Tag Archives: Saturdays@South

Saturdays @ the South: For your listening preference…

I recently chatted with someone who claimed she wasn’t much of a reader because she rarely sat still long enough to read a book in any meaningful way. That is, until she discovered audiobooks. Audiobooks have helped her become more of a reader because she was able to do it during the times when she had to sit down anyway, like during her long commute. I discovered audiobooks in a similar way. While I’m an avid reader, I was looking to get more reading time into my day thinking “good grief, I hate spending all this time in the car when I could be reading…“. Then I had a huge forehead-slapping moment when I remembered that audiobooks exactly that: a way to safely read in the car.

Once I discovered one of the benefits of audiobooks (and there are many), I didn’t necessarily jump right onto the bandwagon, though. As I mentioned in last week’s post, everyone has their own preference when it comes to audiobooks, and much like a fairy-tale princess, you may have to kiss some frogs before you find the style(s) that suit you best. Some people for example can’t read fiction in the car because they find it too engrossing. They get so involved in the story that listening to a book in the car is no longer a way to read safely; it’s distracting instead. It’s just not the audiobook style for them.

I kissed several frogs when I  started to listen audiobooks and still do, even though I’ve been listening to them for years. Sometimes a narrator of a nonfiction work sounds pretentious and didactic, rather than engaging. Sometimes the reader presents a character that sounds completely differently in your head and you just can’t listen to the portrayal without getting aggravated (been there, so many times). Sometimes the story is something that’s right up your alley, but it’s better left in print form. I come across this a lot in my reading. Sometimes I just need to see the word on the page to make it come alive in my head. Nothing against the narrator, just a personal preference.

This week, I thought I’d offer a sort of if/then for audiobooks, not necessarily based on their plot (you’ll find summaries in the catalog links), but based more on what listening style it could attract. If you’re thinking about trying audiobooks or just looking for your next listen, maybe something here will float your boat:

If you want to be engrossed but not distracted try:  The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession by David Grann

The narrator for this book did a great job expressing the tone of the text, which is about true stories that explore some form of obsession, without being overly dramatic or didactic. You won’t get someone changing their voice to mimic characters here, just a solid narration from someone who knows who to tell a gripping story. The fact that this is a series of tales, rather than one long story helps temper the tenseness of the subject matter so you’re less likely to drift too far into your imagination.

If you’re looking to laugh with non-fiction try: Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Lawson’s books are poignant, endearing and completely hysterical. This memoir about her life growing up in Texas and coming of age with her own personal issues is guaranteed chuckles and  guffaws, partly because the author reads the book herself, giving the reader a sense that they’re out having drinks with that friend who always knows how to crack you up. Plus, the audiobook has a gag reel. Need I say more?

If you’re looking to laugh with fiction try: Fool by Christopher Moore

Moore’s book about the fool in the court of King Lear is the book that made me say “this whole audiobook thing is going to work out just fine.” The narrator in this book does character voices spot-on with authentic-sounding accents, great comedic timing and differentiation that made me wonder a few times if there was more than one person reading the book. He did such a good job that I couldn’t imagine these characters sounding any other way.

If you’re looking for a cast of characters try: The Gurnsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

Not only are the characters in this WWII historical novel well-drawn, they are very well-read by a cast, rather than relying on one narrator to do all the voices. Having multiple people read this story works very well for the epistolary style of the novel and helps keep a pretty large cast of characters in straight when you’re not seeing names on the page.

Bonus: If you’re looking for an epic cast of characters, try Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders which is read by 166 people, including Lin Manuel Miranda, Julianne Moore, David Sedaris, Ben Stiller, Don Cheadle and Nick Offerman.

If you’re looking for something classy try: The Iliad by Homer

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty and the Beast) narrates this classic, epic poem with style. His narration is subtle without being boring and he tackles the immense number of Greek names expertly. Since the Homeric tradition is an oral one, you get the sense that you’re listing to this book the way it was always meant to be done.

Bonus: If you’re a fan of celebrity narration, there’s plenty to be found out there, but few actors read books as well as Stephen Fry. Arabella mentioned his narration of the Sherlock Holmes canon (which I can’t wait to listen to myself), but may I also suggest his reading of Douglas Adams’s classic sci-fi caper, The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for a true reading treat.

I hope this post has given you some options if you’re just dipping your toe into the audiobook waters, or if you a longtime listener but are looking for something new. Till next week, dear readers, remember that good books (including audiobooks) are in the eye of the beholder, so don’t be afraid to experiment!

