So what is it with lists and awards? We’ve just had ‘Scotland’s Favourite Book’ dictated to us by the BBC.
In case you’ve been under a stone for a while, here’s the shortlist (the winner was Sunset Song btw – that couldn’t have anything to do with the film being released this year could it?)
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
I’d be interested to hear other folks opinions on this. Personally I’m kind of cynical about the criteria used for judging - sure, favourite is a better word to use than ‘best’ but does it mean ‘most popular’ or ‘most read’ or what? Well, it probably means ‘most voted for’ but I’m not sure who the sample of voters might be. I have to confess I’m lost by the time we get to JKR. The link between her and Scotland is tenuous at best – or are we just saying these are the books people in Scotland (who replied to the dictated long list) liked best????
Or is it just a voting fever? Have folk read these books or just heard of them? Or seen the films?
Looking at these contenders from what I believe to be a literary critical perspective, it’s hard for me to draw any real pattern - Is James Hogg more ‘popular’ or ‘read’ than Stevenson? Does anyone really read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie outside of an academic environment these days? It’s nice and neat that there are five dead and five live authors.
Sharing my views about the longlist is a treat I’ll leave for another day. But I’d love to hear people’s views about this shortlist AND even more would I love to have examples from folks of ‘if you like this you’ll like that’ variety. Let’s go beyond the dictats of mainstream. For example, if you liked Sunset Song, why wouldn’t you love Crockett? Is there an ‘indie’ you know doing things as enjoyable to read as Lanark or The Wasp Factory. And are we all really obsessed with ‘noir’ and/or detective/murder/crime as genres? Surely Scottish writing (and reading) has a lot more depth and breadth to it than this safe shortlist suggests.
p.s. I’m not having a go at any of these books per se (well, perhaps with the exception of Harry Potter, because I will die before I acknowledge that this has anything to do with Scottish culture or fiction) I’m just trying to point out that there’s a sort of small-minded smugness about the ‘canon’ we are being fed. And it’s up to us, readers and writers of Scotland, to challenge it.
Next time - How about the Saltire Awards? (no JKR there at least)