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The year in books: Big Edinburgh names pick their favourite reads of 2012

Grant Stott has been reading Nile Rogers' Le Freak

Grant Stott has been reading Nile Rogers' Le Freak

WHETHER it has been the continuing success of 50 Shades, JK Rowling’s move into adult literature, or Ian Rankin returning with Rebus, 2012 has been quite a year in the book world.

Along with Rowling and Rankin, Edinburgh-based author Diana Hendry has also been nominated for the Costa prize for The Seeing, a story of three children in post-war Britain.

The rising star of Tartan Noir, Tony Black, was also back with a new book for 2012 as he looks forward to Dougray Scott starring in a film adaptation of his work.

But what has been your favourite book of the year?

The Evening News approached some prominent Edinburgh names to find out their top reads of 2012.

Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal & Vice-Chancellor, University of Edinburgh

I got such a lot of pleasure from Discovering King’s Cross. It is a pop-up book beautifully illustrated by Lucy Dalzell. The texts by Michael Palin and Dan Cruickshank are really engaging.

For any child or adult with an interest in railway architecture or the wonderful way architects like John McAslan can revitalise historic buildings it is an unbeatable treat.

In the 70s I worked in Forrest Hill adjacent to Sandy Bell’s in Edinburgh which is a key location in James Robertson’s And the Land Stay Still. I found this great book both very nostalgic and effective at evoking a recent quite different city to the one I now live in. It is also a very moving account of Scotland and of love.

This was the year to read Chris Cleave’s Gold, which is an exciting and engaging account of intense Olympic competition that rang true to me.

Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann illuminates modern science via a very funny and totally 
compelling chronology of the imaginary collision between Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt.

En route to Tokyo I read Edmund de Wall’s The Hare With Amber Eyes, which describes his very powerful personal response to some of the darker parts of the recent history of Europe and made me much more aware of the intricate and engaging art of Japan.

Richard Holloway’s Leaving Alexandria filled me with great admiration for his honesty and for his moral character and helped me better understand my own childhood.

Euan Dale, Swimmer and Olympian

The Energy Bus by Jon Gordonn is an awesome story about how this guy who is down on his luck has to ride the bus to work one day, and the bus driver, Joy, changes his life forever. It is a very positive story about how you do control how you react to things that happen to you and the choices you make. The guidelines help change my outlook on life and the way I live it.

Bounce by Matthew Syed is a very interesting and thought-provoking book. It basically argues that for any significantly complex human activity (especially sports like tennis, football and golf, and games like chess) natural talent is of pretty low importance because the wiring of the brain required to succeed can only be achieved through a massive amount of “purposeful” 
practice.

The end result of this practice is often mistaken for natural talent, but in fact the trait most high achievers have in common is a willingness to work harder than their peers and a belief that this hard work will drive greater improvement and success, not a belief in their fixed superiority. There are a number of compelling and inspiring examples in the book, the most amazing of which is a family of Hungarian chess players whose story has changed the way I look at what is possible for any person to achieve.

I was really taken by Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. The narrative avoids the usual cliche of sports writing by taking the reader through an engaging adventure intertwined with evident thorough research.

I felt the book awarded both knowledge and inspiration through the story of the author and his personal struggle back to health as well as his discovery and exploration of the Tarahumara people.

Creating further intrigue is the mysterious character of Caballo Blanco, an American vagabond who’d made his home in the Mexican canyons and chosen to adopt a Tarahumara lifestyle.

Karen Koren, Artistic Director of the Gilded Balloon

After reading the Millennium Trilogy when it was all the rage, I became fascinated with Scandinavian fiction, probably to do with my Norwegian ancestry. I love Jo Nesbo and The Snowman, which was the first one I read, was particularly gripping and I still think his best.

I continued to read most of his books, however, the one that did not enamor me was The Headhunters, which was a film script before he wrote it as a book.

It was a better book than it was a film, however (not wanting to give the plot away) when the hero hides himself in s***, I had to laugh – very unlikely plot scenario!

