Reading towards an anti-racist world

Today, our blog is handed over to Roshni who works in the Library Resource Management Team.

“I’m a Library Adviser for Edinburgh Libraries as well as a poet and a writer. I’m also a Woman of Colour and a member of an Edinburgh-based Women of Colour (WOC) Reading group. This past week there has been an increase in the discussion over how to combat racism in our communities. This comes in response to a history of anti-Black racism and racial injustice – most recently the murder of George Floyd in the US and the race hate attack on Belly Mujinga in the UK. Working in a library, I know that books are a great tool to educate and affect positive change in the world. Under lockdown I have found myself with more time to read and I have been making use of Edinburgh Libraries’ digital collection. I have had several people get in touch with me asking for book recommendations – so I have compiled a short list of anti-racist non-fiction and fiction books which I have personally enjoyed and found informative. All of these are available via the library and most are also currently available as an ebook or audiobook.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison writes beautifully and powerfully about the Black experience. Every sentence that Morrison writes is precise and packed with meaning. This book is a coming-of-age story following Macon Dead jr, AKA Milkman, who is the son of a wealthy Black family in 1930s America. In this novel Morrison deals with the themes of pain, escape, and forgiveness. It is a story about masculinity, family, and patriarchy. All of Toni Morrison’s books are worth reading – and this is one of her best.
Available as an audiobook

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Sukla
This is a collection of personal essays by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the UK. This is a good way to read about the racism that lurks in our homes and in our communities. In this collection there are moments of comedy, moments of grief, and moments of anger. All the essays in this collection are very moving. For example, the teacher and writer Darren Chetty discusses how his primary school aged students believed that the main characters in story books had to be white.
Available as an audiobook

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book addresses racism in Britain today and the reluctance of white people to discuss it. It’s a good starting point if you’re striving to learn more about racism at a systemic level. This book is primarily aimed at white readers and the title refers to Eddo-Lodge’s fatigue at having to continually explain racism. In the introduction she states that when she talks about race to white people, ‘You can see their eyes shut down and harden… It’s like they can no longer hear us’. This book has won the Jhalak prize and has received international acclaim.
(Available as an ebook and as an audiobook)

Surge by Jay Bernard
This is a collection of poetry that was written with the Grenfell tragedy at the heart of it. Bernard melds Britain’s past with its present, expressing what it means to be Black and British in the modern day. ‘Surge’ won the Ted Hughes award for new poetry.

 

 

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
This is an essential collection of essays and speeches and includes her famous essay  ‘The  Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House.’ Lorde writes about the intersection between race, gender, and sexuality. Her collection ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’ is also available at branches in paperback. I found this collection formative in my personal understanding of racism – Lorde writes about the necessity to speak out against racism in all forms at all times.
Available as an ebook

How to be an antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
This is a highly informative read. Kendi dissects each way in which a person can be consciously and subconsciously racist. Kendi argues that no one can be neutral when it comes to racism – we can only ever be either anti-racist or racist. Kendi invites us to interrogate our own unconscious racial biases. Kendi also discusses quick changes we can make to the language we use to discuss racism. For example, he suggests using the more apt ‘racial abuse’ instead of ‘microaggression’.”

Edinburgh School Libraries in Lockdown

We asked Fiona who is the school librarian at Boroughmuir High School to reflect on both her own and the experiences of her colleagues during lockdown.

Working in an Edinburgh school library is an incredibly busy role. As the sole person delivering the library service in our schools, we wear many hats including being:
• A book recommendation sage – using our encyclopedic knowledge of children and young adult fiction to give tailored suggestions
• Guardian of the library for pupils in need of a quieter space – including supporting mental health and wellbeing
• Guru of information literacy skills – delivering lessons to pupils to encourage good practice in finding information
• A wizard who can magic up activities and events – from World Book Day to Book Week Scotland. If there is a celebration, we are celebrating it
and…
• An expert in every subject delivered in school – often we are asked for information resources to support a subject’s curriculum and/or assignments.

There is never a quiet moment in a school library – it is a fun place to work. The relationships and engagement we have with our pupils means that there is never a dull moment. Like everyone else, our roles changed dramatically in March.

