Jenni Fagan, novelist

Jenni Fagan, novelist

One of my favourite books this year is Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (Picador, £12.99). It is a modern version of the Snow White fairy tale and challenges the origins of meaning. Boy, Snow, Bird includes extraordinary characters. It is set in 1953 when Boy Novak escapes from her father (the terrible ratcatcher) and starts her life in a small town in Massachusetts. She becomes stepmother to the beautiful little girl Snow and, when her own daughter is born, she realises her husband and his family are light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Boy is compelling as a mother who wants to protect her daughter from denial and racism within her own family, and also from her flawlessly beautiful sister Snow, whose facade hides a sinister depth. These three characters challenge the believability of what the mirror itself reflects. A beautiful and original voice that draws you further in with every page.

Ron Butlin, author

James Robertson's The Professor Of Truth (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99) is a masterly novel that not infrequently touches on the Lockerbie bombing. Fine storytelling, great characterisation and with no unnecessary detail, it is a compelling thriller that succeeds also as a work of quality literary fiction. Kona Macphee is a truly gifted poet and I always read her work with admiration. She is a profoundly serious writer whose skill and lightness of touch takes us to the very heart of the matter. I thoroughly recommend What Long Miles (Bloodaxe Books, £8.95) as one of the finest collections I have read for some time. Gerda Stevenson's If This Were Real (Smokestack Books, £7.95) and Michael Pederson's Play With Me (Polygon, £9.99) are first collections by emerging poets. Both promise much, and they deliver. The best of the new in contemporary Scottish poetry, they are not to be missed.

Pat Kane, author and journalist

Play, Playfulness, Innovation And Creativity by Paul Martin and Patrick Bateson (Cambridge University Press, £21.99) is the best complement to the Scottish Government's new Play Strategy for children. If we want a coming Scots generation brimming with ideas, passions and initiative, we must give them room to play, throughout their education - and their adult lives. The late Stephen Maxwell's The Case For Left-Wing Nationalism (Luath, £9.99) should inspire their parents to seize the day on September 18, 2014. I really regret never engaging properly with this great Scots intellectual when he was alive. I was thinking about the future for most of 2013: the most extraordinary thinker about this is the Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger. His forthcoming The Religion Of The Future (Harvard University press, £36.95) - currently available in full and for free on the web - is a vital and moving philosophy of human potential. Something to feed into a dynamic new nation-state. Here's hoping.

Toby Litt, author

Corban Wilkin's graphic novel Breaker's End suffered the indignity of a Kickstarter campaign that didn't quite kick off - probably because Wilkins is more interested in telling amazing, moving tales than in Instagramming his lunch. Imagine a less furious and more compassionate take on Jez Butterworth's play Jerusalem. A brilliantly drawn story about people who usually get left out of the story. It'll be published very soon, and people will say they knew about it all along. I fell in love with another graphic novel, Glyn Dillon's The Nao Of Brown (Selfmade Hero, £16.99) - a meditation on love and meditation. After disappearing into movie-storyboarding for over a decade, Dillon returned having developed a heartbreakingly direct style of drawing.

Tom Leonard, poet

The place of the narrator in Jenni Fagan's brilliant The Panopticon, now released in paperback (Windmill £7.99), links this tale of displaced, embattled childhood way beyond contemporary drug-cultural cousins like Trainspotting, right back to David Copperfield of 1850. Yves Engler's The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper's Foreign Policy (Fernwood £12.95) usefully details the neoliberal militaristic policies of the Canadian leader who might be close ally, some would wish, of a future Scotland patrolling Arctic waters within Nato. Toby Matthiesen's Sectarian Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia And The Arab Spring That Wasn't (Stanford University £8.11) spells out the divide-and-rule promotion of Shia-Sunni conflict by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Marion Bernstein's A Song Of Glasgow Town (ASLS £12.50) at last publishes the collected poems of the poet whose sometime civically progressive and pioneering feminist poems in the Glasgow Weekly Mail of the 1870s should be known as part of our common heritage.

