Anna Nicholson's Books of the Year - 2007
I thought I’d do my Books of the Year early, instead of the usual look at forthcoming titles and/or Christmas gift guide.
Food and Drink
It’s been a lean year for Scottish foodie books but this book, published in October, has been such a runaway success that it had to win in this category. This traditional collection of braw grub includes a recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie which has to be one of great unsung desserts of the 1970s. Only we didn’t call them desserts then - at least not in Glebe Street.
Nature and Wildlife
- Wilderness Dreams: The Call of Scotland's Last Wild Places by Mike Cawthorne
Every year brings a crop of luscious coffee-table books on Scotland’s mountains, glens, islands etc and I must confess to feeling a bit jaded when I see a new one appearing. This one is a bit different and concentrates on the text rather than the pics. It's a collection of eight essays or meditations on the wild, a fashionable topic in these eco-conscious days.
- The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
This book came out in 2006 but as the paperback was published this year, I’m including it. Set in the frozen north of Canada in 1867, this is an impressive debut, due partly to its confident handling of a sense of place and time. There is no central character as such and the viewpoint tends to jump around a bit too much, but there is suspense and a host of rather fine, subtle characters among the Scottish and French-Canadian settlers in the story.
A great story that moves with a cracking pace, this novel for older children has been impeccably researched. Set in the Killing Times in Scotland, the novel has a very authentic period feel.
General / Literary Novel
This is one of Kennedy’s best novels, in my opinion. Set in 1949, the novel follows Alfred Day, a kind of everyman ‘tommy’ whose war experiences are rather grotesquely re-enacted when he agrees to take part in a film about WWII. Kennedy has succeeded in getting inside the skin of this outwardly ordinary soldier and the 1940s setting of the period feels drably authentic.
Biography and Autobiography
- Hamish Henderson: A Life by Timothy Neat
Hamish Henderson was a central figure in the post-war folk revival and a fine poet. He was a catalyst and enthusiastic supporter of the folk scene in Scotland but his background - in Cambridge pre-war where he studied languages, his war experiences in Italy, and his work at the School of Scottish Studies - gave him an international outlook and a breadth of knowledge that’s not often found these days. Part of that great post-war generation of Maclean, McCaig, Crichton Smith, Morgan and a few others, he is a very much missed figure.
- The Price of Scotland: Darien, Union and the Wealth of Nations by Douglas Watt
This year and the latter end of last year saw a clutch of books on the Union. I chose this one, which came out in paperback this year, for its lively style and readability. It gives another angle - a financial one - on the disastrous Darien scheme which helped bring about the Union.
- Hand, Heart and Soul: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland by Elizabeth Cumming
A beautifully-produced book. The often small scale of the artistic enterprises featured in this account and the rise of the woman artist during the period gave this book an extra interest.
- Soirbheas / Fair Wind by Meg Bateman
In Meg Bateman’s bilingual Gaelic/English collection it is the candour and grace of the poetry which appeals. The themes, as ever, centre on love, mainly unrequited love, but family, loss, and Gaelic culture and landscape feature heavily too in these short, dense poems.
- Kidnappit by Alan Grant & Cam Kennedy
This book was part of the Edinburgh City of Literature campaign which kicked off in February. An atmospheric text and pictures combine to make this the best in the category.
By turns subtle, passionate, cheerful, and complex, Kay’s latest collection is a joy. Great cover too.
Politics and Current Affairs
- A History of Modern Britain by Andrew Marr
Andrew Marr’s one-volume history of post-war Britain is an energetic, breathless read, as you might expect from the man himself. This complex and rapidly-changing time period has been distilled down with great verve and insight.
- Add to BasketThe Highwayman's Curse - - Paperback
On the run from the redcoats, the two young highwaymen, Will and Bess, find themselves in Galloway, Scotland, blamed for a murder they did not commit. Here they are captured by smugglers and become embroiled in a story of hatred and revenge that goes back for generations, to the days of the Killing Times.
'Kidnappit' is a Scots version of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Kidnapped', a dramatic adventure story about a 17 year old, desperate to secure his inheritance, that culminates in a chase from the islands in the west of Scotland to Edinburgh.
A facsimile of Maw Broon's very own cookbook, first made for her by her mother-in-law when 'Maw' married 'Paw', and added to over the years with recipes for every day and special days, from friends and neighbours, and others that simply caught Maw's eye in The Sunday Post or cut-out of the back of a flour bag.
- Add to BasketThe Price Of Scotland: Darien, Union And The Wealth Of Nations - - Paperback
Charting the Darien Scheme, from its inception to its demise against the financial background of the period, this book considers both the political and financial implications of this loss. Watt deals with the relationship between this failure and the Union of the Crowns in 1707, providing a fresh perspective on this key moment in history.
- Add to BasketRed, Cherry Red - - Book with sound disc
Jackie Kay explores the theme of identity in poems about an older generation, especially grandmothers, about the old days and the new days, and places the poet associates with these people, who live dreamlike, isolated existences, geographically, but also in the memory.
- Add to BasketThe Tenderness Of Wolves - - Paperback
As winter tightens its grip on the isolated settlement of Dove River, a woman steers herself for the journey of a lifetime. A man has been brutally murdered and her 17-year old son has disappeared. To clear her son's name, she has no choice but to follow the tracks leaving the dead man's cabin.