Books of 2010: Authors, actors, politicians, sports stars and more reveal their top reads of the year

If the spirit of Christmas yet to come means having the chance to lose yourself in a good book, take some tips from our illustrious panel for the ideal gift

Robin Robertson

Poet and publisher

This has been an unusually strong year for poetry, and not just from household names like Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, Paul Muldoon, Jo Shapcott and Derek Walcott, and I'm looking forward to re-reading Jilted City by Patrick McGuinness. One of this year's projects has been to try to write about Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's Punchinello drawings, so Roberto Calasso's Tiepolo Pink (Bodley Head) was timely – the product of a brilliant mind. Similarly, True Friendship by Christopher Ricks will be sipped like a weighted glass of Lagavulin.

Hannah McGill

Writer, critic and former director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival

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I adored David Nicholls' One Day – so simply written and yet so absolutely compelling, with its brilliant structure and its completely recognisable and lovable characters. It can't have been effortless to write, but it feels it; I can't wait for the film. AS Byatt's The Children's Book contrasts in terms of being richly embroidered and full of historical detail and profound philosophical inquiry, but it also made me love its characters and miss them when they'd gone.

Nick Barley

Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

It's certainly been a great year for Scottish writing. Andrew O'Hagan's Life And Opinions Of Maf The Dog and Alan Warner's Stars In The Bright Sky paint original pictures of two very different social worlds, while James Robertson's And The Land Lay Still feels like a defining moment – both for Robertson and for literature in this country. The poet Robin Robertson's The Wrecking Light is my favourite Scottish book of the year: thunderingly powerful and as peaty as Laphroaig. Of the literature from elsewhere, best of all is David Grossman's To the End Of The Land. It's the story of a woman avoiding news of the probable death of her son in an Israeli tank. To read it is to encounter a character so finely wrought it's hard to believe she's not really there right now.

Iain Gray


A bumper year indeed for political memoirs – Blair, Bush, Mandelson. But my favourites are two diaries from what could be called – at a stretch – background players. The current volume of Alastair Campbell's diaries, Prelude To Power, covers 1994-97, and they will stand as the most comprehensive coverage of the Blair years. However, it is Chris Mullin's Decline And Fall which ranks with the very best of political diaries. A talented writer with an outstanding novel behind him, A Very British Coup (1982), Mullin covers the Blair and Brown years from the corridors of Westminster. Droll and with a sardonic wit, Mullin, unlike so many, does not even spare himself. But what comes through is his innate decency.

David Shrigley


Harry Hill's diary, Living The Dream, is without doubt the daftest book you will read this year. But those of us who avidly tune into TV Burp each week know very well that this daftness is indispensable. Harry Hill makes me laugh so much I'm not allowed to eat or drink at the same time because I have often had accidents caused by my hysterics. He should be prescribed on the NHS along with those lightboxes that are supposed to cheer you up in the winter.

Annabel Goldie


Purchased by chance was Clarissa Dickson Wright's autobiography Spilling The Beans. I have always thought she was a tremendously colourful and feisty character, but I had no idea about the dark shadows which engulfed her earlier life. I greatly admire her engaging and elegant literary style not to mention the genuinely fascinating and informative content of the book which is a worthy chronicle in its own right. But I felt humbled by her searing honesty and candour. I think this book took a great deal of courage and personal determination to write.

Shereen Nanjiani


This year, on my first holiday to Barcelona, I read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow Of The Wind. It's a wonderful literary thriller-cum-love story which starts with the search for a mysterious author in Barcelona in the aftermath of the Civil War. It's so evocative of the time and, through its twists and turns, brings the secrets of Barcelona's past to life. At the back of the book there's a map of all the places mentioned in the story. I visited all of them.

Dom Joly

TV presenter and author of The Dark Tourist

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Best book I've read this year is Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens – an amazing read about a fascinating character made even more poignant by his contracting of cancer while promoting the book. There were moments where his writing left me breathless with jealousy. How I would love to come close to having that sort of ability. There are some particularly affecting chapters about his mother's death and his love affair with America.

Alex Salmond

First Minister

My book of 2010 is And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson. This is an outstanding and important novel about Scotland, and what it means to be Scottish. The title is taken from the late Edwin Morgan's Sonnets From Scotland and it charts the history of our country from the end of the Second World War to the present day, told from the point of view of its people. James Robertson was the Scottish Parliament's first writer-in-residence. This is his fourth novel and, I believe, his finest.

