Reading lists

Gift ideas for the book lover in your life (even if it’s you)

Our monthly guide to gifts for bookworms, from new paperbacks to delights from the Penguin Shop.

Penguin Team
Collage of images, with Barack Obama's A Promised Land on the left, a picture of Yotam Ottolenghi in the centre, and an image of Wintering by Katherine May on the right.

Nothing says it like a book. Every month, we'll be rounding up the best presents for bibliophiles, from new paperbacks to beautiful reading-related gifts, so you can treat someone – even if it's yourself.

Paperback highlights

A collage of the covers of Murder Most Festive by Ada Moncrieff on the left on a blue background, and Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton on the right on a red background.


This month’s fiction choices are the definition of “page-turning”, and are ideal to sink into on a cold autumn or winter evening.

Rosamund Lupton’s Three Hours is set at a rural school in Somerset. A normal day quickly turns into a nightmare when the school comes under siege, forcing pupils and teachers to barricade themselves into classrooms while police try to identify and take down the gunmen.

Murder Most Festive by Ada Moncrieff also features threat and peril, but in a very different setting: a beautiful country house in 1938. The Westbury family and its friends gather to celebrate Christmas, but soon discover one of their number dead in the snow, with a pistol beside him and only one set of footprints. Can amateur detective Hugh Gaveston uncover what happened?

The Daylight Gate is a reissue of Jeanette Winterson’s 2012 novel set in 1612 and focusing on the Pendle witch trials. It’s good Friday and in Lancaster Castle, two notorious witches await trial and almost certain death. A tense story about women and power that will keep you guessing until the end.


If you’re seeking something comforting and soothing, try Katherine May’s Wintering, a meditation on the times in life when we have to retreat so we can care for and repair ourselves. It’s the perfect read for a year in which we’ve needed to look after ourselves more than ever.

In Don’t Be Evil, Rana Foroohar investigates the threat that Big Tech poses to our democracies, our economies and ourselves. Foroohar looks at how once-idealistic companies like Google and Facebook came to play a role in the manipulation of elections and the violation of our privacy.

If there’s one poetry book you absolutely need to read this year, it’s Caleb Femi’s Poor, in which Femi combines verse and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations and dreams of young Black boys in Peckham today. It’s also been named a book of the year by The New Statesman and The Financial Times

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

Photograph of the hardback edition of Barack Obama's A Promised Land on a grey and cream background.

There can only be one hardback we recommend this month: Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. This riveting and deeply personal book is the first volume of Obama’s presidential memoirs. Covering landmark moments in the first term of his historical presidency, A Promised Land is beautifully written and powerful.

Treat yourself to...

The Vintage Classics 2021 Diary on a book shelf, with a black cup on the left and a plant and pencil on the right.

Ok, we know that whatever diary you bought for 2020 is probably languishing in a drawer somewhere, having proved useless after March. But start 2021 with hope and in style with the Vintage Classics 2021 Diary. It features gorgeous book covers from Vintage Classics, reading lists for each month and inspiration from the best writers in the world. The Vintage Classics 2021 Diary is available from the Penguin Shop, £12.99.

Expand your audio library...

The audiobook of Infernal by Mark De Jager on a dark grey background.

Mark de Jager's Infernal is set in the war-torn lands of Krandin, which is fighting against a king with dark magic. In this land, a stranger wakes up, knowing on that his name is Stratus. Although he has great strength and magic, he only had fractured memories of his past. As Stratus explores the world, making friends and enemies, the battle for his mind will determine the fate of the world. This audiobook is read by actor Obioma Ugoala, who also played George Washington in the West End production of Hamilton.

Book a ticket to see...

Photograph of Yotam Ottolenghi wearing a navy blue shirt and smiling.
Image: Stuart Simpson/Penguin

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of the best chefs working today, and has inspired thousands of people with his passion for food and his innovative use of different flavours.

He’ll be touring the UK and Ireland in April, discussing the tastes, ingredients, and flavours that excite him, and how he has created a career from cooking. 

Ottolenghi will offer unique insights into how flavour is dialled up and why it works, how his upbringing has influenced his food and the journey that led to him being a world-renowned chef.

Ottolenghi will be signing copies of his new book Ottolenghi Flavour after each event. 

November's recommendations

Triptych of images of The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, a shelf with prints hanging on the wall, and the cover for Zadie Smith's Grand Union.

Paperback highlights

The covers for Pine by Francine Toon and Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan.


This month’s fiction books are perfect for long winter nights. All evoke a sense of uneasiness at times, a darkness that matches the light (or lack of it) outside, yet all are also absorbing, entertaining tales.

In Grand Union, 10 new and unpublished stories by Zadie Smith sit alongside some of her best-loved pieces from The New Yorker and other publications. From historical to dystopian, Grand Union is a collection about time, place, identity and rebirth.

Kirsty Logan’s short story collection Things We Say in the Dark features chilling contemporary fairytales, disturbing supernatural fiction and more. It’s perfect autumn reading.

