Quercus).
The most entertaining thrillers
Lucy Foley is exactly what every thriller lover needs to read next – The Guest List (£7.49, HaperCollins) is chock full of awful characters doing terrible things and some satisfying comeuppances that you don’t see coming; Louise Candlish’s The Other Passenger (£12.99, Simon & Schuster) cleverly captures the envy zeitgeist; Caroline Corcoran’s addictive The Baby Group (£7.99, HarperCollins) is another brilliant and smart read that explores the gap between reality and perception of other people’s lives while Rosamund Lupton’s taut plot in Three Hours (£8.99, Penguin) will be gulped down. Tana French’s The Searcher (£14.99, Penguin) is a standalone atmospheric read set in rural Ireland and the much talked-about Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam (£14.99, Bloomsbury) is the perfect finish to 2020.
Essays worth giving
This year has seen some incredible essay books. In The Kitchen (£9.99, Daunt Books) has moving reflections on the importance of food (in lockdown too) from Daisy Johnson and Ruby Tandoh; Loud Black Girls (£12.99, Fourth Estate) is a diverse and brilliant series of essays from 20 young Black British women curated by the authors of Slay In Your Lane with a foreword by Bernardine Evaristo while Whites (£6.99, Fourth Estate) is a standalone essay from Otegha Uwagba which brilliantly examines how allyship can be well-meaning but doesn’t necessarily help to change things. Finally, Dear NHS (£16.99, Orion) is an ode to Britain’s healthcare from household names including Malala Yousafzai, Graham Norton and Naomie Harris with all profits going to NHS Charities Together and The Lullaby Trust.
Books for foodies
Cookbooks are looking truly glorious this year and Nigella’s Eat, Cook Repeat (£21, Vintage), Nadiya Bakes (£19.99, Michael Joseph) and Noble Rot (£25, Quadrille) are all welcome and gorgeously presented additions to any kitchen shelf and filled with inspiring recipes and insights. Gin by Shonna Milliken Humphrey explores the spirit’s history and current cultural moment (£9.99, Bloomsbury). We’ve also loved Wine: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Red, White, Rosé & Fizz by Jane Parkinson (£9.99, Ryland, Peters & Small) which does exactly what it says on the tin; Kate Young’s utterly charming The Little Library Christmas (£15, Head Of Zeus) filled with recipes inspired by Little Women and A Christmas Carol.
For another beautiful book, The Food Almanac by Miranda York (£16.99, Pavillion) will leave anyone inspired by the foodie calendar and Towpath: Recipes & Stories by Lori de Mori and Laura Jackson (£27, Chelsea Green) celebrates all the good things about life. Finally, the Luminary Bakery’s Rising Hope (£20, HarperCollins) cookbook is both uplifting as it explores its work as a social enterprise helping female victims of exploitation and violence escape the cycle and is so full of do-able delicious bakes.
Books for the kids in your life
Tricky nieces and nephews? Don’t worry we’re on it. Where Snow Angels Go by Maggie O’Farrell (£12.99, Walker) is the perfect embodiment of a Christmas story with soul and His Dark Materials: Northern Lights The Illustrated Edition by Philip Pullman and Chris Wormell (£25, Scholastic) is a glorious graphic retake of Pullman’s majestic novel. Meanwhile, Tiger Tiger Burning Bright (£22.99, Nosy Crow) is an animal poem for every day of the year.
Poetry books to show someone how much you care
Rupi Kaur’s Home Body (£12.99, Simon & Schuster) is one of this year’s biggest poetry releases and is a journey of self-exploration that’s perfect for this time of year. Quixotic Nature by F Khorsandjamal (out now, £7.99) is also a gentle companion for navigating the end of a tumultuous year. Exploring loss, grief and love, now is the time to take some time out and sit quietly with Khorsandjamal’s words.
Adjoa Wiredu’s On Reflection: Moments, Flight And Nothing New (£8.99, Jacaranda) is “written from the consciousness of a British Ghanaian” and is an incredibly timely collection holding up a window to our current society. Finally, She Will Soar by Ana Sampson (£14.99, Pan Macmillan) is a collection that celebrates women in all their guises with poems from Carol Ann Duffy, Salena Godden, Mary Jean Chan, Charly Cox, Nikita Gill and Hollie McNish.
Books for design lovers
Sometimes just owning a big beautiful book of gorgeous images is all we need in life. This is understood by the brilliant Look Of The Book: Jackets, Covers And Art At The Edges Of Literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J Alworth (£27.70, Ten Speed Press) which compiles some of the greatest book covers ever produced. Accidentally Wes Anderson by Wally Koval (£25, Orion) is exactly the book to sate your wanderlust until we can travel once more and inspire your interiors and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Fly In League With The Night (£40, Tate) is a glorious accompaniment to her exhibition this year.
Literary gifts with a twist
For gorgeous buys for literary Christmas stockings, we’d recommend the We Should All Be Feminists: The Desk Diary (£12.99, Fourth Estate) which is both practical and filled with inspiring quotes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (plus we might get to put something in it this year) and Skandium’s always winning collection of Moomin tableware. Bookishly has some excellent totes (our favourite is this “Obstinate headstrong girl”, £15) and Chase And Wonder’s evocative Library Candle (£34) has notes of leatherbound books in amber and pink pepper.
Images 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