Saturdays @ the South: When you just don’t have the time

Not everyone is a reader (for those of you clutching your pearls or gasping, please breathe). It took me a very long time to understand this concept. Books have been a part of my life from birth. They comprise some of my earliest memories to the point where I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t reading. Friendships have been forged on the common like/dislike of books. But this isn’t the path for everyone.

Some people do not read, and this is a valid life choice. That’s why the library offers DVDs or programs and many other offerings for people who don’t find reading to be particularly their bag. But increasingly, I’ve spoken with many people who want to read more, but can’t find the time. This is completely understandable. Busyness seems more inherent in daily life, and let’s face it, sitting down to read can feel like a commitment, maybe even homework if you’re reading something you don’t enjoy. But reading doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. It can be captured in the drips and drabs of those elusive bits of free time. For those of you who are looking to beef up their reading lives, or are looking to incorporate books into your life, I have a few suggestions.

There are plenty of articles that offer ways to make the most of your reading time. Many of their points I agree with. Some seem a bit gimmicky to me. So in the spirit of librarianship, I thought I’d curate the six tips I find most practical in a digestible format. For those of you who are loyal readers, you can probably guess what’s coming next. Yup, I’ve put together an infographic for you (click on it for a larger image you can expand)!

These particular tips are tried-and-true for me. I’ve incorporated reading into my daily routine and while I haven’t put it specifically on my calendar, I do find time in my day that I carve out specifically for reading. The one thing that I think surprises most people is the encouragement not to finish a book. Some people are dead against this, but I found my reading life to be so much freer when I allowed myself to put down a book I wasn’t enjoying  and pick up something that enticed me more. This doesn’t mean never, ever go back to it. Maybe make a mental note to return to it when you have the headspace for that particular story. But why force yourself?

Audiobooks are pretty well celebrated here on the blog, and for good reason, but that doesn’t mean that every audiobook is for every person, so if you’re trying to read more and would like to give audiobooks a try,  know that some people prefer listening to a certain type of book or narrator that can engage them in the story. Be prepared to experiment!

All of these are tips that can hopefully help people get back on track with their reading lives (or perhaps even start one!), but please remember that the library is here for you for more tips and to help you find that un-put-downable book or that audiobook narrator that’s hits your listening sweet spot.  Till next week, dear readers, let us know what you want to get out of your reading life. You can be sure that we’ll do everything we can to help!

Saturdays @ the South: Fun with Time Travel (and also Murder)

Time after Time on ABC. Image from tvguide.com

I’m not sure how I nearly missed the memo that there was a new show starting last week that I can easily see fulfilling my need for campy fun with a somewhat-literary twist. I found out only just in time to set my DVR to a season pass for Time after Time an ABC drama that, while I don’t think it’s intention is to be funny, seems to be cracking some viewers up all the same.

The premise for the series is this: Legendary and groundbreaking sci-fi author H.G. Wells built a time machine prior to his authorial turn and while bandying about in Victorian times, manages to have said time machine stolen by Jack the Ripper. Both travel to modern-day New York City. Murder & mayhem ensue, Wells feels guilty and tries to track Jack the Ripper down and stop him. The series is also apparently very meta as it is based on a movie which was based on a 1979 novel by Karl Alexander (sadly, unavailable in NOBLE at this time).

For those of you looking for a more reality-based primer prior to watching (or completely ignoring) this show, here’s some brief info. H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was a British author most well known for writing The Time Machine and War of the Worlds but was also a sociologist, journalist and historian. His first book was, surprisingly, given his reputation for fantastical fiction in later life, a biology textbook. Jack the Ripper‘s true identity has never been officially proven , but numerous theories and obsessions abound about the pseudonymous murderer who struck in London’s Whitechapel district between August and November of 1888. It is also possible that the killer committed murders prior to and after those dates, depending upon how certain crimes of that time are viewed. Jack the Ripper has captured the imagination of many true-crime aficionados who still speculate who he was.

I’m not going to lie, I’m surprised to see these two figures in a television show together, given that the only link between them is that they were both alive in England in 1888. But I suppose that when one writes speculative fiction, it leaves those of us who read that work scads of leeway to speculate on our own.  If you’re interested in this show, or if aspects of time travel or Jack the Ripper appeal to you, you’re in luck. Here are some options for your reading and viewing pleasure:

Ripper by Isabel Allende

This is a fast-paced thriller in which true-crime aficionados around the world convene in an online role-playing game called Ripper. Most of these players are teenagers solving real-life mysteries on the game based on information fed by a game master, who gets her information from her dad, the Chief Inspector of the San Francisco police. This book is ideal for those who perhaps have some of their own theories about Jack the Ripper or who like Time after Time‘s modern caper appeal.

