I arrived not much more than 24 hours ago, spent more than half of that time sleeping off the jetlag, and yet have somehow managed to buy four books already. I always do this when I travel. I agonize over which books to pack making sure to bring a sufficient variety to get me through the trip without weighing down my suitcase too much, then I promptly purchase a stack of new ones the minute I arrive. I should have learned by now that I only need to bring enough books to last the plane journey. My purchases so far:
1. Findings, a travel book by poet Kathleen Jamie, described thus on the back cover:
Whether she is following the call of a peregrine in the hills above her home in Fife, sailing into a dark winter solstice on the Orkney islands, or pacing around the carcass of a whale on a rain-swept Hebridean beach, she creates a subtle and modern narrative, peculiarly alive to her connections and surroundings.”
2. Why Don’t You Stop Talking, a collection of short fiction by Jackie Kay. Kay writes odd and powerful fictions. Tantalizing story titles from the table of contents of this collection include “Shark! Shark!,” “The woman with the fork and knife disorder,” and “The oldest woman in Scotland.” Here’s the opening paragraph of a story titled “A guid Scots death:”
Ken this: you’re born; you live; you die. It comes doon to this. The cost of ferrying you from hospital to parlour to crematorium. Forget the future. Forget it. You’re no making it to next year. Your skin is hinging off. All this talk aboot time all the time. I’ve had it up tae here.
3. The Stornoway Way, by Kevin MacNeil. It’s described on the front cover flap as a novel which “chronicles the misadventures of an idiosyncratic young Scotsman cartwheeling further and further into a Hebridean hell, railing against the constraints of his extraordinary but vanishing island culture as well as western civilization in general.” Here’s the first paragraph of the first chapter:
Fuck everyone from Holden Caulfield to Bridget Jones, fuck all the American and English phoney fictions that claim to speak for us; they don’t know the likes of us exist and they never did. We are who we are because we grew up the Stornoway Way. We do not live in the back of beyond, we live at the very heart of beyond.
4. Looking Back: An Autobiographical Journey through South Edinburgh and Beyond by Charles J. Smith. I have one of the volumes in Smith’s four-volume history of South Edinburgh and I’m looking forward to reading this slim book that promises a more personal take. His primary focus is on the neighbourhood in which I lived during my one year in Edinburgh. It’s also, as noted in a previous post, the neighbourhood in which Muriel Spark was born and grew up. Smith is round about the same age as Spark so his account will be contemporaneous with Spark’s autobiographical recollections in Curriculum Vitae.
Not a bad haul for day one!