Kenny Anderson

AKA singer King Creosote

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This summer at the How The Light Gets In festival in Hay-on-Wye I bought Marcus du Sautoy's The Music Of The Primes, tracing the history of the number theorists, and in particular those searching for the answer to the ultimate number puzzle – ie, that of predicting when the next prime number will occur based on a tantalisingly elusive proof of the Riemann hypothesis.

Nicky Haslam


Two of the most moving books this year were by friends, one a highly regarded writer, the other a first-time author. Candia McWilliam's What To Look For In Winter: A Memoir In Blindness is as bleak and deep as a snowscape, with the sudden golden shafts of humour and scholarly erudition one relishes in Candia's work. I read Why Not Say What Happened?, a painful and yet bravely hilarious memoir by Ivana Lowell in manuscript by a summer sea in Tuscany, and parts of it gave me cold shivers.

Fiona Hyslop

MSP, Minister for Culture and External Affairs

James Robertson's sense of Scottish characters and speech penetrates every page of And The Land Lay Still. This epic journey is a must read for anyone wanting to learn about and understand the last five decades of Scottish life. My interest in politics was first pricked when reading of political intrigue in Roman times at school. Robert Harris's Lustrum – the next stage in the story of Cicero – runs with pace, intellect and a real grasp of history and event, real or invented. You can take your pick of similarities with today's politicians.

Elaine C Smith


Of late I am immersed in books about Joni Mitchell due to the fact that I am appearing on Celebrity Mastermind and she is my specialist subject. Fabulous books like Shadows And Light by Karen O'Brien, Both Sides Now by Brian Hinton, Joni Mitchell's Blue Period by Michelle Mercer and Lloyd Whitesell's The Music Of Joni Mitchell. I have just finished recording the audio book for Susan Boyle's book and have to say it is a very good read, insightful, moving and gives a real picture of Susan. Obviously, it's an even better listen as I'm reading it, two for the price of one!

Andrew Motion


The reputation of one of the great American poets of the late 20th century, Louis Simpson, has always been overshadowed by more famous near contemporaries such as Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. Now Bloodaxe has published a new volume of selected poems by Simpson called Voices In The Distance, which should give him the audience he deserves. The poems are sad and funny and strange – apparently very relaxed, but actually wound up tight. Masterly.

Julie Fowlis

Singer and instrumentalist

Published at the end of 2009, I didn't get to read the award-winning Cco Is Crbagan (Cocoa And Crabs) – a Hebridean Childhood. until this year. The author, Flora Macdonald, writes in a very personal, vivid style, painting pictures of her youth in the Hebrides in beautiful Uist Gaelic. The book has been described "as a small slice of social history", looking at the hard island lives of her parents, but often from the point of view of her younger self – blissfully unaware of the hardships they faced.

Michael Marra

Singer songwriter

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And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson springs instantly to mind. I knew how long he'd been working on it and was looking forward to reading it for quite some time. Do be warned that it is very long and rather complicated but certainly worth the perseverance.

Belinda Dickson

of Belinda Robertson Cashmere

I couldn't put down A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. It's is the very moving and well-written story of the plight of a woman in Afghanistan, and it examines poverty and wealth in a country that's been torn apart by war. After reading it I felt even more strongly that we should not be marching into a country like Afghanistan in order to "sort them out".

Andy Gray


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I am currently reading a brilliant book, And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson. It transported me back to my childhood as the character visits the Perth Playhouse and Perth cinema and describes the brilliant parties of those times. I also enjoyed The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay by Michael Chabon. This American crime writer has written a fantastic novel about comic books in the 1940s.

Daniel Sloss


The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland, is one of the finest graphic novels ever written. The storyline and artwork are beautiful. The tale of two completely opposite people, but who are so similar in origins. The Batman, who wants to prove that everyone has good in them, and The Joker, a psychopath who wants to prove that no one is good, and all it takes to become evil is "one bad day".

Alastair Mackenzie


Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is a mind-blowing, panoramic expos of the kind of family most of us can relate to in some form of other. It is never heavy-handed but it is unnervingly acute and revealing. The best book I have read since The Corrections.

David Weir

Rangers FC captain and Scotland international

I'm reading Bounce by journalist Matthew Syed at the moment and I'm probably enjoying that as much as any book I have read this year, although I did really like Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy as well. Bounce is non-fiction and it is the author's take on talented people, not just sports people, and how they are not born with that talent but have to work at it. It deals with psychology and economics, and studies the impact those factors have on a person's ability and desire to become one of the best.

This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 12 December, 2010