Cal Flyn, Deputy Editor

Five Books deputy editor Cal Flyn is a writer from the Highlands of Scotland.

Her latest book, Islands of Abandonment—about the ecology and psychology of abandoned places—is out now. It has been shortlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize, the Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation, the British Academy Book Prize, and for the title of Scottish Nonfiction Book of the Year.

At Five Books, she interviews on subjects including literary fiction and nonfiction, psychology, nature, environment, and science fiction.

Interviews by Cal Flyn

The best books on Art History, recommended by Charlotte Mullins

The critic Charlotte Mullins, author of A Little History of Art, recommends five books that have altered her understanding of art history. Too often, she argues, we have forgotten that our concept of the past is deeply influenced by the views of those who wrote about it first; these readable, well-researched books offer readers a fresh perspective.

The Best Contemporary Mystery Books, recommended by Mark Edwards

Crime writers are often mild-mannered individuals who have learned to delve into the deepest, darkest recesses of their imagination to create their books, says the bestselling author Mark Edwards. Here, he recommends five of the best contemporary mysteries that will keep you guessing right to the final page.

The Best Haunted House Books, recommended by Kylie Whitehead

Looking for a scary story this Halloween? Us too. We asked Kylie Whitehead, author of the acclaimed literary body horror Absorbed, to select five of the best haunted house books. Here she discusses her spine-tingling recommendations, which include Anne Rivers Siddons’s cult hit The House Next Door and Michael McDowell’s Southern Gothic novel The Elementals.

The Best Thrillers of 2022, recommended by Tosca Lee

Every year, the International Thriller Writers—an honorary organisation of authors—showcases the best new books in the genre at their annual awards. Here, bestselling author and the organisation’s vice-president Tosca Lee talks us through the six-strong shortlist of books, and explains why ‘Southern noir’ writer S.A. Cosby won the title for the best thriller of 2022—only a year on from his last triumph.

The best books on Animal Consciousness, recommended by David Peña-Guzmán

The more we learn about the minds of other species, the more we are forced to question any assumptions that might previously have been made about their inner lives. Here, the philosopher David Peña-Guzmán talks us through the profound questions thrown up by research into animal cognition, perception and emotion, as he recommends five of the best books on animal consciousness.

The Best Fiction of 2022: The Booker Prize Shortlist, recommended by Neil MacGregor

The Booker Prize is awarded each year to the best original novel written in the English language. We asked the art historian Neil MacGregor, chair of this year’s judging panel, to talk us through the six novels that made the 2022 shortlist—and why fiction can be a most effective means of engaging us emotionally in social and political crisis elsewhere.

The Best Science Fiction of 2022: The Arthur C. Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Andrew M. Butler

Every year, the judges for the Arthur C. Clarke Award select the best of the latest batch of new scifi books. In 2022, the science fiction award’s shortlist includes new work from Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, a novel-in-verse from the Scottish writer Harry Josephine Giles, and a new title in Arkady Martine’s beloved Teixcalaan series. Andrew M. Butler, academic and chair of the judges, talks us through the finalists.

The Best Addiction Memoirs, recommended by Matt Rowland Hill

The author and recovering addict Matt Rowland Hill dissects the ‘addiction memoir’—its literary potential, its formal conventions and its offer of hope and catharsis—as he recommends five books that exemplify the form, from Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater to Mary Karr’s bestselling Lit.

Five of the Best Classic Mexican Novels, recommended by Ave Barrera

We asked the award-winning Mexican novelist Ave Barrera—whose latest book, The Forgery, has recently been translated into English—to recommend five classic Mexican novels. Here she discusses her choices, which include books by Juan Rulfo, Elena Garro and Nellie Campobello.

The Best South Asian Novels in Translation, recommended by Jenny Bhatt

The writer and translator Jenny Bhatt selects five key works of South Asian literature, all historical novels available in English translation, that showcase the richness and diversity of the region’s lesser known languages: from a modernist classic decrying the depradations of the coal mining industry to a ‘loose, baggy monster’ of a Victorian novel exploring utopian ideals.