Robin Robertson, poet and publisher

Any year that has a new Cormac McCarthy in it is a good year, even if it's a screenplay like The Counsellor (Picador, £7.99). The other book that cheered me up was Stoner by John Williams (Vintage, £8.99). Originally published in the States in 1965, I first heard of it from the late John McGahern, sitting in his favourite bar - Blake's of the Hollow, in Enniskillen. When I got hold of a copy, I was astonished and passed it on to Vintage - who published it in 2003, with an introduction by John. Stoner then swiftly slipped back into oblivion, like many masterpieces, before re-emerging this year - rather triumphantly (and permanently this time, I think) - and selling more than 100,000 copies.

Michael Russell, Minister for Education

James Robertson is Scotland's literary chronicler par excellence, and his ability to make us feel uncomfortable but immensely better informed about the human condition is perfectly in evidence in The Professor Of Truth (Hamish Hamilton, £16.99), which is by far the best book I have read this year. Visual and cerebral, it still haunts me, months after I devoured it in a sitting. Complexity of emotion in a much simpler package comes in Lari Don's excellent Breaking The Spell (Frances Lincoln, £14.99), a book of Scottish traditional tales for children told with lovely modern human twists. In complete contrast, the 50th anniversary of the Profumo affair allowed Richard Davenport Hines to tell the story again in An English Affair: Sex, Class And Power In The Age Of Profumo (HarperPress, £9.99) but with an attractive sympathy for those caught up in it who were not so much villains as victims of, as he puts it, sex, class and power in a very different and massively more hypocritical age.

Lesley Glaister, novelist

This year I've been immersed in books about the First World War - in connection with my own work - and was impressed by At Break Of Day by Elizabeth Speller (Virago, £16.99). Beginning in 1913, it tells the stories of four young men as they are affected by the war. It's wonderfully achieved, moving and cleverly plotted. I am currently engrossed in Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford (BBC Books, £8.99) - not easy but addictive; and have recently re-read Vera Britain's Testament Of Youth (Virago, £14.99), an eloquent diary covering the period before, during and after the Great War. I loved Iain Banks's strangely prescient The Quarry (Little Brown, £18.99), terribly sad but also wicked and hilarious; as good as anything before (which is saying a lot). I was entertained by #freetopiary: An Occupy Romance by Peter Burnett (Thirsty Books, £6.99), an odd little novella set in Edinburgh and the Borders, with a very believable central character who becomes unwittingly involved in cyber crime - a great afternoon's entertainment.

Clare English, broadcaster

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (Vintage, £7.99)... hated the title, loathed the chic lit-style cover, but Kerry Hudson, I salute you. You made me read what seemed on the surface to be a misery memoir - and I loved it. The witty dialogue explodes off the page and despite liberal scatterings of swearing, bleak poverty and gloom, we can't help but be seduced by our funny young narrator, Janie Ryan. If this is what Hudson can do without bagging a degree in English Lit or doing a creative writing course, then bring on the next book - a star is born. Plus GP Gavin Francis's spellbinding account of a 14-month-long stay at the Halley Research Station in the frozen wastes, Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence And Emperor Penguins (Vintage, £8.99). If you think you don't like travel writing, try this. Glorious.

Stewart Conn, poet

The Great Tapestry Of Scotland (Birlinn, £30) is a detailed guide revealing the breathtaking scale and nature of the arts project of that name, first put on public display in the Scottish Parliament. Conceived by Alexander McCall Smith, designed by Andrew Crummy and realised by a thousand stitchers throughout the country, its 160 beautifully inventive embroidered panels distil Scotland's history down the millennia. Starting and ending with the eternal surge of the sea, the artwork shows an astonishing consistency yet variety of style and image, delicacy and clarity of line, and colour harmony. With Alistair Moffat's introduction and accompanying narrative charged with feeling and fine-tuned to a dual sense of nationhood and community, I found this book both a celebratory record of a people's story, and a joy in itself.

