The website uses cookies. By using this site, you agree to our use of cookies as described in the Privacy Policy.
I Agree
blank_error__heading
blank_error__body
Text direction?

The 26 Best Books to Read in Summer 2020

We’ve cherry-picked the best of summer 2020’s bookshelves to bring you the must-read debut novels, newly released fiction from famous authors and thought-provoking titles that are great for reading at home or on holiday.

17 July, 2020

Words by
Rae Boocock

A A lot of us have found it pretty hard to get into the reading headspace during lockdown. Yet with many of summer's travel plans disrupted and a world that feels stranger than fiction, our desire to be transported by a good book has never been so strong. We've rummaged through summer 2020's shelves to find the newly released books from up-and-coming authors and hit novelists guaranteed to get you reading.

Whether you've made it to a sunny European shore and want a light-hearted love story to throw in your beach tote or simply fancy tearing through a page-turning thriller on home turf, there's a title in this list for you.

Holiday reads, at-home escapism and the best books of summer 2020

The Vanishing Half

by Brit Bennett

Perhaps the most buzzed-about novel of summer 2020, Bennet's tale follows twins Desiree and Stella who run away from their Deep South town aged 16. One lives life passing as a White person, the other returns home with her Black daughter. Told across generations, the book's messages on identity and the destructive impact of racism couldn't be more timely.

Death in Her Hands

by Ottessa Moshfegh

Right now, we're feeling a pretty strong affinity with My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Moshfegh's 2018 bestselling depiction of self-loathing and solitude. Her latest fiction follows the chilling story of a lonely, 72-year-old widow determined to solve a murder mystery.

Friends and Strangers

by J. Courtney Sullivan

Been doing a lot of scrolling lately? So has journalist and new mum Elisabeth, the protagonist of Friends and Strangers, who has moved from New York City to small-town America - that is until she meets babysitter Sam. Exploring the dynamics of power, privilege and motherhood, this book shows that a single year can alter the course of a life. How apt.

How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right?

by Pandora Sykes

What is our best life? What if we get it wrong? Covering topics such as email culture, fast fashion and the cult of "authenticity", The High Low host's essays explore the anxieties and agendas that consume our modern lives, and interrogate the stories we tell ourselves.

Utopia Avenue

by David Mitchell

Sex. Psychedelia. Drugs. Stardom. Ego. If you loved 2019-favourite Daisy Jones and the Six, then you'll probably like this 600-page tome too. Cloud Atlas remains one of our favourite reads, so we're eager to dip our toes into Mitchell's literary multiverse once again, as he charts the rise and fall of British rock band Utopia Avenue. Note: Bowie makes a cameo.

The Guest List

by Lucy Foley

A rising star of the silver screen and a magazine publisher host their glitzy wedding on a remote island off the Irish coast. A storm hits. Someone washes up dead, as does a slurry of secrets and resentments. Think of this whodunnit as the 21st-century equivalent of Agatha Christie. If you get boisterous over Cluedo, you'll tear through the pages of this one.

All My Mother’s Lovers

by Ilana Masad

After her mother's unexpected death, Maggie finds five letters in her will, each addressed to mysterious men and - you guessed it - she sets off on a road trip to hand-deliver them. Described as a "queer tour-de-force" and ranked among 2020's best LGBTQ+ books, Masad's literary debut is one that makes us question the nature of fulfilling relationships.

A Burning

by Megha Majumdar

A terrorist attack on a train in India unites three otherwise disparate characters: a Muslim girl from the slums of Bengal, a right-wing gym teacher and a trans woman who aspires to be an actress. It's at once an explosive story and a meditation on a rigged society in which the oppressed are often forced to compromise their values to survive.

The Dragons, the Giant, the Women

by Wayétu Moore

When Moore was five years old, her family was forced to flee civil war in Liberia by being smuggled to Sierra Leone. Now settled in Texas, she has penned a memoir that reflects on surviving displacement while painting an honest portrait of the Black immigrant experience in the American South. For more on the immigrant diaspora, try Brown Album by Porochista Khakpour.

