I was delighted to be chosen to be part of the Shadow Panel for the Non-Fiction shortlist of the 2017 Saltire Awards, in part because it gave me the opportunity to read books I may not have otherwise discovered, and learn about subjects that were new to me. In reading these six books, I tried to be analytical about their merits and compare them as objectively as possible, which was difficult considering how diverse the selection of books were. It was an issue we talked about at the discussion panel, that the books are so varied that it almost seems unfair to say that one is objectively better than the others. I certainly sympathise with the very hard decision the judges have to make!
It became clear as I read the book that some were aimed at a niche audience while some were more widely accessible, which impacted how I compared them. Many of the books were set in Scotland with a Scottish audience in mind, which is certainly no flaw, but the book I enjoyed most is one that I think could be appreciated by readers much further afield, Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting. It placed the Hebridean islands in a rich literary and historical context, and it had a broad scope, exploring the people, language, and politics of these islands. I especially liked how it avoided portraying island life as idyllic, and instead Bunting undertook a thorough investigation of the exploitation islands and their people have suffered over the centuries. While this book would be my choice as the winner, they were all highly accomplished, and the whole experience of being on the Shadow Panel reaffirmed for me the richness of Scottish writing and publishing culture.