SYP Scotland: What We’re Reading in Lockdown Part 2

Posted on May 7, 2020 in News & Reviews

Following Monday’s post, our conference committee continues to tell us what, and how, they’re reading in lockdown.


Sonali Misra, Co-chair

When I first went to university to study English literature, a friend told me that I’d get bored of reading because that’s all I’d be doing for my studies, and I scoffed at him. Ten years later, after working in the book publishing industry, which involved reading, editing and evaluating books, and pursuing an MSc in Creative Writing, which included – yep, you guessed it – writing and some more reading – I am now a PhD Researcher in Publishing Studies, and I’m ashamed to say, I don’t read as often as sixteen-year-old Sonali did. As I usually work from home, this lockdown hasn’t affected my studies yet (apart from needing a short mental-health break), but I thought I’d have more time to read. It’s been a slow-going, especially because having studied stories as a literature undergrad, a writer, an editor and a product manager has made me much more selective in my book choices. It’s harder to lose myself in a story when I can spot the constructs in it much more easily. But, I’m happy to say, my latest book has held my attention: Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Her previous book The Night Circus was great, but I felt that its structure took predominance over the characters, but I am drawn to Zachary Ezra Rawlins in The Starless Sea. After three weeks, I’m only 200 pages in, but I am more inclined to pick it up than watch another TV series (wow, right?), so I’m looking forward to seeing this one through soon!

Sam Johnson, Membership Secretary

At the moment I’m reading Travellers in the Third Reich by Julia Boyd. Boyd builds a vivid picture of life in the Third Reich during the rise of fascism, using first-hand accounts of those who lived, visited, and passed through Germany in these years of upheaval. So far, this has ranged from diplomats and writers, to American boy scouts, the Dean of Chichester, and everyone in between recalling their concerning accounts of everyday life.

I’m about half-way through, but Covid-19 has definitely impacted how much I’m reading. However, despite having so much more free time on my hands to read, I’ve had little motivation to read during the pandemic. Hopefully this will change soon!

Alice Bilger, Conference Lead

It has taken me a while to get back into reading since being furloughed from my bookshop. Rather than picking up Proust or whatever one is supposed to do when finding oneself with unexpected amounts of time on one’s hands, I would catch myself lazily scrolling through Netflix yet again or panic-reading my Twitter feed. I have found it overwhelming moving all means of human interaction to the virtual sphere, where you’re expected to be available at all times. In order to escape that stress, I had to set aside an hour or so a day that is wholly dedicated to reading; when I can put my phone away, turn off my notifications and just focus on the physical book in my hands.

Usually favouring shorter, concise novels, one book that I’d left shelved for years was Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Now having more regular, committed reading time, I finally picked it up. I loved it! It was an emotional rollercoaster and I haven’t connected to or grown so attached to fictional characters in a long time. It was an underline, write in the margins, stay up until 3 am crying-type of reading experience. It left me eager to tackle more BIG books, losing myself in fictional worlds and connecting with characters over many hundreds of pages. I am currently patiently waiting for my book mail (support your independent bookshops!) of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. Who knows, maybe I’ll tackle Proust after that? Or maybe not.

Kathryn Haldane, Communications Officer

Like many people, I currently have a lot of free time since being furloughed from my job at Birlinn, and under normal circumstances this would be a brilliant opportunity to read all the books that have been languishing on my shelves for years. Unfortunately, these aren’t exactly normal circumstances (I promise I won’t use the word ‘unprecedented’) and a lot of the books I would usually love just aren’t doing it for me right now. I don’t really have the mental capacity for anything too introspective or the energy for anything too long, and it seems like most of the books I own fall into one of these two categories. As the weeks stretch on though, I think I’m starting to understand what books I can enjoy just now. I’m currently reading It’s Not About The Burqa, a brilliant collection of essays by Muslim women, and thankfully I have found that non-fiction like this has sparked my interest and made me feel like I’m spending my time productively in some way. In terms of novels, it has been a bit more hit-and-miss finding books that capture my attention, but a couple that I have really loved over the last month have been The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I have also finally figured out how to borrow ebooks from the library, so some of those unread books on my shelf might have to wait a little longer. One day, I promise!

Natalie Jayne Clark, Shadow Panel Coordinator

I’ve been reading more fiction recently – perhaps as a dose of escapism? We’ve been particularly blessed with the weather and on my days off from work I’ve spent hours in the sun reading and listening to BBC Radio 6. My general rule is to turn every three or so songs to try and dodge a burn, or to at least make it a reasonably even one.

I grabbed a few fairly chunky books from the library in the nick of time from my I-will-read-that-eventually list, my favourite that I read being American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I’d also visited London earlier in the year and had purchased the entrancing Brick Lane by Monica Ali (from Brick Lane Bookshop!). 

The two non-fictions I’ve read are Mairi and Elsie Go To War by Diane Atkinson and Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. The former delineates the history of two badass women – trouser-wearing, motorbike-racing, mechanically-skilled women who ended up bandaging and cheering soldiers on the Belgian front in various dilapidated cottages. And, the latter, if you have not read it, will teach you so much about global politics! A lot of lightbulb moments for me with this one.

Normally I read more non-fiction, but I am trying to listen to my body/brain and go with what fits with me right now. I’ve been rewatching a lot of my favourite movies and I think next I will move onto some of my ‘comfort’ books. I reckon I’ve preserved crumbs and Pot Noodle splotches from every year in the last two decades in my Harry Potter books and this seems as good a time as ever to add this year’s collection. 

Listen to your body and brain: read a little or read a lot, read challenging or familiar, read whatever works for you.

Lola Gaztañaga Baggen, General Member

As I’m currently in the middle of desperately trying to meet my extended University deadlines (I was bedridden for almost a full month with an unconfirmed but suspicious illness), most of my reading has been reduced to the texts I’m writing on. Luckily for me, this means I’m re-reading Hans Christian Andersen and Perrault, so I get to weep over The Little Mermaid all over again. I picked this class on fairy tales as part of my MSc in Creative Writing because I believe they teach us so much about storytelling, and as a big fan of the Fantasy genre, their influence is undeniable. 

Honestly, things are rough at the moment, and the state of the world means I’m hardly in the mood for careful textual analysis. When I’m done I plan to treat myself by re-reading the lovely, wonderfully magical works of Diana Wynne Jones, starting with the Chrestomanci books – they’re lovely, clever, and marvellous. Just the kind of escapism needed right now.


Are any particular books seeing you through this time? Has the way that you’re reading changed since lockdown? Let us know and join the conversation on Twitter: @SYPScotland.