The Bookshelf

My musings on literature start with a couple of lists:

First, some favourite authors:

  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Gavin Maxwell
  • Bruce Chatwin
  • Nicolas Bouvier
  • Stephen Donaldson
  • Jason Elliot
  • Mark Twain
  • Tahir Shah
  • Christopher Rush
  • Nick Danziger
  • William Horwood
  • Manda Scott
  • Eric Newby
  • Laurie Lee
  • Douglas Botting
  • Alastair Scott
  • Richard Halliburton
  • Philip Marsden
  • Anna Badkhen

From that list it will be apparent that there are a few important themes that recur in my choice of reading material.  Travel Writing has evolved into a real passion in recent years.  Scotland features prominently.  Fantasy remains an escape.

A second list highlights a few books I have particularly enjoyed over the past year:

  • Along the Enchanted Way – William Blacker
  • The Mango Orchard – Robin Bayley
  • Treblinka Survivor – Mark S Smith
  • True North – Gavin Francis
  • A Carpet Ride to Khiva – Christopher Aslan Alexander
  • The House of the Mosque – Kader Abdollah
  • In a Persian Tea House – Michael Carroll
  • Reports from Beyond – Patrick Richardson
  • Crossing Jerusalem – Nicholas Woodsworth
  • Adventures in the Caucasus – Alexandre Dumas

My choice of reading is wide and varied, dictated by people and places, some of the favourites of which include Patagonia; Siberia; Antarctica; as well  as a growing interest in the Middle East – all of which are pretty much inaccessible to me other than through the pages of books.

On the bedside table at the moment is a collection of writings by the late Anna Politskaya, and next up is likely to be an escape, a return to the fantastic world of Stephen Donladson and the recently published ninth, and penultimate, epic from his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which have been growing at my side since the 1970s.

Another favourite from long ago is William Horwood, amongst whose works are his  six books in the world of  the Moles of Duncton, pretty apt now as the little furry creature has an almost permanent and highly visible, presence across our meagre policies.  Horwood has returned to his craft with the publication in 2010 of Hyddenworld : Spring, and I look forward to the remaining seasons evolving in the years ahead.

There is quite a pile on the ‘to be read’ heap at the moment but I do intend to include a few book reviews, or even just notes on what I’ve particularly enjoyed from time to time.  Reading has evolved into collecting, and there are some works where the quest for a first edition may follow a particularly good read, or  there is a need to include all the works of a particular author to the library.  My collection of Chatwin firsts was completed recently with a gift from The Genealogist (of which more later) of the only missing volume, The Viceroy of Ouidah.  Maxwell is complete, and Newby well under way, including his signature.  Pride of place in the Stevenson collection is the Edinburgh Edition of his Collected Works, from 1894-98.

Some early indicators on the favoured reading list for 2011:

  • Travels in Siberia – Ian Frazier
  • Tent Life in Siberia – George Kennan
  • Sailing by Starlight – Alex Capus
  • The Last Grain Race – Eric Newby
  • Access All Areas – Sara Wheeler
  • Lamplit Vicious Fairy Land – Jeremy Hodges
  • Seven Seasons in Siena – Robert Rodi
  • Dancing with Darkness – Magsie Hamilton Little
  • The Sorceror’s Apprentice – Tahir Shah
  • Daughter of Siena – Marina Fiorato
  • An African in Greenland – Tete-Michel Kpomassie
  • Travels with Myself – Tahir Shah
  • The Tomb in Seville – Norman Lewis

Having dipped in and out of his various works over the years, including various meanderings, dog-sledding in Alaska, sailing around Ireland, etc, and now completed the third leg of his five year wander round the world, A Scot Returns, I have undertaken to find the first two legs of that trip, and, more importantly, have added the name of Alastair Scot to my list of favourite authors at the top of this page.  He is not outdone by the company he keeps on that list.

Beyond a place on a list I have one more book to add for 2011, a book I have addressed separately in a post, which may one day be linked.  That book is not just one of my favourite reads of the year, it is by a distance, my one outstanding discovery of the year.  So it gets it’s own list, and if you get the chance, delve in:

2012 gets off to a great start, with a new writer for me, and a bar set high for the year ahead:

As we head off into 2013, not knowing what lies ahead, the Bedside Table gives us a pretty special start:

Another new year and another new writer, new to me anyway, to start the list.  I’m sure 2014 will find some more great reads.  And as it is a very special year in Scotland I need to expand the usual People & Places them, with a bit of introspection, and a large dose of inspiration:

And so the year turns again.  But in a literary sense what a cracking start to 2015.  For that festive stocking contained a number of volumes, the first of which to be picked up was:

  • Samarkand – Amin Maalouf
  • A Book of Death and Fish – Ian Stephen
  • The Fish Ladder – Katharine Norbury
  • This Place Holds No Fear – Monika Held
  • The Faithful Couple – A D Miller
  • H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
  • The Dream Will Never Die – Alex Salmond
  • Walking With Abel – Anna Badkhen
  • Into The Fire – Manda Scott
  • Petrograd – William Owen Roberts

We begin 2016 with a large selection on the TBR shelf, thanks to the largesse of Santa and to some terrific suggestions gleaned from the weekly postings on the Tips, Links & Suggestions books blog over at The Guardian.  There should be some good stuff to report in the months ahead, and we’re off to a great start with:

  • Elephant Complex – John Gimlette
  • Black Dragon River – Dominic Ziegler
  • The Shark And The Albatross – John Aitchison
  • Children of the Arbat (trilogy) – Anatoli Rybakov
  • Atlas of an Anxious Man – Christoph Ransmayr
  • Mapping My Return – Salman Abu Sitta
  • The Dark Room – Rachel Seiffert
  • The Sky Is On Fire – Magsie Hamilton Little
  • The Romanovs 1613 – 1918 – Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • The Great Soul of Siberia – Sooyong Park
  • The Timbuktu School of Nomads – Nicholas Jubber
  • The Running Hare – John Lewis-Stempel
  • Leo The African – Amin Maalouf
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