Stuart Letford: Take a leaf out of my book


“Libraries gave us power” – A Design For Life, 1996, Manic Street Preachers.

Today is the 23rd World Book Day. It’s a day designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading. It will be marked in over 100 countries and unlike some of these types of marketing events – The International Day of Yawning, or World Putting Things On Top Of One Other Day and so on – this one is certainly worthy of your attention.

World Book Day is a registered charity that seeks to give every child and young person a book of his or her own. Its website states that it’s also a “celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading.” The main aim of the annual initiative is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading, in the hope that it continues into adulthood. Invariably, it does. World Book Day ensures that all children receive a book token which allows them to redeem it for a book. While this is commendable, how many children are able to redeem the token at a bookshop in their locality? Also, in some cases, the focus has been commercialised to the extent that the focus is on dressing up as book characters rather than the actual reading of the book.

When was the last time you read something substantial? And I mean reading, not flicking through social media on your phone? I know, I know, you’re too busy. Well, we’re all busy these days but making time to read a book, any book, is just about the only advice I’d offer anyone, be they child or adult.

The old William Patrick Library in Kirkintilloch.
The old William Patrick Library in Kirkintilloch.

Think of the benefits: mental stimulation (your brain requires ‘exercise’ to keep it strong and healthy), knowledge (see quote, top), imagination, creativity, self-confidence, improved concentration, free entertainment … the list goes on. And there are no negatives. Knowledge can never be taken from you.

I was lucky in that I was introduced to books at an early age and one of my favourite places in my hometown of Kirkintilloch was the local library. The library was named after a guy who had been a minister of a Free Church in the town, went to Canada for a while then came back and died soon after. His name was William Patrick (1852-1941) and when he died his brother purchased a large house and donated it to the town to be used as a library. It wasn’t a large building but it was large enough. One abiding memory is of representing my primary school there in a quiz competition held for all the state schools in the district.

At Glasgow University, my favourite place to hang out wasn’t in any of the bars in Byres Road but in the University library. I was returning to piping at that time and discovered the library contained quite a few good books on the art. It was also there I first read William Donaldson (his Jacobite Song book). Many a contented hour I spent in that library and later in the library at the College of Piping and The National Piping Centre browsing piping books, magazines and journals, even old highland games programmes. I still do. Being interested in books is something that truly lasts a lifetime and being exposed to book from an early age probably led to me ultimately to publish my own piping book in 2004.

Here are some of my favourite piping and piping related books (in no particular order):

  • The Highland Bagpipe and its Music by Roderick D. Cannon (John Donald, 1988);
  • Highland Bagpipe Makers by Jeannie Campbell, 2nd edition (Jeannie Campbell, 2011);
  • Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745-1945 by John G. Gibson (NMS Publishing, 1998);
  • A Highlander Looks Back by Angus MacPherson (Oban Times, 1955); 
  • Legendary & Historical Notes on Ceol Mor by Roy Gunn (Topgunn Productions, 2004);
  • The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society, 1750-1950, (Tuckwell Press, 2000);
  • The William Kennedy Lectures (Armagh Pipers Club, 2019);
  • Piobaireachd by Seumas MacNeill (BBC Publications, 1968);
  • Piping Traditions of Argyll by Bridget MacKenzie (College of Piping, 2004);
  • Montrose by John Buchan (Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1928).

And for children:

  • You Can’t Play Here by Angus Corby (Floris Books, 2010).

Feel free to let me know your favourite piping books. Regardless, if you have a child, read to them. Place a book in their hands from a young age.