Patrick Harvie, co-convener, Scottish Green Party
PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason (Allen Lane, £16.99) will be of little interest to those who imagine that capitalism is simply picking itself up and dusting itself down after the minor inconvenience of the global financial crisis and the recession that followed.
But to those who have long seen not only the inequality which modern capitalism has created but also its fundamental incompatibility with a finite planet that’s already under intolerable strain, the book was required reading this year.
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It’s not short on dense analysis of economic history, as well as the cumbersome ideological baggage which so often accompanies the search for economic alternatives. But it offers its analysis in the light of modern factors, from climate change to the hyper-networked world that’s being built today, and the peer-to-peer relationships which are emerging.
If you believe that change is coming, you may find that Mason is asking many of the right questions.
Janice Forsyth, broadcaster
William Boyd's latest novel, Sweet Caress (Bloomsbury, £18.99), about a pioneering female documentary photographer whose life spans the 20th century, was a page-turning delight. Taking us from her twilight days on a Hebridean island in the 1970s, back to the flashpoints in history that she witnessed, Boyd deftly blurs fact and fiction. A real-life gutsy dame is the subject of another rip-roaring read – American comedian, Phyllis Diller’s, memoir, Like A Lampshade In A Whorehouse (Jeremy P Tarcher/Penguin, $14.95). Published in 2005, seven years before her death at the age of 95, it’s essential reading for anyone interested in comedy, in particular women in comedy. Diller raised five children, almost single-handedly, while playing clubs and building a career that would see her become a household name in the USA. She survived homelessness, plastic surgery, divorces, tragedy, turmoil – with not a moment of self-pity; a trailblazer who paved the way for Joan Rivers.
Willie Rennie, Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats
It's been a good year for reading but also a dark and murderous one – which I wish to assure readers in not a reflection of my hidden character. A couple of my favourites are Cormac McCarthy's The Road (Picador, £8.99) and A Tap On The Window by Linwood Barclay (Orion, £8.99). Both reflect on the positive attributes of humans and the desire to find truth, survive and aid our fellow humans. Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece is gripping but dark: the nameless father-and-son team committing to survival through the barren land facing threats from unknown quarters. Love, insecurity, hope and drive are fully on display. A Tap At The Window is the story of the Good Samaritan who turns to murder suspect in his hunt for the truth about his son's death. His obsession threatens to destroy his life but it was about his son after all.
Kirsty Logan, short story writer and novelist
It's been an excellent year for talented Scottish women, particularly when it comes to debut novels; my favourites were Lucy Ribchester's The Hourglass Factory (Simon & Schuster, £7.99) and Kirstin Innes's Fishnet (Freight, £8.99), which explore the female experience in very different ways. This year I also became a debut novelist, and one of the most enjoyable parts of that experience was doing readings with other debut writers. Two of the best books (and most interesting writers) I found this way were Sara Novi?'s Girl At War (Little, Brown, £14.99) and Catherine Chanter's The Well (Canongate, £7.99) – both writers are hugely talented, and I can't wait to read their future work.
John Burnside, poet and novelist
It has been a good year for creative non-fiction, with outstanding contributions from Gavin Francis, whose Adventures In Human Being (Profile, £14.99) offered a wise and lyrical tour of the human body, and Malachy Tallack, who circumnavigated the earth on its 60th parallel in order to reveal some poignant truths about the nature of home, in his extraordinary first book 60 Degrees North (Polygon, £12.99). Having to read 150-plus novels as a Man Booker judge was a wonderful, if demanding chore; occasionally, though, I had to take refuge in poetry, particularly in collections of work written over nigh-on 40 years ago by two of America's finest poets: Prodigal: New And Selected Poems, 1976 to 2014 (Houghton Mifflin, £11.17), by the inimitable Linda Gregerson, and Jorie Graham's magisterial From the New World: Poems 1976-2014 (Ecco, £19.77).
