Book of the month 2020


Book of the year 2020 – Dara McAnulty's DIARY OF A YOUNG NATURALIST

After hundreds had their say, we're delighted to reveal our Hay Festival Book of the Year 2020 is... Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty.

“I was diagnosed with Asperger’s/autism aged five… By age seven I knew I was very different, I had got used to the isolation, my inability to break through into the world of talking about football or Minecraft was not tolerated. Then came the bullying. Nature became so much more than an escape; it became a life-support system.”

Diary of a Young Naturalist chronicles the turning of 15-year-old Dara McAnulty’s world. From spring and through a year in his home patch in Northern Ireland, Dara spent the seasons writing. These vivid, evocative and moving diary entries about his connection to wildlife and the way he sees the world are raw in their telling. Diary of a Young Naturalist portrays Dara’s intense connection to the natural world, and his perspective as a teenager juggling exams and friendships alongside a life of campaigning.

"Dara’s is an extraordinary voice and vision: brave, poetic, ethical, lyrical, strong enough to have made him heard and admired from a young age" – Robert Macfarlane
"A beautifully written, profoundly important classic of nature writing that will ignite a passion for the wild in every reader. A stunning achievement. I adored it" – Lauren St John

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November 2020 – CALEB FEMI's Poor

In his debut collection, Caleb Femi combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham.

Poor contemplates the ways in which the South London youth are informed by the built environment of concrete walls and gentrifying neighbourhoods that form their stage. Caleb writes a coded, near-mythical history of the personalities and sagas of his childhood community, and pays tribute to the rappers and artists who spoke to their lives.

What is it like to grow up in a place where the same police officer who told your primary school class they were special stops and searches you at 13 because 'you fit the description of a man' – and where it is possible to walk two and a half miles through an estate of 1,444 homes without ever touching the ground?

"Caleb is a mighty and positive force in UK culture and this is a vital book" – Max Porter, author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers and Lanny.

About the author

Caleb Femi is a poet and director featured in the Dazed 100 list of the next generation shaping youth culture. He has written and directed short films commissioned by the BBC and Channel 4 and poems by the Tate Modern, the Royal Society for Literature, St Paul's Cathedral, the BBC, the Guardian and many more. Between 2016 and 2018, Caleb was the Young People’s Laureate for London. He wrote the liner material for Kano’s 2019 album, Hoodies All Summer and was the face of the 2019 Mulberry Christmas advert. This is his first book.

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In traditional retellings of the Greek myths, the focus is invariably on gods and men, but in Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, broadcaster and passionate classicist Natalie Haynes refocuses our gaze on the remarkable women at the centre of these ancient stories with her trademark passion, wit and feminism.

Pandora – the first woman, who according to legend unloosed chaos upon the world – was not a villain to the Greeks, Helen didn’t always start a war, and even Medea and Phaedra have vastly more nuanced stories than generations of retellings might indicate. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box was a mistranslation by Erasmus) as the starting point, Haynes puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus, Odysseus or Oedipus, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.

"Natalie Haynes gives much-needed voice to the silenced women of the Trojan War. Her thoughtful portraits will linger with you long after the book is finished" – Madeline Miller, author of Circe.
"Reading Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths by Natalie Haynes: Funny, sharp explications of what these sometimes not-very-nice women were up to, and how they sometimes made idiots of... but read on!" – Margaret Atwood.

About the author

Natalie Haynes is the author of five books. A Thousand Ships was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020. Her earlier books include: The Children of Jocasta (2017), The Amber Fury (2014), and The Ancient Guide to Modern Life (2010). She has written and recorded six series of Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics for BBC Radio 4. Natalie has written for The TimesThe IndependentThe Guardian and The Observer.

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In this urgent and groundbreaking book, Laura Bates, bestselling author and founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, goes undercover to expose vast misogynist networks and communities. It’s a deep dive into the worldwide extremism nobody talks about.

Interviews with former members of these groups and the people fighting against them give unique insights on how this movement operates. Ideas are spread from the darkest corners of the internet – via trolls, media and celebrities – to schools, workplaces and the corridors of power, becoming a part of our collective consciousness.

Uncensored, and sometimes both shocking and terrifying – this is the uncomfortable truth about the world we live in. And what we must do to change it.

"Laura Bates has done it again. From bantz to outright brutality, she exposes the landscape of misogyny. Passionate and forensic, Bates produces a powerful feminist clarion call. The world needs to take notice. Things must change" – Anita Anand.

About the author

Laura Bates is the founder of the award-winning Everyday Sexism Project, an ever-increasing collection of more than 100,000 testimonies of gender inequality, which has been described as “one of the biggest social media success stories on the internet”. The project has expanded into 20 countries worldwide and become internationally renowned, featuring in media from the New York Times to the Times of India. Laura has an online following of a quarter of a million Twitter and Facebook followers. Laura writes regularly for the Guardian, Independent and TIME among others. She was the recipient of the Georgina Henry Women in Journalism award for Innovation at the 2015 British Press Awards.

