Wednesday, January 11, 2006

From the Archives: Edinburgh Book Buys

I’ve just booked my ticket for a trip to Edinburgh in the spring. It’s been three years since I spent a substantial period of time there and I can’t wait to go back. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t write much while on the road, but I was dabbling in travel writing at the time of that previous trip and I kept a somewhat chaotic journal throughout. Here’s an excerpt from it, dated April 20th, 2003, in which I described my book purchases up to that point:

So, what did I buy? Four more books -- my suitcase is going to be woefully heavy. A brand new Alanna Knight in hardcover -- An Orkney Murder. The third in a series about Rose (daughter of Inspector Faro), an intrepid Edinburgh detective in the Victorian age. I haven’t read the first two, but the combination of those factors with an Orkney setting had me looking for this one, not yet available in North America. Also long sought, a biography of Neil Gunn. Very excited about that one. A third that I’ve been contemplating since I got here and learned of its existence -- McLevy’s Stories. An 1860 Edinburgh policeman who wrote up some of his cases. By rights he should have been an influence on Edinburgh crime fiction thereafter but it seems his work had been lost from view and most contemporary Edinburgh crime fiction writers had never heard of him until Mercat Press issued this book. So said Quintin Jardine in the intro. Could well have influenced Arthur Conan Doyle though, given the location and the timing. I may go off in search of his [Conan Doyle’s] house and the statue of Sherlock Holmes on Calton Hill today, provided the rain doesn’t start bucketing down ahead of schedule. The final book of that day’s (April 18th) purchases -- The Kiln by William McIlvanney. About a writer living alone in Edinburgh, looking back on the summer of ’55, some kind of turning point, how he became who he became. Sounds intriguing, plus I love his Laidlaw novels, so promising all round. The others that I’ve bought -- the first day (Monday the 14th): Edinburgh in the Golden Age [by Mary Cosh] -- a massive hardcover tome but a brand new release covering exactly the right time period for my research purposes. Also a recent re-issue of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes, a copy of Neil Gunn’s Highland River, and a copy of Edwin Muir’s Autobiography. Finally, a biography of Sir Walter Scott by A.N. Wilson. I’ve been looking for one for ages and haven’t been able to find one. Don’t know why as there must be hundreds out there. Really enjoyed Wilson’s C.S. Lewis bio too, so this seemed promising. So far I’m a bit disappointed though. It’s very academic and I wanted a grand sweeping tale like the man himself would have written. I think I’ll have to dig out a more old-fashioned biography for that. In the meantime, I’ll persevere. 3 other purchases: 2 at the museum of Scotland later that afternoon -- Going to the Pictures: Scottish Memories of Cinema and The Scottish Women’s Suffrage Movement. Then in the afternoon of the 17th at the Museum of Childhood’s bookshop, Sweets and Sweetshops. All for the Wishaw novel.

I know that I picked up at least two more books before I came home, both novels: James Robertson’s The Fanatic and Alan Warner’s The Man Who Walks. What is most notable about this lot of books, besides the fact that it’s an excellent collection of books by Scottish authors and/or about Scotland, is that I’ve only read four of them in the three years that have passed since I bought them. So, in anticipation of my forthcoming trip, and in accordance with my New Year’s Resolution to read more books from my own shelves, I intend to read a few more of these before I go. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

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