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85. Best books of 2020

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What were the best, most unmissable reads of 2020? We bring you our biggest recommendations show yet, with over 50 books loved by us, our book clubs, and our three special guests. 

But what were our most loved reads of 2020? Listen in for our six top books and our two absolute favourites. There were some obvious contenders such as Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, but we’ve tried to steer clear of the herd to pick out some slightly more eclectic choices that we think will delight you as much as us.

We also hear from three special guests, Seb Emina, editor of Penguin’s Happy Reader magazine, Simon Thomas of the Tea or Books podcast, and Claire Handscombe of the The Brit Lit podcast. They let us know their favourite reads of 2020, and books they’re looking forward to in 2021.

And last but by no means least, we hear from the members of our own book clubs, who told us the books that stood out for them.

Life is too short for bad books, listen in to find out what should be in your reading stack, all tried and tested by us and our book clubs. Happy reading.

Book recommendations

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith

Himself by Jess Kidd

Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

A Drop of Patience by William Melvin Kelley

Guest recommendations

Seb Emina recommends In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Simon Thomas recommends A House in the Country by Ruth Adam and the novels of Margery Sharpe, in particular The Stone of Chastity, published by Dean Street Press.

Claire Handscombe recommends by What You Wish For by Katherine Center, and is looking forward to The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Laura’s book club recommends

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Beloved by Toni Morrison

the Rachel Cusk trilogy (the middle book especially): Outline, Transit and Kudos

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

Stasiland by Anna Funder

These Truths by Jill Lepore

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Happiness by Aminatta Forna

The Heartland by Nathan Filer

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

The Great Sea byDavid Abulafia

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

On Chapel Sands by Laura Cummings

London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins

Kate’s book club recommends

Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith

The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

The City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

Kate’s overall reading list from 2020

Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, The Ratline by Philippe Sands, Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner, Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, the Pellinor novels by Alison Croggon and the Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, The Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons, Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson, Deborah Levy, and her essay collections, The Devil in the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book.

Laura’s overall reading list from 2020

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel, The Institute by Steven King, Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle, Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow, Murder on the Nile by Agatha Christie, The Gift by Alison Croggon, Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda, Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan, Devil in the Dark Water by Stuart Turton, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett and The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy.


Listen to Backlisted podcast’s Christmas episode featuring The Dark is Rising.

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