Banana Bread or Books?

Way back in May 2020., when I wrote a blog post with the title, Literary Lockdown, I never thought we’d still be in the same position months later and now into a new year.

The beautiful campus of University of Stirling

I’m very lucky to live in the countryside where I’ve got lovely local walks literally on my doorstep. Getting outside to appreciate nature has kept me sane. During a short respite from restrictions, I went on a guided nature walk around the campus of Stirling university last autumn.

On the walk, the ranger showed the group a recently released book, Every Day Nature by Andy Beer, that she recommended for nature lovers. I dropped heavy hints before Christmas, but Santa didn’t deliver it.

So, I ended up treating myself with Christmas money (thanks Mum!). It’s a beautiful book with gorgeous watercolour illustrations and it offers a daily dose of inspiration to help you notice seasonal changes and enjoy nature. I love the casual conversational tone of the book, “It is not the kind of nature that is restricted to nature reserves or remote places. Instead it is deliberately about things you will find in a garden, a park, a hedgerow or a road verge”. I’m looking forward to this wee gem of a book keeping me company throughout 2021.

 

Many folk took the time during lockdown to clear out and declutter their homes. I’ve always been tidy so this wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list but I did decide to reorder my book shelves.

Many years ago, as a student, I worked part-time in a library. The Dewey Decimal system is my default when arranging books and I’ve always liked things in alphabetical order.

But I’m also a very visual person and with the rainbow being the symbol of lockdown I fancied rearranging my books by colour. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to live with the effect but I’ve got used to it now and will leave them like that for the time being. I also made a commitment to stick to a ‘one in, one out’ policy.

My two fiction bookshelves are full and although I generally buy a book a week, I’m not going to buy more shelves.

My hope is that they find a good home and maybe provide a much-needed distraction during tough times. You can buy official book fairy stickers like I have or simply use a Post-It note and a ribbon if you have one. I always seal the books inside a poly pocket in case of rain, well I do live in Scotland!

 

 

What’s got you through lockdown? Baking banana bread or books?

 

Reading My Way Through A Year Like No Other

Well, what can I say about 2020 that hasn’t been said already? If ever there was a need to read for escapism it was this year. So, you’d think that my annual reading total would’ve rocketed. You’d be wrong. In fact, this year I read 53 books, only two down on last year’s number and like previous years, roughly one a week.


Lockdown earlier in the year was when we probably had the best weather which is ideal for reading in the sunshine but also great for gardening and going local walks which is why I think my reading habits didn’t change dramatically. My taste in writers and genres was much the same too.


I read several great memoirs – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, The Only Gaijin in the Village by Iain Maloney, Hungry by Grace Dent, My Heart’s Content by Angela Hughes and If You Don’t Know Me by Now by Sathnam Sangerha (as recommended by the excellent The Big Scottish Book Club superbly hosted by Damian Barr – catch up with it over the festive season on BBC iPlayer if you missed it).


Fiction favourites? It’s an eclectic mix and it’s always hard to pick only a handful but the ones that will stick with me are Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, Boy Parts by Eliza Clark, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong, When All Is Said by Anne Griffin, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan and Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes.


Special mention must be made to Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. A worthy winner of the Booker Prize with characters I cared about, especially wee Shuggie and his memorable mammy, Agnes.


I hope books have helped you cope with the strangest of times too. Any recommendations for me to look forward to reading in the new year?

 

Literary Lockdown

Like everyone else, I’m desperately trying to find positives from being in lockdown during the current pandemic. As an avid reader and book festival fan the crisis has had an unexpected silver lining.

Firstly, stuck at home without my usual work and social commitments means I’ve got more time to read. Over the last few weeks, the best book I’ve read has been Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. It’s a very worthy winner of the Booker Prize and although it’s a chunky tome I flew through it. Before lockdown, I’d ordered tickets to see Bernadine at the Aye Write book festival which was of course cancelled. But I didn’t miss out! I ‘attended’ the Big Book Weekend.

MyVLF is a free global virtual literary festival, connecting readers with authors. Their online event space gives readers access to the best of today’s literature and fiction from internationally-based traditional and independently published authors and I was chuffed to see that Bernadine was appearing in conversation with Mairi Kidd. It was an excellent event and I also watched Damian Barr chat to one of my favourite writers, Maggie O’Farrell, as well as Marian Keyes being interviewed by Catherine Mayer.

The common theme from these conversations was that all three of the writers talked about their interest in exploring flawed characters and the complexities of humanity.

I’d already bought Bernadine’s novel and was always planning on trying Hamnet, Maggie’s first foray into historical fiction but after listening to Marian I also ordered her latest novel, Grown Ups. To be honest, I’ve never read any of Marian’s previous novels assuming they were chick lit, which isn’t a genre I’m drawn to reading. But I now know that the themes explored in Grown Ups are anything but lightweight and fluffy. It’s next on my tbr pile and I’m confident Marian will deliver on my high expectations.

The best bit about MyVLF is that it’s free! I feel passionately that there should be access for all to arts events. Not everyone can attend a book festival for various reasons whether that’s due to lack of finance, geographical location, time constraints, physical or mental impairment. But in this scenario you can sit in your jammies, press ‘pause’ for a pee break and enjoy a book festival experience from the comfort of your own couch.

There’s also been new book programmes springing up on telly and I’ve watched Damian Barr’s Shelf Isolation and Richard and Judy’s Keep Reading and Carry On.

I look forward to the day when I can attend book festivals and launches again but, in the meantime, I’m making the most of book events online and on tv. So, it’s not all doom and gloom for book lovers and I’d like to hope that after we return to some form of normality the virtual opportunities will still be available and there will be no barriers to anyone who wants to enjoy book banter.