I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter

This is a historical thriller set in Victorian London. The main protagonist is none other than Jack the Ripper and Hunter goes to great lengths to get deep inside the mind of a killer, re-imagining how and why he might have done what he did. This is a natural pick for those intrigued by Jack the Ripper but would also appeal to those fascinated by the likes of Hannibal Lecter .

Ripper Street

This TV series, already discussed here on the blog is just fantastic. It follows the capers of the H Division detectives in London’s police force just after the Ripper murders as it delves into a re-imagined Whitechapel with several characters based on real-life investigators who were involved in (and somewhat undone by) the Ripper investigation. It is stunning, visually, in character development and in plot twists and is well worth watching.

Just One Damned Thing after Another by Jodi Taylor

This is the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series in which Madeline “Max” Maxwell is a time-traveling historian (quite possibly the coolest job description ever). There’s one major rule that all in that profession must follow: no interaction with the locals; observation only when time-traveling. Naturally, this doesn’t work out particularly well and Max realizes that being a historian who time-travels is a pretty dangerous activity.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Tom Barren’s 2016 is not the same as our 2016. It is the 2016 imagined by those living in the 1950s, complete with flying cars and moving sidewalks. Then, through a time-traveling mishap, he winds up in our version of 2016, complete with punk-music (which never needed to exist in his world) in what seems to him like a dystopian wasteland. His ultimate question is whether he fixes the tear in reality that occurred during the mishap and get back to his idealistic world, or learns to live and survive and possibly change for the better, the horrors of the time we live in.


This Showtime show is a perennial favorite at the South Branch and involves a nurse in 1946 who time-travels back to 1743 Scotland. Her heart is torn between the husband she loves and left behind in her own time and the man who she is forced to marry in the past in order to save her own life.

Till next week, dear readers, I’m going to try to get the Cyndi Lauper song out of my head…

Saturdays @ the South: Book Slump

Readers have an extraordinary internal life associated with books. There are so many emotions a reader goes through, during the course of reading a book, talking about books, finding out about books and even the space in between books. We’ve talked about book hangovers, Hermitage Week (or month), what happens when you just can’t and I’m sure there are many other thoughts on the spectrum of being a reader. I’ve been experiencing one of them lately: a book slump.

My experience with the book slump is somewhat different from not being able to focus on a book. I’m able to finish books with a reasonable amount of attention. I haven’t started and stopped more books that I normally do in my reading life. And yet, I’m facing a Goodreads feed filled with 3-star books and only a vague recollection of what I’ve read. The books haven’t been bad; they just haven’t wowed me.  I’ve been book-ambivalent lately and I’ve a sneaking suspicion it happens to all readers at some point (or perhaps at several points).

Sometimes you’re still enjoying the reading process, the ritual of whatever it is you do to read, whether it’s blocking out everyone else on the commuter train, listening to an audiobook in the bath (no wrinkly pages that way!) or settling into bed with a book. Whatever your ritual, you’re still into it; the focus and the will is there, but sometimes, the books just… aren’t.

With more and more books getting published and finding outlets to be published, there’s bound to be something for every taste, but let’s face it, not all of those books can be Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or The Gentleman or (insert your amazing, gush-worthy read here). Getting out of your book slump might be as simple as revisiting a favorite and remembering what it is about that book that made you love it. Maybe after reading it you recognize you’re in the mood for more like that and suddenly, books seem exciting again. Or it might be a matter of sampling something different to pique your interest and keep your brain from getting bored. Or maybe you need to read in a different format (go electronic or audio for a change). Or maybe you don’t need to change anything and these books that are somehow smack dab in the middle of your bad—good scale are an essential part of what makes you appreciate a good book when it does come around for your.

During these times, remember that the library is here for you. We’re here to offer books to borrow for free so that your hard-earned money isn’t wasted on a book you may have enjoyed but don’t want to hold onto (maybe not even in memory) for very long. We’re here to make suggestions about books we love that hopefully you will love, too. And we’re also here to help you ride those times out. Even if you’re feeling that, somehow, your story-loving sense is askew, know that your next favorite read may be just around the corner and you can sample as many of our books as you want until you find it, and your book groove, again.