Vic Galloway, broadcaster and author
Different Every Time – The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt (Serpent's Tail, £20) by Marcus O'Dair is detailed, intimate and eminently readable account of a true British eccentric and genuine outsider talent. O'Dair's book takes in Wyatt's childhood, upbringing and musical career from the 1960s to the present day, documenting the Soft Machine, Matching Mole and his sublime solo material. One of the best rock biogs I've come across in recent years, written with warmth and honesty. Life After Dark – A history Of British Nightclubs & Music Venues (Simon & Schuster, £20) by Dave Haslam. Fun, hugely informative and with an almost obsessive attention to the minutiae required, Hacienda DJ legend Haslam regales us with tales of the great halls and seedy dives in which we have all experienced life-changing nights. It's fascinating historically, taking in over 200 years of night-life, as well as being full of juicy anecdotes. Bass Culture – When Reggae Was King (Penguin, £9.99), by Lloyd Bradley was first published in 2000. Having left it languishing on a shelf for over a decade, I finally got around to reading this brilliant, evocative book on one of my favourite genres. Bradley places the music and those who made it, as well as Jamaica's seismic cultural upheaval, within the political and social context necessary. He also shows how influential and globally successful the music has become and continues to be.
Toby Litt, author
A year is far too short a time to get to know some books. Keston Sutherland is an astonishing poet (check his reading of Hot White Andy on YouTube), and his Poetical Works 1999-2015 (Enitharmon, £20) is a very significant collection. I expect to start understanding it in about a decade. Sutherland is political, as he says, “all the way down”. Political meaning Marxist. Each line is an explosive assault on complacency of all varieties. Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics Of Sorrow (Open Letter, £10.99) is another book to dwell upon. Gospodinov is not a fast writer – his previous novel, Natural Novel, came out 10 years ago. The Physics Of Sorrow – which centres on the Minotaur in his labyrinth – is fragmentary and mythic but also robust and funny.
Ron Butlin, poet
One of this year's most enjoyable poetry collections comes from Brian Nisbet (Nisbet Publications), a true poet whose poems glow with genuine wonder and joy. Now You Know is a marvellous collection I will return to again and again. Philip Kerr is back in top form with The Lady From Zagreb (Quercus, £16.99). A genuine page-turning thriller, excellent one-liners, and cynicism that only barely conceals a deep compassion. Like many people, I am furious at the crass greed and short-term self-interest of many politicians and business leaders. Owen Jones's The Establishment (Penguin, £8.99) provides a brilliant analysis of what is so wrong about so much in contemporary Britain. Engaging and well-argued, it is not to be missed – whatever your politics. The Beechwood Airship Interviews by Dan Richards (The Friday Project, £14.99) is a fascinating memoir on creativity. Artists, writers musicians, actors and the rest – why do they do it? This intriguing series of interviews reveals all.
Allan Hunter, co-director, Glasgow Film festival
It has been a year of discovering the works of Patrick Modiano, Elizabeth Bowen and George Gissing. New books that linger in the memory would have to include Kirstin Innes’s debut Fishnet (Freight Books, £8.99), a novel that weaves its fiction around an open-minded, clear-eyed investigation of the widely misunderstood lives of sex workers and contemporary prostitution. It leaves you feeling as if you have been on an enlightening journey. Hana Yanagihara’s monumental A Little Life (Picador, £16.99) is a remarkable tale of love, friendship and the difficulties of embracing life when everything conspires against you feeling you have any right to happiness. The avalanche of misery that befalls central character Jude is often harrowing but completely gripping throughout.
