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Best books for dads on Father's Day. Image: Penguin

It is a cliché that dads are the hardest members of a family to buy gifts for – a cliché because it is usually true.

So, from gardening to football, gender equality to fantasy, we've come up with some book suggestions to make it easier this Father's Day. 

The Second Sleep by Robert Harris (2019)

In this Sunday Times bestseller, a priest investigates a vicar’s untimely death in a post-apocalyptic future that feels eerily like the past. It follows Christopher Fairfax, a man of the cloth who arrives in a remote Exmoor village to conduct the funeral of his predecessor. But when a mysterious figure appears at the ceremony, it grows clear that the priest's death may not have been an accident after all.

It's all very old-world medieval, until Fairfax finds among the dead priest's possessions “one of the devices used by the ancients to communicate … On the back was the ultimate symbol of the ancients’ hubris and blasphemy – an apple with a bite taken out of it.”

From there on, Harris – in his masterful way – cranks up the tension, page by page, as Fairfax's faith and understanding of the world around him is cast darkly into question. “Make no mistake,” wrote the critic Alex Preston, “this novel may be set in a Wessex that’s at once futuristic and quasi-medieval, but it’s very much about the here and now, about Trump and Brexit and the Govian rejection of experts.”

The Kennedy Curse by James Patterson (2020)

James Patterson – one of America's most prolific authors – may be best known for his spine-chilling thrillers (including the Alex Cross series), but he's no slouch when it comes to history, either. The Kennedy Curse is a fine example.

Told with all the edge-of-the-seat intrigue of any of his thrillers, it tells the story of America's most famous political dynasty – a name as close to royalty as the country has ever had. But are they cursed? Few families in public life have been blighted by more assassinations, dark accidents, sex scandals and alcohol abuse.

Here, “the world's most trusted storyteller” reveals the tragedies and scandals that continue to befall America's most famous dynasty with novelistic brio. While you may know the headlines – John's assassination in Dallas; Robert's murder five years later; and Ted's role in a fatal car crash in 1969 – he throws up a fascination of lesser-known stories about the family that keeps the pages turning long after the tea's gone cold and the dog's destroyed the carpet.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James (2019)

In 2015, Marlon James became the first Jamaican writer to win the Man Booker Prize for his grisly, multi-layered epic A Brief History of Seven Killings. His latest outing, critics say, might just be even better.

It follows Tracker, a gruff and elusive hunter, known throughout the thirteen kingdoms as “one who has a nose” for his superhuman ability to sniff out trouble at the slightest whiff. He works alone, and always gets his man. But when charged with finding a missing child, he teams up with a group of hunters all on the same mission. As they travel through mist-covered swamps, enchanted jungles, infested rivers and other mind-bending landscapes, they encounter all manner of sublime creatures, from bush fairies to antiwitches, dirt mermaids to vampire, ghosts, slavers and trolls.

The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson (2019)

For any father who loves his garden, Dave Goulson's elegy to the natural universe beneath our feet is a must-read. For Goulson, we have lost touch with nature – the lice in the log pile, the worms that plough our soil, the bees that quietly keep our flowers in bloom. Or, in his words – as buildings rise and car parks spread – we have grown to forget about “the jungle that lurks just outside [our] back door”.

As a result, hedgehogs are declining; pesticides are killing our bees; and we spray our orchards with so many chemicals that “those rosy, shiny apples on the supermarket shelf got there as a result of environmental carnage”.

But this isn't a book designed to make us feel bad. Yes, it is a call to arms. But it is also a celebration. And gardening can save our planet. What are the best flowers we can plant to help the bees? How can we compost our waste most efficiently? How do we dig a pond? In his words: “If you really want to leave your grandchildren a healthy planet to live on, it’s time to get out in the garden and dig.”

Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi (2018)

“There are all sorts of ways to get a meal on the table, depending on what sort of cook you are,” writes the storied chef Yotam Ottolenghi in his forward. “One person's idea of cooking simply is the next person's culinary nightmare.”

For him, cooking is about four words: “abundance, bounty, freshness and surprise”. And Simple is a manual for anyone who's poor on time but rich in ambition – a recipe book in which no dish requires more than 10 ingredients. He says every recipe is distinctly “Ottolenghi”, but “simple in at least one way."

This is the perfect gift for any father who likes to eat. From Zucchini and Ciabatta Fritatta to Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Mint and Cumin, it offers a way into the celebrated cook's genius for gorgeous food with a focus on simplicity.

Along with Jamie Oliver's fabled Five Ingredients, Simple has – in a quail's eggshell – become a cookery bible for DIY epicureans who want to have fun in the kitchen without the faff.

Redhead on the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler (2020)

Anne Tyler is the queen of pulling drama from undramatic lives. Few characters are less remarkable than Micah Mortimer. “You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer,” Tyler writes. Most people in his orbit, including his sisters, never bother. So he plods through life, squeezing meaning from wherever he can.

A computer technician, he plots out his days through a fastidious routine – early morning runs, an impeccable cleaning regime, imagining the “Traffic Gods” whispering compliments in his ear over his careful driving.

In some ways, this is a character study of an unremarkable man... until something remarkable happens. This comes in two forms: first a teenager shows up at his door claiming to be his son, then his girlfriend tells him she's been evicted and wants to move in. World upended, he must learn to navigate a new normal in this artfully rendered portrait of a man's inner world in all its complexities.

It is sophisticated, subtle, hilarious and, at times, heartbreaking – and one of Anne Tyler's best.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)

This is a book about women, by a woman, for anyone who cares about the lives of women. Which should be everyone. Because – despite what you might hear in the darker corners of the internet and the even darker ones of some pubs – women still do not have equality in modern society.

It will shock few women to be told that they are paid less, do far more unpaid labour at home, queue longer for the loos, and are disproportionate victims of domestic violence. But did you know that the average smartphone (5.5 inches long) is too big for most women’s hands? Or the fact that women are nearly 50% more likely to be seriously hurt in a car crash because cars are designed around the body of ‘Reference Man’?

These are just some of the seemingly endless nuggets presented in this perception-shattering analysis of the facts that fall between the cracks when we talk about gender.

As one judge said after awarding Criado-Perez the prestigious Royal Society science prize last year: “This important and vital book is only the beginning of the conversations we need to be having about how to make sure modern life works properly for everyone, no matter who they are.”

I, Robot: How to Be a Footballer 2 by Peter Crouch (2019)

There's a bit in I, Robot – Crouch's second memoir in two years – where he describes Wayne Rooney's birthday party at a Manchester restaurant called Wing's. “At some stage in proceedings [Rooney] and I did a karaoke turn bolstered by Gareth Barry and Joe Hart,” Crouch writes. "We did Westlife's Flying without Wings, despite being literally within Wing's, which tells you something else about the mentality of footballers."

Those are the sort of pithy observations that pepper I, Robot, and what make Crouch a special breed of ex-pro. It is so astute, so funny, so lovably self-effacing, that it has catapaulted the 6'7” beanpole of the box into one of England's most beloved footballers – no longer for his feet; now for his mind.

Take Crouch on the subject of taking books to away games: “Maybe one man out of twenty might be carrying a book, which will mark him out as a dangerous maverick who should sit with the staff rather than his fellow players.”

If there's one sports book that every football fan should read this year, it is this – assuming, that is, they have already read Crouch's first book, How To Be A Footballer (if your dad hasn't read that, get him started there).

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