Lucy Ellmann, novelist

Much of the best stuff I read this year predates 2013, such as Elspeth Davie's wacky Providings (Calder Publications, o/p), Fannie Hurst's gripping Lummox (La Nouvelle Edition, £14) and Rachel Carson's essential Silent Spring (Penguin, £9.99). But there were some brand-new delights too. In Malicious Damage (Donlon Books, £35), Ilsa Colsell offers a perceptive account of Orton and Halliwell's library shenanigans. Rosemary Goring's After Flodden (Polygon, £14.99), her first novel, is a rip-roaring adventure story complete with sexy hero. I much admired Peter Burnett's art-world novel,The Studio Game (Fledgling £7.99), especially for its undersea ending. Maureen Freely's semi-autobiographical Sailing Through Byzantium (Linen Press, £7.18), giving us 1960s Istanbul from an American child's perspective, seems to me her best novel yet. She has vast recall, and childhood's always a winner. Photographer/sculptor Lori Nix has created miniature American apocalypses in The City (Decode, £37.37), full of irony and ominous portent. And my husband Todd McEwen's novella The Five Simple Machines (CB Editions, £8.99) is a delicious exposé of male nonsense, for which I of course applaud him.

Neal Ascherson, journalist and author

Alan Warner's The Deadman's Pedal (Vintage, £8.99) - by far the best novel he's written - includes a chapter about a rail accident near Oban that is astonishing: pure Conrad-quality narrative. Red Love (stupid translation title) by Maxim Leo (Pushkin Press, £16.99) is a memoir about three leftist German generations in a family seeking Utopia and trying to stay whole. For elegant, persuasive evil, try The Executioner (Penguin, £4.99) - extracts from the work of Joseph Demaistre (1753-1821), the most insanely extreme of all right-wing thinkers. And then - not easy to get hold of - Unposted Letters (Gabberbochus & De Harmonie Amsterdam), the marvellous letters, drawings, diaries and documents of Franciszka and Stefan Themerson, two young Polish artists separated by war.

Vic Galloway, broadcaster and journalist

Bob Stanley's Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story Of Modern Pop (Faber, £20) is one of the most ambitious, extensive appraisals of pop culture ever. Spanning seven decades of music pre-rock'n'roll to the digital age, it's meticulous in detail yet never staid, po-faced or boring. Peppering endless facts with opinions and personality, he has you laughing out loud and reaching back into your record collection. Simon Goddard is fastidious in documenting and theorising about a short period of David Bowie's career in Ziggyology: A Brief History Of Ziggy Stardust (Ebury, £20). With enlightening anecdotes, stunning cover art and photos showing the Starman in his glamorous, androgynous glory, it's a must for Bowie geeks. John Higgs's The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds (Phoenix, £9.99) is an in-depth analysis of a truly inventive, unusual group for whom the idea was king and art more important than anything. Fascinating, funny and utterly confounding, it's probably the way they like it.

Nick Nairn, chef

I've always been a huge Iain Banks fan and read every book he wrote, even a non-novel about whisky distilleries. I'll miss his laconic wry insight into the human condition, typified by his understated "oh bugger" response to terminal cancer. The Quarry (Little Brown, £18.99) coincidentally about a family living with terminal cancer, is a wonderfully poignant but also intensely funny story told through the eyes of a teenage boy. It's uncharacteristically static, set in a house, with only a single outing into the quarry. A shame for me, as he wrote so well about travel - whether driving up the A9 or zipping 10,000 light years in a 'Culture' ship. His last sci-fi book, The Hydrogen Sonata, (Orbit, £8.99) struck a chord with me. I love the free reign he gives his highly fertile imagination to explore a world beyond physical restrictions. This fascinates me, the idea of life free of physical shortcomings and enhanced by science. And, as ever, it has a rollicking good tale at its heart.

Candia McWilliam, novelist

Antigonick by Anne Carson (Bloodaxe, £15); everything this classicist-poet writes is worth repeated close reading. This is also a beautiful book. Dear Boy by Emily Berry (Faber, £9.99); intelligently droll first book of poems, each of which is a story and, often, many moods too. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (Virago, £14.99); let's see off for good that stuff about likeable narrators in company with this preeminent novelist who knows more than almost all what she is doing when she writes. The Hanging Garden by Patrick White (Jonathan Cape, £14.99); a posthumous incomplete novel from the great Australian Nobel crosspatch. A Chess Story by Stefan Zweig, translated by Alexander Starritt (Pushkin Press, £10); the games our minds play. Something Like Happy by John Burnside (Jonathan Cape, £16.99); again, he does it, catches what we actually feel we feel, yet what we really felt.

