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Engraved on the wall outside the Scottish Parliament are the words “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” Attributed to Alasdair Gray, Scotland’s national treasure, this perfectly exemplifies Gray’s humility, his awareness that his status is a shared one.
This goes some way to explain the title of Gray’s essay collection,Of Me and Others. “I thought this book would turn out to be a ragbag of interesting scraps,” he writes in the foreword, “I now think it has the unity of a struggle for a confident culture, a struggle shared with a few who became good friends and thousands I have never met.” This essay collection is all at once an intellectual autobiography of Scotland’s greatest living writer; a conversation with writers and painters who influenced and have been influenced by him, and a cultural and political manifesto-as-collage.
A cult figure all over the world and across generations, Gray engages with figures both known in North America, such as R.D. Laing, Anthony Burgess and Will Self, and largely unknown; Susan Boyd, Joan Ure, and Philip Hobsbaum. What emerges is a portrait not just of himself, but of a radically democratic vision of society, profoundly concerned not just with self-expression but of care for one’s fellow citizens.
'Gray is a true original, a twentieth-century William Blake'
'One of the most gifted writers to have put pen to paper in the English language'
'An essential portrait of an artist emerging in the second half of the 20th century . . . Gray is an exceptionally generous writer'
'A great writer, perhaps the greatest living in Britain today'
'Alasdair Gray is that rather rare bird among contemporary British writers – a genuine experimentalist'
'Disarmingly personal . . . Like Gray himself, the book is by turns ebullient, eccentric, generous and shy'
'Gray has a rare ability to convey his thought in writing that is clear, invigorating and, in the very best way, fun. This book is all of those things, and much more besides . . . A thrilling and powerful statement about the value of Scottish art'
'Gray may be regarded as the doyen of Scottish letters, and this publication is a fitting acknowledgement of his status'
Allan Massie, Scotsman