Joyce Gunn Cairns, artist
With age and increasing vulnerability my inclination in reading is to guard myself against reminders of human conflict and brutality yet I continue to be compelled by it. I have recently read three books which highlight human corruptibility, and yet are not without moments of redemption: Hans Fallada’s Jeder stirbt fuer sich allein, published in 1947, translated as Alone In Berlin by Michael Hofmann (Penguin Modern Classics, £9.99), recounts the courage of an ordinary German couple in Berlin of 1940, whose subversive acts remind us that Nazism is not synonymous with being German; Bad Blood, A Walk Along The Irish Border by Colm Toibin (Picador, £6.99), is set shortly after the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and in it, Toibin’s encounters with the tragedy of religious division is offset by the beauty of his prose. Dacre’s War, by Rosemary Goring (Polygon, £14.99), is a poignant return to my roots in the Borders, and is a timely and gripping reminder that conflict on our own soil, Scottish and English, is a heartbeat away.
Alice Thompson, novelist
This year, I particularly enjoyed Pippa Goldschmidt's collection of short stories entitled Of Outer Space (Freight, £8.99). Her collection includes a cool appraisal of how Einstein deals with the death of his daughter and the surreal account of how the nuclear physicist Robert Oppenhiemer leaves out a poisoned apple for his Professor. In these stories, the powerful juxtaposition of scientific intellect and emotional frailty is played out engagingly. The stories also imply that no matter how objective scientific genius is, the scientists themselves, like the rest of us, are subject to moral failings. Adventures In Human Being by Gavin Francis (Wellcome Collection ,£14.99) is a lively account of the biology of the human body, shot through with personal anecdotes from his working experience as a GP. He pulls off the stupendous trick of detailing the natural entropy of the body while also celebrating the joy of life. The Magicians Of Scotland by Ron Butlin (Polygon, £9.99) is another enjoyable collection by this resonant poet. Showing exquisite lightness of touch in the comic poems, Butlin also writes unforgettably and lyrically about the pain of war and love.
Karen Campbell, novelist
How To Be Both by Ali Smith (Penguin, £8.99). Ali Smith plays with language and time here beautifully, moving between two narratives: a contemporary story of a girl coping with her mother’s death, and the (tinged by real-life) tale of a forgotten15th-century Italian artist. It's the kind of book that sets off a series of wee lightbulbs in your brain, making you re-examine your own life, and think more deeply about gender, art, grief, love – basically how we connect with everything around us. By splitting these stories so the reader literally doesn’t know which one they’ll start with until they open the book, Smith explores what comes first – what we see or what we feel? Surface or depth? The idea that time laps back and forth isn't new of course, but she makes this notion work in a way that’s both satisfying and elusive, so that circles might become layers, or just fade away. Touching and wise, it’s my stand-out book of the year.
Jamie Byng, publisher, Canongate
Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend (Europa, £11.99) is a novel of brilliance that I devoured this summer and continue to savour. Likewise Kate Atkinson's A God in Ruins (Doubleday, £20), a book that deserved to win awards and, like Life After Life, was unfairly overlooked.
Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream (Bloomsbury, £18.99) and Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between The World And Me (Text, £10.99) are two of the most important and thought-provoking pieces of non-fiction I read. And if you are buying books, please go to an actual bookshop. You'll never know what else you might discover as a result and you will leave the bookshop a happier person, although probably poorer financially, than if you buy online.
Brian Morton, writer and critic
My favourite book of 2015 was also the shortest I read all year, which didn't save me any time because I read it five or six times over, with deepening enjoyment. Fleur Adcock's poetry collection The Land Ballot (Bloodaxe, £9.95) is just 90-odd pages long. It looks back ambivalently at her native New Zealand and is largely occupied with her late father's life. He died in 1987, though she wasn't there to see him in his small coffin. I won't be reading about him again any time soon, for I left the book on an Edinburgh-Glasgow train and feel slightly lost without it, and only half mollified by the thought that someone else is reading it now.
Kerry Hudson, novelist
Two memoirs really stood out for me this year. The first is a graphic novel, Becoming Unbecoming by artist and writer Una (Myriad Editions, £14.99). Becoming Unbecoming explores Una's own experience with her sexual and female identity against the backdrop of the hunt Yorkshire Ripper murder. It's a brilliant, brave and fiercely intelligent book and I read it in one sitting. Likewise, Linda Cracknell's Doubling Back (Freight, £14.99) was a huge highlight for me this year. Part memoir, part travelogue, the book finds Linda walking through landscapes including Kenya, the Scottish Highlands and the Swiss Alps. Linda is such an intelligent, insightful and compassionate writer that it was such an utter pleasure to "walk" with her while reading this.
