My top secular books of 2013 – not necessarily those published this year (as will be apparent) but those I read for the first time this year. Related: Top Christian books of 2013.

  1. Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare. This play went from being unknown to my favourite Shakespeare play in a very short space of time due to its word-play and verbal sparring between the leads, but also because it is often laugh-out-loud funny. The Joss Whedon adaptation was my initial introduction, and is also my film of the year.
  2. Quiet, by Susan Cain. A book on introverts by an introvert that helped me understand myself and others better, whilst also showing me that quiet is not only possible but desirable for extroverts like me too! This and Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (see last year) make a powerful case for silence, space and reflection: a message I need to keep hearing in the noise of our always-connected culture.
  3. The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. Oh my. This is the year that Margaret Atwood became my favourite living author. Stunning in its scope, subtle in its nuances, bringing together biography and fantasy in an intense narrative that hints and weaves and dances before reaching an explosive and emotional end. Epic and oh-so-worth-it.
  4. Tender is the night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I had one failed attempt at starting this slow-moving but beautiful portrayal of 1920s glitz in terminal decline, but I’m so glad I persevered. If The Great Gatsby is small and perfectly formed, this is the sprawling and strange elder sibling.
  5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John le Carré. A gripping introduction to one of the great Cold War story-tellers. This is to Ian Fleming’s Bond as Alec Guinness is to Roger Moore – sophisticated rather than salacious, complex characters rather than stereotypes, and thoughtful prose rather than terse one-liners. (This may be unfair to Fleming, but it’s certainly not unfair to le Carré.)