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What to read before going to Scotland?

If one was going to read one book before travelling to Scotland, what would you recommend?

Nothing to heavy like War and Peace, please.

And thank you.

Posted by
1923 posts

Tongue in cheek, I would suggest Horrible Histories Scotland by Terry Deary. You can buy it from Amazon. It is a very funny (but historically accurate) account of Scottish History. Aimed at kids, the books can also be read and enjoyed by adults and are a good way to get a basic grasp of history.

Posted by
2945 posts

wasleys, that's perfect. Something light and fun.

Please, nobody suggest the RS book. I've got that.

AI: Right up my alley.

Ordered both books lol.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, Big Mike,

I'm assuming you mean fiction, rather than non-fiction.

In that case, I'd recommend Sunset Song, by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.

And although most of the action takes place in the north of England, I'd also recommend A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by Charlie Fletcher.

Happy reading!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
2430 posts

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

Sealskin by Su Bristow

Our Fathers by Rebecca Wait

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Posted by
6684 posts

One of the books that really got me leaning towards Scotland was The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. It's historical fiction that takes place in two different times; from the early 1700's to present day. The author's research is impeccable and her writing is beautiful. I learned a lot of about the Jacobite rebellion, but also about Scotland, and really love this book. I read a lot - I'm a fast reader so I can go through at least 2 books a week, and her novels rank up there at the top of my lists. This book is one of the reasons I want to visit Slains Castle and Cruden Bay. https://susannakearsley.com/books/the-winter-sea

The Guardian had a list of books about the Scottish Highlands that looks interesting also. I'm going to try a few of these. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/07/top-10-books-scottish-highlands-and-islands

Posted by
1296 posts

Mike -

It’s easy, when visiting Scotland, to believe that every Scot is a genius in their chosen field, be it engineering, sporting or literary to name but a few. Therefore I recommend you read ‘Poetic Gems’ by William MacGonagall, to redress the balance and to conclusively prove that Scotland also has its fair share of delusional idiots.

Ian

P.S. R.L. Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped’ is a rattling good yarn too.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi again, Big Mike,

In addition to all of the above, if you enjoy police procedurals, any of the Karen Pirie books by Val McDermid would fill the bill (pun intended!). They give you a real feeling for Scotland's Central Belt.

Happy reading!

Slightly smaller Mike (Auchterless)

p.s.: If you have a library nearby, all of these books can be ordered through interlibrary loan. Your library would need the title, author, publication date, and ISBN number. By borrowing them, you can find out if you enjoy them enough to purchase your own copy. I've saved a lot of money, and a lot of shelf space, by doing this.

Posted by
2945 posts

Thanks to you fine folks I've made my second trip to amazon.com today. My wife will wonder if I'm starting a Scottish library.

I hope my boss doesn't find out.

Posted by
332 posts

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Anything by Ian Banks but especially:

The Steep Approach to Garbadale
The Wasp Factory
The Crow Road
Espedair Street
Plus his non fiction homage to Whisky (note NOT whiskey) Raw Spirit

The Rebus novels of Iain Rankin.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Posted by
6684 posts

In addition to all of the above, if you enjoy police procedurals, any of the Karen Pirie books by Val McDermid would fill the bill (pun intended!). They give you a real feeling for Scotland's Central Belt.

There is a new drama series as well based on the Karen Pirie books (called "Karen Pirie"). I believe you can stream it on BritBox. I plan on watching it but want to read the books first.

Posted by
1650 posts

Ah, Val McDermid, comes up with some real crackers. IIRC her in an interview being asked how she came up with some of the more horrific plots pointing out there is nothing a crime writer can write that is worse than what some people do to each other. Also she is very much something a lot of writers shy from, an equal opportunity writer. Age, class, gender, sexuality, race, religion. None of them are off limits for the victims of the stories, because none of them are off limits to real murderers.

One thing I'd suggest go onto Amazon and just search what you are interested. You might be surprised and discover someone new you can come here and recommend. Though when it comes to some books I have a hobby of finding some oddities where the book is set in Scotland or the UK but not written here. Some of the research is... hilarious. I think it is often a lot easier for a Scottish/UK based writer to write something set in the US than vice versa simply because we are surrounded by American media in a way that does not happen in reverse.

Posted by
9730 posts

Thanks for those recommendations, Mardee ! Both the individual book and the link to the Guardian article.

I’ve always thought that the books by Val McDermid are going to be too gruesome for me, so I have never tried any.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hi, MC,

"...some odities where the book is set in Scotland but not written here..."

As a prime example I recommend The Loch Ness Papers by Paige Shelton. Among the many howlers in this book is the heroine's journey in a police car from the Grassmarket in Edinburgh to Loch Ness in twenty minutes. I don't think that even a Harrier jet could get there that quickly!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
1650 posts

Hi, MC,

"...some odities where the book is set in Scotland but not written
here..."

As a prime example I recommend The Loch Ness Papers by Paige Shelton.
Among the many howlers in this book is the heroine's journey in a
police car from the Grassmarket in Edinburgh to Loch Ness in twenty
minutes. I don't think that even a Harrier jet could get there that
quickly!

Mike (Auchterless)

Ah Mike, a diesel police Ford Fiesta can get that journey done in 15 minutes tops.

Posted by
6684 posts

Kim, you’re welcome. I love all of her books and have read them over and over again. There are 4-5 other books of hers that are connected to The Winter Sea in some way and I love them all. She is a lovely person, too. I follow her on Facebook and mentioned in a post that I was going to Scotland. She went out of her way to tell me of several places in Edinburgh that she used for research in her Slains books and that are open to the public. She also told me where she stayed, but it was a little out of my price range. 😊

Posted by
1376 posts

I forgot all about this one:

The Douglas Affair, by Alistair Mair. Written in 1966, this novel predicted the rise of the modern SNP, and albeit dated, is one of the best novels I've ever read about the cause for Scottish independence.

There are two versions: one published in Britain by Heinemann, and one published in the U.S. by William Morrow. The U.S. version's ending will make you angry.

Although it has been out of print for quite a while, The Douglas Affair is available through Interlibrary Loan in the U.S.

Happy reading!

Mike (Auchterless)

Posted by
2945 posts

Thanks, Mike. I ordered it through our library.

I've received my first book from Amazon -- Clanlands. I figure after reading these books I will be the de facto expert on all things Scotland, and thus will be happy to answer all of your questions, addressed respectfully to Professor BM.

edit: Request future book recommendations have pictures and no big words, nor too many words.

Posted by
2945 posts

AI, that's on my list. Thanks for the reminder. It's easy to forget that a country is not all monuments, castles, and museums.

Posted by
2441 posts

“How the Scots Invented the Modern World” by Arthur L. Herman is a really good read.

Posted by
72 posts

I heartily agree with stroudy:

any of Ian Rankin's Rebus series. I'm reading "The Falls" now, in preparation for our May trip. He really puts you in the locales, especially Edinburgh.

Posted by
1650 posts

@aucterless Mike

Burst out laughing and thought of this thread and what we had written in the car coming home. The BBC Radio Scotland presenter in the 1600 - 1700 talked about Groundhog Day. And pronounced Pittsburgh as if it was a city in Scotland.

Yup, we are more familiar with US stuff than vice versa, but that sometimes is by milimetres and not kilometres.

Posted by
1376 posts

Hiya, MC,

Good thing he didn't try to pronounce Punxsutawney!

Mike (Auchterless)