Alex Gray, crime novelist and co-founder of Bloody Scotland
The Limits Of The World by Andrew Drennan (Freight, £8.99) is an ambitious novel set in totalitarian North Korea describing the life endured by Han, a tourist guide with a love for banned Western books. Drennan's delicate touch given the stark backdrop of this book shows real talent. Craig Russell's The Ghosts Of Altona (Quercus, £19.99), the latest of his Jan Fabel series set in Hamburg won the Scottish Crime Book of the Year at Bloody Scotland. Terrific crime fiction, tense and beautifully written. Lovely writing is also evident in a striking debut young adult novel. Follow Me by Victoria Gemmell (Strident, £7.99)
has layer upon layer of mystery as a teenage girl struggles to find the truth behind her twin sister's apparent suicide. The insight into teenage angst and emotional turmoil is sensitively handled against a background that includes a homage to Andy Warhol and other 20th-century icons.
Christopher Brookmyre, novelist
We Are Anonymous by Parmy Olson (Heinemann, £12.99) was an exhaustively researched and sensitively insightful account of the rise of Anonymous and in particular the activities – and downfall – of LulzSec. Olson’s book was distinct from other chronicles of what it calls the global cyber insurgency in that it was neither giddily cheerleading nor condemnatory, but illuminated the complex personal circumstances of individuals whose online swashbuckling was often in stark contrast to their challenging social realities.
Irvine Welsh’s A Decent Ride (Jonathan Cape, £12.99) was tear-streaming, lung-bursting, lying-down-helpless funny. Juice Terry Lawson has always been a superb supporting character, but he proved he was complex and endearing enough to be centre-stage in a masterpiece of comic grotesquerie. Andy Weir’s The Martian (Del Rey, £7.99) got a polished big-screen treatment from Ridley Scott, but for my money the film failed to convey the book’s claustrophobic attention to scientific detail. The novel was both a science geek’s dream and nightmare, a nerve-shredding survival battle in which the accuracy of every last calculation can mean life or death, and every minuscule, even potential resource must be salvaged.
Lesley McDowell, author and critic
Anyone who loves Virginia Woolf's novels and finds her life story just as fascinating will relish Priya Parmar's Vanessa And Her Sister (Bloomsbury, £12.99), a fictional account of her relationship with her artist sister, Vanessa Bell. Parmar's recreations of both women are beautifully and sympathetically done, without being sentimental. And as hard as it might be to bring such an iconic figure to life in a novel, I can't imagine how much harder it is to recreate a ghost. Katie King is a ghost who has appeared to people over the last 150 years or so. In her debut novel, A Ghost's Story (Granta, £12.99), biographer Lorna Gibb has risen to the challenge with a fascinating story of what it might be like to be a ghost, and the longing in us that makes us want them to exist. And the ghostly figure of John Craske – ghostly because he was elusive – who was a fisherman turned artist, became Julia Blackburn's quarry in her lovely and moving memoir/biography, Threads: The Delicate Life Of John Craske (Jonathan Cape, £25).
Kapka Kassabova, writer
These books are both slim, uplifting despite their titles, and coincidentally from the same publisher. Signs Preceding The End Of The World by Juri Herrera (And Other Stories, £8.99) opens with “I’m dead, Makina said to herself when everything lurched” and is read in one go because the prose bewitches you as much as Makina’s predicament. The Hades-like border-crossing adventure of a young girl from a Mexican town, it is a cardinal myth for our times. Now And At The Hour Of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques (£8.99) came out of the author’s travels to remote Portuguese villages where carers visit the dying. It is an exquisitely measured meditation on how we die – which echoes how we live but not always in an obvious way; this implicit insight gives each chapter a quiet suspensefulness. Written as a series of psychological portraits, it brims with wisdom and the rich evocation of a forgotten European periphery.