Francine Toon’s Pine, which won the McIlvanney Prize 2020,  is an eerie story about Lauren and her father Niall, who live in a small village surrounded by a forest in the Highlands. When s woman stumbles into the road one night, Niall drives her to their house, but the next morning she’s gone, leaving Lauren for answers.

The Winter Agent by Gareth Rubin is set in 1944, and follows Marc Reece, who leads a circuit of British agents risking their lives in order to sabotage the German war effort from within. But Reece also has a second mission, which he’s keeping secret from everyone, including Charlotte, the woman he’s fallen in love with. But Reece soon has to face that there’s a traitor in his midst. 


Colin Grant’s Homecoming is the stories of the people who came to Britain from the West Indies between the late 1940s and early 1960s - the Windrush Generation. Drawing on more than 100 first-hand interviews, archive recordings and memoirs, this is the portrait of a generation.

On Fire is a collection of Naomi Klein’s writing from the frontline of the climate crisis, paired with new material. Klein’s book looks at the climate crisis as not just a political challenge, but also a spiritual and imaginative one.

Taking an equally powerful, but also personal, look at climate change is Jonathan Safran Foer’s We Are the Weather. Safran Foer argues that we all have the power to change the course of history. 

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

Cover of The Lost Spells on a yellow background.

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris dazzled with their 2017 release The Lost Words, and they’re back now with a new book that’s equally stunning.

The Lost Spells is a pocket-sized book that contains spell-poems written by Macfarlane. Each spell conjures an animal, bird, tree or flower we share our landscape with.

Morris’ beautiful illustrations accompany the spells, and together words and pictures create a book that celebrates the wonder of the natural world.

Treat yourself to...

A wall showing the parts of two framed Penguin prints, with a shelf of classic Penguin novels and some vases.

Whether you’re looking for something to adorn your wall at home, or hunting for a meaningful Christmas present for a loved one, look no further than a print of a Penguin book. Prints are available of dozens of classic Penguin titles, showcasing some of the most iconic designs from the Penguin archives.

Titles available include Penguin English Library editions of George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as triband editions of books including Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. You can customise by selecting your own print size and frame type. Prints start from £15 in the Penguin Shop.

Expand your audio library...

The cover for the audiobook of William Boyd's Sweet Caress on a dark grey background.

William Boyd’s Sweet Caress is the story of Amory, who discovers a love for photography thanks to her uncle Greville. Photographing socialites for fashionable magazines isn’t fulfilling Amory, and she leaves to search for life, love and artistic expression. Her journey takes her from Berlin in the late 1920s, to New York in the 1930s, the Blackshirt riots in London and the Second World War in France, where she becomes one of the first women war photographers. 

Boyd’s novel and his story of a life fully lived is read in this new audiobook by stage and screen actor Juliet Stevenson. 

Book a ticket to see...

Owen Jones’ new book This Land is about the rise and fall of the Corbyn movement, with Jones speaking to key figures across the political spectrum and offering an insider’s honest appraisal of where the Left can, and should, go now. 

Jones will be speaking about This Land in conversation with comedian Frankie Boyle on 16 December at a live-streamed event. Tickets cost £22, which includes a copy of the book posted to you. 

October's recommendations

A collage of three images, showing - from left - the cover of Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, a picture of James O'Brien with his chin on his hand, and a photograph of a special edition of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.

Paperback highlights

Margaret Atwood's The Testaments on a blue background next to Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, on an orange background.


In Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, the Republic of Gilead - first encountered by readers in The Handmaid’s Tale - is crumbling, and two girls with very different experiences of the regime come face to face with the ruthless and legendary Aunt Lydia. This paperback edition features book club discussion points and an interview with Atwood.

Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous takes the form of a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Through this correspondence, we learn about family's struggle as immigrants, the lasting impact of the Vietnam War and a son who has never been fully understood by his mother.

In Luiza Sauma’s Everything You Ever Wanted, the monotony of daily life is interrupted by Life on Nyx, a programme that offers the chance to move to another planet and start a meaningful and new life. But, if you go, you can never return.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, who was shortlisted for the Booker International Prize 2020, is a collection of 11 stories whose characters’ fates all converge; spooky and chilling, this offers a glimpse of chaotic and beautiful lives. Revenge is translated by Stephen Snyder.

Michel Houellebecq’s Serotonin, translated by Shaun Whiteside, is about Florent-Claude Labrouste, who is dying of sadness. His last hope comes in the form of a new antidepressant, which alters the brain's release of serotonin. Serotonin is a story of the search for serenity, and a community left behind by globalisation. 


When I Dare to be Powerful by Audre Lorde, part of the Penguin Great Ideas series, is a collection of writing by the renowned writer and civil rights activist, celebrating female strength and solidarity.

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and The Last Man was originally published in 1992, and offered a vision of what the new century would look like. Now reissued with a new afterword, Fukuyama’s book shows how little has changed and how liberal democracy is still the best way to organise society.

