Books for the beach: Top Scots name their favourite summer reads
We ask a panel of eminent Scots which books they will be packing to make it the perfect holiday
As much Agatha Christie as possible. I’m preparing to write a novel that I hope will be a homage to her.
I’m looking forward to reading Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon. Word about it has been amazing, and it seems to be a sign that there really are radical young Scottish novelists, who have something to say, starting to push through again.
Novelist and screenwriter
I have got to hand in my own James Bond novel by the end of the year so I am working my way through the Ian Fleming books which I first read as a teenager. So far my favourite is From Russia With Love, a Cold War thriller that ends darkly and doesn’t veer too far from reality.
I have been looking forward to a properly close reading of Joep Bor’s The Raga Guide, A Survey Of 74 Hindustani Ragas for a long time now. It’s a beautiful book with sample melodic outlines and gorgeous illustrations, a must for anyone interested in classical Indian music – or music of any kind.
Poet and academic
I’m looking forward to reading Kathleen Jamie’s forthcoming collection of poems, The Overhaul. There’s a pinpoint honesty about her writing that, fused with a sure sense of cadence, is absolutely trustworthy. Her poems ring true. Kathleen Jamie is one of the poets whose new collection I always buy and read at once. We belong to the same generation, and I find in her work both surprise and recognition.
Leader, Scottish Conservatives
One of the books I’ve been saving for the beach is If You’re Reading This, I’m Already Dead by Andrew Nicoll, a political journalist based at the Scottish Parliament. His last two books were wildly different to each other and got rave reviews from a pretty critical press pack at Holyrood, so I am looking forward to this one.
The two books I most want to read over summer are Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March – a new edition came out last year – and Carole Maso’s The Art Lover (1990). Both are wonderful 20th-century writers who do interesting things with language and structure and I need to read more of them.
Looking forward this summer in our remote retreat in the wilds of the Ross of Mull to reading again Larry McMurtry’s classic odyssey of the American West, the epic Lonesome Dove and its successors, in the memorable company of the legendary Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae: authentic, elegiac, humorous and, above all, magical and riveting storytelling.
ROBERT ALAN JAMIESON
I’ll be in Canada this summer, researching. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Douglas Cole’s Franz Boas – The Early Years, which I haven’t been able to find over here. And I’ll have Canada in my bag too – Richard Ford’s new novel, long-awaited and much-feted. One to savour.
The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets Of London’s Grand Hotels. More behind-the scenes, very British skulduggery from author Matthew Sweet, as in his excellent Shepperton Babylon. Mollie Panter-Downes is one of the finest mid-century women writers from this country, republished by Persephone Classics. I’ll be reading another beautifully produced volume, Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories.
I’m looking forward more than I can say to Grayson Perry’s The Tomb Of The Unknown Craftsman. Dedicated to “the anonymous craftsmen that over the centuries have fashioned the man-made wonders of the world”. Necessary, vital and brave.
I shall be taking Toni Morrison’s Home with me up to Sutherland this summer. I have been a fan of her work for ages and bought the book when it came out but have been saving it up for the holidays. I’m also planning to read a whole pile of literary reviews, but Home is right at the top of my list of must-reads.
Writer and former bishop
With shivers of anticipated pleasure I am looking forward to reading James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers And The Shadow Of Death, knowing it will go well with a long, slow gin and tonic. Leafing through it I see that Canon Chambers had been in the Scots Guards, as had the author’s father, Archbishop Runcie, so I look forward to detecting other echoes.
SIR JOHN LISTER-KAYE
Miriam Darlington is a good friend, but even if she weren’t I would want to read her book Otter Country, which Granta is publishing in September. She has spent a year travelling around Britain in search of otters, and the buzz among nature writers is that this will be a very special book indeed.
Leader, Scottish Labour Party
I am looking forward to reading How I Won The Yellow Jumper: Dispatches From The Tour De France by Ned Boulting, which I recently gave to my husband as a gift in the knowledge I could read it after him. It is a funny take on the world's greatest cycling event, which has long been a passion of mine and it’s something we have always enjoyed as a family, even interrupting holidays to keep up with it. So this will be the perfect book to get me in the mood for this year's race.
Top of my summer pile is Ben Jonson: A Life by Ian Donaldson. I’ve always wanted to know more about this swaggering comic genius – and Donaldson’s hefty biography looks marvellous. I’ll also be curling up nostalgically with Michael Ridpath’s Meltwater, the latest in his rollicking detective series set in Iceland.
ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH
The book I am looking forward to reading this summer is Joseph Kanon’s new offering, Istanbul Passage. Kanon has made the immediate post-war period his special territory, and writes highly atmospheric novels reminiscent of the works of Graham Greene.
Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?, which is a follow-up graphic autobiography to her previous Fun Home. Somehow, Bechdel’s astute and beautiful artwork tempers the light soiling I always feel after reading autobiography. She’s funny and smart and profound in ways that only something as ephemeral as comic books can be.
Opposed Positions by Gwendoline Riley, whose style is totally unique, sitting somewhere between Virginia Woolf, text messaging, chav chat and Dostoevsky. Her voice is searing in its honesty, but transcends the confessional; it is also incredibly stylised, while avoiding formalism.
Theorist of nationalism
I am looking forward most to Sean Connery’s Being A Scot (with Murray Grigor), an unusual autobiography devoted to “abandoning the national cringe”, by someone who has definitely done so: the Fountainbridge milk-round lad who ended up with an American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, via James Bond and (more importantly) the Scottish International Education Trust of 1970 onwards.
On my Kindle this summer will be Helen Simpson’s new collected stories A Bunch Of Fives, because she’s a genius at noticing and listening; Ruth Padel’s book about poetry and migration, The Mara Crossing; and an edition of Thomas Mann’s big fat novel of family life, Buddenbrooks. Each of these writers can make you see things for the first time, as well as reacquainting you with the familiar, and that’s what holidays are all about.
I’ve been reading a lot of music biographies and autobiographies – Tim Burgess, Luke Haines, Scott Walker – and am really looking forward to Edinburgh’s own Mike Scott and his Adventures Of A Waterboy. No doubt it will be accompanied by some Waterboys music – perfect for summer.
I’ve heard great things about Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues. With a strong vernacular voice, this story of black jazz musicians in Paris and Berlin at the time of the Nazi occupation offers plenty of intrigue.
Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats
I’ll be reading Rosie Swale’s book Just A Little Run Around The World: 5 Years, 3 Packs Of Wolves And 53 Pairs Of Shoes, an account of a 57-year-old’s epic run in memory of her husband who had died of cancer, and Forever Is Over by Calvin Wade.
Principal, St Andrews University
The book I’m most looking forward to reading this summer is The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. A Long Long Way is one of my all-time favourite books and I recently read On Canaan’s Side and was deeply moved by it, so I am very much looking forward to another lyrical take on the Dunne family saga.
Madeline Miller’s The Song Of Achilles is also on my summer reading list, along with Margot Livesey’s The Flight Of Gemma Hardy, both intriguing reimagining of classical stories.
I’m keen to read Alan Warner’s latest novel The Deadman’s Pedal. Warner writes with an engaging mix of sophistication and tawdriness, profundity and hilarity, precisely observed reality and wild fantasy, and this tale of teenage rites of passage on the railway line out of/into Port (a thinly disguised Oban) in the 1970s, looks excellent. One for a weekend in the west Highlands perhaps.
I have heard amazing reports of the improbably titled New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani. A man has had his consciousness beaten out of him on a quayside in Trieste during the Second World War and has his identity reassembled by a Finnish doctor. It sounds mad but I am assured it is a masterpiece about war, love, memory and identity.
One of the most hotly anticipated books this year is also the one I am most looking forward to reading myself - Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth. Two years since Solar – the story of an accidental expert on climate change – the buzz around this tale of a beautiful Cambridge graduate being groomed for the intelligence services is immense. There is no doubt McEwan's engaging style of writing continues to excite after 30 years of putting expert pen to paper.
I’ve started reading Light Lifting, the first short story collection by Canadian Alexander MacLeod. I heard him read at this year’s Ullapool Festival, and I can’t wait to get some breathing space so I can enjoy the rest of the book. Powerful, visceral stories, beautifully written and elegantly crafted. Brilliant.
I read a proof a month or so ago of The Whispering Muse by the Icelandic writer Sjón. On one level it’s about post-war Scandinavia and northern European aftermaths and repressions, but its central story is told by a lowly crew member on a mid-20th-century ship who gathers the passengers round him every night, takes his inspiration from a chip of wood he carries with him from the original Argo, and spins a tale which brings norths and souths, highs and lows and ancient and modern worlds to bear on each other. It’s a wonderful book. There are very few writers, and Sjón is one, who make everything from a phrase to a sentence all the way to the roof of a structure resonate like this from page one and long after the book is closed.
I’m two chapters into Richard Ford’s Canada, but I’ve put it aside to finish off on holiday in Majorca. Then I’d like to read backwards into his work and tackle the Frank Bascombe trilogy.
For me it’s got to be Michael Foley’s Embracing The Ordinary. Michael is basically a modern seer. His Age Of Absurdity showed the mistakes we make when we chase satisfaction through status or possessions. His whole idea is that there is plenty in the world around us to make us happy – we just need to know where to find it. «