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Matt Haig's The Midnight Library

August 2020 – Matt Haig's The Midnight Library

Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets? From the author of How to Stop Time and The Humans comes The Midnight Library, a poignant novel about regret, hope and forgiveness, released 13 August.

Between life and death there is a library. When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right.  Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself.  But things are about to change.

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently.  With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life.  But things aren't always what she imagined they'd be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.  Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?

About the author

Matt Haig is the number one bestselling author of Reasons to Stay AliveNotes on a Nervous Planet and six highly acclaimed novels for adults, including How to Stop TimeThe Humans and The Radleys.   The audiobook of The Midnight Library is read by Carey Mulligan. Haig also writes award-winning books for children, including A Boy Called Christmas, which is being made into a feature film with an all-star cast. He has sold more than a million books in the UK and his work has been translated into over 40 languages.

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Winner of the Hay Festival Medal for Poetry 2020

From the award-winning poet and playwright behind Barber Shop ChroniclesThe Half-God of Rainfall is an epic story and a lyrical exploration of pride, power and female revenge.

There is something about Demi. When this boy is angry, rain clouds gather. When he cries, rivers burst their banks and the first time he takes a shot on a basketball court, the deities of the land take note.

His mother, Modupe, looks on with a mixture of pride and worry. From close encounters, she knows Gods often act like men: the same fragile egos, the same unpredictable fury and the same sense of entitlement to the bodies of mortals.

She will sacrifice everything to protect her son, but she knows the Gods will one day tire of sports fans, their fickle allegiances and misdirected prayers. When that moment comes, it won’t matter how special he is. Only the women in Demi’s life, the mothers, daughters and Goddesses, will stand between him and a lightning bolt.

About the author

The poet, playwright, performer and designer is one of the most celebrated contemporary creators in the UK for the wide-ranging nature of his work. He is a Member of the Royal Society of Literature and an ambassador for the Ministry of Stories, an organisation that fosters the potential of 8- to 18-year-olds as writers. After publishing four poetry books and receiving the Fringe First Prize at the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival for his first play The 14th Tale, Ellams sold out his run at the National Theatre and on the world tour with Barber Shop Chronicles. His verse play The Half God of Rainfall, a work in verse that mixes Greek, Nigerian and basketball mythology, opened in March 2019 to great critical acclaim. In December 2019 the National Theatre presented his breathtaking Chekov adaptation, Three Sisters, set in the Biafran war. In addition to his intense graphic and literary output, Ellams has founded The Midnight Run, an urban tour from dusk to dawn, and RAP parties that combine poetry slam with urban music.

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One of our greatest living novelists resurrects the short life of Hamnet Shakespeare, in this lyrically written and emotionally devastating account of the Bard’s only son. Utterly immersive and convincing, Hamnet is a poignant period tale that not only shines a light on an oft-neglected area of Shakespearean history but speaks to wider themes of grief and loss with impeccable poise and unflinching honesty.

"Not enough people know that Shakespeare had a son called Hamnet. And yet he was so important. Without Hamnet’s early death at the age of 11 we wouldn’t have the plays Hamlet or Twelfth Night," reflected Maggie O'Farrell as she began her conversation with Festival director Peter Florence at Hay Festival Digital last month. "Biographies often give Hamnet just a brief mention and follow it with remarks about the high rates of infant mortality at the time, as if it wasn’t so important, as if he wasn’t grieved. I just don't believe that was true."

About the author

Maggie O’Farrell is the author of the Sunday Times no. 1 bestselling memoir I am, I am, I am, and eight novels: After You'd GoneMy Lover's LoverThe Distance Between Us, which won a Somerset Maugham Award, The Vanishing Act of Esme LennoxThe Hand That First Held Mine, which won the 2010 Costa Novel Award, Instructions for a Heatwave, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Costa Novel Award, This Must Be The Place, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Costa Novel Award, and Hamnet. She lives in Edinburgh.

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"The most life-enhancing book you could ever wish to read" – Michael Morpurgo

Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live there any longer. Suppose you found, to your complete surprise, that your own father was one of those people.

That is what happened to Anna in 1933. She was nine years old when it began, too busy to take much notice of political posters, but out of them glared the face of Adolf Hitler, the man who would soon change the whole of Europe - starting with her own small life.

This semi-autobiographical and unforgettable story, from Hay Festival favourite Judith Kerr, was first published more than 45 years ago and has become a much-loved classic. Timely reading at a moment of global change, one year on from this great writer's death.

About the author

Judith Kerr OBE was born in Berlin. Her family left Germany in 1933 to escape the rising Nazi party, and came to England. She studied at the Central School of Art and later worked as a scriptwriter for the BBC. Judith married the celebrated screenwriter Nigel Kneale in 1954. She left the BBC to look after their two children, who inspired her first picture book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Published in 1968 and never out of print in the fifty years since, it has become a much-loved classic and perennial bestseller. Judith was awarded the Booktrust Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, and in 2019 was named Illustrator of the Year at the British Book Awards. Judith died in May 2019 at the age of 95, and her stories continue to entertain and delight generations of children.