As the American election fast approaches, it’s clear that whoever is elected will need to have Naomi Klein’s On Fire on their reading list. This book gathers Klein’s previous writing about climate change, pairing it with new material. The result is an essential read on the political, spiritual and imaginative challenge of the climate crisis. 

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

The cover for JFK by Fredrik Logevall on a red background.

John F Kennedy is an icon, but how much do you really know about his life? This new biography, by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Fredrik Logevall, offers new insights into the elusive 35th president.

Logevall has combed through unseen and unused material to try and piece together a picture of the “real” JFK.

JFK is the first of two volumes, and covers 1917 to 1956, and even though readers will know what’s coming in the second volume, Logevall manages to create a sense of anticipation.

This beautiful hardback has a striking and minimalist cover, designed by Chris Bentham, that will look stunning on your bookshelf. 

Treat yourself to...

A special edition of Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea.

Erin Morgenstern’s books are always a treat, but this beautiful edition of The Starless Sea is a true indulgence (and necessity) for fans. 

This edition comes in boards that are clothbound in deep blue and embossed with the symbols of the bee, key and sword in gold foil. The endpapers are marbled, the page edges are sprayed a dark, inky blue and there is a gold ribbon page marker.

The bespoke book jacket folds out into a poster of the hidden underworld labyrinth, and on the reverse are instructions on how to create your own origami star.

The book comes in a dark blue slipcase which is embossed with the bee, key and sword symbols in gold foil.

Only 100 copies of this edition (£300 from the Penguin Shop) have been created, and it’s a true must-have. 

Expand your audio library...

Beethoven Unleashed cover on a yellow background.

Beethoven was a revolutionary and a disruptor, who changed the way audiences listen to music. In Beethoven Unleashed, BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week presenter Donald Macleod brings Beethoven vividly to life.

Exploring the composer’s childhood in Bonn to looking at how he won over the aristocratic music circles of Vienna and the tragic loss of his hearing, Macleod paints a picture of a man whose music still resonates today. 

Book a ticket to see...

Photograph of James O'Brien, wearing a dark shirt and leaning his chin on his left hand.

Award-winning LBC broadcaster James O’Brien will discuss his new book How Not to be Wrong in this exclusive launch event. In How Not to be Wrong, O’Brien looks at how to change your mind and how winning arguments doesn’t necessarily mean you’re right. Unflinchingly honest and deeply personal, the book sees O’Brien examining his personal beliefs and opinions on everything from racial prejudice to showing emotions.

At the launch event, O’Brien will talk about writing the book, what he learnt about himself from doing so, and answer questions from the audience.

Tickets for the online event cost £16.56 and include a copy of the book delivered to you. 

September's recommendations

Pictures of gifts to buy for yourself or others if you're a book lover, including Yiyun Li's Must I Go, books by John le Carre and Marie Kondo's Spark Joy..
Image: Mica Murphy/Penguin

Paperback highlights

Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police and Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea.


This month’s fiction books are all, in one way or another, concerned with memory and the past.

In Death in the East, the latest in Abir Mukherjee’s Wyndham and Banerjee detective series, our time is split between London in 1905 and India in 1922 as a ghost from Captain Sam Wyndham’s past begins to haunt his present.

Barney NorrisThe Vanishing Hours takes in a hotel bar in a quiet English town where two strangers meet and share their stories. Her tale is one of heartbreak and unfulfilled dreams, while his goes from the cliffs of Dover to a prison cell, the West End stage and a courtroom witness box as he searches for someone he lost in his youth.

What Red Was by Rosie Price is the story of Kate and Max, who met in their first week of university and forged a firm friendship over the course of the next four years. But one summer evening just after graduation, Kate’s life is shattered while at a party with Max at his wealthy and repressed family’s house. Price’s book is the story of trying to reconcile our present and past selves in the face of trauma.

Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, which is translated by Stephen Snyder and has been shortlisted for the Booker International 2020, is a book about memory and loss. When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him.

In Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea Zachary Rawlins stumbles across a strange book hidden in his university library, which leads him on a quest that includes a recollection from his own childhood. Determined to solve the puzzle of the book, Zachary follows the clues on the cover and finds a subterranean labyrinth filled with stories, a labyrinth which is soon threatened and which Zachary needs to save. 


For your fix of non-fiction, try three classic titles that have been beautifully repackaged as part of the Vermilion Life Essentials range.

Professor Steve PetersThe Chimp Paradox has sold more than a million copies and continues to be popular years after its original 2012 release. The book aims to help readers understand the ways in which the mind words, and become confident and more successful by doing so. 

The coronavirus pandemic has already led to a massive change in the way offices work, and that looks set to continue, which makes Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week an essential read for now. Ferriss lays out how to escape the 9-5 so we can live more and work less.

Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy is a step-by-step, room-by-room guide to decluttering and organising your home, from the bathroom to the living room, much needed now that we’re all transitioning to spending more time at home for work and play. 

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

Treat yourself to...