Gordon Brewer, broadcaster
Somehow, when James Ellroy goes forward from the period of The Black Dahlia, his writing seems to lose its force. Going back, however, was an inspired idea. Perfidia (Heinemann, £18.99) is set at the time of Pearl Harbour and reeks with paranoia, tension between the Chinese and Japanese in Los Angeles, plus the usual extreme violence and staccato sentences. Don’t go online and listen to the tune, though – it’s one of those that won’t get out of your head. I enjoyed Paul Theroux’s Deep South (Hamish Hamilton, £20), travel writing done as social documentary and with great honesty. And Camille (Maclehose, £8.99), the last of Pierre Lemaitre’s bizarre trilogy starring his vertically challenged detective Camille Verhoeven. Start with Ir?ne, the first one, though.
Lucy Ellmann, novelist
“If men could menstruate … [they] would brag about how long and how much.” Gloria Steinem has devoted 50 years of her life to political activism and My Life On The Road (Oneworld, £14.99) is an appropriately scattered account of what that might entail. Because of Shirley Jackson’s Let Me Tell You (Penguin, £20), I rediscovered her witty memoirs about bringing up three children in Vermont: Life Among The Savages, and Raising Demons (Penguin US, $16 each). She mercifully leaves her husband’s infidelities out of the picture, and spares us any mention of ghosts. And William Kotzwinkle’s glorious The Fan Man (Vintage, £7.99) remains the book to give people when they’re sick – or well. Everyone should know about Dorky Day.
Chris Dolan, novelist and scriptwriter
We have in our midst an exciting new writer. Graeme McRae Burnet’s His Bloody Project (Saraband/Contraband, £8.99) is a gripping crime story, a deeply imagined historical novel, and gloriously written – all in one tour-de-force of a book. Stevensonian – that’s the highest praise I can give. Peter Arnott’s Moon Country (Vagabond Voices, £8.99) is wild, wicked, hilarious and deadly serious. One of our finest playwrights turns a crafty eye on modern Scotland. Brace, brace! Return, by Ghada Karmi (Verso, £16.99) is essential reading for anyone who wants to see behind the guns and walls and rhetoric of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Both a personal journey and a sharp-eyed study of an ongoing tragedy, it’s the most important non-fiction book of the year.
Todd McEwen, novelist
Frank Case was the manager of the Algonquin Hotel in New York for many years. His Tales Of A Wayward Inn (I got it from Abe Books, about £8) shows him to be a comic spirit equal to Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, George S Kaufman and the many others who gathered there in the 1920s and 1930s – he would have to be, wouldn’t he? Mr Case once told a diner who brought his dog to the table that the dog was welcome to come back – alone. But the greater pleasure I had this year (though a sad one) was to read the Selected Poems of my late friend Paul Violi (Rebel Arts, £15). His remarkable House Of Xerxes is a typically amusing and chilling take on the ancient arts of war in the language of Vogue: “Here come those splendid Persians! We were expecting fireworks and here they are!”
Zoe Strachan, novelist
I don’t have children, but by chance this year I’ve read two books that deal with motherhood in remarkable and often poignant ways. Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (Graywolf, £8.99) thoughtfully juxtaposes the birth of a child and the death of a mother amidst personal celebrations of “the many-gendered mothers of my heart”. Intimate and invigorating. Janice Galloway prefaces her new collection of stories, Jellyfish (Freight, £12.99), with a quote from David Lodge: “Literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children; life's the other way round.” In fact she gives us plenty of both, but it’s the stories about mothers and children that really cut to the quick. She has that tremendous ability to write a story that feels like a novel in its evocation of a character and her world.
