Thursday, December 17, 2020

Thinking about January, a List Inspired by Shetland, Orkney, and Points North

A short list I promise. I did consider an entire list devoted to Shetland Knitting (lace and Fair Isle) books, there have been some good ones this year and January/February have to be the best months for hibernating with some yarn but knitting isn't everything (though seriously it's a hobby I've found that's really helped my mental health generally for it's combination of creativity and usefulness).

As it is I'm just going to recommend the Shetland Wool Week Annual 2020 and the Shetland Wool Adventure Journal for knitting inspiration. Both offer patterns suitable for every knitting level from beginner to expert. They're things I actually want to make which isn't guaranteed, especially in beginner books, and they offer a lot more on top. Recipes, articles, book reviews, beautiful photography, and something of a sense of community. They're both well worth the money (about £20 each plus postage and packing on top of that), support local jobs, and will keep a knitter busy over the winter. 

I don't re read books very often, but after lots of discussion about Christmas favourites recently I keep thinking about George Mackay Brown's short stories and have pulled a handful of them off the shelf (along with Northern Lights so I can read again about the rotten day out he had with my dad - everybody else enjoyed it, but not Brown). Winter is the traditional time to gather and tell stories, something that Brown would have been very mindful of, and there's something about his mix of nostalgia and slight melancholy that feels right for this time of year - even when he's writing about summer. 

From there I started thinking about David Thomson's 'The People of the Sea' now a smart Canongate Canon. This is a collection of Celtic tales of the sea folk - selkies, which are also an Orkney and Shetland tradition too. Reading 'Hag' is the other thing that put me in mind of this book as one of the more famous Selkie stories is retold in it. 

David Gange's 'The Frayed Atlantic Edge' came out in paperback this summer, and was the next obvious connection. This epic trip around  Britain and Ireland's western seaboard is full of tangents to explore in the way of further reading and big ideas. It's also a really enjoyable book to read, and a reminder, should we need it, that there are a lot of exciting things happening on what we think of as the edges. It might also change what you think of as the centre those edges circle as well.

When I read the premise for 'The Frayed Atlantic Edge' I thought doing that journey in a kayak was a little bit crazy - then I read Alec Crawford's 'Treasure Islands' this year. If you don't think maritime salvage is your sort of thing this might be the book to change your mind - it changed mine. It's a jaw dropping account of poor health and safety practices whilst diving on the wreck of a lifetime - and life on Foula in the process. I really loved this book and very much need to retrieve my copy from my partner before he considers it his own. 

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