A collection of John le Carre's George Smiley books.

John le Carré’s famous creation George Smiley has had many an adventure as a spymaster, from a high-risk operation in South East Asia to a showdown with another spy. Now eight of le Carré’s Smiley books are available in a box-set from the Penguin Shop, £60. The books – A Murder of Quality, The Looking Glass War, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Smiley’s People, Call for the Dead, The Honourable Schoolboy and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – have been rejacketed in a retro style by award-winning designer David Pearson.

Expand your audio library...

The cover of the audiobook Edinburgh Unlocked.

If you missed the laughs of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, don’t worry, you can still indulge your funny bone with Edinburgh Unlocked. This audio comedy festival features acts that would have performed at the Fringe this year, including Jordan Brookes, who takes listeners on a disastrous guided meditation session; Sofie Hagen, who lifts the lid on her Westlife fan fiction days; and Ivo Graham, who tucks into his version of King Lear during the lockdown. A warning though: don’t listen while at your desk as you’ll be too busy laughing to get any work done.

Book a ticket to see...

Picture of Robert Harris.

Robert Harris’ newest thriller V2 sees him tell the story of the V2 rocket, ballistic rockets that carried a one-ton warhead at three times the speed of sound, with which Hitler believed he could win the Second World War. Book a ticket (£20 + £3 postage) to hear Harris talking about his book with news presenter Jon Snow. The event on September 16 will feature an audience Q&A, and all tickets include a signed copy of V2.

August's recommendations

Pictures of gifts to buy for yourself or others if you're a book lover, including Bill Bryson's The Body, prints from the Penguin Shop, and Bernardine Evaristo's The Emperor's Babe.

Paperback highlights

The covers for Bernardine Evaristo's The Emperor's Babe and Kit de Waal's Supporting Cast.


This month’s fiction choices are linked by the idea of journeys, from characters embarking on quests to those moving from one place to another and those finding both literal and actual freedom.

Salman Rushdie’s latest novel Quichotte is inspired by Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote. It follows Sam DuChamp, a mediocre writer of spy thrillers who creates Quichotte, a courtly, addled salesman obsessed with television. Quichotte falls in love with TV star Salman R, and embers on a quest with his imaginary son to prove worthy of the her hand. His creator, meanwhile, is also facing challenges of his own.

In Travellers, Helon Habila looks at migrant experiences in Europe through characters including a Nigerian American couple on a prestigious arts fellowship, a transgender film student seeking the freedom of authenticity, and a Libyan doctor who lost his wife and child in the waters of the Mediterranean. Through the fates of his characters – all interconnected – Habila explores the journeys we take to find home.

Bernardine Evaristo transports us to London in AD 211 in The Emperor’s Babe, where Zuleika is a modern girl living in an ancient world. She’s just been married off to a fat old Roman, but one day catches the eye of the most powerful man on earth, the Roman Emperor. And that’s when her trouble really begins…

Elif Shafak’s Honour is set between Turkey and London in the 1970s, as Pembe and Adam Toprak leave Turkey for England to make new lives for their family. But the traditions and beliefs of their home come with them, and their children Iskender and Esma are trapped by past mistakes. Eventually, a brutal and chilling crime tears apart and transforms their lives.

If you’ve ever felt like a secondary character’s story resonates with you more than the protagonist’s, then you’ll love Kit de Waal’s Supporting Cast. These stories, including that of a blind man on his wedding day celebrating the pursuit of love and another about a young man leaving prison, are about everyday lives. From love and desire to loss, this book is about extraordinary moments in ordinary lives.

The cover for The Body by Bill Bryson.


Bill Bryson’s latest book The Body sees him exploring the human body, how it functions, and its ability to heal itself. Full of facts and astonishing stories told with humour, this book will make you marvel at the miracle of bodies. 

A Half Baked Idea is the story of how Olivia Potts, stricken with grief after losing her mother, gave up a high-flying legal career to study at Le Cordon Bleu, even though she couldn’t cook. In this book, which is interspersed with recipes, Potts tells how food helped her find her happiness again.

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

Treat yourself to...

Five prints created by artists to celebrate Penguin's 85th birthday.

It’s Penguin’s 85th birthday this year, and to celebrate five artists have each created a new piece of art to celebrate reading. Prints of the works by Coralie Bickford-Smith, Charlie Mackesy, Dapo Adeola, Jackie Morris and Vashti Harrison are the perfect treat for book lovers, and are available now from the Penguin Shop, £85 each.

And you’ll not only be treating yourself (or a loved one) if you buy a print – all profits from the sales will go to the National Literacy Trust, which works to get books and vital reading resources into the homes of children who need them most.

Expand your audio library...

The cover for The Georgette Heyer BBC Radio Drama Collection

Sink into works by the queen of Regency romance with The Georgette Heyer BBC Radio Drama Collection, comprising of three of Heyer’s best known romances: Regency Buck, Friday’s Child and Faro’s Daughter. And if that’s not enough, the collection also includes Envious Casca, a classic comedy thriller by Heyer. Cast members for the collection include Helen Baxendale, Simon Russell Beale and Nathaniel Parker.

