Please note that due to the COVID-19 restrictions, HighlandLIT events are are taking place 'virtually' rather than physically.
Tell us about a Special Book!
Recently in the light of our forthcoming Book Week Scotland event in November, we asked you to tell us about the book that transformed your life. Well, the feedback was that a life can be strongly affected by a book without being dramatically changed by it, and we agree! So we've got a new title , 'A Special Book', and we're now inviting you to tell us about a book that's special to you, and why.
During the first part of the 15th November event, Lynn Cassells will speak about the book she co-authored with Sandra Baer, Our Wild Farming Life: Adventures on a Scottish Croft, which was published earlier this year. In following their dreams to grow their own food and farm regeneratively, Lynn and Sandra took inspiration from the books they read, and they hope their book will encourage readers who have dreams of their own to make real.
Later, we'll listen to 'A Special Book' contributions, and thanks to funding from Book Week Scotland we'll be giving away some copies of nominated books.
Which books will be nominated? We're excited to find out! So please tell us about your special book: a book you found moving, inspiring, encouraging, impressive, liberating; a book that affected you deeply, and may even have changed the direction of your life; a book you remember with affection, respect, gratitude.
Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org with 'A Special Book' in the subject line. In the body of the email, give the author and title of your chosen book, and in no more than 150 words describe why/how it affected you.
We'll be sharing some responses on our website and social media, so please say whether you'd prefer to use a pseudonym or remain anonymous, or are happy for your response to be published under your own name.
We look forward to hearing of your 'special stories.' Each person can contribute up to three, which can each be up to 150 words. Please get your contributions to us by 7th October.
Thanks very much to Drew Hillier who designed the lovely header.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee (published in 1960)
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ had a profound effect on me as a young boy. In the late 1960’s and early 70’s where racism was very prevalent and normalised, I did not understand what was at the heart of racism, nor did I understand how subtly it could play out, and more frighteningly how racist language could quickly turn to violence. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ awakened in me a new layer of complexity, how intolerance and hatred comes in so many forms.
More than forty years after the writing of this book, racism and intolerance is still prevalent around the world, and as I witness this perpetual absurdity, I am reminded that to stand up to these behaviours takes courage and constant resolve. I have always been inspired by the way Atticus Finch took a balanced and humanist approach to defend the oppressed despite prevalent and irrational social pressures.
'Animals in Translation’ by Temple Grandin (2005)
My take on the world was totally transformed when I read ‘Animals in Translation’ and learned about low-stress handling. Being gently encouraged to look at situations from others’ perspectives, and put yourself in their shoes - or hooves - instead of getting frustrated because they’re not doing what you want or expect, has been invaluable. It’s a practice I use every day with my livestock, observing the environment and noticing what they’re paying attention to - and then changing what I’m asking if I’m failing to get the result I want. There are always reasons for animal behaviour, you just need to find out what they are. The stories Temple Grandin tells get her points across in a lovely, memorable way, like the horse that got really scared of black hats!
'Smoky the Cowhorse’ by Will James (published in 1926)
I was a pony-mad 10-year-old the first time I read ‘Smoky’. It took me into an alien world - the vast, wild prairies of the American West - and engaged my imagination as well as all of my senses. Will James knew, loved and understood horses, and ‘Smoky’ felt like the biography of an actual horse, a wild horse, not a sentimental, made-up story like ‘Black Beauty’. I was amazed by the ‘bad’ grammar and spelling that convey the drawling cowboy voice, and enthralled by Smoky’s adventures and the human behaviours that affect his life, and his strong spirit that’s never almost broken. ‘Smoky’ taught me the power of a good story, authentic writing, and unpossessive love. And just thinking about its sad-happy ending brings tears to my eyes.
Warning: ‘Smoky’ contains some racist comments and attitudes prevalent in the USA in the 1920s, which we believe should be discussed with a 21st Century reader who is a young person or child.
A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs from the Fourteenth Century.