Andrew Greig, author

Most original and enjoyable read of 2013 was Ali Smith's Artful (Hamish Hamilton, £20). Not so much "experimental" as defying and blurring boundaries between fiction and non-fiction, it is a wonderful work of head and heart at play - intelligent without being smart-arse, unafraid of emotion but not sentimental, full of postmodern sensibility while being grounded. Another treasure is Alan Spence's Night Boat (Canongate, £14.99). Presented as the autobiography of the great Zen poet, wanderer and teacher Hakuin, it is an extraordinary act of empathy for another person, time and culture - so much so, it reads as a lifetime's spiritual journey of its author, full of quiet wit, humanity and wisdom. I am a strong admirer of the works and ethos of the Fence Collective, centred around the remarkably gifted Anderson brothers (King Creosote, Lone Pigeon, Pip Dylan) in the East Neuk of Fife. Songs In The Key Of Fife by Vic Galloway (Polygon, £14.99) is the Fence history, and the detailed web of connections, vast musical output and shifting relationships is enough to satisfy this anorak, and encourage any young musician to get out there and Do It (ideally in Fife). A great bedside book.

Julie Bertagna, novelist

An intriguing match-up of two tales of two sisters at this summer's Edinburgh Book Festival explored riven spirits and unfulfilled passions. Awakenings by Stevie Davies (Parthian, £15) is an unforgettable and unflinching excavation of the complex lives of two sisters in 1860s England, caught in the ferment of new science, politics and religion. It's a survival story in a past that often seems as weird as Jess Richards's tale of two sisters in dystopian future, Cooking With Bones (Sceptre, £17.99). Part fairy tale, part sci-fi, this is a compelling journey of language and ideas. Andy Murray's Seventy Seven: My Road To Wimbledon (Headline, £20) is a fabulous memento of the best moment of the summer and a fascinating insight, in his own words, into a ne'er-say-die spirit who lived his passion and wouldn't let go of his dream.

Robert Crawford, poet and author

The book that has fascinated me most this year is Sarah Stewart's sumptuously illustrated The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism In History And Imagination (IB Tauris, £45) - a wonderful account of complex religious and cultural traditions that link Iran and India to this and many other countries. Good to see the election poster for Zoroastrian Shapurji Saklatvala, the Communist candidate in Shettleston for a June 1930 by-election. The book is a real winter warmer, and sits nicely beside Gaston Bachelard's The Psychoanalysis Of Fire (Beacon Press, £13.67).

Kirsty Wark, journalist and broadcaster

The Testament Of Mary by Colm Toibin (Penguin, £7.99) is both thought-provoking and gut-wrenching. That he has achieved this with such spare language in so few pages makes it all the more memorable. It lives with me still. In the epic yet intimate The Daughters Of Mars (Sceptre, £8.99), Thomas Keneally has caught wonderfully the relationship between the two Durance sisters - two Australian nurses who shadow each other through World War One, holding between them a dark secret. The passage describing the sinking of the Archimedes is vivid and awful; it was as if it was unfolding in front of my eyes. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little Brown, £20) was worth the 11-year wait. This is the absorbing and beautifully drawn story of 13-year-old New Yorker Theo Decker, and what happens to his life when catastrophe strikes. Donna Tartt's narrative powers are immense, and she can deliver the most heartrending intimate moments, alongside some rollicking rollercoaster scenes.

Lesley McDowell, author and critic

Lucy Ellmann's Mimi (Bloomsbury, £12.99) is a delicious, funny, clever tale about heroism and feminism and cities, which is capable of switching tone from comedy to tragedy and back again in the blink of an eye, while never losing its depth. It's simply the most original work I read this year, apart from the paperback of Kirsty Gunn's astonishing The Big Music (Faber, £9.99), whose modernist symphony set in the Highlands was both lulling and rousing at the same time. An extraordinary achievement that I would have expected to see on every literary prize list, but alas no. Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs (Virago, £14.99), with her angry, vulnerable heroine, also seems to have foxed quite a few people. Three superb women writers with books people can't easily label but which challenge everything else around them - that's a winner year as far as I'm concerned.

