Having just moved to Scotland, there was no better way to immerse myself in my new home’s literary history and culture than by taking part in the Saltire Society’s shadow judging panel for non-fiction. The shortlisted books spanned a breadth of issues relevant both locally and globally—from assertions of power through mapping, language, and land ownership, to tensions surrounding borders and boundaries, religious identity, and ethnicity.
The panel’s discussion of the books ranged over similarly wide ground, all of us drawn, in particular, to how many of the authors managed to cut through the generic romanticism that often overshadows depictions of Scotland’s landscapes and cultures. Reading five or six books in a short period of time can be daunting, but I think this helped rather than hindered the discussion, as all of them remained fresh in our minds, with no book half-forgotten or hazily recalled.
Our discussion was illuminating in other ways, too, as we also had a productive conversation about the shortlisting process itself, as well as the roles gender and ethnicity play in reading experiences. Finally, the shortlisted books were not necessarily books that I would have been independently drawn to, so to take part in the shadow panel and discover books, authors, and histories that might otherwise have remained unknown to me is one of the most valuable parts of the experience.