Welcome to our Supporters Bookshelf! Here you will find in one convenient place all those book recommendations our staff have been making especially for our Book Festival supporter newsletter Limited Edition. If you came here while browsing the bookshop and are wondering what this is all about, the Book Festival supporters are our Friends, Patrons and Benefactors, all of whom receive our newsletter twice a year.
Our Friends pay an annual membership fee primarily to benefit from advance booking for festival tickets. Many of them are also Patrons or Benefactors, and have committed to support our work with a regular donation. Patron and Benefactor giving helps the Book Festival to be bold with our programming, include diverse authors from all around the world, invest in facilities and access for all, and supports education through our Schools programme and outreach work in local communities and throughout Scotland year round.
Find out more about how to become a Friend, Patron or Benefactor on our website.
It is rare to find a book of poetry that transports us so deeply into the mind of its creator. These poems feel timeless. Webb has a delicate and ancient voice and uses it to explore memories of the tail end of youth and the death of his father. It has the languid quality of E.E Cummings, Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath at their best. It provides a sorrowful way to remember happiness, and a joyous way of facing grief.
At once a robust journalistic exploration of our missing persons crisis and a delicate memoir of the debut author’s own experience of being left behind, If You Were There is moving and informative in its examination of why people disappear, where they go, and what’s left in their wake.
Taking in conversations with police units, charities, the returned, and the loved ones still searching for answers – of which Garcia is one – the book offers an affecting look at an under-reported social trauma, riven with the empathy of an investigator who has spent his life asking himself the same questions.
I surprised myself by devouring this book in one sitting, and it hasn’t left me since – not, as you might expect, because of its tragedies, but instead for its glimpses of a society that still cares, for its gentleness with grief and forgiveness, and its unexpected and quietly profound ending.
I read Maggie Shipstead's Booker Prize shortlisted novel Great Circle while I was mid-way through a two week (mandatory) stay in hotel quarantine. There was something about Shipstead's sweeping descriptions of sky and landscape that felt truly transportive – even though I spent some mornings pretending that the humming hotel air conditioner was a sea breeze.
Shipstead is a travel writer – as well as an award-winning novelist – and has given readers a richly drawn heroine in the fictional pilot-adventurer Marian Graves, who disappears during her attempt to circumnavigate the world from north to south.
The story of Marian's colourful life (plane crashes! shipwrecks! sex! war!) is interspersed with that of Hadley Baxter, an actor living in contemporary Los Angeles who is playing Graves in a studio biopic while weathering a scandal (recognisable to anybody vaguely aware of the very public fallout between the two stars of the Twilight series and the subsequent internet/tabloid discourse).
It's ambitious, gossipy and imperfect but feels vividly alive, which was just what I needed.
This is one of the best recent examples of the novel as art. Martens sculpts the story of a young couple through the eyes of the Messrs, an all seeing and knowing collective of beings that inhabit, consume and infest the intangible space between spaces. The Messrs observe humans as if from a hundred miles up, but somehow beneath their skin.
Prototype Press are among the very best new publishers on the scene, challenging traditional publishing and expanding the form of the written word with every release.
Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll, author of A Kind of Spark, is a powerful sci-fi novel for 11+ readers which tackles important themes around future technology and AI/robots, neurodiversity, grief, friendship and love.
As well as touching on big themes, this book is in essence an incredibly well written and immersive adventure with an explosive ending.
The Caribbean has long been a place that forces us to rethink stories we thought we knew, from The Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhyss’s take on Jane Eyre, to Omeros, Derek Walcott’s epic rewriting of Homer.
The book that has most opened my eyes this year is Monique Roffey’s The Mermaid of Black Conch, a novel that is as much a reimagining of Pygmalion as a riff on the arrival of the disruptive stranger that changes a community beyond all imagining – but more.
Described as a “fishy tale of doomed womanhood”, the Costa Book of the Year in 2020 tells of a mermaid who tries to put the sea behind her and the fisherman who snares her and tries to save her. It’s about music, love, loss, and coming to terms with slavery – and it’s the most erotic novel I’ve read in many years. You can’t say more than that: The Mermaid of Black Conch is a magical miracle.
Ka, the Ring and the Raven is a beautifully written fable about a jackdaw excluded from his flock, who flies North in search of the mythical Old Raven.
The author Richard Halliwell, known for his pocket walking guides, takes the reader on a journey through the varied landscapes of the British countryside. From a village churchyard, through broadleaf woodlands, past sea cliffs and up to the snow-capped mountains, and back again, Ka encounters several other crow species and a few potential predators. His adventure teaches him much about the nature of family, relationships and responsibility.
The book is illustrated throughout with Rebecca Coope’s pen and ink drawings making it a truly delightful read for children and adults of all ages.
My friend gave me this for Christmas and I loved it! Machado’s writing style is ethereal and haunting.
‘The Husband Stitch’ (named for the medical procedure sometimes taken to preserve marital satisfaction) begins the collection of stories which trace boundaries of queerness, horror, imagination and reality. I particularly liked ‘Especially Heinous’ which dissects a series of Law and Order SVU.
Machado flirts with reality, painting a picture of multigenerational and multicultural trauma across the city of New York. It’s beautiful and evocative from start to finish and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and compelling read!
My friend kindly sent me a copy of Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade and it’s been an enlightening treat to settle into.
