The Best of Me by David Sedaris
The regular New Yorker and BBC Radio 4 contributor David Sedaris is known for his sharp wit, but in this charming collection, which features fiction and non-fiction from across his 25-year career, there is a weirder, darker undertone too. A sardonic tale, “The Motherless Bear”, is the entry that has generated the most hate mail, Sedaris writes. It’s grisly in parts, but also playful: this collection reminds us that the best, most heartfelt work is often a mix of the two.
Little, Brown, 432pp, £16.99
Dearly by Margaret Atwood
Birds feature frequently in this moving collection of poetry by the novelist Margaret Atwood, and bring with them foreboding. She uses a “plume from the slaughter” dipped in ink to write “Feather” – because “every life is a failure/at the last hour”, “but nothing, we like to think,/is wasted”. In “This Fiord Looks Like a Lake”, the speaker clambers over the countryside, observing her surroundings: “Here are the ravens, as if on cue.” Atwood’s first poetry collection in over a decade is intimate, lingering delicately between the human and the natural, and this world and the next.
Chatto & Windus, 144pp, £14.99
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The Prime Ministers by Iain Dale
To mark 300 years since Robert Walpole became the first British prime minister, the political commentator Iain Dale has come up with a simple, novel idea: a book of 55 essays, by 55 different leading academics, journalists, and politicians, about each of the 55 holders of that office. There are contributions from Anthony Seldon, Rachel Reeves, Roy Hattersley and Henry Bellingham, who writes about an ancestor who assassinated a prime minister. The anthology is low on contributions from women, but an entertaining, thorough and informative canter through the characters and stories of prime ministers past.
Hodder & Stoughton, 560pp, £25
Believe in Magic by Robin Turner
“Unconventionality” is the thread running through the first 30 years of Heavenly Records, writes Robin Turner in this handsome scrapbook-style anthology. When house music was huge in 1990, the label signed “a bunch of Welsh punks” (Manic Street Preachers); when rock music was at “fever pitch” in 1994 it drafted in a DJ duo called the Dust (later Chemical) Brothers to bring their riotously eclectic sets to a now legendary Sunday basement-room club night. The genre-mashing approach continues with this year’s debut album from synth-rockers Working Men’s Club, which concludes this book, but not the Heavenly story.
White Rabbit, 320pp, £30
[See also: The best children’s books for Christmas 2020]
This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special