Here is a wee selection of some of the things I have been reading:
Momus: The Book of Scotlands
An imaginative tour de force from the idiosyncratic and fabulous singer-songwriter. Momus outlines one hundred and fifty fictionalised Scotlands of the past, present and future. Some are no more than a line or two, some are short, crazed essays. There is so much to choose from here that is hilarious and revealing; in particular I like the 1950s story of Alan Lomax and Alfred Kinsey touring the land studying the sex habits of the Scots fiddler; it all sounds so plausible!
Ian Jack, The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain: Writings 1989-2009
Jack is a superb essayist of our times and his last collection, ‘Before the Oil Ran Out’ impressed me when it came out twenty years ago (yikes!). I am a great admirer of the essay: Orwell obviously, and think it a much neglected form today with lots of people – Andrew O’Hagan, ‘The Atlantic Coast’ – being a good example of how not to do it: pompous and meandering. The subject range here is impressive from railway disasters of a privatised kind, to growing up in Dunfermline and the pull of football, his father’s bookshelves and their content, and the problem of ‘fat’ in the Scots and sugar intake. An influential figure looming large through this collection, positively and lovingly, is Jack’s father, a former mechanic and self-improver.
Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, Why England Lose and Other Curious Football Phenomena Explored
A potent mixture for someone like myself who is drawn to the occasional trainspotter book and one combined with cultural insight and examples. So Scotland turns out to be one of the most fanatical places in the world for football (per head). And the question of why England lose – obviously of interest to us footie fans north of the border – is that they do as well and as badly as expected and that no real pattern emerges from this other than randomness which is then interpretated into a pattern by the emotional peaks of the human brain. That is what is called a ‘Black Swan’ argument!
Jacques Attali, A Brief History of the Future
A breathtaking investigation of all it is to be human – indeed starting in pre-human times with the creation of earth and how life and homo sapiens began. Attali, previously Mitterand’s economic adviser takes us on a journey through the human systems of organisation and ideas we have constructed to make sense of life; religion, war and commerce, ‘the god of gods, the god of war, the god of money’, and sees a more hopeful human spirit emerging out of capitalism. In a very French sense this leaves all sorts of questions at the end and has gaping holes in it, but asks the sort of ‘big’ questions any Anglo-American account would shy away from.
Henry Porter, The Dying Light
There is an explosion of fiction at the moment about imagined worlds of the future – from Alan Clements lame ‘Rogue Nation’ about an independent Scotland – to Margaret Attwood and William Boyd exploring eco-futures. Henry Porter, civil rights campaigner and novelist, poses his future in a more plausible and nearby place: a Britain which looks unnervingly like the present day only exaggerated into a more authoritarian, unrestrained mentality shaped by paranoia and misused intelligence forces.
Brian Thompson, Bard Fae thi Buildin Site
An emerging Dundee voice and certainly not ‘Dundee Doldrums’. I was drawn to this by the photo on the cover of the building site shell of the last Ardler multi-storeys– where I grew up – as they were waiting to be blown up. In ‘100% Dundee’ he writes:
Thi say that Dundee’s no got any culture?
We nae vision an we dinnae hae a dream?
Well that’s a load o shite
Dundee’s a class act, an em here now ri pit
Dundee back on thi map.