Influential books


       On Facebook recently, my friend Robert Hansen asked me to post the covers of seven books which have influenced me in some way. Initially I was posting these without comment, as requested, but I felt this was not really what I wanted to do. Some explanation of why the books were important to me might be useful to readers. So I started to add commentaries. I finished at fifteen book covers.

Then this week I was speaking to one of my friends, and he suggested I should put all the books together in one place. Here it is.

Book covers_1

Back in 1961 I was one of a small number of ‘Edinburgh Beats’, influenced by what I could glean of the Beat culture of 1950s America. I liked what I read of the American poetry of the time, and I bought this newly published anthology in Edinburgh’s The Paperback bookshop in Charles Street (now demolished). The shop was run by Jim Haynes, a friendly and knowledgeable American, who was also involved with the establishment of the Traverse Theatre, and the International Writers Conference, which I attended in 1962, the year of the infamous stramash between Hugh MacDiarmid and Alexander Trocchi. Anyway, reading and re-reading this book changed the direction of my life. It was the best 21 shillings I ever spent.

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An obvious one for me. Günter Grass first influenced me as a poet, and then as a novelist. The English version came out, I think, in 1962.

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I had long been interested in animal behaviour, and Schaller’s book is a classic of its kind.

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Finishing my Open University degree in maths and science, with a Distinction in Geology and Geochemistry, I wanted to change my career from one in public libraries to scientific librarianship. A job came up to take charge of the then Institute of Geological Sciences (now British Geological Survey) library in Edinburgh, and moving that library from an old building in Grange Terrace into a purpose-built new building on the King’s Building campus. I read the first edition of The Geology of Scotland, edited by Gordon Young Craig, spoke about it at my interview, and got the job. I started working there in 1973, and stayed until 1988. Subsequently, as a professional indexer, I indexed the third and fourth editions of the book for their publishers.

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Norman MacCaig was my primary school teacher at Craiglockhart Primary School for the final two years of my primary schooling. He taught me Scottish country dancing, sarcasm, and how to write stories – then called English composition.
    It wasn’t until much later that I discovered his poetry, for which I have a deep and abiding love. I regard him as the finest Scottish poet of the 20th century, bar none.
    I also discovered Assynt much later too, the land where MacCaig spent all his long summer holidays. There is something mysterious and magical about the region, the way the mountains suddenly rear up out of the ancient Lewisian basement rocks. This one’s Suilven, MacCaig’s mountain, and mine too. I climbed it on my 66th birthday on a perfect summer day in 2008.

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I like to know where people come from, where I come from, and how we ended up in the places where we are. It’s why I had my DNA analysed not long ago, to find that I have a specific marker on my Y-chromosome characteristic of those whose origins are in north-east Scotland, the land of the Picts. So I’m a Pict, which I find just hunky-dorey. I know who I am now But this book goes deeper and wider, using genetics, linguistics and archaeology to trace the routes our ancestors took.

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I’ve long been interested in and influenced by, the poetry of Japan, but this book was an eye-opener, introducing me to the shan-shui – mountains and rivers – poetry of China. 

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i love this anthology, and I’ve used it often in workshops, for the inspirational quality of many of poems it contains.

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I love Kathleen’s poetry, and in particular the exuberance of this collection. I met her on an Arvon course at Moniack Mhor, which was intense, liberating and inspirational. She continues to be a wonderful writer.

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I’m influenced by art of all kinds, and I have a soft spot for the wood-block prints of Hiroshige.

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Back when I was younger, and fitter, I did a lot of hillwalking in the Scottish mountains, including several Munros (mountains over 3,000ft high. I still love the hills.

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This is fun. I bought it back in 1961 too, and it’s well thumbed.

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I’m not a twitcher, but birds fascinate me, and I see lots around my Dunbar home.

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If I’m teaching fiction writing, this is the book I recommend. It’s practical, sensible, and should be on every beginning writer’s bookshelf, along with Stephen King’s On Writing.

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What can I say? My first book of poetry, published by Diehard Books in 1996. 



About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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