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears

by Laura Van Den Berg

Van den Berg's collection of 11 short stories are unsettling narratives that chip away at the suffocating veneer of 21st-century womanhood. Expect to meet an actress who impersonates dead wives for widowed husbands and a man who silences his politically frustrated partner by drugging her artisanal water.

Intimations

by Zadie Smith

Many of us took up projects during lockdown; Zadie Smith penned this collection of six essays. She writes: "There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those." Instead, it's a short, intimate read that feels like a gesture of connection in these unprecedented times.

The Death of Vivek Oji

by Akwaeke Emezi

The title tells us so much and yet so little about this coming-of-age story set in southeastern Nigeria. The tale begins with a mother opening a front door to discover her son's body, wrapped in colourful fabric, at her feet. What unravels is a dramatic story of friendship, loss and queer identity. Like this? Try You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat.

Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo

In 2018, Acevedo won a National Book Award for her YA novel written in poetic verse. Inspired by true events, her latest work is the dual narrative of two sisters who, in the wake of a tragic plane crash, discover roots they never knew they had.

Sex and Vanity

by Kevin Kwan

We couldn't resist this OTT, gossip-riddled, East-meets-West story from the author behind Crazy Rich Asians. A modern spin on the age-old narrative that pits love against class, it whisks readers between the Hamptons and Capri as it follows Chinese-American Lucie who gets tangled in a love triangle between Hong Kong surfer George and billionaire Cecil.

Rodham

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Ever pondered how Hilary Clinton's life might have panned out had she turned down Bill's (many) marriage proposals? Enter Rodham, an experimental page-turner that weaves fact and fantasy to imagine an alternative future. If American politics is your jam, try Molly Ball's Pelosi too.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close

by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

We recommend picking up this funny yet heartfelt book if you've recently found it all too easy to feel cut off from your pals. (Ahem, who hasn't?) Through the lens of Aminatou and Ann's own, complex, decade-long friendship, it sheds light on what it takes to make friends for the long haul and argues that having a strong gang is the key to happiness. Here, here.

The Pull of the Stars

by Emma Donoghue

Disease? Check. Quarantine? Check. If you thought that Donoghue - the author behind bestseller-turned-blockbuster Room - set this novel in the last month, we wouldn't fault you. Instead, it spirits readers to a maternity ward in Dublin in the early 20th century, where three healthcare workers risk everything to battle the 1918 flu pandemic.

Summer

by Ali Smith

The fourth and final book in Smith's seasonal, state-of-the-national quartet has long been anticipated (and no, not just because of those gorgeous Hockney-print covers). Writing up to the wire, Smith's resonant narrative reflects on current issues - COVID anxiety, Brexit, climate despair - through the lens of a Brighton-based family.

The Lightness

by Emily Temple

Fans of Donna Tartt, this is for you. Sixteen-year-old Olivia's search for her missing father leads her to an offbeat enlightenment retreat in the mountains where leaders claim that they can teach people to fly. As you might have guessed, things take a sinister turn

Pizza Girl

by Jean Kyoung Frazier

In suburban Los Angeles, a pregnant, 18-year-old pizza delivery girl becomes obsessed with a 30-something stay-at-home mother who orders pizzas covered in pickles for her son every week. When the two form an unlikely bond, their friendship teeters into strange, heartbreaking territory.

Luster

by Raven Leilani

Open relationships, racial dynamics and class form the backbone of Leilani's darkly humorous yet insightful debut novel. Aspiring artist Edie loses her job and moves in with the married man she's been sleeping with… and his family.

Tales of Two Planets

edited by John Freeman

Summer reading isn't all about escapism. Subtitled "Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World", this anthology helps us wrap our heads around the enormity of the climate crisis and exposes how it hits vulnerable communities the hardest. Writings are drawn from a diverse crowd including Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat, Anuradha Roy in the Himalayas and Margaret Atwood, who pens a dystopian poem.

Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own

by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

If you're keen to continue your self-education on racism and the Black experience, add this book by Princeton's chair of the Department of African American Studies to your must-read list. It draws parallels between racial tensions in the US today and in the years following the civil rights movement of the late 60s, while encouraging readers to "reimagine hope".