Till next week, dear readers, know that when it comes to reading, all feelings are valid and wallowing in a slump is OK. We’re here for you and the books are here for you however you want to ride it out.

Saturdays @ the South: Take Me to the Tropics

I’m not a particular fan of the snow, largely because I don’t enjoy being cold and wet and snow provides both of those sensations simultaneously. After 11 inches of snow in one day, my window has almost as much snow stuck to the outside screen:

My cat is not happy that she can’t keep up her window-vigil with her usual diligence.

Because of this, I’m pretty much planning to re-erect my blanket fort from hermitage month and seriously considering making winter hermitage season. In the meantime, I’m looking for books that take me away, bonus if they can make me laugh. So here are books designed to do just that:

Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore

Tucker Case is a  “cool guy,” who discovers he’s a lot more hapless and clueless than he realized when he crashes his employer’s plane into a tiny island in Micronesia. Because it’s Christopher Moore, hilarity and intrigue ensue. Also, because it’s Christopher Moore, there’s a talking fruit bat named Roberto.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is a master of deadpan comedy and this classic, oddball book possibly his most well-known work after Slaughterhouse-Five. Dr. Felix Hoenikker has left the world a deadly legacy in the form of ice-nine which could bring about global destruction. One of Hoenikker’s children try to keep their family legacy under wraps by following a trail down to the Caribbean where they encounter a dictator and a religion called Bokonon. This book is for those who like a thought-provoking Armageddon with their tropical humor.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

For a little non-fiction in the mist, Troost follows his then-girlfriend (now his wife) to a tiny island in the South Pacific called Tarawa, where they encounter incompetent government officials, a self-proclaimed Poet Laureate of Tarawa (who has never written a poem in his life), and an endless loop of La Macarena playing everywhere. If you’re looking for something that will take you away, make you laugh out loud and make you thankful for indoor plumbing, coffee and regular news feeds, this book will do just that.

I hope I’ve offered you a few options for one of the best reasons for reading: escape. Till next week, dear readers, stay warm and safe!

Saturdays @ the South: Mexican Literature

Image discovered on LitHub

I fully admit that my reading list isn’t as diverse as it could be, partly because the bookternet (bookish + Internet) makes it so easy to reach for books already in my wheelhouse. Favorite authors mention other authors they enjoy, Goodreads points me to books I might like based on what I’ve already read and my wonderful bookish friends and fellow colleagues at the library are constantly dropping book references. This is one of my favorite parts of the bookternet (and the bookish community in general) because I know that I will never run out of great reading material in my to-be-read pile. But it also means that, if I’m reading books like what I’ve already read, I’m not reading books that aren’t like anything I’ve ever read before.

We’ve talked a fair amount about diversity in literature here on the Free For All, but mentioning it occasionally isn’t quite enough. It’s important to continue to talk about diversity, particularly in literature, on a regular basis lest it become relegated to shadows, ensuring that nothing ever changes. In an effort to talk more about diverse literature, I’m starting a regular feature for Saturdays @ the South where I talk about books from a particular area of the world in an effort not only to introduce you to diverse voices, but to also introduce myself to new voices and ideas that I haven’t been exposed to previously. It won’t be every week; there will still be the weird bookish ramblings and musings you’ve come to expect on a Saturday, but I’d like to feature a new country or region every month to ensure that the conversation continues.

Today, we’re talking about our neighbors to the south, Mexico. Mexican literature has a rich heritage and many of it’s classic works, as well as new contemporary authors, are beginning to become more widely available in translation. My high school and college Spanish is very sadly rusty, so I’m grateful for the efforts of organizations like Deep Vellum and UNESCO and resources like Three Percent who promote translations of works into English. While there are always issues with reading any work that has been translated from the author’s original language, the best will try to keep the lyricism and ideas of the author in tact to ensure a reading experience that is still rich. Here are some books by Mexican and Mexican-American authors that can expand our reading experiences together:

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

Will Evans wrote on LitHub  he “believe[s] the greatest Mexican novel ever written is Pedro Paramo…” because it “changed the way that literature is written, read, processed and remembered when it was published in 1955.” Wow. That’s a bold statement to make for any novel, but it’s enough to make me want to read this one sooner rather than later.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

The Culture Trip mentioned that Valeria Luiselli, a Mexico City native, is “described as one of the brightest literary talents in the entire world right now.” Again, wow. How have I missed this on my reading radar? This book is her latest novel (published in 2015) follows the adventures of Highway, a world-traveler, auctioneer and general bon-vivant, whose most precious possessions are the teeth of the “notorious infamous” like Virginal Woolf, Plato and more.

