Dara McAnulty, Brit Bennett and Maggie O’Farrell are among the authors whose titles are shortlisted for Waterstones Book of the Year 2020.
The 12-strong shortlist has been drawn up by Waterstones booksellers, who each nominate a book they think is outstanding and would recommend to readers. This year it features five non-fiction titles, another four from fiction and three children’s books.
McAnulty is picked for his Wainwright Prize-winning Diary of a Young Naturalist (Little Toller) which advocates for the natural world through the teenage conservationist's unique perspective.
Also on the list is Ex Libris (William Collins), a collection of the 100 books that have most affected Michiko Kakutani as a reader, described by the chains as “eclectic, deeply personal and relevant”. Island Dreams by Gavin Francis (Canongate), meanwhile, is a thoughtful contemplation of our collective fascination with islands.
Philippe Sands’ The Ratline (W&N), the follow up to Baillie Gifford-winner East West Street (W&N), was one praised by the retailer as a truly exceptional read. It is joined by Craig Brown's One, Two, Three, Four (Fourth Estate), a fresh look at The Beatles and their legacy which is also shortlisted for this year's Baillie Gifford Prize.
In fiction, Bennett’s searing exploration of racial identity in America, The Vanishing Half (Little, Brown), is “at once an emotional family saga and a portrait of an entire nation”, Waterstones said. It is joined on the list by Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times (Orion) which “marks the arrival of a brilliant new voice in contemporary fiction”.
Also featured is Maggie O’Farrell’s with her Women's Prize-winner Hamnet (Headline) which reimagines the life of Shakespeare’s son. Elsewhere, Bolu Babalola’s collection Love in Colour (Headline) celebrates romance in all its forms, rewriting love stories from history, myth and folklore for a modern readership.
Of the three children’s books shortlisted, Black and British: A Short, Essential History (Pan Macmillan) by award winning historian and broadcaster David Olusoga is “fresh and highly approachable for readers of all ages”. Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright! by Fiona Waters (Nosy Crow) is described as a “beautiful” collection of poetry with an animal theme, paired with textured illustration by Britta Teckentrup.
Finally Katherine Rundell, who used lockdown to collaborate with over 100 authors and illustrators, is shortlisted for The Book of Hopes (Bloomsbury): “a gorgeous collection of words and pictures that gifted many readers a ray of sunshine to move forward, to make sense of the world, or to get through the day”.
Waterstones chief operating officer Kate Skipper said the contest was even more important this year following the coronavirus crisis and with another lockdown looming for England.
She said: “In normal years, our Book of the Year is a celebration and reflection of the year’s publishing. After such an unusual 2020, in which books have provided solace and inspiration to so many people, I’m thrilled by the extraordinary selection of titles our booksellers have picked for this year’s shortlist. The stories behind the year weave through this list, bound together by the excitement of our booksellers. These are the books our booksellers want to see in the hands of more readers. As the nights draw in, the pleasure of reading a good book will help sustain many of us through the coming months.”
The winner will be chosen by a Waterstones panel headed by James Daunt and announced on 3rd December.
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- O’Farrell is the critics’ pick of 2020 as Hamnet, Mantel and Ferrante top the pile
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