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FEATURE

Book recommendations: A bundle of Burns

Robert Burns is a global phenomenon. It goes beyond the reach of his writing or the popularity of Burns suppers, or the signing of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at New Year: his work has continually been in print since his death in 1796, and his life and legacy the subject of debate ever since. He even has his own World Federation. In this special Year of Stories 2022, here is a selection of books and resources from our members. 

★ Denotes a book published by a Publishing Scotland member.

Association of Scottish Literature

Click here to read Patrick Scott’s article The Kilmarnock Burns And Book History, featured in The Bottle Imp magazine.

Burns for Every Day of the Year by Pauline McKay

Black and White Publishing

Join Robert Burns on a wide-ranging journey of poetry, prose and song through every day of the year . . . take 366 daily dips into Burns to inspire, invigorate and amuse. 

Across the world, as midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve, Burns’s beloved song ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung in a spirit of friendship and togetherness. But his exuberant wit, insight and generous-hearted humanity can be celebrated every day. 

This stunning collection – perfect for Burns aficionados and Burns beginners alike – reminds us of old favourites and introduces new treasures. Thoughtfully curated by Dr Pauline Mackay of the University of Glasgow, it offers 366 glimpses into the genius of this remarkable bard, creating a panoramic view of his colourful life and multifaceted literary legacy.

The Life of Robert Burns by Catherine Carswell

Canongate Books

First published in 1930 to an unprecedented storm of protest, Catherine Carswell’s The Life of Robert Burns remains the standard work on its subject.

Carswell deliberately shakes the image of Burns as a romantic hero – exposing the sexual misdemeanours, drinking bouts and waywardness that other, more reverential, biographies choose to overlook.

Catherine Carswell’s real achievement is to bring alive the personality of a great man: passionate, hard-living, generous, melancholic, morbid and triumphant … the very archetype of the supreme creative artist.

Edinburgh University Press

Click here to see the Burns Chronicle – a dedicated platform for the rich, international research on Robert Burns (1759–96) happening in the 21st century. Published on behalf of the Robert Burns World Federation.

The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns – audiobook read by John Cairney

HarperCollins

This specially commissioned recording offers a wide-ranging choice of Burns’s songs and lyrical poems; and longer poems such as ‘Tam o’Shanter’, and ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ are also included in their entirety. All are read by John Cairney, world-famous for his many stage and television performances of the life and work of Scotland’s national bard.

Lovers of Burns’s poetry will find much to enjoy in this selection, which also provides an extensive introduction for those as yet unfamiliar with his work.

On the Trail of Robert Burns by John Cairney

Luath Press

Is there anything new to say about Robert Burns? John Cairney says it’s time to trash Burns the Brand and come on the trail of the real Robert Burns. He is the best of travelling companions on this entertaining journey to the heart of the Burns story. Internationally known as ‘the face of Robert Burns’, John Cairney believes that the traditional Burns tourist trail urgently needs to find a new direction. In an acting career spanning forty years he has often lived and breathed Robert burns on stage. On the Trail of Robert Burns shows just how well he has got under the skin of Burn’s complex character. This fascinating journey around Scotland is a rediscovery of Scotlands national bard as a flesh and blood genius.

On the Trail of Robert Burns outlines five tours, mainly in Scotland. Key sites include: Alloway – Burn’s birthplace. Tam O’ Shanter draws on the Alloway Kirk witch-stories first heard by Burns in his childhood; Mossgiel – Between 1784 and 1786 in a phenomenal burst of creativity Burns wrote some of his most memorable poems including “Holy Willie’s Prayer” and “To a Mouse”; Kilmarnock – The famous Kilmarnock edition of “Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” published in 1786; Edinburgh – Fame and Clarinda (among others) embraced him; and Dumfries – Burns died at age 37. The trail ends at the Burns mausoleum in St Michael’s churchyard.

National Galleries of Scotland

Click here to see some visual depictions of the poet from the National Galleries of Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland

Visit this website to see Robert Burns on film.

The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns

Waverley Books

Robert Burns is more than Scotland’s national poet. As the BBC website says: ‘His poems have been translated into more than 40 languages including Latin and Esperanto and his face has featured on stamps, coins and banknotes worldwide.’ The author of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (both are sung all over the world) Burns is today a symbol of Scottish national identity. 

Burns was born in Alloway on 25 January 1759, the oldest son of seven children. His family were poor farmers, and led a frugal, demanding life. By his mid-twenties, Burns was an accomplished writer of verse, and his first volume of poetry, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was published to great acclaim in 1786. 

Burns’ work shows irony, wit, romanticism and sentiment, as well as bawdy humour, a seemingly indiscriminate admiration for women, and a capacity for compassion and feeling for his fellow man. 

Burns died on 21 July 1796. By then he was a celebrity and a prolific poet, and he left behind a body of work that is now celebrated worldwide. A bestselling edition of Burns’ work, this edition excludes his bawdy verse.

More resources

Find more Robert Burns titles on BooksfromScotland.com.

Learn more about Robert Burns’s first printer, John Wilson of Kilmarnock, on Electric Scotland.

Have a look at The Poems of Robert Burns selected by Ian Rankin.

Read 10 interesting facts about Robert Burns on VisitScotland.

Hold your own Burns supper using this VisitScotland guide.

Be part of the Year of Stories with #TalesOfScotland and #YS2022.

Banner image: Creative Commons CC by NC, National Galleries Scotland.