The Best Recent Novels from Francophone Africa, recommended by Mutt-Lon

The award-winning Cameroonian novelist Mutt-Lon selects five of the best recent novels from Francophone Africa, including Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s Prix Goncourt-winning La plus secrète mémoire des hommes. These novels, he notes—as with many others from West and Central Africa—are united by a common search for identity in post-colonial Africa.

The best books on Sense of Place, recommended by Patrick Galbraith

Novelists, non-fiction writers and poets all attempt to create immersive and atmospheric settings in their books—what is called a ‘sense of place’ in literary terms. Here, the British journalist Patrick Galbraith selects five books that explore and evoke a sense of place—including works by Joan Didion, Mark Kurlansky and John McPhee.

The Best Summer Mysteries, recommended by Caroline Crampton

If you’re about to jet off for a relaxing vacation, you might be looking for a page-turning detective story to keep you enthralled on your sun-lounger. Here, Caroline Crampton—creator of the popular podcast Shedunnit—recommends five classic murder mysteries set in glamorous summer holiday locations.

The Best of World Literature: The 2022 International Booker Prize Shortlist, recommended by Frank Wynne

The International Booker Prize celebrates the best fiction in translation published over the previous year. Frank Wynne, acclaimed translator and chair of the 2022 judging panel, tells Five Books about the six novels that made the shortlist, and reminds readers that world literature need not be tough, consumed only in the interests of self-improvement—but is often joyful, surprising and full of feeling.

The best books on Natural History, recommended by David George Haskell

Natural history can offer a “portal into wonder and astonishment,” says David George Haskell, the biologist and award-winning author of nonfiction works including Sounds Wild and Broken and The Forest Unseen. But natural history books, in the past, have also been guilty of reinforcing prejudices. Here he recommends five natural history books that celebrate the diversity of life.

The Best Near-Future Dystopias, recommended by Rosa Rankin-Gee

Books featuring dystopian or post-apocalyptic themes offer us an opportunity to study human nature outside of the normal structure of society, says Rosa Rankin-Gee, author of the acclaimed novel Dreamland. Here, she recommends five other books featuring a near-future dystopia, all of which explore a societal or cultural unraveling through beautiful prose.

Literary Horror Books, recommended by Sue Rainsford

The most unnerving and disturbing novels are often those books that leave room for interpretation and uncertainty. Here, the acclaimed Irish novelist Sue Rainsford selects five frightening works of literary horror, by authors who are masters of the unsettling implication—because nothing is quite so scary as what you dream up to fill the voids.

The best books on NATO, recommended by Mark Webber

With all eyes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s a good time to educate yourself on the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in post-war Europe. Here, University of Birmingham political scientist Mark Webber offers five book recommendations on the history, aims and ideals of NATO.

The Best William Golding Books, recommended by Judy Golding

The Nobel laureate William Golding is best known for his novel Lord of the Flies, in which a group of schoolboys marooned on a desert island revert to savagery. But he was a prolific writer who produced eleven further novels, including the Booker Prize-winning Rites of Passage. Here, his daughter and manager of his literary estate Judy Golding selects five of William Golding’s key texts, including The Inheritors—the book he felt to be his best work.

The Best Tudor Historical Fiction, recommended by Alison Weir

The Tudor dynasty, which ruled England from 1485 to 1603, has been the focus of extraordinary public attention in recent years, thanks to the success of books like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and the lavish television drama The Tudors, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. We asked Alison Weir, the author of many bestselling factual and novelistic books on the period, to recommend her favourite works of Tudor historical fiction.

The Best Literary Thrillers, recommended by Chris Power

For those with a taste for fine literature, but who also enjoy their fiction with a bit of suspense and momentum, the acclaimed novelist Chris Power—author of A Lonely Man—has put together a recommended reading list of five ‘literary thrillers’, including work by Fernanda Melchor, Roberto Bolaño and the Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano.

