Scotland’s Wobbly Bookshelf

I suppose the creation of these lists is some sort of cultural fit. It’s the thin end of the very fat wedge of linear thinking – where everything has to be reduced, graded and agreed. And any response (like this) is part of an ASG (Automatic Stooshie-Generator). But anyway, the Aye Write Scotland’s Bookshelf list is wrong, plain wrong. But nothing that can’t be fixed with your help.

First up on non-fiction, I’m not sure how we can have such a list without RD Laing’s Divided Self (1960), Tom Nairn’s The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism (1977), or John Muir’s A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf (1916). All of which had a massive impact way beyond these demented lands.

Poetry seems to have fallen off the map completely after 1950. Where’s Kenneth White’s Open World: Collected Poems 1960–2000 (2003) or a dozen other voices? Where, for example – in a completely different direction – are Roddy Lumsden and Kathleen Jamie?

And in popular fiction there seem to be big gaping holes. No Ian Rankin? No Alan Warner (choose from three)? No Andrew Greig? Alan Bissett – Boyracers (2001) should have been in there. Never mind Louise Hird, Naomi Mitchison or Louise Welsh?

What do you think? And, has anyone else never heard of AJ Cronin?

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  1. Martin Veart says:

    Haven’t seen the list but hope James Hogg has a few titles in there?

    1. JBS says:

      I know, the list is not so much eclectic as downright eccentric. No Kelman or Agnes Owens either.

      Martin Veart hopes that Hogg is represented, but limiting the list to the years 1911-2011 means that he’s excluded. As is John Galt, whose ‘Annals of the Parish’ is an absolute gem. And Stevenson doesn’t get a look-in.

      I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t ‘Scotland’s Bookshelf’.

  2. Lorimer’s Scots New Testament is also a surprise omission.

  3. MajorBloodnok says:

    Regarding AJ Cronin, a few decades ago I was speaking to a Greek student and after she found out where I was from she asked if I’d read any Cronin (no). She said that he was much read by the intellectual left in Greece (her parents’ generation) during the dictatorship and when the police turned up at your door if you had Stalin, Lenin or Cronin on your shelves you were done for. Sounds interesting, maybe he needs a revival?

    I expect the list they’ve come up with is trying to introduce people to writers maybe they’ve not generally considered? I’m glad that Trocchi is there for example as well as TC Smout, McDairmid and Buchan (I’d have preferred Huntingtower though). Yes, pity that Hogg (especially!), Alasdair Gray, Kelman and Norman McCaig aren’t there but hey ho, it’s just a list.

  4. tom says:

    Didn’t they say that these had to be books written in the last 100 years and that Gray, Kelman were left out because they’d been on previous lists. Glad to see Trocchi there. I was surprised, considering it’s the Mitchell behind this, that Frank Kupner’s book A Very Singular Murder (?) wasn’t there. The Mitchell features significantly in it.

  5. Craig P says:

    The Cone Gatherers is on the list but it is not Robin Jenkin’s best 1950s book, The Thistle and the Grail is better.

    Kenneth White might not be on the list because there are better poets than him kicking about. I would include Liz Lochhead in that.

    I’ve never liked Neil Gunn’s work and of course Ian Rankin shouldn’t be there, it should be about quality, not quantity.

    All my personal opinion of course 🙂

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Dunno bout that.

      The Cone Gatherers is a better a book than The Thistle & The Grail.

      Kenneth White is a consistently better poet than Liz Lochhead.

      Neil Gunn deserves to be there but with Highland River rather than The Silver Darlings.

      Robert Crawford’s biography of Burns could easily be in there.

      Matthew Fitt’s futuristic cyberpunk But N Ben A-Go-Go – written in an eclectic mix of Scots tongues – is the best Scottish novel published this century I’ve read so far.

      Opinions, eh!

      KW

  6. Tocasaid says:

    Its not a bad list but I’d throw in Iain Crichton Smith with ‘Consider the Lillies’ or even a John Prebble or two.

  7. Derick says:

    and what of The House with the Green Shutters? lists! bah!

  8. Craig P says:

    Derick – I thought of that too but it is just outside the 100 year cut off point…

  9. Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. says:

    I think Cain’s Book is much superior to Young Adam, but I guess that to some of the more fogeyish guardians of Scotlit it ain’t Scottish unless it’s set in Scotland. And to be fair, an anti-novel about the musings of a junkie is not an easy sell.

    As Stuart Kelly said in the Graun on Sat, the lack of poetry after 1950 is a scandal. But at least there is some poetry in there, unlike the List’s 100 Greatest Scottish Books which didn’t include any! Without denigrating anyone, arguably Scotland’s greatest contribution to 20th art is its poetry. We don’t have any novelists on the level of Joyce, but we do have world class poets in Morgan, MacDiarmid, Sorley McLean, McCaig and Ian Hamilton Finlay.

  10. Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. says:

    Just to clarify, I do think there are many fine Scottish novelists – Kelman, Gibbon, Spark, Gray and Galloway being the best of the bunch. But I’d take a slim volume of poetry by Gael Turnbull, Tom Leonard, Veronica Forrest-Thompson or Frank Kuppner, say, over anything by William McIllvanney or Irvine Welsh. But that’s just me. 🙂
    I think for Scotland’s Bookshelf to work best it needs to have a different list each year. I do think the current list offers a nice balance of established classics and hidden gems: there are plenty more of both to choose from, so I hope they can make this an annual event, a prompt for discussion, rather than a restrictive canon.

  11. Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. says:

    ‘best of the post-war bunch’ that should read. Right, enough from me!

  12. Siôn Jones says:

    If you are going to have ‘the Break-up of Britain’ may I make a case for ‘the breakdown of nations’ by Leopold Khor, and Austrian economist whose ideas were seminal to the thinking of modern nationalism, including Welsh and Scottish nationalism. Although Khor himself was not Scottish, the foreword is by Neal Asherson, who is, which I thinks qualifies it for inclusion. A damn good read whichever way you look at it.

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