The year in books : January…

Story of my life really, being rather late to join in, but there you are, never likely to be labelled an early-adopter me.

When I saw what Laura at The Circle of Pine Trees had in mind – to read and comment about a book read each month – and when I saw the fabulous bloggers signing up to take part, a little voice in my head just kept nagging me to go along for the ride. So eleventh hour it may be, but as they say, better late than never…

January’s favourite read?

A History of Scotland, by Neil Oliver.

Okay, before I go any further, I’m going to have to warn you that history books are likely to be quite a feature here. History sort of flows through my veins. Don’t panic, I won’t attempt to summarise the plot, I’ll just try to illustrate what it is about this book that makes me slope off to bed early, and read into the wee small hours (or at least until the eye-lids clamp shut).

In fact, rather than say too much, perhaps I should show you some of the things that are Scotland for me and which fuel my love of the country…

Ancient monastic sites, ruined castles, ruined cathedrals, wild landscapes, perfect beaches, mountain tops, churning rivers, and whisky…

The truth is, for me there is nowhere more majestic or enthralling than the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The landscape is so overwhelmingly powerful, it puts us mere humans firmly in our place. My parents started taking me to Sutherland every summer when I was five, I’ve rarely missed a year since. In that time, I’ve come to feel the tragedy, the violence and the pathos of the country through so many aspects of the landscape and ruins.

But although I have a good working knowledge of the chronology of English history, Scottish history felt more like a jigsaw puzzle with a blurred picture on the lid and half the pieces missing. Hence deciding to read Neil Oliver’s book.

We sometimes laugh at Neil’s very earnest TV presentations, but it’s not meant unkindly, in fact we’re all big fans, hard not to be when someone is so passionate about their subject. But I thoroughly enjoy his writing style. It’s a very capable historian who can deliver facts and context in an exciting manner, without falling into dramatics. It’s not like reading a Rebus novel, but it had me totally engaged.

Scotland has spent a large part of its history tearing itself apart in one way or another. Seems as if the same story is still being played out. For this interested bystander, it feels like watching history in the making.


And so for February?

History might feature, but I suspect keeping to the Scottish theme, it’ll be Secrets of the Shadow Bible, by Ian Rankin.

Happy reading.










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13 thoughts on “The year in books : January…

  1. What fabulous photos. Scotland is somewhere I have never visited (really can you believe it?) and these pictures make me all the more eager to go sometime. Must look that book out to read myself as I know nothing about the history either.

    1. Stop whatever you’re doing, get in the car, or if you really want to do it in style, book a train ticket to Mallaig – and GO! Honestly, it is the most wonderful country. I’ll carry your bags for you if you like…

  2. I knew there had to be a con to Laura’s plan … every month I’m going to want to read half of what everyone else had chosen to! Nice choices 🙂

    Oh, and late to the party just means you were invited to more than one and were busy elsewhere 😉

  3. Sutherland is a wonderful part of Scotland. I have only been up there a few times, to climb Munros, but beautiful it certainly is. However if you do get the chance to visit other parts of Scotland can I suggest my home town of St Andrews and the East Neuk of Fife. Very, very different from the north west, but with its own distinctive appeal. Neil Oliver will give you a good introduction to Scottish history, but if you would like a more contemporary look at recent Scottish history then I would recommend And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson, a sweeping novel which explores some of the key themes that have helped shape modern Scotland. A longish book, but a great story. You can get some comments on the novel at Good Reads here:

    1. Alister, thank you for your suggestions – I will certainly look for the book you recommend, understanding the chronology is like having the skeleton, now I want to add the flesh. For me, history is all about connection with the place. Right from my early childhood, my parents were always taking me out and about to see castles, churches and the rest, and in following up stories about those places, I became hooked on history. Although I have really only been to Moarayshire on the east side, I’m realising now how much there is to explore, so hopefully we’ll get to see more over coming years.

  4. This is what I love about Scotland, too, and I’m a fan of Neil Oliver, as you know! So, great choice! 🙂 I totally agree – he’s one of the best writers of history books. Love your photos, too – some unfamiliar places in there, which are interesting.

    1. Thanks Jo, your own blogs are a wonderful window into this amazing country – adding enormously to my appreciation of the place and it’s history. 🙂

  5. Gorgeous photos, from one Sutherland-lover to another. 🙂 I must admit to finding Neil Oliver irritating as a presenter, always striding out and tossing his flowing locks, which distracts me from what he’s saying. Reading a book by him will allow me to hear his take on Scottish history without distraction, so thanks for the recommendation.

    1. So funny, in our house, Mr Oliver is referred to affectionately as the one with ‘mad stary eyes’, but I find I can live with that, at least he’s passionate.

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