Jo Nesbo must have a fascination with the nether regions as his 
children’s books are called Dr 
Proctor’s Fart Powder. My grandson has read all of them and loves them!

Ken MacLeod, Science Fiction author

I’m still racing through Iain M Banks’s latest space opera, The Hydrogen Sonata. His non-M novel Stonemouth, published earlier this year, took some of his familiar themes of young love and family 
secrets and to a new level of skill and suspense – the family in question being a crime family – and shows a firm grip on the fast-changing present.

Matthew Collins’ newly revised and reissued memoir of a mis-spent youth in the 1980s, Hate: My Life in the British Far Right, is a great read: eye-opening, chilling and very funny.

When Collins became sickened with life as a Nazi thug he changed sides. He became a mole for the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, and did his former comrades a lot of damage. This book should do even more.

Andrew Murray, GP and ultra runner

Narrowly squeezing Roald Dahl’s The Twits into second is the World’s Ultimate Running Races. Although available for £10 online, this could be the most expensive book you ever buy as it offers insights into spectacular and iconic races including many in Scotland, as well as in the Arctic, the Himalaya, and the Jungle.

Put your credit card away – you’ll be tempted to enter them all.

There are short races, longer races, road, cross country, mountain races, with the book offering something for everyone from the beginner to the elite runner.

I’ve bought a few as Christmas presents, and can recommend an atlas to go with it.

Grant Stott, broadcaster, DJ and panto star

I’m not a great reader of books. Never have been. But that’s not to say I don’t. I just don’t find a lot of time to pick up a book and get stuck into it, so when I do it can take a while to finish. As it stands I’ve got two books on the go at the moment – both autobiographies.

First purchased was Nile Rogers Le Freak. I’m a huge fan and this is a superb journey through his life with some incredible tales of working with the likes of David Bowie, Madonna, Diana Ross and, of course, how he changed the path of dance music with Chic.

The second is John Myers Team, It’s Only Radio which is a brilliant insight into ups and downs of commercial radio over the last 20 years – of which, I can relate to quite a 
bit.

Susan Morrison, comedian

2012 has been a big year for those of us obsessed with the RMS Titanic – this was the centenary of the sinking of the biggest metaphor in the 
history.

I’ve got a bookshelf full of Titanic-related books, but this year I read Frances Wilson’s How to Survive The Titanic, the story of J Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the ship’s owner, The White Star Line.

Ismay, in an action to be repeated by a certain Italian ship’s captain this very year, stepped off his sinking ship, leaving his customers to their fate.

He was, I believed, shunned by polite society for the rest of his life.

For years I had some sympathy for Ismay, but Wilson’s excellent book revealed a distasteful, self-pitying man, who far from being shunned, pretty much did the shunning.

Great book about a subject I thought I knew. Love it when a new fact turns up!

Donald Wilson, Lord Provost of Edinburgh

The Lady Provost and I are both keen readers and are particularly keen on detective stories. While Elaine prefers more contemporary settings, notably Ian Rankin and Quentin Jardine’s novels, I tend to favour historical whodunits and, in particular, Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series, set in ancient Rome.

The novel’s hero is a detective named Gordianus the Finder – the Rebus of his day, you might say. While on holiday recently, I dusted off Last Seen in Massilia.

This is a thrilling tale in which Gordianus attempts to solve the murder of his own son in Massilia (now Marseille) during the siege of the city by Caesar’s troops.

Sir Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep

Neither of the books that interested me most this year was published in 2012. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze was published by Harper in New York in 2001. In it Peter Hessler wrote an account of the two years – 1996/7 – during which he taught English and American literature in a small town college far away from the usual tourist spots of China.

The author was a Peace Corp volunteer who provides a frank account of his interactions with students and residents of the industrial city. I am sure that it provides a very accurate and useful insight into the lives of the general population of China at that time.

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by David Worster describes the long journey made by the man from Dunbar in East Lothian 
to the wilderness areas of North America.

His experiences taught him the importance of the natural world for both our physical and mental well-being and inspired him to become one of the first crusaders for preservation of the natural world, among other ways by forming national parks. This is an inspiring book.

 

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