Alex Gray, novelist

The beginning of 2013 had me reading a proof copy of The Cuckoo's Calling (Sphere, £16.99), blissfully unaware that the brilliant 'debut' writer, Robert Galbraith, was actually JK Rowling! Welcome to crimeland, JK, please stay around and keep fascinating us with your stories. Malcolm Mackay's second novel in his Glasgow gangster trilogy, How A Gunman Says Goodbye (Mantle, £12.99), won the Scottish Crime Book of the Year at Bloody Scotland. Great stuff from the man from Lewis. Peter May's Hebrides (Quercus, £20), with David Wilson's breathtaking photography, describes his own journey in fact and fiction through the Outer Hebrides. I plan to buy several copies to give island lovers at Christmas. Republished by Canongate this year, William McIlvanney's Laidlaw trilogy reminded me of how strong an influence he was when I was an ambitious young writer learning my craft. Willie's Laidlaw (£7.99), The Papers Of Tony Veitch (£7.99) and Strange Loyalties (£7.99) unleashed a flood of crime novels that has amazed the reading public ever since. I re-read them all and still wonder at the brilliance of the man.

Christopher Brookmyre, novelist

The Tartan Special One by Barry Phillips (Teckle Books, £7.99) was an anarchic fantasy about the ongoing battle for the very soul of Scottish football, and that rare beast these days, a novel unashamedly comic in its intent. I frequently had tears running down my face as I laughed at Phillips's soaringly deranged imagination and joyfully inventive profanity. Here Comes Everybody: The Story Of The Pogues by James Fearnley (Faber, £9.99) was an elegantly written, heartfelt, honest and tender memoir several levels above most rock biogs. Similarly, Adventures Of A Waterboy by Mike Scott (Jawbone Press, £14.95) gave a typically lyrical insight into the sometimes inspired, sometimes chaotic and frequently intangible alchemical processes that marked Scott's endeavours in bringing forth what he describes as the music in his head. Finally, despite my reservations about anything potentially involving zombies, Your Brother's Blood by David Towsey (Jo Fletcher Books, £14.99) was a spiritual, evocative and elegiac "undead western", dwelling delicately on themes of loss and mortality in a human and moving debut.

Blair Jenkins, yes scotland Campaign Director

Didn't read much fiction this year, apart from a couple of Better Together publications. Best of the factual? Well, Mark Leibovich writes scathingly and wittily about the gold-plated revolving doors of Washington in This Town (Blue Rider, £17.26).

It's an insider's view of the beltway obsession with palace intrigue and self-promotion. Even if you know a bit about how US politics blends with corporate lobbying, your jaw will hit the floor with page-turning regularity. Closer to home, Lesley Riddoch's Blossom (Luath, £11.99) is a passionate dissection of the problems and the opportunities confronting Scotland.

Lesley has a genuine grasp of her material, plus a unique combination of moral outrage and mental agility. Finally, Al Gore goes to great lengths to answer some very big questions in The Future (WH Allen, £25). There's a lot of knowledge and wisdom on show, and you get to feel really virtuous just for having read it to the end.

Blair McDougall, Better Together Campaign Director

In truth, the book I have absorbed most this year is a children's book. Lick!, a pop-up book by Matthew Van Fleet (Simon and Schuster, £6.99), is a bed-time hit with my one-year-old daughter. Between a new baby and the hours demanded by the referendum campaign I have had to rely on thrillers for reading-time before sleep. Best this year has been A Foreign Country by Scots author Charles Cumming (Harper, £7.99).

He is compared to Le Carré, and the premise is certainly familiar. However, this is very modern, as a disgraced spy is recalled to find the disappeared head of MI6 and recover his place in a morally ambiguous world. My book of the year is also a beautiful work of art - cartoonist Joe Sacco's 24-foot panorama of the first day of the Somme. Without a single word, and in one continuous frame, this graphic novel powerfully captures the awe and awfulness of The Great War.