Staying in with a book has never been more relevant so we’ve put together this reading list for anyone searching for books to entertain, engage and enlighten.
Books to take you on an adventure
Torn between the warm heart of Mexico and the cold embrace of 1950s McCarthyite America, this is a gripping story of identity, loyalty and the devastating power of accusations to destroy innocent people.
New York, 1746. A young man arrives from England with a money order for a thousand pounds – enough to shake the whole economy – but he won’t explain why, or what he is planning to do in the colonies with so much money.
On a tiny lighthouse island far from the rest of the world, a hermit lives out his existence. Every week a supply boat leaves provisions, yet the fishermen never leave their boat, and never meet him. Intertwining tenderness, despair and humour, Alone captures how someone can be an everyman, and every man is someone.
Revisiting the much-loved characters from Call Me By Your Name, Aciman shows us Elio’s father, Samuel, on a trip from Florence to Rome to visit Elio, now a gifted classical pianist. A chance encounter on the train upends Sami’s visit and changes his life forever. Elio moves to Paris, where he, too, has a consequential affair, while Oliver, a New England college professor with a family, suddenly finds himself contemplating a return trip across the Atlantic. . .
A collection of poems written in and about Armitage’s home village of Marsden in West Yorkshire, inviting questions about the forging of identity, the precariousness of memory, and our attachment to certain places and the forces they exert.
Books to entertain and lift the spirits
In this painfully funny collection Samantha Irby captures powerful emotional truths while chronicling the rubbish bin she calls her life. Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when your life is permanently pear-shaped.
In this hilariously forensic and pointless analysis of View From the Top starring Gwyneth Paltrow (a film that celebrates capitalism in all its victimless glory) Richard Ayoade takes us on a journey from Peckham to Paris by way of Nevada and other places we don’t care about.
Stella Benson leaves her life behind to become au pair to a larger-than-life family – but why? A rich and subtle story about embarrassment, awkwardness and being alone; about families, or the lack of them; and about love in some peculiar guises.
A former soldier and journalist, and one of the great chroniclers of the world for over half a century, Jan Morris writes here in her characteristically intimate voice – funny, perceptive, wise, touching, wicked, scabrous, and above all, kind – about her thoughts on the world, and her own place in it as she turns ninety. From cats to cars, travel to home, music to writing: a cornucopia of delights from a unique literary figure.
Fifteen-year-old Syd feels totally out of place. She’s skinny but not ‘hot-skinny’, she’s dealing with the death of her father in silence, and her best friend (who Syd is really in love with) is dating a homophobic bully. Syd’s guidance counsellor gives her a diary in which to vent her frustration, but Syd has another outlet for her anger, one which threatens to overwhelm her entirely.
Delve into the witty world of politics, publishing, fame and fortune with Sam Riviere’s latest collection, riffing on the Latin epigrams of Martial.
These ferociously funny, soulful stories tell of the gulf between men and women, the loneliness of the broken-hearted and the yearned-for, impossible intimacies we crave.
A hilarious feminist account of the female body by award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe – ‘There is so much about my behaviour I want to understand. So I started researching what makes me – and us – tick. And what I read made my eyes fall out of my face.’
An eclectic collection (or eclection) of David Mitchell’s attempts to make light of all that darkness. Scampi, politics, the Olympics, terrorism, exercise, rude street names, inheritance tax, salad cream, proportional representation and farts are all touched upon by Mitchell’s unremitting laser of chit-chat, as he negotiates a path between the commercialisation of Christmas and the true spirit of Halloween.
Alan Bennett’s third collection of prose contains Bennett’s peerless diaries from 2005 to 2015, reflecting on a decade that saw four premieres at the National Theatre, a West End double-bill transfer, and the films of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van. This is an engaging, humane, sharp, funny and unforgettable record of life according to the inimitable Alan Bennett.
A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, Oscar is sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next J. R. R. Tolkien and keeps falling hopelessly in love. With dazzling energy and insight Díaz immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Oscar and his chaotic family.
