Tuesday, January 25

The best books of 2020, chosen by the booksellers | Bookcases

Isaura Barbé-Brown

Hackney Pages, London

Isaura Barbé-Brown at Pages of Hackney, London
Isaura Barbé-Brown in Pages of Hackney, London. Photograph: Suki Dhanda / The Observer

This year has been unlike any other in our 12 years of operations. We had to adapt quickly and now we have a very busy web store, so when the store had to close we were still hard at work packing and biking or publishing books. One week in April our manager Jo somehow delivered 75 books by bike. One of our most used books on bicycles was Rainbow milk by Paul Mendez (Little, Brown, £ 14.99). It’s a coming-of-age story about a Jehovah’s Witness turned sex worker and his self-discovery through faith, race, sexuality, and love; is a page turner with a lot of heart.

Our busiest period coincided with this year’s demand for a renewed focus on Black Lives. While it is good that so many people have started reading about the reality of racism, it is important to remember that joy and love are also part of the black experience. Love in color by Bolu Babalola (Headline, £ 16.99) retells mythical love stories from around the world and serves as a reminder of this. Y Poor by Caleb Femi (Penguin, £ 9.99) is a fascinating mix of poetry, memoirs and photography backed by a strong sense of place.

Emma Corfield-Walters

Book-ish, Crickhowell

Best Books of 2020, Chosen by Guest Authors: Emma Corfield-Walters' Picks

Like many, I have struggled with reading this year, and life as a bookseller in 2020 has been a real challenge. However, I have still found solace and escapism between the pages, especially in Stuart Turton’s fully immersive and inventive second novel. The devil and the dark water (Bloomsbury, £ 16.99). Sherlock Holmes stands pirates of the Caribbean with roller coaster like twists and turns. Matt haig The Midnight Library (Canongate, £ 16.99) is also a beautiful book to get lost in, both thought provoking and moving, while Hashim & Family by Shahnaz Ahsan (John Murray Press, £ 14.99) provided a wonderful and enriching read, everything I want in a novel: epic, engaging, insightful and honest.

It has been a pleasure to see the rising star that is Dara McAnulty this year as we spend more time outdoors during the confinement. Diary of a young naturalist (Little Toller, £ 16) and you’ll never look at a dandelion or hear birdsong in the same way again.

Jim Taylor

Lighthouse Bookstore, Edinburgh

The Best Books of 2020, Chosen by Guest Authors: Jim Taylor's Picks

Being a radical bookstore, one of the things that comforted us this year was a large number of progressive publications, particularly in the wake of the global anti-racist protests. The book we have recommended the most to people who want to better understand and confront racism, Layla Saad’s indispensable book. White supremacy and me (Quercus, £ 14.99), is a brilliant resource to help readers deconstruct their own privilege and take off their blinders when it comes to recognizing and combating racism in today’s society.

Similarly radical is that of Lola Olufemi. Interrupted feminism (Pluto Press, £ 9.99), an inspiring call to reclaim feminism from its current commodification and recognize it as a truly intersectional struggle for social justice.

It’s always good to have some fiction to recommend wholeheartedly, and while there has been some tough competition this year, Piranesi Susanna Clarke’s (Bloomsbury, £ 14.99) has won in the end. A masterpiece of bizarre fiction, it is a novel that grabs you, perplexes, and moves you, usually all at once!

Henry Layte

The Book Hive, Norwich

Henry Layte in The Book Hive, Norwich.
Henry Layte in The Book Hive, Norwich. Photography: Brochure

Norwich was Unesco’s first English city of literature and home to both the National Writing Center and the University of East Anglia’s famous creative writing course. Our store has a rich history of selling and publishing, and novelist Jeremy Page New York to California (Propolis, £ 11), which documents his walk through the strangest parts of eastern England with a strange man and a small dog for company, has been a huge bestseller. The location didn’t matter; This is a book for anyone, anywhere, about the need to get back to familiar places and keep moving through tough times, and a very fun antidote to both confinements. Three titles that I would like to receive if I didn’t have a bookstore are: Memories of a Basque cow by Bernardo Atxaga (Dedalus, £ 9.99, translated by Margaret Jull Costa), the Britannica All New Children’s Encyclopedia (What on Earth Publishing, £ 25, edited by Christopher Lloyd) and Dr. Peter Lovatt The dance cure (Short books, £ 12.99).

