I love a good list, don’t you? And right now, we’re in the month of plenty. There are currently 3 interesting longlists to select from: The Best Translated Book Award (BTBA), the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) and the Orange (no abbreviation necessary). In total I have 8 books in the TBR from those lists: 4 translated from German (no surprise there), 1 from Portuguese and 2 Oranges. So in the next few weeks I shall alternate between reading and reviewing titles from these lists. As a challenge to myself, let me add a fourth.
Scotland’s Bookshelf was unveiled at Glasgow’s Ayewrite festival last night. Ayewrite! takes places at the Mitchell Library which celebrated its centennary on its current site in November 2011. To celebrate this landmark, the librarians of Glasgow have selected a bookshelf of Scottish must-reads, with each decade of the last 100 years represented by just two books. They have also produced a lovely little booklet, which Stuart Kelly last night described as a primer for the last 100 years of Scotland’s books. With him on stage to discuss the list were Rosemary Goring, who chaired the panel responsible for in the selection on the bookshelf; T C Smout, author of the only non-fiction title on the list, A History of the Scottish People (1969); Allan Massie who wrote the 1989 entry, A Question of Loyalties and finally, bringing up the naughties, Janice Galloway, author of the the luminous Clara. (3 cheers for that choice!)
Here’s the list in full:
1911-1919 J M Barrie – Peter and Wendy John Buchan – The 39 Steps
1920-1929 Hugh MacDiarmid – A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle Lorna Moon – Dark Star
1930-1939 Lewis Grassic Gibbon – Sunset Song A J Cronin – Hatter’s Castle
1940-1949 Neil Gunn – The Silver Darlings Sorley Maclean – Dain Do Eimhir agus dain Eile
1950-1959 Alexander Trocchi – Young Adam Robin Jenkins – The Cone Gatherers
1960-1969 Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie T C Smout – A History of the Scottish People
1970-1979 George Mackay Brown – Greenvoe William McIlvanney – Docherty
1980-1989 Iain Banks – The Wasp Factory Allan Massie – A Question of Loyalties
1990-1999 Jeff Torrington – Swing Hammer Swing! Irvine Welsh – Trainspotting
2000-2011 Janice Galloway – Clara Ali Smith – Girl Meets Boy
Rosemary Goring described her hesitation at presenting any list, saying such a process is necessarily divisive, particularly one that isn’t purporting to be a list of the greatest Scottish literature of the last 100 years (authors on the stage excepted, of course!), but a list of the most enduring and influential. (There followed comments about the faults of Buchan and Trocchi’s books.) There was very little rancour in the audience last night – with the notable exception of the person who commented that “there was a lot of mince in the longlist at the back of the book and a criminal lack of poetry”. I’m not going to attempt to precis the discussion – it lasted 90 minutes and at times was a complex piece to follow, particularly when someone asked for the definition of Scottish used to determine eligibility! I will say that I attended the event in the hope of discovering more about the books that were chosen (I’ve only read 5). Instead the discussion centred around the books that weren’t chosen and as most likely the only English (sssssh!) member of the audience, I found myself bamboozled with names I’d never heard of, names I absolutely had no hope of spelling and thus noting, and a sense that the well of Scottish literature was much deeper than I had any inkling of. (After all, I’ve only lived here for 23 years!)
I’ve since discovered I can find a rationale as to why these particular books were chosen in the Scotland’s Bookshelf book, which can be downloaded from here.
The discussion may not have followed the trajectory I was anticipating but even so, I did add a few titles to the virtual TBR. I fully expect to be spending time with George MacKay Brown’s Greenvoe in the near future. And Alan Massie’s A Question of Loyalties, a book the author said now depressed him because he doesn’t have the physical and mental energy to take on anything that challenging again. Ah bless.