That wasn’t really the year that any of us were expecting at all. As grim as it has been I have still found some respite within the pages of books. These 14 books are my top reads of the year
The first three on my list are by the wonderful author, Terry Pratchett. The first two are the first in the Tiffany Aching sub-series of Discworld and the final one is his take on a riotous football match in the city of Ankh-Morpork. He is still one of my favourite authors.
One of the books that were in the category that I was judging at the beginning of the year for the Stanfords Travel Writing prize was Where There’s a Will by Emily Chappell. I did get to meet her there and she is modest and unassuming. It didn’t win the prize, that went to Rough Magic. However, this is one of the best and most intense cycling books that I have ever read.
Next on my best books of the year are four books from Eland. This publisher is one of my favourites as they plough on regardless unearthing the best travel books that have dropped off other publishers backlist. Two of them are set in World War 2 and are equally historical documents as well as the author’s reflection on the place that they working.
I am not sure that you would be able to recreate the journey that Nicolas Bouvier took now. Too many borders and conflict, but this is a snapshot on a world that seemed gentler and more tolerant. Brue Wannell is one of those people that we have fewer of these days. He was a traveller, linguist and Orientalist who knew so much about the history of the orient that he shared generously with all those that worked with him.
There are lots of books out there by cyclists and travellers who have been around the world for a variety of reasons, but this one by Stephen Fabes is one of the best that I have read. It is very different from Emily Chappell’s book as he doesn’t really rush, but takes time to see the people and places he is travelling through.
It is not often that we get a new young talent emerge onto the writing science, by Dara McAnulty is one who has taken the nature writing genre by storm this year, winning several prizes and showing that he is going to making an impact in years to come. Tim Dee is an author who has been around for many years and his latest, Greenery, continues his ability to form the same words that others use into wonderful forms.
Lev Parikian is a conductor who has rediscovered the natural world in his middle age. His first books, Why Do Birds Disappear was hilarious and Into The Tangle Bank continues that humourous way of looking a the natural world. On a completely different scale is Roy Vickery’s vast tome about the folklore and names and uses of British and Irish plants. It took me ages to read it, but it is a gold mine of a book that you can dip into again and again.
My book of 2020 is something very different, Unofficial Britain by Gareth Rees. We have a lot of history in this country and if you know where and how to look you can decipher the lumps and bumps in the landscape. What Gareth Rees does in this book is to get us to look at those places that you would normally ignore and shows how others are using them for their own particular ritual elements. It is a heady mix of folklore, history, landscape and cityscape writing and all built on the foundation of psychogeography.