Alan Bissett, novelist and performer
Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by the Israeli scholar Yuval Noah Harari (Vintage, £8.99) might just be one of the best books I’ve read in any year. It’s a rambunctious, freewheeling, approachable and highly entertaining account of humanity from our first origins on Earth, and even speculates about our possible future. It challenged all sorts of preconceptions I didn’t even know I held. Funniest book of the year goes to the Canadian Jillian Tamaki’s Supermutant Magic Academy (Drawn & Quarterly, £13.99), a graphic novel which not only satirises Harry Potter/The X-Men but is one of the most painful and affectionate depictions of teenagers since The Catcher In The Rye. I’ve invested heavily in George RR Martin’s Game Of Thrones series, so the beautifully-illustrated "pre-history" spin-off, The World Of Ice And Fire (HarperVoyager, £30), slaked my geek thirst. The planning and detail it took to create Westeros never fails to make me stagger.
Dan Rhodes, novelist
I've been reading lots of short stories this year. Rachel Trezise's latest collection, Cosmic Latte (Parthian, £8.99), is something of a masterclass, as is Stuart Evers' Your Father Sends His Love (Picador, £12.99). I've been on the lookout for laughs, and somewhat predictably Neil Forsyth's new Bob Servant book, Ask Bob: Your Guide To A Wonderful Life (BBC Books, £9.99), has several on every page. After so many years it's easy to take Viz for granted, but their latest annual, The Otter's Pocket (Dennis Publishing, £10.99), is a reminder that it's home to some of the best writing out there. The Drunken Bakers is a Pinter for our times – and yes, it's as funny as it used to be.
Damien Barr, writer
John Lahr's Joyride (WW Norton, £19.75) is a classic of theatre criticism and human observation. Celebrity has debased acting so much. Nevertheless Lahr, who was born to Broadway royalty, is fascinated by these “athletes of the spirit” and we are too. Polly Samson's The Kindness (Bloomsbury, £14.99) is a dark, twisting thriller of the emotions which lushly shows how one secret can affect many lives. Sue Perkins could easily have packed Spectacles (Penguin, £20) with Mary Berry stories and sponge recipes and got away with it. Instead she shows herself in brilliant unsparing detail: afflicted by terrible fringes, desperate to fit in, in love with men and women. Patrick Gale's A Place Called Winter (Tinder Press £7.99) is an Edwardian cross between Brokeback Mountain and Farming Today.
Lesley Glaister, novelist
Like many people I’ve been swept away by Elena’s Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels this year – enough said. My most recent treat has been Second Wind, new poems by Douglas Dunn, Vicki Feaver and Diana Hendry, (a Saltire Series pamphlet, £7) around the theme of ageing. No room to single things out here, but so much that is moving, unexpected, witty and simply fine. Day 6, When Motherhood and Madness Collide by Jen S Wight (Green Olive Press, £5.99) is a searingly honest account of post-partum psychosis. With no trace of self-pity, Jen recounts her precarious mental state in the year after her son’s birth. She gives the most lucid account of mental illness and its treatment I’ve ever read. Anyone with a concern for this subject should read it – but I don’t mean to make it sound worthy. I laughed and cried as I devoured this in one greedy sitting.
Pat Kane, author and musician
Paul Mason's Postcapitalism (Allen Lane, £16.99) is the only book I've read three times in a row – partly because it's such an inspiring analysis and programme for action, but also because of its drama and brio. I devour almost anything Grant Morrison writes, but his Nameless comic (image, £1.95) is brilliant and terrifying: James Hogg sent into hyperspace with a bag of ayahuasca. Alec Finlay's A Better Tale To Tell (CCA/Aye-Aye Books, £5) is a moving poetic tribute to the language of civic aspiration unleashed by the indyref & the YeSNP – all the more poignantly for being based on fruitless submissions to the inert, suboptimal Smith Commission. Finally, Andrew Smart's Beyond Zero And One (ORBooks.com, £12) and Roberto Unger and Lee Smolin's The Singular Universe And The Reality of Time (CUP, £19.99) should sort out the rest of inner and outer existence for you, one way or another.