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

This is a book about borderlands that takes a great deal from Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. The narrator is trying to bring her brother back to Mexico from across the US border, but the book tackles much more than immigration as it is steeped in mythology as well. A quick note here: Yuri Herrera has at least three books mentioned on the Best-of-Mexican-Literature lists I found, so I’m guessing that any of his books would be a good place to start.

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue

LitHub voted this one of the best books of 2016, period. No ethnic qualifier or best of Chicano/a literature. They just thought this book was awesome, and boy, does it sound cool. This book is quasi-historical, mostly meta-fictional about “a 16th-century tennis match between Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo and Italian painter Caravaggio, playing with a ball stuffed with the hair of Anne Boleyn.” Seriously, how quickly can I get this book?

What You See in the Dark by Manuel Munoz

This book is set in the 1950s in an Alfred Hitchcock-style narrative. This tale of a doomed love affair set against the backdrop of a filmmaker who comes to Bakersfield, CA to scout locations for a film about murder at a motel peeks into character’s private thoughts, jealousies and dreams. Mexican-American author Munoz has received high praise for both this book (his first novel) and his previous short story collections.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Alire Aaenz is another Mexican-American author who has managed to pull together a novel that is both about two teenagers falling in love, but also a sweeping character study of teenagers, their parents, Mexican-American identity in the modern age and LGBTQ perspectives that shatters stereotypes. His characters are undeniably real, his writing is gorgeous and the range of emotions through which he guides both the characters and the readers is nothing short of an astounding accomplishment. The audiobook,is narrated by pre-Hamilton, post- In the Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda and is perfectly executed. This book is a favorite of mine and was recommended to me by more than one librarian here in the library. It’s a great example of a book that I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to because it’s not like what I usually read, but was an incredibly rich and rewarding reading experience that I’m so glad to have had.

Hopefully one of these books will pique your interest in reading a little more internationally. As Japanese author Haruki Murakami once wrote: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” It’s good to get into someone else’s head for a while. If you’re intrigued and would like more suggestions, feel free to mention that in the comments or stop by the library and ask! Till next week, dear readers, do your best to read a little out of your usual sphere of influence. You never know what next great read you’ll discover just beyond our backyards.

Saturdays @ the South: Celebrating Rabbie Burns Night*

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

(From: “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” by Robert Burns)

Sign for Alloway Village depicting the features of it’s favorite son.

This is a slightly belated birthday post for Robert Burns, the beloved National Poet of Scotland. Born in Alloway on January 25, 1759, the Bard of Ayrshire, affectionately known as Rabbie started his career as a tenant farmer like his father and later in life became an excise collector in Dumfries. Throughout most of his life, however, whatever job he held, Burns was a poet and a poet in a particularly interesting time in Scotland (and Europe in general).


The Scotland of Burns’s time was that of a national identity crisis. After merging Scotland’s crown into Great Britian with James I in 1603, the British and Scottish Parliaments merged in 1707, resulting in a period in which the Scots were facing an identity crisis. How do they retain their distinctive culture amidst the English hegemony overtaking the nation? The Scots language was fading, morphing into strongly-accented English, traditional dress was increasingly frowned upon in polite society and many of the cultural songs, poems and folk traditions were fading, giving way to English traditions. Burns became a man in a time when what it meant to be a Scotsman was in question.

Quote on the wall inside the Burns cottage in Alloway

Burn’s poetry started off commonly enough. When he was 15, he fell in love and began writing love poetry, but his repertoire soon expanded into pastorals about the farm life he grew up in and nature in general (noted particularly in his famous “Ode to a Mouse”)

This mouse stands over 6′ tall on the path to the birthplace museum, commemorating “Ode to a Mouse.” It is either supremely cool or oddly creepy, depending on your view. I have the first line of the poem on a magnet on my fridge, so you can guess where I stand on this one…

and in doing so became a pioneer of the Romantic movement. Burns is now often studied among the likes of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats. Burns was more than a prolific Romantic poet, however. He was also a champion of Scottish culture, eschewing more widely-read English and writing most of his poems in the Scots language or a Scottish dialect. In 1786 Burns published Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect to a first edition of 612 copies, but it became popular and was run in a section edition in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh.

The Tam o’ Shanter pathway in Alloway is lined with with signs like this depicting scenes from the narrative poem.

