Books I Enjoyed in 2020 – that make great gifts!

Looking for some gift ideas on this lovely Black Friday? I’m probably a bit predictable, but why not some books?

Bookshop.org is my favourite new book-buying website–a percentage of each sale is donated to independent bookstores, they have a huge range, and they ship in plastic free packaging! What’s not to love? This weekend, both the UK and US stores are offering free shipping with all orders. Keep your money out of Amazon’s pockets and shop small this year.

Below are some books I read and loved this year that I didn’t get around to reviewing (either due to my own laziness or due to the fact they were mostly published over a year ago). But these all make great gifts – and you can buy them on my Bookshop.org store (US readers click here, UK readers click here) and support independent bookstores in the process!

If you know someone who filled their lockdown with TV shows based on books (with the way time moved this year, I’m not fully convinced the Normal People adaptation didn’t air in 1992), why not throw another on the pile? This literary novel explores the aftermath of a mysterious, Rapture-like event in which 2% of the world’s population vanishes without a trace, and it was adapted into a woefully underrated HBO series.

THE LEFTOVERS on Bookshop.org (US)

THE LEFTOVERS on Bookshop.org (UK)

For history buffs sick of reading about the royals, this is a great antidote. Rubenhold tells the social history of Victorian London through the lives of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper–and working to disprove the claim they were all prostitutes. Plus it’s a bit fun to read about a time when Shoreditch was one of the grittiest neighbourhoods of London rather than the hipster playground it is now.

THE FIVE on Bookshop.org (US)

THE FIVE on Bookshop.org (UK)

Anyone who know who’s looking to expand their knowledge of #BLM-related issues would love to recieve this nonfiction exploration of the “Windrush Generation”–the mostly Black Commonwealth citizens who emigrated to the UK post-WWII due to a new law that gave them permanent right of abode in Britain. Decades later, due to Home Office clerical errors and “hostile environment” immigration policies, many of them suddenly had their status revoked, limiting their access to jobs and medical care, and creating a larger question over who “gets” to be British. Gentleman’s work follows a select few people affected by these policies, some who were successful in their campaign to remain in the UK and some not, and her writing is as taut and tense as any political thriller–but this time the horrors are real.

THE WINDRUSH BETRAYAL on Bookshop.org (UK – sadly hasn’t been published in the US yet!)

For anyone who spent this year sorting their wardrobe into “day pajamas” and “night pajamas”, this book will ring delightfully true–in which the WASPy narrator decides to forgo her no-show gallery job in favour of sleeping for a year, set against a backdrop of pre-9/11 New York. As soon as I read this it became one of my absolute favourites and I may scare people a bit with how much I beg them to read it.

MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION on Bookshop.org (US)

MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION on Bookshop.org (UK)

Bill Bryson proves that the easiest way for foreigners to win over Brits is to poke fun at them, and this observation of British culture as he travels across the country still feels timely even twenty-five years after its publication. Dads and dad-types alike love Bryson’s work, and this makes a great gift (in combo with any of his other books) for anyone who loves a bit of Countryfile or a lively debate about their favourite service station–or just loves a good joke about tea.

NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND on Bookshop.org (US)

NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND on Bookshop.org (UK)

A classic of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (“working through the past”) literature, this is a great gift for anyone you know who wants to read more but has a short attention span–it’s a gripping novel about Michael Berg, a teenager living in 1950s West Germany who becomes drawn to an older woman with a dark secret. It’s short, with some oh-shit moments that will keep anyone engaged.

THE READER on Bookshop.org (US)

THE READER on Bookshop.org (UK)

Reid’s entire repetioire feels a bit like the literary equivalent of eating candy for breakfast, but Evelyn Hugo is a perfect gift for any fan of Old Hollywood–telling the life story of the titular character and her Liz-Taylor-esque career and personal life.

THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO on Bookshop.org (US)

THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO on Bookshop.org (UK)

If you know an Orange is the New Black fan who’s still salty about the rapid quality decline, this will scratch their women’s-prison-narrative itch. Telling the story of Romy Hall, a woman imprisoned in early 2000s California, the long novel slowly parses out the threads of her crime and the life she lives in the prison-industrial complex.

THE MARS ROOM on Bookshop.org (US)

THE MARS ROOM on Bookshop.org (UK)

Unpopular opinion alert! This is better than The Handmaid’s Tale. Based on a true story of one of the most notorious crimes in Canadian history, this is a compelling historical fiction novel exploring Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant to Canada in the mid-1800s who was convicted of murdering her employer. But what really happened? Exploring gender, national identity, and mental health, this makes a great gift for any bookish feminist you know.

ALIAS GRACE on Bookshop.org (US)

ALIAS GRACE on Bookshop.org (UK)

If your friend had about a dozen holidays cancelled on her and she’s losing it, this will tide her over until she can get on a plane again. It tells the story of Ava, an Irish expat living in Hong Kong caught in a love triangle between an English banker and a Hong Kong native. If Normal People was a little too hetero for them, this will be right up their alley.

EXCITING TIMES on Bookshop.org (US)

EXCITING TIMES on Bookshop.org (UK)

What do you think of these picks? Let me know!

If you’re not based in the US or the UK, Blackwell’s is a great option–and over Black Friday weekend they’re offering FREE worldwide shipping! Check it out at the link above.

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