Although this wasn’t a vintage year, I did manage to find diaries. The chirpy, too-big-for-his-boots Tory MP Alan Duncan released his political diaries, This is the Thick of It (William Collins, £25). 

Their faces were full of clumsy and ill-fitting remarks, many directed at his ex colleagues. He seems to live a dull existence far away from Westminster.

Hard to pick the single most boring entry, but ‘Mike and Anne Eley from next door come for dinner. Slow-cooked shank of beef. Rather tasty’ must surely be in with a chance.

Much more enjoyable were Hugo Vickers’ diaries of the years he spent as a young man writing the biography of the high-camp designer and photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (Malice In Wonderland, Hodder, £25).

Of course his raw material was infinitely superior to Alan Duncan’s – along the way he encountered Princess Margaret, Princesses Diana and Grace, Jeremy Thorpe, the Duchess of Argyll, Truman Capote, Julie Andrews and Audrey Hepburn, to name but a few – but Vickers is also a much more gifted diarist, quick-witted and observant.

Chips Channon’s diaries, heavily redacted when first published in 1967, are at last being published in full, now that their victims are safely dead and buried (Henry ‘Chips’ Channon: The Diaries, Volume 2, Hutchinson, £35).

These volumes have over 2,000 pages. Another volume will be released in spring. The Waspish High Campery of the Upper Classes is best enjoyed in smaller doses. If you go through more than 50 pages at a time, it’s almost like eating marshmallows.

This year, there were two outstanding books about villains. Robert Maxwell’s Fall Mystery (Viking, £18.99) by John Preston took a fresh look at the overweight and overbearing newspaper magnate, whose body was found floating in the sea off the Canary Islands 30 years ago.

The great and the good praised him to the skies at the time of his death, but had to eat their words once it emerged that Maxwell had left debts of £1 billion, and had pilfered well over £400 million from his employees’ pension funds.

Though he is sympathetic to Maxwell’s roots as a Jewish refugee, Preston in many ways agrees with Rupert Murdoch, who describes him as ‘a total buffoon’.

 When his newspaper, the Daily Mirror, launched a £1 million Spot The Ball competition, Maxwell told the editor to ‘Make sure this doesn’t cost me a million’, and ordered the judges to find the squares no one had chosen and then pick them as the correct ones.

The Sacklers have been regarded as saintly philanthropists until recent times, especially by the arts community, because they continued to endow museums and galleries around the world with extravagant bequests.

Patrick Radden Keefe demonstrates this in his magnificent video Empire Of Pain: The Secret History Of The Sackler Dynasty (Picador, £20), their vast fortune was founded on death.

Purdue Pharma manufactured OxyContin. It was dangerously addictive and they kept the word secret. 

The Sacklers and other opioid manufacturers caused half a billion deaths.

Empire Of Pain, an iconic piece of investigative journalism and a masterwork of storytelling is both a landmark in journalistic reporting and a work of art. It’s a story about a family of greed and greatness that can be compared to Zola or Balzac.

We’re living in a golden age of fiction by North American women: Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Strout, Meg Wolitzer, Curtis Sittenfeld, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, the late Carol Shields. 

This year I chanced upon someone else who can be added to the list – Mary Lawson, who comes from the wilds of Canada but has lived for decades in sedate Kingston upon Thames.

The strains and joys of everyday family life are the focus in all her books. The stories are sharply observable and well told. 

Her latest, One Town Called Solace (Chatto & Windus, £14.99), was long-listed for this year’s Booker Prize, so has achieved a certain amount of acclaim, but still she deserves to be better known. 

Also, congratulations to Meg Mason who hails from New Zealand. The Sorrow and the Bliss (W&N, £14.99) is full of snappy one-liners but, at the same time, also remarkably poignant.

You can take a dip in the rain-filled pond (Bloomsbury, £16.99) contains seven short stories by four great Russian writers – Chekhov, Tolstoy, Gogol and Turgenev – which are then examined in detail by the American short-story writer George Saunders.

This may sound dreary and academic but it’s quite the opposite. Saunders, who uses a clear, humorous, and often funny language to explain the various tricks of their construction, doesn’t try to diminish their genius. A gem.

This was the most unique literary biography that I have read in this past year. Frances Wilson’s Burning Man: The Ascent Of D. H. Lawrence (Bloomsbury, £25), which covers ten particularly hectic years in the life of the nightmarish author.

For some reason, Lawrence has always made my heart sink, and this book certainly never made me wish I’d met him, any more than I’d want to be pally with a tornado. 

But Wilson writes with such energy and humour that you fast become absorbed in Lawrence’s mad, bohemian circus of drunks, conmen, freethinkers, spongers and adulterers.