Read well, with ink and pencil notes. Printed in 1881, a book of Archaic and Provincial Words.
Two worn volumes sat by my Great Grandmother’s bed. Handed down, now sits beside me.
A book of words that were fading into the past. The author, James Orchard Halliwell, added more to his 10th edition in ink and pencil notes.
Tanned cuttings slip between the pages—one of the many dated 1910, ‘Frae Maidenkirk on the Border to Johnny Groats.’ Words almost lost, faded, written in pencil additions, neat in the columns.
Turn the page, and find the treasures, before they disappear.
'The Other America' by Michael Harrington
I was overwhelmed when faced with picking just one book that had affected me. I had a childhood full of books: reading or being read to. I loved the Little Golden Books and fairy tales of all sorts, but for most memorable I offer a three-way first: 'Black Beauty', 'The Secret Garden', and 'The Wizard of Oz'. Although I love the movie also, the book is very different, including a nod to the economic times in which it was created with Dorothy returning to Oz with her Aunt and Uncle when the depression takes their farm in Kansas.
Some books are multi-generational, and so doubly cherished. I read 'The Lord of the Rings' again when my daughter was old enough to enjoy it and even now I cry for the real hero of the story—Sam Gamgee, the stalwart companion.
Perhaps the book with the most impact was 'The Other America' by Michael Harrington. An analysis of poverty in America. In 1962, from the comfort of my suburban neighbourhood, it was startling to discover not only the extent of poverty but also how and why it was hidden. I was reminded by recent news of the death of Barbara Ehrenreich of her compelling first hand look at life among the working poor in America, 'Nickel and Dimed: Undercover in Low-Wage America.'
As I type this and prepare to send it, I look guiltily around the room at the stacks and heaps of books—some neatly on shelves (a recent tidy up) and others on the floor, in the closet, in the bedside stand. Each in its own way is special.
Sharon Gunason Pottinger
‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013)
My family used to pick plants, berries, nuts, fruits and funghi, eating some of it fresh and preserving the rest. We took only what we needed, and we didn’t damage the mother plants.
When I read ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’, I had a wider context for these seasonal harvests, and the book helped me to see that anxiety about the natural world isn’t incompatible with concern for the needs of people and social justice.
Robin Wall Kimmerer is an academic with Native American heritage, indigenous wisdom with scientific knowledge. She doesn’t hector
or lecture, but explores her subject with feeling and understanding, and her story is inspiring. It made me think, ‘If we accepted being part of the natural world instead of trying to master it, we’d treat everything around us with respect, And then we’d find more meaning in life, and greater happiness.’
‘Voices of our ancestors' by Dhyani Ywahoo
I suggest 'Voices of Our Ancestors`by Dhyani Ywahoo;Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire.'
I read this first read this when I was 30...having just re read it 40 years later..it still resonates. powerful book..needed more than ever today to inspire our choices. (It has much in common with 'Braiding Sweetgrass` recently mentioned on your page.)
'A Wizard of Earthsea. by Ursula Le Guin
This book came into my 12-year-old life in an English class, and simply enthralled me. A story about a boy learning to be a wizard was original (at the time!), featuring a prickly main character, Ged, who was also dark skinned – all uncommon in books back in the 70’s.
In a magical fight with another student, Ged releases a dark, evil being that he spends the rest of the book trying to hide from, and discover how to destroy, as it wants to kill him. There are themes of coming-of-age and death, Taoist concepts of balance in the world, alongside the notion that true names have real power, as believed in many cultures, but a revolutionary idea to me at the time.
This book introduced me to the fantasy genre, in which I am happily now an author of several books – it definitely changed my life!
‘The Oaken Throne' by Robin Jarvis
There’s a fantastic line in You've Got Mail: "When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does". This happened with ‘The Oaken Throne’. I’d read the majority of Robin Jarvis' work but, what set this apart, is that it was (and remains to this day) the only book to make me cry. This marked the first time I related entirely with a character in a book. Since then, I've found I'm not alone in the tears I shed at Vesper's demise.