Five of the Best Works of Belarusian Literature, recommended by Hanna Komar

Writers have been subject to persecution and repression in Belarus, and increasingly so in the aftermath of the protests that swept the nation in 2020 and 2021. Owning or distributing books deemed ‘extremist’ by the Lukashenko government can be enough to land you in jail. Here, the poet and activist Hanna Komar selects five of the best works of Belarusian literature that offer a glimpse of the culture and mindset of this post-Soviet nation, and the bravery of those who continue to fight for political freedom.

The best books on Gender Inequality, recommended by Linda Scott

Women produce about 40% of global GDP and more than half of the world’s food. But their economic and social contribution has too often gone unrecorded—subsumed into ‘household earnings’ or otherwise disregarded. Here, the Oxford academic and author of The Double X Economy Linda Scott selects five of the best books on gender inequality, and reveals how the empowerment of women might just be the route to world peace.

The Best Shirley Jackson Books, recommended by Joan Passey

Shirley Jackson, the 20th-century horror author, has had a remarkable resurgence in popularity in recent years, with a series of screen adaptations bringing her writing to a new audience. Joan Passey, an academic at Bristol University and co-editor of an upcoming collection of essays on the ‘mother of horror’, selects five books that offer the best introduction to Shirley Jackson’s work.

The Best Memoirs: The 2022 NBCC Autobiography Shortlist, recommended by Marion Winik

Autobiography is evolving; increasingly we find the field dominated by ‘genre-fluid’ books that plait memoir together with strands of cultural criticism, history, journalism or even poetry. Here, Marion Winik, the memoirist and critic, talks us through the five books that have been shortlisted in the National Book Critic’s Circle autobiography category—and describes the face of memoir in 2022.

The best books on Scottish Nationalism, recommended by Murray Leith

There has been a sharp rise in nationalist and pro-independence sentiment in Scotland since the resumption of the Scottish parliament in 1999. Here, the University of West Scotland political scientist Murray Leith reflects on the changing nature of Scottish identity and separatist visions, as he recommends five key books on Scottish nationalism.

The Best Self Help Books of 2021, recommended by Emma Gannon

Lockdowns have forced many of us to pause and consider the way we are living our lives, says the podcaster and bestselling author Emma Gannon. Here she highlights five of the best self help books published in 2021, with a special focus on creativity and setting better boundaries to safeguard our time and energy.

The Best Philosophy Books of 2021, recommended by Nigel Warburton

Nigel Warburton—the philosopher, broadcaster and creator of the popular Philosophy Bites podcast—selects five of the best public philosophy books published in 2021, including a defence of righteous rage, an examination of the concept of ‘time management,’ and an intellectual biography of the political philosopher and Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt.

The best books on Islands, recommended by Gavin Francis

Generations of writers, explorers and armchair travellers have found a focal point of fascination in the idea of the remote island. Why so? Gavin Francis, the award-winning writer, explains the everlasting appeal of the lonely isle – and why the fantasy is at least as powerful as the salt-sprayed reality – as he selects five of the best books on islands.

The Best Wartime Mystery Books, recommended by Caroline Crampton

The ‘golden age’ of detective fiction is usually considered to end suddenly with the outbreak of the Second World War. But many of the era’s leading novelists continued to write prolifically throughout, says Caroline Crampton, creator of the popular Shedunnit podcast. Here she selects five of the best wartime mysteries.

The Best Fiction of 2021: The Booker Prize Shortlist, recommended by Maya Jasanoff

This year the Booker Prize finalists include new work from previous shortlistees Richard Powers and Damon Galgut, a sweeping historical novel by Maggie Shipstead, and a fragmentary account of a life lived ‘extremely online.’ Maya Jasanoff, Harvard historian and chair of the 2021 judging panel, talks us through the best fiction of the past year.

The Best Thrillers of 2021, recommended by Tosca Lee

Looking for a fantastic new thriller to read? We asked Tosca Lee, the bestselling author, to talk us through the International Thriller Writers 2021 shortlist. With their amazing characters, palpable tension, unique voices and incredible plot twists these thrillers achieve what every reader is looking for: a book they can’t put down.