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One summer, Rebecca Solnit was bequeathed three boxes of ripening apricots, which lay, mountainous, on her bedroom floor – a windfall, a riddle, an emergency to be dealt with. The fruit came from a neglected tree that her mother, gradually succumbing to memory loss, could no longer tend to.

Gifts come in many guises. From this unexpected inheritance came stories spun like those of Scheherazade, who used her gifts as a storyteller to change her fate and her listener's heart. As she looks back on the year of apricots and emergencies, Solnit weaves her own story into fairytales and the lives of others – the Marquis de Sade, Mary Shelley and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. She tells of unexpected invitations and adventures, from a library of water in Iceland to the depths of the Grand Canyon. She tells of doctors and explorers, monsters and moths. She tells of warmth and coldness, of making art and re-making the self.

And she explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination.

At a time when many of us are living in isolated confinement, here is a deeply moving account of why we create and how inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places.

About the author

Rebecca Solnit is an American writer and activist, with a diverse bibliography ranging from gender and cultural studies to travel writing, film biography and politics. A regular contributor to magazines and newspapers such as Harper’s and the Guardian, Solnit’s writing career began in the late 1980s and was intrinsically connected to her human rights activism. She has continued to be heavily involved in a number of causes, from women’s rights to climate change protests, and these themes frequently inform her writing. Her most notable works include River of Shadows, about the early film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge and the technological transformation of the American West, A Paradise Built in Hell, concerning the communities that arise in the aftermath of natural disasters, and Men Explain Things to Me, a series of feminist essays credited with inspiring the term ‘mansplaining’. Her most recent book is Whose Story is This? which focuses on the multiplicity of narratives in modern society.

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"You’re British. Your parents are British. Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British. So why do people keep asking where you’re from?" begins Hirsch in her personal and provocative exploration of Britain, its imperial past and the racism that plagues its present. 

A courageous book that feels even more timely today than when it was first released two years ago, Brit(ish) shines the spotlight on identity and belonging in 21st-century Britain: troubling and forensic; funny and wise.

"The book for our divided and dangerous times" – David Olusoga.

About the author

Afua Hirsch is a writer, journalist and broadcaster. She is a columnist for the Guardian, and appears regularly on the BBC, Sky News and CNN. Brit(ish) is her first book and was awarded a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Prize for Non-Fiction.

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A beguiling page-turner, The Accidental pans in on the Norfolk holiday home of the Smart family one hot summer. A stranger called Amber appears at the door bearing all sorts of unexpected gifts, trampling over family boundaries and sending each of the Smarts scurrying from the dark into the light.

This is a novel about the ways 'chance encounters' can irrevocably transform our understanding of ourselves. It explores the nature of truth, the role of fate and the power of storytelling.

"Spectacular... Allusive, ambitious and formally acrobatic... Original, restless, formally and morally challenging, [Ali Smith] remains a writer who resists definition" – Times Literary Supplement.

About the author

Described by the author Sebastian Barry as ‘Scotland’s Nobel Laureate-in-waiting’, Ali Smith is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary novelists. Formally and topically experimental, her best known works include Girl Meets Boy (part of the Canongate Myths series), There But For TheHow to Be Both, which won the Baileys Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Folio Prize, and her Seasonal Quartet, AutumnWinterSpring and the upcoming Summer.

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Her obsessions devour her. She is helpless to stop them...

Adèle has a seemingly enviable life. She is a respected journalist, living in a flawless Paris apartment with her surgeon husband and their young son. But beneath the veneer of ‘having it all’, Adèle is bored. She begins to orchestrate her life around one-night stands and extramarital affairs, arriving late to work and lying to her husband about where she’s been, until her compulsions threaten to consume her altogether...

Released in the UK as a follow-up to Slimani's bestseller Lullaby, though written and published internationally before, Adèle is a riveting and explosive read that has cemented Slimani's position as one of the best writers of our time.

About the author

Leïla Slimani is the first Moroccan woman to win France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, which she won for Lullaby. A journalist and frequent commentator on women’s and human rights, she is French president Emmanuel Macron’s personal representative for the promotion of the French language and culture. Born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1981, she lives in Paris with her French husband and their two young children. In 2020, Slimani took part in the Hay Festival Europa28 project: women writers reimagining the future of Europe, with a new anthology and Hay Festival in Rijeka, Croatia.

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About Hay Festival's Book of the Month

Hay Festival's Book of the Month is our monthly recommendation of a title we love and think holds particular resonance today. This is our chance to celebrate great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry – new and old.

Throughout the month, we'll share interesting links and articles relating to our selection on social media using #HBOTM and invite you all to get involved with your questions and comments.

If you'd like to recommend a book for consideration, please share on social media using #HBOTM.

Happy reading!