26 Books in 2017 Book 25: Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell @aonghasphadraig @LuathPress #books #amreading

Book 25 has to be a book that has won an award. No stipulation as to year or type of award has been given – so this is another broad category.

For my own sanity – and yours – I decided to set my own somewhat narrower criterion. So I kept the choice to awards won this year.

What surprised me as I began my search and trawled through the many longlists, shortlists and award winners was the fact that I hadn’t read many of them. I don’t know if that says more about me or the lists.

So in the end, although I was able to pick one to be my book number 25, it’s actually one I haven’t read yet. But the only reason I haven’t is that I hadn’t heard of it. I wasn’t aware of its release or its prizewinning status before my research. And, although I didn’t set out to pick a Scottish based award or a Scottish author, it’s a wee bit of a bonus that it worked out that way.

It’s a book by an author whose work I love. I’ve read and reviewed (click on the book titles to read my reviews) both Archie and The North Wind and The Girl on the Ferryboat by Angus Peter Campbell, so I was delighted to discover he has a third novel out. It is called Memory and Straw and it won the 2017 Saltire Society Literary Award for Fiction. It looks every bit as magical and beguiling as Campbell’s previous books and has now been added to my to-be-read pile.

Here’s the back cover description:

A face is nothing without its history. Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots non-human carers for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask. Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been. He returns to England to look after his Grampa. Travels. Reads old documents. Visits ruins. Borrows, plagiarises and invents. But when Emma tells him his proper work is to make a story out of glass and steel, not memory and straw, which path will he choose? What s the best story he can give her? A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.

You’ll have to watch this space to see what I think of it after I’ve read it.

And so, readers, over to you now – what award-winning book would you choose – and what criteria would you apply to your choice?


26 Books in 2017 Book 18: A Previously Banned Book

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Prohibition did it no harm

Book number 18 in the challenge has to be a book that was previously banned.

Originally published privately in 1928, DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover wasn’t widely available until it was picked up for publication by Penguin at the end of the 1950s. But before it could be released for sale the book was banned. Its contents were described as including unprintable words during the obscenity trial that ensued. However Penguin won the case and the full unexpurgated version of the novel went on sale in 1960. Millions of copies were sold.

The book tells the story of a love affair between an upper-class woman and a working class man and it seems that this cross-class relationship was judged almost as offensive as the sexually explicit language.

It wasn’t the first of Lawrence’s books to be banned. Two of his earlier novels, The Rainbow and Women in Love were also initially blocked from being released.

Of course things have moved on considerably and nowadays Lawrence’s writing would hardly raise an eyebrow. But exploring sexuality as he did in a lot of his writing was considered pornographic at the time he was writing.

However, by the time I was at high school in the 1970s, Lawrence’s work was considered respectable enough to be included in the reading list for the upper school literature syllabus. I read both The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers while I was at school. And, yes, for a teenage school girl they were fairly shocking reads but the message from our teacher was definitely that we were reading first-rate literature.

I went on at university and beyond to read more of Lawrence, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and he’s an author I have huge respect for. He wrote thought-provoking and engaging stories. And he didn’t just write about sexual relationships. He also wrote about emotional and mental health, about living life in a way that’s spontaneous and true to the self, and his female characters were strong and unconventional women.

Yes he was controversial and his writing was ahead of its time, but banning his books only served to raise their profile and the profile of the issues he wrote about. His writing paved the way for novels that were more broad-minded and inclusive than what had gone before. The rights and wrongs of censorship is a whole other post topic, but having his work banned has done nothing to sully Lawrence’s long term reputation as a first-class writer.

Have you read any previously banned books?

Resolved and Resolute


No new year resolutions, but three inspiring initiatives to share…

First of all I’d like to wish all the readers of the blog a Happy New Year and to thank you all for your loyalty, interest, likes and comments.

This year I haven’t made any traditional resolutions as such – no promises to myself to get slimmer, fitter or wiser. Although if any of these come to pass I’ll be delighted.

However, there are three New Year related initiatives that have caught my attention and they’re all ways of bringing a little joy into our own and other people’s lives – something much needed after the battering of 2016. So let’s hear it for the power of positivity and individual action in 2017…

#ScotSpirit of Kindness


Firstly, I’m quite taken by the idea of 21 days of kindness being proposed by Visit Scotland.

The idea of the 21 days came from the fact that on the 25th January Scots, and indeed many non-Scots, celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national poet and bard, Robert Burns and in 1788 Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne, a song still sung nowadays, often as part of the New Year celebrations and other celebratory occasions. The song praises the value of friendship, and one of the lines in the song is we’ll tak a cup of kindness yet- a lyric which expresses a promise to be kind.

Visit Scotland is suggesting that on each day from the 5th of January until Burns night on the 25h people commit to doing one random act of kindness per day and sharing it with the hashtag, #ScotSpirit. Suggestions include complimenting a stranger, feeding the birds in your garden or paying for the coffee or bus fare of the person behind you in the queue. Apparently it takes 21 days to change a habit or form a new one, so the hope is the kindness will persist after the challenge itself is over.

Happiness Jar


The second suggestion that I like the sound of is the setting up of a Happiness Jar. Again it could be a good way of defusing stress. The idea here is to write down one thing each day that has made you happy and to put the note in a jar. So you not only take a moment to focus on the positive every day, but you can also recall all these moments at the end of the year when you re-read them.

Reflective Reading Challenge


And the third suggestion is the 2017 Reading Challenge. There are a few of these challenges around, but I particularly liked the sound of this one as it’s ‘only’ 26 books and doesn’t necessarily require a commitment to read more. It’s more about reflecting on one book per fortnight over the 52 weeks of the year and then to ‘inspire your world’ with your reflections. The full list of suggested categories is below and it comes from Hannah Braime at hannahbraime.com So I hope to inspire you as members of my blogging world with my own reflective recollections.

The 26-book 2017 reading challenge

  • A book you read in school
  • A book from your childhood
  • A book published over 100 years ago
  • A book published in the last year
  • A non-fiction book
  • A book written by a male author
  • A book written by a female author
  • A book by someone who isn’t a writer (think Paul Kalathani or Richard Branson)
  • A book that became/is becoming a film
  • A book published in the 20th Century
  • A book set in your hometown/region
  • A book with someone’s name in the title
  • A book with a number in the title
  • A book with a character with your first name
  • A book someone else recommended to you
  • A book with over 500 pages
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A previously banned book
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book translated from another language
  • A book that will improve a specific area of your life
  • A memoir or journal
  • A book written by someone younger than you
  • A book set somewhere you’ll be visiting this year
  • An award-winning book
  • A self-published book


Have you made any resolutions for 2017 – perhaps reading, writing or reflecting related? Have you considered any of the above initiatives? Do share in the comments below.