Adopting a sunny, genial tone, Dunthorne lures the reader to darker places, exploring death and dread, failure and regret – the ‘lounge of our suffering’. Often, he catches us off-guard: a ‘whiplash’ effect where poems shift from laughter to slaughter in a moment. Impertinent owls, an immersive theatre troupe, ancient men from the Great War and idiot balloonists – such characters dramatise our human fancies and foibles, joining the protagonist in scenarios both humorously bizarre and all-too-familiar.
Books to get lost in
In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the countryside and into his past. A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House, of lost causes and lost love.
An experiment in science-fictional and fantastic autobiography, with all of its poems taking their imaginative cue from the first season of The Twilight Zone (1959–1960), playing fast and loose with both their source material and their author’s own life.
Follows a year in the life of Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Barbara Kingsolver as she and her family try to eat local food, grow their own vegetables, and reduce their eco footprint.
If the minority is always right then John Cromer is practically infallible. Growing up disabled and gay in the 1950s, circumstances force John from an early age to develop an intense and vivid internal world. As his character develops, this ability to transcend external circumstance through his own strength of character proves an invaluable asset.
Carol Anne Duffy and Gillian Clarke
A celebration of the most scintillating poems ever composed on our islands, gathering fourteen centuries of extraordinary verse. Many of our founding myths and legends are told here – King Arthur and Gawain, Beowulf and Mad Sweeney, the Mabinogion – as are the nursery-tales and songs we still sing today.
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
When the beautiful, child-like governess Lucy Graham marries widower Sir Michael Audley, Robert Audley gives his new aunt barely a thought. But when his friend George goes missing, he begins to suspect that Lucy Graham is not quite what she seems . . .
Books to binge
P. D. James
Introducing the dark and broody Scotland Yard Detective Adam Dalgliesh – a gentleman, a poet, and a gifted detective. P. D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh series begins with Cover Her Face (1962) and includes fourteen incredible novels.
Nicola Upson’s series features real-life crime fiction novelist Josephine Tey as the central character. The latest book Sorry for the Dead is ninth in the series and takes place at Charleston Farmhouse (later home to Vanessa Bell and several of the Bloomsbury Group) in 1915.
There are four novels in Sarah Ward’s D. C. Childs series – In Bitter Chill, A Deadly Thaw, A Patient Fury and The Shrouded Path – all set in the Derbyshire Peak District where she lives.
Books for the kids
From the Ice Wastes beyond the Cinder Wall emerges an unlikely hero. Rejected by his village and left to die, young Uki is given life and unique powers by a long-buried spirit from the time of the Ancients . . . and a life or death mission. Joined by two other outcasts – a trained assassin who refuses to kill people and a very short rabbit who rides the fastest jerboa on the plains – Uki must capture Valkus, the Spirit of War, before rabbitkind destroys itself in conflict.
When Penelope Magnificent’s awful parents tell her they’re taking a trip to Paris, she surprises them by begging to go along. Paris holds something very dear to her . . . her old au pair Perrine – Pear – lives there. Pear used to write to Nell every week but recently the letters have stopped. Nell, determined to find her, befriends the hotel bellboy who introduces her to the world of tunnels underneath the city, and together they set out to find Pear, whilst uncovering an extraordinary mystery of their own . . .
When Fortune Sharpe carves a boat from a tree with her beloved brother, Gem, she’s only having a bit of fun. But now is not the time for a girl to be drawing attention to herself. She is sent away to find work dressed as a boy. Luckily a rich manor house is hiring. Yet Barrow Hill’s inhabitants harbour dangerous secrets of their own, the suspicious owner is hunting for witches, and the house itself is a little too close to the sea . . .
Will it be dreads or a twist out? Braids or a high-top fade? Joyous and vibrant, this picture book perfectly captures the excitement of getting ready for a celebration, as well as showcasing a dazzling array of intricate hairstyles.
Mankind must put a stop to the dreadful destruction by the Iron Man and set a trap for him, but he cannot be kept down. Then, when a terrible monster from outer space threatens to lay waste to the planet, it is the Iron Man who finds a way to save the world.
Picklewitch is, quite literally, out of her tree. She has a nose for naughtiness, a taste for trouble and a weakness for cake. And unluckily for brainbox Jack winner of the ‘Most Sensible Boy in School’ for the third year running – she’s about to choose him as her new best friend . . .