The best books on Time Management, recommended by Oliver Burkeman

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? You are not alone. Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks, selects some of the best books on time management—including two classic how-to guides, plus several texts focused on helping you decide how you really want to spend your finite time on this planet.

Landmarks of Scottish Literature, recommended by James Robertson

Scottish culture is best understood as related to, but distinct from, that of Britain or England, says the acclaimed novelist James Robertson. Here, he selects five landmark works of Scottish literature, from Sir Walter Scott’s sweeping, panoramic social novels of the 18th century, through Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, to Nan Shepherd’s beloved nature writing.

The best books on Summer, recommended by Melissa Harrison

Temperatures ratcheting, tinderbox conditions, a pressure cooker atmosphere… summer is a handy literary shorthand for rising tensions. But in the natural world, summer is a quiet time when the flowers die back and the fruits and seeds are ripening. Here, Melissa Harrison—the novelist, nature writer and podcaster—recommends five of the best summer books, for those who like to read in step with the seasons.

The Best Science Fiction of 2021: The Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist, recommended by Tom Hunter

Every year, the director of the Arthur C Clarke Award talks us through their six book shortlist. The 2021 crop of the best science fiction books features a “deliciously pulpy” space opera, a time travel story for young adults, and a cacophonous tale of talking animals. What they all have in common is that they are by debut authors, says Tom Hunter: they represent a new generation of sci fi writing.

Landmark LGBTQI books, recommended by Rosie Wilby

Queer readers have had to transpose themselves into heteronormative stories for most of their lives, says the comedian and writer Rosie Wilby. That’s one of the reasons why straight, cis- readers should make time to read books from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex community. Here she highlights five landmark books by LGBTQI writers that everyone should read.  

Erotic Writing by Arab Women, recommended by Selma Dabbagh

Arab women have been writing erotic literature for millennia and have become more creative and daring in recent years in the wake of the Arab Spring and the spread of social media, says novelist Selma Dabbagh, editor of a new anthology, We Wrote in Symbols: Love and Lust by Arab Women Writers. Here, she picks five key examples of erotic writing by women of the region.

Five of the Best European Classics, recommended by David Campbell

Europe may be made up of many cultures but its component parts share an artistic and literary sensibility, says Everyman’s Library publisher David Campbell. Here, he recommends five European classics that everyone should read at least once in their life, including “the greatest novel ever written” and some lesser-known masterpieces.

Forgotten Classics: The Best B-Side Books, recommended by John Plotz

New books are constantly being published. Sometimes they slip by unremarked; sometimes their impact is so enormous as to divert the flow of literature altogether. But what of those books that made a splash on arrival, but have long since disappeared from view? John Plotz, the literary scholar, has spent five years resurfacing these forgotten classics: the ‘B-side books’ that have fallen from the public consciousness.

The Best Ursula Le Guin Books, recommended by Sherryl Vint

Ursula Le Guin’s most groundbreaking books are considered landmark texts in speculative fiction, exploring themes of colonisation, gender, nationalism and environmentalism through allegorical means. Here, the science fiction scholar Sherryl Vint selects five of the best books by Ursula Le Guin and examines her legacy as one of the great American writers.

The Best Mythopoeic Fantasy, recommended by Samantha Shannon

Fantasy writers often create vivid, intricately detailed worlds in which their stories unfold. Rich mythmaking of this kind often features alternative religions, languages and cultures, and is known among fans and scholars as ‘mythopoeia’. Here, Samantha Shannon—author of the internationally bestselling The Bone Season sequence—recommends five of the best mythopoeic fantasy books.

The Best Postcolonial Literature, recommended by Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb

Postcolonial literature brings together writings from formerly colonised territories, allowing commonalities across disparate cultures to be identified and examined. Here, the University of Toronto academic Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb recommends five key works that explore philosophical and political questions through allegory, personal reflection and powerful polemic.

The Best Black British Writers, recommended by Jacqueline Roy

Black British writers have been storming the bestseller charts in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. Here, Jacqueline Roy—the novelist and lecturer in Black literature—selects five of the best books by Black British writers that deserve more attention.