SYP Scotland: What We’re Reading in Lockdown

Posted on May 4, 2020 in Scotland

The pandemic and its accompanying lockdown have affected our lives in various ways. When things started to shift, each of us found ourselves adapting to the new normal. Some found themselves furloughed, while others have been dealing with more work than ever. Some have been diving into books and magazines for escapism or reassurance, while others found themselves unable to concentrate. Amidst the changes, our new SYP Scotland Committee gathered for our AGM and the first of our monthly meetings online, planning for the year ahead and getting to know each other. Below, some of our new members discuss how, and what, they’re reading in lockdown.


Sarah Barnard, Co-chair

I’ve been using this lockdown time to get through my massive TBR, and especially to read proofs that I’ve been meaning to get round to for ages. I loved Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) in which the main character’s entire world is a single mysterious house, and he only ever sees one other person. A very different haunted house is the setting of Daisy Johnson’s brilliant Sisters. I’ve also got very into true crime podcasts so I got a real kick out of Holly Jackson’s YA debut, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder. All I really want to read right now though is Animorphs, the 50+ book series about nineties teenagers who are given the power to morph into animals in order to wage guerrilla warfare against an insidious alien threat. The books demand to be binged, and when else am I going to have the time to wallow in nostalgia with my favourite “idiot teenagers with a death wish”?

James Chesley, Treasurer

Luckily, during this lockdown my reading habits have not changed, and I managed to enjoy quite a few books which had been collecting on my bedside table over the past months. Initially, I made sure not to buy any new titles until I had whittled this pile down, but of course I couldn’t help it and caved. Some of the titles I have loved the most are classics such as The Stepford Wives and Narcissus and Goldmund. I have also been reading a lot of contemporary novels such as Bernardine Evaristo’s stunning Girl, Woman, Other and currently Hurricane Season. Usually, I tend to mix my reading up with some non-fiction, however, falling into stories and novels has really helped to remind me of simpler, less social-distancy, times.

When isolation separates us, reading manages to keep us together.

Joana Kalcheva, Student Liaison Officer

My way of reading hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the lockdown. The only thing that did change is the size of my to-be-read pile, as I’ve added so many new titles bought online. That’s why I’ve decided to just go through my list of books and start with those that I’m the most excited about. If I have to identify a pattern though, I’d say that during these times I prefer to read books from Scottish writers or books based in Edinburgh, so that I can be even more prepared and familiar with the Scottish literary scene once the lockdown’s over. Reading Scottish books also complements everything that I’ve learned from the short course in Scottish literature and the literature of Edinburgh in particular that I undertook last year at the University of Edinburgh. There are many classic novels that I was always postponing in some kind of way, so this was the perfect opportunity to catch up on everything local, but also to explore new, more contemporary writing.

So far I’ve read Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories, The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson among others, and I’m currently alternating between Pine by Francine Toon and Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. My next read would probably be The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, followed by Val McDermid’s and Alasdair Gray’s books.

My favourite genres are science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction, but I keep an open mind and I just devour anything (good) that comes my way.

Yasmin Hackett, Events Co-ordinator

One of the casualties of taking on an incredibly time-consuming full-time Publishing MSc this year has been my spare reading time, though I’ve still always found the time to impulse-buy and hoard new books. And whilst this lockdown has given me the chance to finally get round to this amassing pile of books, which I often procrastinate my way out of reading… a leopard never changes its spots, and I’ve still – somehow – managed to accumulate new books. Last year I’d set myself a goal of mostly reading books written by authors of colour, and this seemed to help direct me. But this year I was struggling. Once the lockdown was put into place, I knew that I’d feel better if I managed to get down to some reading. Some friends of mine thought it’d be nice if we started a casual book club, which has been a great incentive – so far, I’ve read Normal People by Sally Rooney (just in time for the TV show to start), and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. I’m slowly eating into my ever-growing TBR pile, too. I’m a history graduate and fanatic, and have been meaning to read Wolf Hall for what seems like eons. I’m finally reading it, and thoroughly enjoying it. Finding a silver lining out of this lockdown is incredibly guilt-inducing, but I’m definitely glad to be out of my reading slump.

Molly Drummond, Communications Officer

In lockdown, I’ve been reading very erratically. I’m on furlough so I have plenty of time but there have been days where I’ve read two books and weeks where I’ve read none at all. At the moment, I’m slowly making my way through Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series (I have… thoughts) and I’ve recently finished Constellations by Sinead Gleeson, an essay collection which blew me away. I’ve just started Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and am excited to hopefully read more today, if I can put down my phone or stop playing Animal Crossing for more than half an hour.

Keira O’Sullivan, Blogger

I, like many, began lockdown in a complete reading freeze. I found it difficult to connect with anything I was reading. While I usually favour contemporary realism, I found myself drifting away after a couple of pages, wistfully remembering buses, or the supermarket, or a time where any character might believably talk about something other than these ‘Strange Times’. Moving towards books that weren’t set in the here and now helped me with this disconnect –  I wasn’t meant to be reading about the current world, so I wasn’t thinking about it. Not usually a tandem-reader, I simultaneously made my way through Shirley Jackson’s collection of Dark Tales, Joy Williams’s haunting and hallucinatory The Changeling, and finally finished Half of a Yellow Sun. As I found all of my usual habits turned on their head, I’ve also tried to make the change I thought would never happen. I’ve always struggled to connect with books when not on a physical page, but, a week or so into lockdown, found myself powering up an abandoned tablet and installing the Library’s e-reading app, OverDrive. I’ve only managed to make my way through short stories and essay collections at the moment, so we’ll see if I can remain engaged when I finally approach a longer narrative, but I’m ready to try, and finally have that feeling back; that books are right there at my fingertips. 

Grace Balfour-Harle, General Member

My current book is The Time Traveller by Orson Wells, although I have not picked it up in weeks, and have been flitting back and forth between other ‘easier’ reads including The Eve Illusion by Giovanna and Tom Fletcher. I’m still working full time, and am possibly more busy than ever in terms of my ‘extra-curricular’ workload – working full time, teaching (and taking part in) online dance classes, starting a daily yoga practice, joining the SYP, applying for the Print Futures Award, creating webinar content for events, taking work webinars, and also finding time to be social with my work colleagues, friends and family (who I am currently living with). So I struggle to find the time to just sit down and read. Staying on just one task is difficult at the moment, with all the anxiousness in the air, it’s easy to be constantly distracted. I am, however, part of my work’s book club, which is definitely keeping my reading habit going, even if it’s only one book a month (this month’s was This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay), and I am also attempting to re-read the Harry Potter series yet again. So, just like in my general workload, I am finding that I flit between books depending on what I need to read.