It follows five exceptional writers: modernist poet H.D, Dorothy L Sayers, Jane Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf who independently found themselves living in London’s Mecklenburgh Square in the early 20th century. It traces London’s literary history from this bohemian quarter and tells each women’s story of how they came to be there.
Each chapter inspires another dozen recommendations as you’ll want to dig deep into the brilliant works of each author. Square Haunting offers the authors the credit they deserve and reaffirms their relevance in the present day.
We’ve all had to deal with some big changes this year, and none of us more than the children in our lives. The World Made a Rainbow by Michelle Robinson and beautifully illustrated by Emily Hamilton deals with this wonderfully.
The book shares the simple story of young girl at home with her family, trying to paint a rainbow to decorate her window. She zooms with her friend, misses her school and her Granny, and looks forward to a time when they can all be together again. As a mum to a toddler myself the refrain of “this rainstorm will pass” brings a lump to my throat, remembering just how much we have all been through, and making me appreciate the contact we can now have with family and friends all the more!
The World Made a Rainbow would make a wonderful gift for the little people in your life who you’ve perhaps missed this last year.
Over the course of his well-travelled life, Alberto Manguel amassed over 35,000 books. Then, on relocating from France to an apartment in New York City, he had to dismantle his library. This book documents his journey: sifting through the memories, ideas and emotions bound up in his remarkable collection. Personal reflections are interspersed with ‘digressions’ on topics and texts from The Divine Comedy to Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry, from ancient philosophy to Don Quixote.
A short but surprisingly profound love letter to literature, Packing My Library is sure to have you looking at your own bookshelves in a new way.
Evie Wyld’s latest novel The Bass Rock tells the story of three women and their families, set amidst the atmospheric backdrop of North Berwick.
Local landmarks familiar to Lothian residents – including, of course, the Bass Rock itself – are viewed in a new and sinister light. The book’s gothic, haunting undertone ultimately gives way to something far more rooted in fact, but just as disturbing: the repeating pattern of violence being inflicted by those in positions of power upon the vulnerable.
While it undoubtedly explores uncomfortable themes, Wyld’s beautiful descriptions of place and keen, wry observation of her characters ensure the book contains plenty moments of warmth and keep the story moving along at pace.
Having recently been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, it is no wonder that many people, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, are reaching for a copy of Shuggie Bain. Douglas Stuart has written this powerful debut novel drawing on his own life experiences.
Set in 1980s Glasgow, which seems to be unravelling under the weight of its own identity crisis, families struggle with unemployment, crushing poverty, and the waves of addiction that are engulfing much of the city. It is a book of both sadness and beauty, a chronicle of memorable characters, their defiance and hope in the face of the grim realities of life and survival.
An unassuming café in Tokyo is shrouded in modern folklore because from there it is believed visitors can travel in time. There are strict rules clearly defined at the beginning of the book: visitors cannot leave the café when they time travel; they can’t change circumstances in the present and they only have until their cup of coffee goes cold.
This quickly establishes the book as a time travel narrative like no other, there’s no looming panic about changing the course of history. Instead it’s a collection of life affirming tales from four visitors who travel in time bound by love for their partners, their sister or the daughter they never got to meet. The visitors, knowing they can’t change the present, travel to communicate more clearly, to see each other one last time, or to apologise.
A gentle and beautifully told novel that feels complete and will stay with you for a while after you’ve read it, and will offer opportunity to reflect over your next cup of coffee.
I read this book after the festival and couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it. I was totally absorbed by Mohsin’s story; it made me weep but it also gave me great hope.
Described as “a memoir of a gay Muslim’s journey to acceptance”, I can only imagine that committing such a personal story to paper must have felt terrifying at times, but it feels like a story that needs to be shared. It has a universal relevance and – like so many Book Festival events – it made me optimistic that open and thoughtful dialogue can create change.
This book packs a lot into 186 pages: part manifesto, part call to arms, part essential handbook to navigating the climate crisis.
Co-authored by two key architects of the 2015 UN Paris Agreement, it imagines what will happen if we meet the terms of that agreement by 2050, and what will happen if we don’t. There’s an urgency about it, but also an unshakable optimism underpinning the practical, manageable advice the authors give.
It reminds us that hope is a radical political act, and one we particularly need in times of crisis and uncertainty.
After the death of her best friend Vivian, the narrator is torn apart with grief. To try to cope she revisits Vivian’s favourite television programme ‘Little Blue’ (invented by Plante) and in doing so relives their memories together. The novel details how these transgender women became friends and the unrequited love and loss that followed. The narrator falls into the unusual world of Little Blue and creates an encyclopedia based on the programme to dedicate to Vivian like a love letter.
It’s a poignant, playful and accessible read – aided by the alphabetical nature of the encyclopedic style. An impressive debut with which it’s easy to become enamoured.
Edinburgh-based writer Maggie O'Farrell has produced her finest novel to date with Hamnet, and it turns out to be remarkably topical too.
Hamnet is set in Stratford in the late-16th century, at a time when bubonic plague is on the rise across England. The central character in the book, Hamnet, is one of Shakespeare's three children. His twin sister Julia has fallen ill and he is desperately trying to find his mother Agnes.
Alongside a story of sickness, it's a way of looking at Shakespeare's emerging success as a playwright and his guilt as an absent father. O'Farrell's exquisite depiction of motherly love and her ability to construct a compelling narrative are masterful in this short but deeply moving novel.