Life & Style

Book Smart

You can’t beat a good read at Christmas, and who better to select this year’s finest than Katie Law, Books Editor at The Evening Standard, with the literary lowdown on 2020’s top tomes and who to give them to…

Curated by Katie Law

Image: Reimagined by Luna


Best for: Thrill Seekers

The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne

Another wonderfully dark and sinister tale from this underrated master of the literary thriller – a writer who specialises in stories about hapless Westerners coming a-cropper abroad. A naive young American woman arrives in Bangkok with $200,000 in her suitcase, hoping to slip under the radar, but she comes badly unstuck after making friends with the wrong people.

Best for: The Zeitgeist

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

When black babysitter Emira is stopped by a security guard in a supermarket, accused of kidnapping her white, three-year-old charge, a chain of unfortunate events is set off. Reid touches on class, racism and white guilt with intelligent, sharp-eyed humour in her debut comedy of manners, set in pre-Trump Philadelphia.

Best for: Insta Addicts

Accidentally Wes Anderson by Wally Koval

If you think your holiday snap is worthy of a Wes Anderson film, you can send it to @accidentallywesanderson, the Insta account Koval and his wife set up in 2017 that now has 1.3 million followers. The book is a selection of the best of these images from around the world, and the stories behind them, with a touching introduction by Anderson himself.

Best For: Favourite Friends

__Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart __

It’s hard to imagine that this heart-breaking autobiographical novel, about a little boy growing up not understanding he’s gay, with an alcoholic mum and an abusive dad, was rejected by over 40 publishers before winning this year’s Booker Prize. It’s emotionally devastating and yet the light shines brightly through the miserable fog of its poverty-stricken 1980s Glasgow setting.

Best For: History Buffs

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesing

He was born a slave and went on to lead a revolution against Haiti’s French colonial masters in the late 18th century, after which he founded the world’s first independent black state. Having been captured by Napoleon’s army in 1802, Toussaint died in French captivity aged 60. A riveting life-and-times tale that resonates today.

Best For: Country Bumpkins

English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks

Rebanks is a farmer from the Lake District, where his family has lived for over six hundred years. In lyrical, almost novelistic prose, he offers a hopeful new vision, both personal and practical, for how ancient countryside, and the life that has vanished there, might be rebuilt and sustainably restored.

Best For: Foodies

__Cook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes and Stories by Nigella Lawson __

Apart from the recipes – which range from her household favourites Lasagne of Love and Marrowbone Mince to the more challenging Fish Finger Bhorta and Deep-fried Banana Skins – the key here is Nigella’s chat. A chapter in defence of brown food, and disquisitions on what is a recipe and how to cook cabbage, make this an absorbing fireside and kitchen companion.

Best For: Political Gossips

__Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power by Sasha Swire __

A smorgasbord of revenge that Mrs Swire (wife of ex-Tory MP Hugo) serves up tepid to the “Cameroons”. It’s crammed with cruel but funny indiscretions, from Dave wanting to push her into the bushes and “give her one”, to Sam Cam being “her usual lefty self”, or mopping up caviar at speed. Absolute catnip.

Best For: Nostalgics

Magnetic Field: The Marsden Poems by Simon Armitage

Our Poet Laureate has assembled fifty evocative poems about his childhood home of Marsden, a village in the Colne Valley in West Yorkshire that he calls “a liminal, transcendent and transgressive location: a border area where habitation meets the uninhabitable.” As wonderful as the poems is his long introduction, about what he describes as his “private moonstruck observations”.

Best For: Technophobe Timekeepers

Diary of Everyday Pleasures: The Redstone Diary 2021 edited by Julian Rothenstein and Ian Sansom

Every year, Redstone chooses a theme for its spiral-bound desk diaries. This coming year it is celebrating the simple pleasures of daily life – be it a nice cup of tea, a brisk walk or a new pair of shoes – with the help of Iris Murdoch, Wolfgang Tillmans and others.