While cruising the web, hungrily searching for my next travel destination, I noticed that both Smithsonian Journeys and Abercrombie & Kent post reading lists online. These lists are provided by Longitude Books, an online bookseller I had not previously been aware of. (Study leaders for various tours can insert their own particular selections.) Several things make these lists special, the most important being that they are annotated. These annotations are not clipped from review sources; they’re written by staff. They’re brief but articulate, and they make you want to read the book – at least, they have that effect on me! (I’ve had some experience with writing annotations; the shorter they’re supposed to be, the harder they are to write.)
You can access these lists directly on Longitude’s site: just select the region you’re interested in and the apposite list will display. The ones I’ve looked at are divided into two parts: Essential Reading and Also Recommended. Titles are identified as being new, staff favorites, or hard to find. The site also features “Best of” lists and “Neglected Classics.”
I returned from our last trip desiring to read more about Scotland. I was especially pleased with Longitude’s list. One title I’m particularly looking forward to reading is Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland, by Neal Ascherson. With some books, the introduction/foreward/preface alone is worth the price of admission. To wit, this passage from the opening of the Preface to Stone Voices:
“Some countries are tidy with their past. Until recently, English historiography resembled the work of a landscape gardener at a stately home: vistas of Saxon lawn and Norman shrubbery led up past Tudor and Hanoverian flowerbeds to the terrace of the present, where the proprietor sat contentedly surveying his estate. Other countries are restless, grubbing up old interpretations in each generation. Russia, where the past is said to be unpredictable, offers a history scene of churned-up mud and broken-down cement-mixers, loud with disputing gardeners. Twentieth-century France evolved two largely incompatible narratives, a Red republican version and a White or clerical-conservative one, whose respective visitors hardly glance at each other across the fence.
“But there are also countries which have left the past in its original condition: a huge, reeking tip of unsorted rubbish across which scavengers wander, pulling up interesting fragments which might fetch a price or come in handy.” Ascherson then announces that “Scotland has been one of these.” But he hastens to add: “This is nothing to be ashamed of.” (!!) The author proceeds to explain these somewhat bald assertions; among other things, this situation “…allows space for imagination and originality” for those wishing to contemplate and understand Scottish history. Ascherson’s stated purpose in writing Stone Voices is not to provide a chronological narrative but more of a meditation on the country’s past, as seen through discreet tableaux and in myth.
I am greatly looking forward to reading this book!