Friday, 10 December 2010

Book review: Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave

Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave
Margaret Bennett

For once, I'm not sure I have much to say about a book. In a good way. Because I really can't think of much to say other than: I like it.

As far as finding information on various life passages, this about the only book you need to start you off. Like British Calendar Customs, it's more like a source book, with excerpts from various different authors from around the seventeenth century onwards. Bennett gives a bit more commentary than Banks did, but it's still quite light and lets the excerpts speak for themself.

The book covers customs associated with childbirth, baptism, courtship, marriage, through to death. It's all laid out in a logical order and the various different subjects that come under each chapter are well-grouped together, so finding things is easy.

One of the most charming bits about the book is that Bennett herself contributes some of the material from her own diaries and memories, as well as those of her family and students. You get the impression that not only is she passionate about the subject, she's the sort of person you could talk to for hours on end about it all, and she'd always come up with something you've never heard before.

The source material also includes bits from newspaper articles and interviews that Bennett herself (or her students) have recorded, so you get a good mix - more than most books offer. It's very dense and thorough. I can see that might be offputting for anyone wanting to read it from start to finish (and to be honest, I didn't - this is the sort of book I've had for years and have picked at various chapters as needed until I'm done), but as a resource it's excellent. It doesn't give everything you need to know, but it gives a good solid start so you can go on to hunt up more information if you want to. Does it have its limits? Yes. (For one I'd like to have seen more discussion of handfastings). But the solidness of this book far outweighs the slight niggles you might have.