I didn’t expect much from the long and ludicrously expensive (£75!), two-volume The lyrics by Paul McCartney (Allen Lane). 

I imagined that Paul McCartney (above) had already said anything worth saying. But The Lyrics is full of revelations about the domestic events that gave birth to songs

Paul McCartney, above was the only person I could imagine saying anything. However, The Lyrics contains many revelations about domestic events which gave rise to songs

It was impossible to imagine that he would have said any worthwhile words. But it’s full of revelations about the domestic events that gave birth to songs which, decades later, still revolve in our heads.

For instance, the line from Rocky Raccoon ‘the doctor came in, stinking of gin’ was inspired by a doctor who gave Paul three stitches on his lip after he fell off a moped while visiting his family in Liverpool for Christmas 1965. 

Paul threaded the needle because the doctor was so drunk. The doctor then gave Paul a moustache as a cover for the cut. It was a look that the Beatles loved and they copied. In a matter weeks, nearly half of the young men on the planet followed the example.

If, like me, you’ve been missing New York during lockdown, Craig Taylor’s New Yorkers (John Murray, £25) will make you miss it even more. 

Across seven years Craig Taylor interviewed a variety of New Yorkers to produce a book that perfectly captures their relentless drive

Craig Taylor interviewed many New Yorkers over seven years to create a book that captures their unwavering drive.

Across seven years he interviewed a variety of New Yorkers – a window cleaner, a personal injury lawyer, a subway conductor, a dog-walker, a security guard at the Statue of Liberty, and so on – to produce a book that perfectly captures their relentless drive. 

‘We’re all characters, we’re fast talkers, we’re hustlers,’ says an attorney. It comes with a price. 

A dentist points out: ‘In New York, you get a lot of grinding.’ After the 2007-08 financial crash, ‘that was huge, huge. Many people grind their teeth by clenching or grinding. It was easy to see cracked teeth. You were seeing ground-down teeth’.

Two books written by comics were very enjoyable to me. For the first two-thirds, Bob Mortimer’s And Away… (Gallery, £20) finds our hero almost as forlorn as a character in a Patrick Hamilton novel. 

Bob Mortimer’s (above) And Away… finds our hero almost as forlorn as a character in a Patrick Hamilton novel

Bob Mortimer’s (above) And Away… finds our hero almost as forlorn as a character in a Patrick Hamilton novel

Everything changes for him when he visits Vic Reeves’ show above the pub. ‘I felt like I had seen the past, present and the future of comedy.’ 

Over the next weeks they strike up a friendship and – hey presto! – Mortimer transforms from downbeat solicitor to happy comedian.

Frank Skinner’s A Comedian’s Prayer Book (Hodder, £9.99) must confuse booksellers as they puzzle over whether to file it under Humour or Religion. 

Frank Skinner’s (above) A Comedian’s Prayer Book must confuse booksellers as they puzzle over whether to file it under Humour or Religion. It's actually a bit of both

Frank Skinner’s (above) A Comedian’s Prayer Book must confuse booksellers as they puzzle over whether to file it under Humour or Religion. You can actually find a lot of both.

It’s actually a bit of both, as Skinner is far from solemn. But I liked his disapproval of what he calls ‘belief-lite’. 

An uncompromising Roman Catholic, he attends Mass every day and reads the Bible everyday. He also prays using a Rosary. ‘Weird-in-a-good-way is one of my favourite religious categories. I like my religion to feel like poetry rather than prose… I don’t like it cosy.

The year was disappointing for royal books or books written by royals. 

One romantic novel by The Duchess Of York was published in 1897. She has a heart for compass (Mills & Boon, £14.99), which, it emerged, was ‘co-written’ with a Mills & Boon veteran, Marguerite Kaye, who churns them out at the dizzying rate of 8,000 words a day.

Set in Victorian times, with lots of cod olden-days language – a typical sentence begins ‘The day was considerably advanced’ – it proved a long, dreary read. 

The romantic scenes that involved hugs and kisses were almost comically offensive to me. ‘They kissed. Deep, starving kisses, adult kisses, their tongues tangling, hands clutching and clinging.’

The wife of another second Windsor son, the Duchess of Sussex, published a cashing-in-on-baby, virtue-signalling children’s book calledThe Bench (Puffin, £12.99), which even the dimmest reader could read in a maximum of five minutes. 

‘This is your bench/ Where you’ll witness great joy/ From here you will rest/ See the growth of our boy.’ It makes Pam Ayres seem like Milton.

 Happily, it turns out that most of us can still sniff a celebrity turkey a mile off. Last time I checked, Fergie was at 16,794 on the Amazon book charts. This is quite a bit higher than Meghan’s 47,861.