Tag Archives: Particular Books

The Sunday Times Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick Shortlist: Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth

Cover imageI used to read a lot of travel writing before it was taken over by authors carting kitchen appliances round with them as a gimmick. I blame Bill Bryson: enjoyable as his books were they seemed to foster a demand for comedy in the genre, not an accusation to be made of Adam Weymouth, I’m glad to say. Kings of the Yukon follows Weymouth as he traces the king salmon’s route from the Yukon’s mouth back to their spawning grounds in reverse.

Weymouth begins his journey in May 2016 at the beginning of the Arctic spring. On the first leg, he’s accompanied by Hector, a man in his seventies who could give many in their twenties a run for their money. They’re in Canada where the salmon in Weymouth’s sights are known as Chinooks; once over the border in Alaska they’re called kings. Weymouth picks up his canoe in Whitehorse and continues alone, eyes open for salmon with bears a constant concern. As he travels downriver towards the sea, he meets many as concerned as he is about the diminishing numbers and size of this fish central to the indigenous culture. Some are blow-ins, attracted to the Alaskan wilderness celebrated by the likes of Jack London just as Weymouth was; others are indigenous people who feel that strict fishing bans represent an assault on an ancient way of life. No one, it seems, entirely understands why these majestic creatures who swim upriver for almost 2,000 miles to reproduce after spending years in the sea are in decline. What all can agree is that human intervention, one way or another, is responsible.

Weymouth guides us through dramatically beautiful landscape in this epic journey along the world’s longest salmon run.  As with all good travel writing, there are personal anecdotes to enjoy but Weymouth is at his best when he lets the people he meets speak for themselves. There’s a clear message here about the dwindling salmon numbers and our part in their depletion, communicated most effectively through their voices. This is a land with a rich indigenous culture, suffering desperate unemployment and poverty with all its attendant problems: its people deserve to be heard. Weymouth’s eloquent book does just that.

Two of my fellow shadow judges have also posted their Kings of the Yukon reviews: Lizzi’s is here and Paul’s here.

This is my last review for the Young Writer of the Year Award. We shadow judges will be announcing our winner on November 29th. The judges announce theirs a week later on December 6th at the London Library. If you’d like a reminder of the other three books on the list, they’re The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, The Reading Cure and Elmet. Just click a title to read my review.

You can find out more about the award by visiting www.youngwriteraward which includes a Q &A with Adam Weymouth, following @youngwriteryear or keep up with us shadow judges at #youngwriterawardshadow.

Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7) = patella

Cover imageAnd if you understand that you’ll know what Alan Connor’s book is all about. It’s the crossword’s centenary this year – 21st December to be precise, the date on which the first one appeared in an American newspaper. I’m not a crossword aficionado and I think this proof, which was sent in a bundle by a good friend, was probably meant for H who likes a tussle with the Observer’s cryptic most weeks but when I saw it the old bookseller in me recognised a sure-fire Christmas winner so I had to take a look. Ingeniously the book itself is structured in the form of a crossword, its grid printed at the beginning with each chapter headed by the answer to a clue. It’s packed with crossword history, much of it fascinating and surprisingly funny, plus lots of tips for puzzlers. For me the best bits were the trivia. The Listener crossword, so arcane that it has occasionally required a bout of origami to arrive at its solution, inspires such passion in its followers that an early-day motion was put to Parliament in 1997, when its future appeared uncertain, urging the editor of The Times to reconsider his decision to cut it. Setters find themselves put right by irate solvers when they get something wrong – one such received a letter from an eight-year-old pointing out that Captain Ahab’s prosthetic leg was not wooden but marble leaving the setter wondering what sort of child reads Moby Dick. Marriage proposals have been made in them; Araucaria, the Guardian’s much-loved setter, announced his terminal cancer in one; setters have been suspected of collaboration with the enemy by giving away battle plans in World War Two – not so apparently – in them and they frequently appear in fiction. A half-finished crossword is reproduced in a Georges Perec novel riddled with wordplay and clues, surely a translator’s nightmare. I’ve not the patience for a cryptic crossword and, anyway, there are far too many books to read but I can see the satisfaction of a completed grid and I do enjoy wordplay, particularly of the puerile variety,  so I’m going to end with a literary puzzle courtesy of H who found it in Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence (excellent, apparently): why was T. S. Eliot so insistent on his second initial?