July's recommendations

Dancer from the Dark, a Penguin tote bag and Zadie Smith's NW make perfect gifts for the book lover in your life.

Paperback highlights


This month's novels will all spirit you away to literary summers, and encompass a range of genres from children's fantasy adventure to a tale set in contemporary London.

First published in 1978, Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran is the story of Anthony Malone, who trades small-town life for the decadence of New York's gay scene in the 1970s. There, in the endless city nights and a world of dance parties, saunas and deserted parks, he longs for love. This edition is introduced by Alan Hollinghurst.

Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn follows five cousins over the course of a summer, as they face the onset of war. Among them are 19-year-old Oliver, just back from the Spanish Civil War, gorgeous Calypso who is determined to Mary for money, and Sophie, who nobody loves.

Four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – are the subject of NW by Zadie Smith. After a chance encounter, they are all forced to face the choices they've made and the people they've become. A perfect book to read ahead of the release of Smith's forthcoming essay collection, Intimations, about lockdown.

Find a tree and sit under its shade to read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll's world of disorderly tea parties, croquet played with birds and a giant cat is fantastical and surreal, and will take you out of the chaos of today for a few hours.

If you're looking for something gentle, look no further than The Darling Buds of May, the first in H. E. Bates' The Larkin Family series. After returning home from an outing for fish and chips and ice cream, the Larkins discover a visitor: Cedric Charlton, Her Majesty's inspector of taxes. Funny and warm, this is a novel to soothe you at the end of a long summer's day.


In a bid to better understand his heritage, Damian Le Bas decided to take a journey to discover the "stopping places", the name given to old encampment sites known only to Travellers. In The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain, Le Bas recounts the places he found and the stories he learnt, thereby uncovering a deeper sense of who he is and where he came from.

Discovering how the land ties into our sense of self is also explored by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett in The Grassling. When her father’s health started declining, and inspired by a history he once wrote of his small Devon village, Burnett Burnett decided to look at what it means to have roots, and how we connect to them when the people and places that nurtured us are slipping away.

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

Wagner's Parsifal by Roger Scruton

In Parsifal, the last opera written by Wagner, the title character has been called to rescue the Kingdom of the Grail from the sins that have polluted it. Sir Roger Scruton, who died just after completing Wagner's Parsifal, examines in this book how the opera is the culmination of Wagner's life-long obsession with the religious frame of mind, and how it looks at death, redemption and humanity. Scruton looks Parsifal's story and its musical ideas, and how these came together into a "sublime whole which gives us the musical equivalent of forgiveness and closure". This short and beautiful – inside and out – hardback deserves a space on your bookshelves.

Treat yourself to...

Penguin tote bag, with design for The Lost Girl by D. H. Lawrence
Image: Flora Maclean

Whether you're heading to the beach, the park or even just your local shops this summer, you'll need a bag to put all your things in. And if you're looking for something that’s not just functional, but also says something about you as a person, then the Penguin tote bag is for you. The canvas bag is roomy enough that you can throw in a few paperbacks or your e-reader, and also displays your love for books. Pick from your favourite title, including Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and D. H. Lawrence's The Lost Girl, for £12.95 from the Penguin Shop.

Expand your audio library...

George Orwell: A BBC Radio Collection is an audio download

George Orwell's work, with its themes of the corrupting influence of power and the state control of citizens, has resonated with new audiences in recent years. George Orwell: A BBC Radio Collection is a radio anthology of his finest writing and includes dramatisations of both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, as well as readings of essays and journalism. Among the cast are actors Christopher Eccleston, Pippa Nixon, Tim Pigott-Smith, Tamsin Greig and Nicky Henson.

June's recommendations

Treat yourself to new books with our June gift guide.

Paperback highlights

Paperbacks to buy as a gift, for someone else or yourself, in June include The Complete Novels of Jane Austen and Return of the Spirit.


This month's fiction selection offers a chance to explore the classics and some lesser-knowns, too.

In A Woman, an autobiographical novel by Sibilla Aleramo, the narrator, who remains nameless, lives a carefree and aspirational childhood, which is brought to a brutal end. She goes on to discover the shocking reality of life for a woman in Italy at the dawn of the 20th Century, and soon becomes convinced she needs to escape her fate. A Woman is described as a "landmark in European feminist writing" by an author La Repubblica called "the first Italian feminist writer".

Jane Austen's works will be familiar to many, and The Complete Novels of Jane Austen, part of The Penguin English Library, offers all her books in one volume. It brings together Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Lady Susan. It might be a hefty volume to carry around, but it's the perfect book to indulge in on a hot summer's day in the park, as you socially distance outside.