Exciting Times

by Naoise Dolan

If you're enamoured with Sally Rooney's writing (and not just Connell's chain), then you should pick up Dolan's dryly funny and politically astute book. In Hong Kong, Dublin-born Ava is wooed by banker Julian and enthralled with lawyer Edith. Through their relationships, Dolan dissects how modern love interplays with privilege, power and self-searching.

Crooked Hallelujah

by Kelli Jo Ford

Inspired by the women who raised her, Ford wrote Crooked Hallelujah to celebrate the resilience of indigenous communities. Set in Oklahoma, it follows four generations of Cherokee women across four decades as they persevere in the face of poverty, wildfires, oil spills and violence.

Small Pleasures

by Clare Chambers

It's 1957 - post-war Britain - and pushing-40 feature writer Jean Swinney is tasked with investigating Gretchen Tilbury, a young Swiss woman who claims her daughter is the product of a virgin birth. It's a bittersweet tale, but one that shows happiness can be found in the most unexpected places.

Discover More
24 Books that Will Change the Way You See the World
Measure
Measure
Related Notes
Get a free MyMarkup account to save this article and view it later on any device.
Create account

End User License Agreement

Summary | 18 Annotations
Bennet's tale follows twins Desiree and Stella who run away from their Deep South town aged 16.
2020/07/22 19:18
Her latest fiction follows the chilling story of a lonely, 72-year-old widow determined to solve a murder myster
2020/07/22 19:18
So has journalist and new mum Elisabeth, the protagonist of Friends and Strangers, who has moved from New York City to small-town America - that is until she meets babysitter Sam.
2020/07/22 19:18
, The High Low host's essays explore the anxieties and agendas that consume our modern lives, and interrogate the stories we tell ourselves.
2020/07/22 19:18
Maggie finds five letters in her will, each addressed to mysterious men and - you guessed it - she sets off on a road trip to hand-deliver them
2020/07/22 19:19
A terrorist attack on a train in India unites three otherwise disparate characters: a Muslim girl from the slums of Bengal, a right-wing gym teacher and a trans woman who aspires to be an actress.
2020/07/22 19:19
honest portrait of the Black immigrant experience in the American South. For more on the immigrant diaspora, try Brown Album by Porochista Khakpour.
2020/07/22 19:19
There will be many books written about the year 2020: historical, analytic, political and comprehensive accounts. This is not any of those." Instead, it's a short, intimate read that feels like a gesture of connection in these unprecedented times.
2020/07/22 19:19
We recommend picking up this funny yet heartfelt book if you've recently found it all too easy to feel cut off from your pals. (
2020/07/22 19:20
Disease? Check. Quarantine? Check. If you thought that Donoghue - the author behind bestseller-turned-blockbuster Room - s
2020/07/22 19:20
Sixteen-year-old Olivia's search for her missing father leads her to an offbeat enlightenment retreat in the mountains where leaders claim that they can teach people to fly. As you might have guessed, things take a sinister turn
2020/07/22 19:20
When the two form an unlikely bond, their friendship teeters into strange, heartbreaking territory.
2020/07/22 19:20
Open relationships, racial dynamics and class form the backbone of Leilani's darkly humorous yet insightful debut novel. Aspiring artist Edie loses her job and moves in with the married man she's been sleeping with… and his family.
2020/07/22 19:20
Writings are drawn from a diverse crowd including Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat, Anuradha Roy in the Himalayas and Margaret Atwood, who pens a dystopian poem.
2020/07/22 19:20
It draws parallels between racial tensions in the US today and in the years following the civil rights movement of the late 60s, while encouraging readers to "reimagine hope".
2020/07/22 19:20
Through their relationships, Dolan dissects how modern love interplays with privilege, power and self-searching.
2020/07/22 19:21
Set in Oklahoma, it follows four generations of Cherokee women across four decades as they persevere in the face of poverty, wildfires, oil spills and violence.
2020/07/22 19:21
It's a bittersweet tale, but one that shows happiness can be found in the most unexpected places.
2020/07/22 19:21