This success allowed him to travel throughout Scotland (though his travels were, at least in part, to gather information about crops) and he increasingly saw himself as “Scotia’s bard.” He published his narrative masterpiece Tam o’ Shanter in 1788, but after that he spent the rest of his poetic career using his travels to collect Scottish folk songs and poems that were quickly becoming lost.  He contributed two more large collections of traditional songs and poetry in his lifetime: the Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Scottish Airs.

The Writers Museum in Edinburgh celebrates some of Scotland’s greatest writers, including Burns, and continues to support emerging Scottish writers today.

Burns was charismatic and extremely popular during his lifetime, both in literary circles, particularly in Edinburgh, and also throughout the country, hailed as a champion of traditional Scottish culture, including traditional dress (i.e. kilts; though it is often argued that Burns himself is unlikely to have worn one because he was from the Lowlands and kilts are more a tradition of the Highland clans). Five years after his early death in 1796 (he was 37), a group of friends gathered to celebrate his life and accomplishments, calling it the Burns Supper. The tradition continued among the friends for many years, but Burns’ popularity in Scotland, Great Britain and throughout the world grew, morphing from a group of friends gathering to an international celebration. The date changed from July 21st (the date of Burns’ death) to his birthday, January 25th, presumably to make it more a celebration of his life (though also, possibly, because the traditional Burns Supper is full of heavy, warm, rich foods that are much more palatable on a winter’s night). Burns is a highly respected cultural and literary figure and his influence on groups and individuals worldwide (he has the 3rd highest number of statues across the glob of any non-religious figure after Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus) is quite possibly unparalleled.

Burns’ desk in the Birthplace museum. This display is one of the many original, entrancing setups in this fantastic museum.

Should you like to commemorate the poetry and life of Rabbie Burns with your own (albeit belated) Burns Night, you can do so in any number of ways. Bagpipe music would be a delightful, traditional accompaniment. You can also settle in with a warming glass of whisky (in Scotland, it’s just referred to as whisky, without the “e”, though we call it Scotch, stateside). You can also read a collection of Burns’ work (ideally out loud to others). There are many delicious options for hosting a Burns Supper delineated here (even if haggis isn’t your particular bag). But if you’d prefer to settle in for a Burns Night of reading books that take place in Scotland and celebrate a modern version of  the culture that Burns sought to preserve, here is a selection of Scottish series to help you out:

Inspector Rebus series by Ian Rankin

Multiple Edgar Award winning Edinburgh native Rankin has written John Rebus to be a complex, flawed character who is immediately intriguing, but the city of Edinburgh is almost as much a character as Rebus. Rankin’s mysteries are taught and fast paced, but you’ll also get a little literary tour in his prose as well. My favorite is The Falls, but you can also start with his first book, Knots and Crosses.

Hamish Macbeth series by M. C. Beaton

The beloved bachelor “bobby” (police officer) is the star of the long-running Hamish Macbeth series, sharing a name with a famed Scottish King and “The Scottish Play.” Beaton reportedly spent some time in the north of Scotland and found the Highlands captivating, so she decided to set a classic mystery series in that beautiful setting. The series titles are usual ripe with wonderful puns, like Death of a Bore, so feel free to pick one you like and tuck in.

Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith

Though he was born in what is now Zimbabwe, McCall Smith has several ties to Scotland where he earned his Ph.D in Law and serves as a Medical Law Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh where his expertise lies in bioethics. We know him better as the prolific author of several well-loved series including the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, 44 Scotland Street and the Isabel Dalhousie (also known as the Sunday Philosophy Club) mysteries. This series often has delightfully philosophical titles like The Forgotten Affairs of Youth and promise a classic cozy with a strong Scottish flair.

Kilts and Quilts series by Patience Griffin

While there are many classic romance “bodice rippers” (for which you can get great reviews from Kelley in The Romance Garden features here on the Free For All) that take place in Scotland with tartan-strewn covers, this is a less intense series that is more about second chances and healing hearts in a tiny, rural Scotland town. This RITA award-winning series full of charm and hope, starts with To Scotland with Love, but the series is linked by the town and not necessarily by the main characters, so you can start anywhere and still enjoy them.

Till next week, dear readers, let’s all “take a cup o’ kindness yet, for days of auld lang syne.”

Bust of Robert Burns at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

*All photos in this post (except the book covers) were taken in 2011 during your friendly Saturday blogger’s trip to Scotland.