Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My reading pledge for Book Week Scotland 2014

Book Week Scotland begins on 24th November, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I'm delighted to be one of the Author Ambassadors for 2014.

As part of my ambassadorial role, I had to make a reading pledge, which you can do too, here: Make a reading pledge.

My pledge was to read a short story, poem or novel extract by a Scottish author to my family every day during Book Week Scotland (whether they like it or not). My daughter, who is a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories, has been trying to persuade me to read The Horror of the Heights every single day...

Anyway, as well as reading to my family, I thought it would be great to make a second reading pledge, and make it a bit more personal: something that would challenge me and expand my knowledge of Scottish fiction.

Several weeks ago, I passed through Waverley station in Edinburgh and saw a display of free paperbacks about the classic Scottish author Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832, as I can now quote with confidence, having read this small volume). The books were issued as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of Scott's novel Waverley. 

I decided that in honour of this anniversary, I would pledge to read one of Scott's novels for Book Week Scotland. I suppose perhaps I should have gone for Waverley itself, but it is set during the Jacobite uprising of 1745, a period of Scottish history I am pretty hazy about, because I did my long-ago History O'level down in England. I was afraid that without a grip on the history behind the book, I might not fully appreciate it. So instead I thought I would tackle Ivanhoe, which is set in 12th century England.

I have to put my hand up here and admit that I tried to read Ivanhoe once before, so long ago that when I found my battered Penguin Classics copy of the book, I discovered my maiden name was written inside it! I seem to recall that I got as far as the joust at Ashby-la-Zouche before running aground. I felt, though, that now was the time for another go, and I monitored my reading progress publicly on Goodreads to prevent myself from wimping out again.

So, how did I get on? Well, perhaps time has worked some miracle on me, because I didn't have any trouble finishing the book this time! I would freely admit that this isn't a book for everyone, though I wouldn't be as harsh as the person on Twitter who told me "life's too short" to read it! It does require an investment of time and concentration. It was published in 1819, after all, and it's a historical novel, so as well as 19th century literary flourishes there is some obscure vocabulary to contend with ("alembic", anyone?!). It is also a fabulously exciting, swashbuckling and romantic story, with some moments of high drama and deep pathos, and peppered with flashes of Scott's dry wit. It's hard not to love a book that encompasses an evil, passionate Knight Templar, a handsome young hero travelling incognito, not one but two beautiful heroines, and cameo appearances from Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. Antique humour does not always stand the test of years, but I thought the scenes with Friar Tuck were really hilarious. I also loved the archaic language, which was very elegantly done (I shall probably be addressing members of my family as "thou" for weeks after reading this book). Ivanhoe has definitely whetted my appetite for more of Scott's works.

I started reading the book on 3rd November, because I thought (rightly, as it turns out) that it would be no good trying to read the entire thing in the space of Book Week Scotland. I've finished it a few days short of the beginning of Book Week, and I'll be choosing an excerpt from it as one of the pieces I read to my family next week.

Do make a reading pledge of your own! I'm thrilled that Book Week Scotland has encouraged me to discover something I might otherwise not have read.

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