Tina Gaisford-Waller

Hunting crow Books, Frome

The Best Books of 2020, Chosen by Guest Authors: The Tina Gaisford-Waller Picks

In mid-March we won the Southwest Independent Bookstore of the Year at the British Book Awards. Days later, the blockade arrived. As we frantically left the facility, I took one last wild look around me and, on impulse, grabbed a copy of The rules of contagion by Adam Kucharski (Profile Books, £ 16.99). It was interesting and informative, and reading it meant I spent those first daily briefings screaming on the TV, “When are you going to start talking about R, for the love of corona !?” Fortunately, our clients stayed by our side as we continued to operate however changing restrictions allowed. The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse by Charlie Mackesy (Ebury, £ 16.99) continued to work its magic in a year when we all needed soothing and relaxing affirmations. Where the Crawdads sing Delia Owens’ (Little, Brown, £ 8.99) was a real success by word of mouth, delivering a beautifully written escapism on the fictional front. And, given a little respite from the co-Booker-winner Testaments – Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other (Penguin, £ 8.99) finally climbed to the top, where it really should have been the whole time. Running a locked bookstore is 90% perspiration, 10% profit. When everything started to get a little excessive, I headed to This too shall pass by Julia Samuel (Penguin, £ 14.99) for convenience. It is a truly heartwarming and beautiful book about how to experience change, young and old, and how we can learn to cope with it and build resilience. But for sheer entertainment, as the wacky world of American politics exploded around us, it was the painfully overlooked Jessica Anthony. Enter the anteater (Transworld, £ 12.99) that really made me laugh again. That and our wonderful, generous and fiercely loyal customers, who have seriously improved their book shopping game in Lockdown 2.0, as well as offering cookies, a listening ear, and help with deliveries.

Leah Wilkins

Five Leaf Bookcase, Nottingham

Leah Wilkins (center) with staff at Five Leaves Bookstore, Nottingham
Leah Wilkins (center) with the staff of Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham. Photography: Brochure

I’m on maternity leave, but as a Costa judge in the poetry category, I had to find time to read a lot of poetry books. One that stood out was Rachel Long’s debut collection, Dear of the lions (Picador, £ 10.99), a sharp and insightful book of delights. My copy is filled with the corners of the pages that have been thumb down that I will definitely return to. Another highlight was that of Claudia Rankine Just us: an American conversation (Penguin, £ 25) a fascinating book that occupies liminal spaces on the threshold of poetry, essays, controversy and visual art, with the study of whiteness and white supremacy as its central principle. A recent letter from the bookstore contained a copy of White clothes by Otegha Uwagba (4th Estate, £ 6.99), an important and timely personal essay that reflects through the lens of George Floyd’s murder on the colossal burden of what it takes for blacks to coexist with whites.

Rosalind ephraim

Burway Books, Shropshire

Best Books of 2020, Chosen by Guest Authors: Rosalind Ephraim's Picks

In 1974, I opened my bookstore in Church Stretton, a market town located in the spectacular Shropshire Hills countryside. Throughout the decades since then, I have always championed writers about the natural world around us who give us fair warning; Rachel Carson Silent spring (Penguin, £ 9.99) it is always in stock. By James Rebanks English pastoral (Allen Lane, £ 20) is my pick for this year; her voice is lyrical and clear. These voices must be heard, and this year has been a good harvest.

I am a lover of Russian and Eastern European literature and Georgian novels. The eighth life (for Brilka) by Nino Haratischvili (Scribe, £ 9.99, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin) is one of the best for some time. Stasia’s life changes when a white Russian soldier is at the door … there is the smell of coffee, cake and deadly chocolate.

My favorite children’s book for this year is Eartha Quicksmith’s Ten Riddles by Loris Owen (Firefly, £ 6.99). Adventure, boarding school, wormholes, extraordinary puzzles; Will Kip and his friends find the Ark of Ideas?


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