THIS year I’m a judge for the Saltire Society First Book of the Year and shortlists were announced last night, recognising the best Scottish fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and research books to emerge in the last twelve months.
An enjoyable honour, to be sure, but a responsibility our quartet judging panel didn’t take lightly. From the moment weighty boxes of submissions landed on our doorsteps we had our work cut out for us, not least the volume of reading.
When we talk about excellent books, we talk about artistry of the written word, but also their way of understanding the world around us. At a time of vast quantities of information streaming rapidly like ticker tape down our social newsfeeds, books, to the contrary, have more space between their covers to breathe and reflect, and to play around with ideas and distil them before releasing them – after an editor’s careful eye has been over them – into the world.
Readers spend more time with a book than an article that will become tomorrow’s chip paper. We can struggle to find that time sometimes, but books can be equally as entertaining or as maddening as they are rewarding. Books have the freedom to dip in and out of time periods, places, and peoples, cut adrift from the constraints of alert, up-to-the-minute topicality.
Whether documenting reality or presenting an imaginary alternative, or just being a bloody good read, books and storytelling can reflect part of our culture.
Books have shaped my own life. Before I could read, I’d sneak books into the crawl tunnel at nursery, just to look at them. In the years since, they’ve been a divining rod straight to my greatest passions and a career in publishing. Like a monstrous fly-trap I eat up every book in reach to keep myself nimble as an editor and critic and consider myself lucky to have a vocation marked out in paper.