With Christmas hoving into view, we’ll be posting reviews of some of the best books of 2020, (a few of which have appeared in different versions elsewhere – see bottom of the review*) and offering suggestions as to what to get the book lover in your life.
Peter Ross’s previous books, Daunderlust: Dispatches from Unreported Scotland and The Passion of Harry Bingo: Further Dispatches from Unreported Scotland collected examples of his journalism and through it a picture of a Scotland less-travelled emerged. They also marked Ross as one of the more interesting and insightful reporters on this nation and its people.
As someone who made his name as a print journalist he has the perfect balance of an inquiring mind and a love of language. His latest, A Tomb With a View: The Stories and Glories of Graveyards, sees him applying his gentle and compassionate investigative approach to a single subject, and this unity of theme makes for his most engaging book yet.
Ross discovered the joys of visiting and stravaigin graveyards locally, where he uncovered stories untold and mysteries to be solved, and then, in typical style, he wanted to know more and investigate further. His journey takes him all over the UK and Ireland to discover why he, and others, are drawn to such places, often for reasons other than the expected ceremonial ones.
It is so much more than a ‘Guide To My Favourite Graveyards’ – it’s all about people, those who are here and those we are missing. Ross uncovers a variety of myths and often forgotten tales about the latter, and forms bonds with those who have found a place to meet, or be alone, which brings them succour, the search for peace, and provides evidence that death is not the end.
A sensitive subject needs a sympathetic and caring chronicler and few express empathy as Ross does. Some journalists feel the need to make the story about themselves, but he understands that what is required is a good listener, one who asks the right questions and never judges those who answer. By dealing with a subject which touches us all he invites readers in, showing a duty of care to them just as he does to those he interviews, creating a literary safe space where everyone can contemplate their own experiences.
Peter Ross could rewrite the phone book and I would want to read it. Each word counts as he doesn’t just want to tell stories, he wants to do so in the right way. He is interested in the things that unite us as much as individual experiences, and proves the two are never exclusive. With A Tomb With a View he has written a book for everyone – one that will make you laugh, cry, think, feel, reflect on your own life and the lives of others.
You can hear Peter Ross discussing A Tomb With A View on the SWH! Podcast from earlier this year – A Matter Of Death & Life: The SWH! Podcast Talks To Peter Ross…
*A version of this review first appeared in SNACK Magazine.