Tawfiq al-Hakim's Return of the Spirit was first published in Arabic in 1933. The book, translated by William Maynard Hutchins and with a foreword by Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany, follows a patriotic young Egyptian and his extended family as they grapple with the events leading up to the 1919 Egyptian revolution. Described as a "trail-blazing" political novel, this is the story of one man's political awakening and its ties to the political awakening of a nation.

In Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille, Lafala loses his legs after stowing away on a transatlantic freighter and being locked in an icy-cold closet. After successfully suing the shipping company, Lafala returns to Marseille to resume his affair with Moroccan prostitute Aslima. Romance in Marseille explores "the heritage of slavery amid a predatory modern economy". McKay, who was born in Jamaica, was a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance.


Jared Diamond's Upheaval is a book for our times; it examines how nations deal with crisis and change. Diamond looks at how six countries – Finland, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Germany and Australia – have survived defining catastrophes, and identifies patterns in their recovery. Then, he examines the road to catastrophe he thinks the United States and other countries are set on.

Stuart Russell's Human Compatible looks at how creating superior artificial intelligence would be the biggest event in human history – and also possibly the last. Russell, an AI expert, sets out why he has come to consider his own industry an existential threat to humanity, and how we can change course before it's too late and we lose control of machines more powerful than we are.

In People, Power and Profits, Joseph E. Stiglitz looks at how a few corporations have come to dominate entire sectors, contributing to huge, increasing inequality and slow growth. Stiglitz advocates for a more progressive capitalism that will recreate shared prosperity and result in a decent middle-class life being attainable to all.  

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

The Roasting Tin Around the World by Rukmini Iyer will give you cooking inspiration

By this point in the coronavirus lockdown, you may be sick of cooking and desperately in need of inspiration for food that is tasty, looks good and takes as little prep and washing up time as possible.

Step in The Roasting Tin Around the World, the latest in Rukmini Iyer's series of cookbooks which focus on one-tin recipes.

This newest book covers all corners of the globe, with Iyer reworking dishes into quick meals that can be cooked in just one tin and subscribe to her philosophy of "minimum effort, maximum flavour".

If you've currently got cooking fatigue, just looking at the gorgeous photography in The Roasting Tin Around the World – taken by photographer David Loftus – will make your mouth water and have you heading to the kitchen, stat. 

Treat yourself to...

Get a bundle of Coralie Bickford Smith's books from Penguin Shop.

Coralie Bickford-Smith is the illustrator and designer behind the gorgeous Penguin Clothbound Classics, which includes titles such as Dracula and Pride and Prejudice.

But Bickford-Smith is also the creator and designer of three original books: The Fox and the Star, The Worm and the Bird, and The Song of the Tree

The Fox and the Star, which was named Waterstones Book of the Year in 2015, is the story of a Fox who lives in a deep, dense forest and whose only friend is Star, who lights the forest paths each night. But one night, Star doesn't appear, and Fox has to face the forest alone.

The Worm and the Bird is about Worm, who lives deep below the earth and dreams about having more space, and Bird, who waits up above through rain and wind and sun.

Bickford-Smith's most recent book is The Song of the Tree, about Bird, who loves to sing in a towering tree at the heart of the jungle, and who finds she isn't ready to let go as the season changes.

On their own, the three titles are worth £45.99, but are available on the Penguin Shop as a bundle for £39.99

Expand your audio library...

Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodham is read by Carrington MacDuffie

We'll never know for sure what a world with Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States of America would have looked like, but for those wishing to find out, Curtis Sittenfeld's Rodham might go some way to giving us the answer.

Sittenfeld takes us back to a long time before Clinton's unsuccessful run for the presidency, to when she was Hillary Rodham. We accompany Hillary as she goes to college and meets the charismatic Bill Clinton. But, unlike in real life, this time Hillary refuses to marry Bill. From there, Sittenfeld invents an alternate history for Hillary, one that still involves political ambitions but which plays out in very different ways.

Told as a memoir, the audiobook is read by Carrington MacDuffie, who sounds uncannily like the real-life Hillary Clinton at times. It'll make you imagine a world that could have been – although whether Hillary becomes president in Rodham is a question you'll only find an answer to if you listen to the book. 

May's recommendations

Gifts for book lovers - from paperbacks to audiobooks to prints.

Paperback highlights

Gifts for book lovers - Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li and The Porpoise by Mark Haddon.


Time – travelling through it, clinging to times past, mourning its loss, and being short of it – connects many of this month's fiction choices.

Deborah Levy's The Man Who Saw Everything is a mind-bending, time-twisting look at the life of Saul Adler. In 1988, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Road in London. Apparently fine, he gets up and poses for a photo taken by his girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau; the photo goes with him as he heads to East Berlin. While in the GDR, Saul is troubled by time and history, as well as his relationship with his translator and the translator's sister. In 2016, Saul attempts to cross the Abbey Road again…

Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li is a look at grief and parenthood. It follows a writer whose teenage son dies by suicide; in an attempt to comprehend her grief she writes an imagined conversation with the child she has lost. On the page, her son is sharp and funny and serious, and although he can't offer her solace, he's also not quite gone. 

