Best Books & Discs of 2020

by stephenpalmersf

As usual, my favourite books of the year were all non-fiction. I did read one novel – The Tree Wakers by Keith Clare, a strangely curious book recommended to me by Liz Williams – but everything else was non. I think the highlight of the year was Rebecca Wragg Sykes’ wonderful and very well received Kindred, which updates the Neanderthal story with considerable grace and style. Last year’s book tokens went on the fascinating The Evolution Of Imagination by Stephen T. Asma and Penny Spikins’ marvellous How Compassion Made Us Human, which superbly puts the boot into male notions of fighting, hunting, and general macho anthropological bollocks. Lockdown tore into my reading a lot, but I did re-read The Singing Neanderthals by Stephen Mithen as research for writing Uncanny in April; this is a wonderful book, whose central premise still holds firm in my opinion. Lewis Dartnell’s Origins was another terrific “large scale overview kind of book” (akin to Sapiens, I suppose), dealing with its material extremely well – a terrific, compelling, fascinating read. A million miles away, I also enjoyed the unexpectedly revealing biography of Larry Stephens, who is perhaps best known for working with Spike Milligan on a lot of the Goon Shows. The Extraordinary Voyage Of Pytheas The Greek was an ancient world delight.

In music, the event of the year was the release of Tangerine Dream’s second Virgin mega box set Pilots Of Purple Twilight, which accompanies the fantastic In Search Of Hades. Jonathan Hulten’s Chants From Another Place was my first post-lockdown purchase, and very good it is too – a marvellous album of vocal and other textures. Elsewhere, during a trip to Hay-on-Wye, I bought music from various regions, including China, Tuva, Kazakhstan, India and Turkey. I also took a chance on Mozart L’Egyptien, which weirdly works, though I keep feeling it shouldn’t: Mozart interspersed and arranged with Egyptian music. I also enjoyed a number of choral music CDs by John Rutter, John Tavener and various Renaissance composers, including Tallis and Allegri. Other band CDs I acquired included releases from The Gentle Good, Gwenno (great Cornish electronica), All India Radio and Salif Keita. Another standout release was the new album The Bitter Lay by Arch Garrison, whose I Will Be A Pilgrim remains a lifelong favourite.

Best book of the year: Rebecca Wragg Sykes, Kindred.

Best discs of the year: Tangerine Dream, Pilots Of Purple Twilight.