A slight list to the north

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Getting the last train home from Paddington the other night, and looking for something fresh to read, I bought the last two foreign newspapers at the bookstall. They were the Scotsman and the Herald, formerly the Glasgow Herald.

(I realise I am running the risk of being called a racist in calling Scottish newspapers foreign, but as the Scots are rightly so insistent that their country is another country and not a region or province, then surely a newspaper from another country must be foreign?)

Anyway, they were both good value in providing news from foreign (Scottish) parts. The Herald had an illuminating report on why the absence of grouse may threaten the Glorious Twelfth, which I would like to come back to some other time, to explain my theory that the grouse have developed some primitive intelligence and are now going on holiday in early August.

But the Scotsman had something even more foreign. It was a bestseller list called Top Ten Scottish Paperbacks. In case you missed it, here it is:

1. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

2. Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks.

3. The Acid House by Irvine Welsh.

4. Marabou Stork Nightmares by Irvine Welsh.

5. How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman.

6. Foreign Parts by Janice Galloway.

7. Bunker Man by Duncan McLean.

8. Complicity by Iain Banks.

9. Finding Peggy: A Glasgow Childhood by Meg Henderson.

10. The Crow Road by Iain Banks. It then says in small print, "Source: Scottish Book Marketing Group".)

Now, the only thing I really learnt from this glimpse across the border is that, given that Iain M Banks and Iain Banks are the same person, there seem to be only two writers in Scotland that people want to buy in any quantity, and they are Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks, who between them have written six out of the top 10 Scottish paperbacks.

Was this maybe the result of tense top-level after-hours talks at the secret HQ of the Scottish Book Marketing Group?

"So, whit wee paperbacks are we boosting this week?"

"What do you mean, 'whit wee paperbacks'?"

"Sorry. I've been reading too much Scottish dialect stuff."

"Well, this week we thought we'd give a leg-up to Irvine Welsh and Iain Banks."

"Again? We did them last week! And the week before!"

"Aye, but who else is there?"

"Has Allan Massie not written a new book about Walter Scott?"

"Not this week, I'm afraid."

"I just hate to publicise Irvine Welsh all the time."

"All that low life and drugs, you mean?"

"No, I mean having a Scottish writer called Welsh."

"Ah, but Welsh is a Scottish name, or at least a Celtic name. It means foreign. It was a name given by the Celts to foreigners who may or may not have come from Wales. There are no Welshmen called Welsh. Only Scotsmen."

"Name another Scotsman called Welsh."

"Alex Welsh, the jazz trumpeter."

"Oh, right. So that's settled, is it? We do Welsh and Banks again this week, and hope against hope for someone else to turn up next week ...

Parochialism in bestseller lists is a proud tradition. In the Bath Chronicle I once spotted a list of top 10 paperbacks that sported as number one a book called Old Corsham in Photographs. Now I think of it, it may have been Corsham in Old Photographs, but it was certainly a photographic record of old Corsham, which is not the sort of thing you expect to see at the top of a British bestseller list. All was explained when you saw at the bottom of the list the words "Based on information supplied by The Bookshop, Corsham", which you might define as erring on the side of Corsham.

But you can err on the side of New York as well. I have before me, as I write, the current New York Times bestseller list, as reprinted in the International Herald Tribune, and although there is some internationally known stuff there (by John Grisham and Stephen King, the Welsh and Banks of the USA), there are some odd things as well that only the Americans could dish up. At number nine on the fiction list is Disney's Pocahontas. At number 10 is a book by James Finn Garner called Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, which sounds promising if it is humorous, and even more promising if it is serious.

There is a non-fiction list, headed by To Renew America by Newt Gingrich. There is also a third list, "advice, how-to and miscellaneous", which at number three contains a book by Gerry Spence called How to Argue and Win Every Time.

Good old America. There's nowhere quite like it.

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