If you're short on time, Labels and Other Stories by Louis de Bernières is a short story collection you can dip in and out of. Featuring characters who collect luxury tinned cat-food labels and fall in love with dolphin deities, this is an entertaining and imaginative set of stories. And for fans of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Labels and Other Stories returns to the Greek island of that novel in the story 'Gunter Weber's Confession'.

Matias Faldbakken's The Waiter welcomes you to the world of The Hills, Oslo's most esteemed restaurant, which is clinging to tradition and the faded grandeur of old Europe. There, a neurotic waiter tends to the desires of his clientele, observing all of their dramas. But when a young, beautiful and mysterious guest arrives at table 10, she will upend the delicate balance of the room.

In Mark Haddon's The Porpoise, a motherless girl is growing up in luxury, hidden from the world by her wealthy father. Seeking solace in books, she believes one day the heroic characters within will come to her rescue. But soon, she'll forget where the stories end and her mind begins.


On Chapel Sands by Laura Cumming is a close look at a strange story from the author’s family history. In autumn 1929, Cumming's mother was kidnapped from a beach and was missing for five days before being found safe and well in a nearby village. The incident was never spoken of, until Cummings decided to delve into what happened. She uncovered a series of secrets and lies perpetuated by her family, and the whole community, and unlocked a mystery almost a century old.

Julian Hoffman's Irreplaceable is a love letter to the haunting beauty of habitats across the world, and a warning about their rapid disappearance. Hoffman explores coral reefs, remote mountains, tropical jungle and more through the voices of local communities and grassroots campaigners as well as professional ecologists and academics. Irreplaceable is a timely reminder of all we're set to lose if these habitats are destroyed.

For music fans, David Hepworth's A Fabulous Creation is a deep dive into the era of the LP, beginning with The Beatles' Sgt Pepper in 1967 and ending with Michael Jackson's Thriller 15 years later. Hepworth takes a look at how the LP was a mark of sophistication and a means of attracting the opposite sex. A Fabulous Creation is the story of how LPs saved our lives.

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

Gifts for book lovers - Coffeeland by Augustine Sedgewick

If you're missing popping down to your local coffee shop and grabbing your favourite drink, then why not indulge instead in Coffeeland by Augustine Sedgewick? This new history tells the story of how coffee came to be, from the volcanic highlands of El Salvador to the roasting plants of San Francisco and into the supermarkets, kitchens and work places of today. Sedgewick takes a look at the unexpected consequences of the rise of coffee, which has reshaped large areas of the tropics, and explores how we became dependent on a drug served in a cup.

Treat yourself to...

Gifts for book lovers - get an iconic print of a Penguin book cover

Now that you're spending vast amounts of time at home, it's the perfect opportunity to add small touches to make your space work both as an office and as a cozy area in which to relax. You might want to create a full-on book nook, or just have something that makes a great background for Zoom. Either way, invest in one of Penguin's art prints – from £15 in the Penguin Shop – featuring iconic paperback covers for books including Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. You can customise the prints for your space by choosing the size and frame.

Expand your audio library...

Gifts for book lovers - Don Quixote on audiobook

Miguel Cervantes' Don Quixote tells the story of the title character, who is determined to become a knight errant, thanks to his fondness for reading romances of chivalry. Accompanied by his squire, the cunning Sancho Panza, he roams the world. This new audiobook edition features actors Alistair Petrie, Kayvan Novak, Josh Cohen and Richard Hughes.

April's recommendations

Gifts for Book Lovers

Paperback highlights

April gift guide: The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell and The Runaways by Fatima Bhutto


This month's fiction books are linked by their desire to tell the stories of people usually ignored: the forgotten from history, the young, the marginalised, and the everyday folk.

Namwali Serpell's The Old Drift starts in 1904, in an old colonial settlement on the banks of the Zambezi River. Percy M Clark, ill with fever, makes a mistake that tangles his fate with that of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy, triggering a century of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo follows 12 people, a majority of them women and black, with connections to London. From Newcastle in 1905 to Cornwall in 1953 and Northumberland in 2017, this book is vast in scope, but intimate in its telling. The Booker Prize-winner seamlessly weaves together a narrative of black womanhood, and presents an alternative history of Britain. 

Fatima Bhutto's The Runaways is the story of three young people on the cusp of adulthood. Anita is resigned to a life in Karachi's slums until a neighbour offers her an escape; Monty, who belongs to Karachi's elite, has his future mapped out until he meets a rebellious girl; and Sunny, growing up in Portsmouth and suffocated by the love of his father, is shown a new path by his charismatic cousin. The Runaways is a compelling story of lives colliding, and people forced into situations beyond their control.

Roddy Doyle's wit and warmth is on full show in Charlie Savage, named for the character of Charlie, a middle-aged Dubliner with an indefatigable wife, an exasperated daughter and a drinking buddy who's realised that he's been a woman all along. Charlie Savage is a compilation of Doyle’s hilarious series for the Irish Independent about everyday life and a man trying to keep pace with the modern world. 