I’ve always tried to channel the emotions I felt within ‘The Oaken Throne’ into my own writing. I get a buzz when readers tell me they cried at my books! That emotional connection is a job well done, and I owe it (at least in part) to Robin Jarvis and Vesper.
‘The Wilderness Cure’ by Mo Wilde
Mo is a herbalist and forager. After seeing the greed of modern day consumerism on Black Friday, she decided to see if she could survive an entire year on just foraged foods alone. Mo takes us through the year, teaching and sharing the bounty that nature can offer us.
‘1984’ by George Orwell
I hadn't been interested in literature until my musical hero, David Bowie,
introduced me to an array of authors. The most notable being George Orwell
and his dystopian science fiction masterpiece ‘1984’!
Orwell makes a statement about tyrannical governments and political egos that resonates so clearly, even 73 years after it was published. I read it as a young teenager and, to this day, 20 years later, it remains a constant on my
bookshelf. It's a reminder to question everything, never be satisfied with the
status quo, and fight for your liberties.
‘Cold Comfort Farm’ by Stella Gibbons (1932)
For me, ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ is a perfect book.
It mercilessly parodies two of my favourite writers - D H Lawrence and Thomas Hardy - and mocks the dark, doomy romances that were popular in the 1920s.
I love the central character, cool, courteous Flora, an orphaned young woman with no money who moves in with her cousins, the Starkadders. She takes it upon herself to sort out their lives, one by one, not only satisfying her tidying instincts, but freeing them from their gloomy fate and making them happy.
I love the comic names: the matriach Aunt Ada Doom, the cows Graceless, Feckless, Aimless and Pointless, the horse Viper, the Starkadder cousins Urk, Ezra, Caraway and Harkaway, and farmhand Adam Lambsbreath.
I love the unsolved mysteries. What was the ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ that traumatised Aunt Ada? What were Flora’s ‘rights’?
‘Cold Comfort Farm’ was Stella Gibbon’s first published book and it was a huge success, unmatched by any subsequent efforts, so it must have felt like a millstone around her neck. But think of the fun of writing it!
‘Island going' by Robert Atkinson
When I was working in London I lived in Richmond. My great friend lived in Gerrards Cross.
Some Saturdays we met at Windsor and Eton. In a second-hand bookshop, I found 'Island Going' by Robert Atkinson. In 1935, he and a friend started on what became a twelve-year search for Leach's fork tailed petrels in the islands off the west coast of Scotland – the Hebrides.
The book not only records their search, it recounts the way of life of the
inhabitants, the wildlife, and the difficulties of getting to some of these islands.
I had never been to the Outer Hebrides but I realised that in one way and another, they each had a rich heritage and unique wildlife.
After I sat the Civil Service examinations, I applied to work for The Nature Conservancy. I spent many happy years working there, all because of 'Island Going.'
‘The Wild Edge of Sorrow; Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief’ by Francis Weller
I come to this book whilst spiralling through my personal healing practice, and again recently as I moved to the Highlands. Continuing my exploration into the Gaelic Language, culture of our ancestors; their ancient, somatic healing practices and community rituals, I recognise more of what we have lost. And what we must reconnect with in order to heal, come to terms with, and birth something different for our future, our children, the planet and our more than human allies.
Grief is all around us, within us, and we don’t know how to face and transform this. Grief has been made personal within our western cultures, where it never was and was shared by the collective. This book offers us a way to turn towards our sorrows, and explores the interconnection of all life on the planet. It also reminds us, that where there is sorrow, and its expression, there is the creation of space for joy, and laughter.
‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn
I love how Raynor writes about the journey she and her husband made into the unknown. After being made homeless, they used the little money they had left to buy a tent and a couple of rucksacks, and just started walking. It's a story of hope, of freedom, and of the power of nature.