Finally, Ali Smith's latest book in her seasons quartet is Spring, in which her characters are trying to deal with a post-Brexit UK while confronting their own mortality, grief and their complicity in the breakdown of relationships. Smith tackles big issues, but she does so with humour and hope.


Has there been a more important time to understand the effects of austerity on society's most vulnerable? Cash Carraway's darkly funny memoir Skint Estate is a push back against austerity measures, taking us into sink estates, police cells, refuges and more.

What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forché is the story of how Forché, an American poet, accepted a mysterious stranger's invitation to visit El Salvador, where she became enmeshed in the early stages of a brutal civil conflict. Shining a light on a little-written about war, this memoir will leave you wanting to learn more.

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

April gift guide: Greenery by Tim Dee

In South Africa one summer December day, Tim Dee was watching swallows who would soon begin their journey north to Europe, where their arrival would mark the beginning of spring.

Between the winter and the summer solstice in Europe, spring moves north at about the speed of swallow flight, which is also close to the walking pace of humans. In Greenery, Dee recounts his journey of travelling with the season and its migratory birds. From South Africa, Greenery takes readers to Chad and Ethiopia, and then across the Sahara, before heading into the Straits of Gibraltar, Silicy and across Europe.

A gorgeous piece of nature writing that shows the journey matters as much as the destination.

Treat yourself to...

April gift guide: Penguin notebooks

If you're increasingly finding yourself staring out the window, marvelling at the strange turns the world has taken, put pen to paper and record the changes you're seeing and experiencing. Not only will it make for a good read in the future, journaling will help you find focus and time away from the screens. Pick up one of our iconic Penguin Notebooks – from £6.95 in the Penguin Shop – inspired by the original paperback designs of great classics. (How perfect are they for starting a book journal, too?)

Expand your audio library...

April gift guide: My Name is Lucy Barton audiobook

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton sees the title character wake after an operation to find her mother sitting at the foot of her bed. Her visit, after years in which the pair haven't seen each other, brings Lucy back to her desperate rural childhood, and her escape to New York.

This audiobook is a performance of the stage production of the book, and stars Oscar nominee Laura Linney in the lead role, delivering a haunting and dramatic monologue.

March's recommendations

Paperback highlights...

Paperback Highlights
Brand new paperbacks


Travel is our link for fiction titles of the month - from ancient Africa to the windswept Yorkshire coast.

We start with a summer road trip to France in Sadie Jones' family saga The SnakesIt is the story of Adamson family who meet in their son's decrepit and deserted hotel and although they appear to be alone - something is hiding in the attic. 

Fancy a time-traveling adventure based on a classic then look no further than Jeanette Winterson's, booker longlisted, Frankissstein. Starting with Mary Shelley putting pen to paper to create her famous monster and moving to a love story set in the present between a doctor and a celebrated AI professor called Victor Stein, it's a bold, imaginative and very funny read.  

From the gothic to fantasy - next on our list Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the epic tale of a hero named Tracker who is seeking a lost child in an ancient Africa full of menacing creatures. This is the first of a trilogy from Marlon James who critics have compared to Tolkien. 

Returning closer to home, we travel to Yorkshire where we find private detective, Jackson Brodie saving a man's life on the cliff-tops which by chance, leads him to uncover a sinister underworld. Big Sky, is the fifth in the series of Kate Atkinson's bestselling crime series. 


Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are the names social historian Hallie Rubenhold would like you to remember. They were daughters, wives and mothers. They ran coffee-houses, lived on country estates and wandered the country selling ballads. They were also the victims of Jack the Ripper. The Five provides a devastating and vivid narrative of their lives sadly overlooked in the frenzy surrounding their killer. 

Since the publication of his bestselling debut The End of Eddy, author Édouard Louis has become a sensation in his native France and a powerful, young voice for the under-represented. In Who Killed My Father, Louis shares key moments in his father's life whilst taking aim at the system that crushed his dreams. 

Indulge in a beautiful hardback...

Bad Island by Stanley Donwood
Bad Island by Stanley Donwood

Best known for his collaborations with Radiohead and more recently nature writer Robert Macfarlane, cult designer Stanley Donwood has used his distinctive monochromatic, lino-cut style artwork to create a haunting depiction of the end of the world. 

As the old adage says 'a picture is worth a thousand words' and Bad Island, which Donwood explained took him two years to create, is a graphic novel with no words that leaves you with a powerful message that manages to be both terrifying and hopeful at once. 

Treat yourself to...

Penguin Shop | V&A Children's Classics
V&A Children's Classics

Celebrate World Book Day on Thursday 4 March with a re-read of your favourite childhood story.  The V&A Children's classic series combines our favourite children's stories with beautiful covers inspired by the works of Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris. 

Whether you want to explore a secret garden or fly off for an adventure to Neverland you can choose three of these beautiful jewel-toned hardbacks for £21 in the Penguin Shop

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more