Moving to ‘working from home’ has created several challenges for us. The two biggest challenges have been delivering a virtual ‘school library’ and finding ways to keep our pupils engaged with reading.

The first challenge – delivering a virtual ‘school library’ – has varied between schools. Part of our role is to tailor the service to the school community’s needs. There are so many different examples of the work we are doing, at  Broughton High School the librarian is delivering #Bibliotherapy sessions; Craigmount High School is running an online book group and; Boroughmuir High School is delivering a ‘I wonder…’ information skills project for S1 pupils.

The other challenge -keeping pupils engaged with reading – has been something no matter the school we can do together. One of our key jobs is to visibly promote reading across the school and engage pupils with the joys reading can bring.

As a group, we are a creative and collaborative bunch. It is collaboration and a sense of fun that inspired the creation of the #EdinburghSchoolLibrarians on Twitter. We can’t take all the credit here as the Glasgow school librarians started it off – but we have taken the idea and made it our own.

Every weekday we have a different daily challenge that promotes reading and often reveals insights into the school librarians’ personal reading choices. The rules are simple! One school librarian picks the daily challenges for the week and tell us the hashtags we need to use in our Tweets. We all then have one day to post our challenge. It is that easy!

We have used the daily challenges to celebrate World Book Night, create our own superheroes and post ‘shelfies’ of our personal libraries and book faces, and the response has been incredible. It has grown a lot with departments from our schools and members of our school community also taking part. 

We have many more daily challenges to go and are coming up with new ideas for them every week. So, if you are up for some fun, and would like to part in our daily challenges, come join us. We would love to meet you!

What books are staff reading to help them through the lockdown?

We asked staff at Central Library to tell us a bit about the books they’ve been reading that have helped them through lockdown.

It turns out we’ve got a bit of a Marian Keyes fan club with a number of us reading her books that so engagingly tackle complex and difficult subjects with humour. Depression, alcoholism, bulimia, being broke, being unlucky in love … you name it … why are we reading about all these topics just now?

Fiona who’s been reading The Mystery of Mercy Close says `the reason it helps is basically because of the humour in it even though the main character suffers from depression’. Lesley is just starting on The Break, Joanna is reading Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married and Bronwen’s reading Grown Ups and says `I can be in someone else’s life while I’m reading; I love the characters and even though the book portrays real personal suffering, I’m laughing out loud one minute and crying the next’.  So thank you Marian Keyes – your writing is clearly helping us pull through. All of the Marian Keyes books noted are available from Edinburgh City Libraries’ RBdigital audiobook service.

Some books we read help us put our troubles in perspective. Doris’ last two are American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara.

Doris says “Both reminded me that as challenging as things are with lockdown –  the situation could be so much worse! Djinn Patrol deals with poverty and the slums in India and is heartbreaking yet is told with a deft sense of humour by the main character Jai. I loved the first 100 pages of American Dirt but must admit, I found it a bit implausible, as misery upon misery was heaped on the protagonists as the book progressed.”

Sometimes we want to read old favourites. Joanna has gone back to re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories. She says they are a “total escape from everyday problems and a lot of fun”. Discworld is a parallel time and place which might sound and smell like our own but looks completely different. Start with The Colour of Magic.

Historical stories set in difficult times can provide a sense of perspective on today. After reading a magazine article about the history of Agony Aunt columns, Clare found a suggested read, Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce on Overdrive. “Set during the London Blitz, it doesn’t avoid the hardships and destruction experienced on the home front, yet manages to be light-hearted and optimistic in tone. The  characters have setbacks but refuse to be beaten by events. Every day routine, worries, friendships and romances carry on. It was the perfect, easy, uplifting book I needed right now.”

A bit of time can also see you getting round to a book you’ve thought about reading. Jeanette says:
“During lockdown, I read a book I’ve meant to get to for ages, which is This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. I might be the one of the few people in the country to not to have read this book since it was written in 2017 to great acclaim. It’s a collection of Kay’s secret diary entries which he wrote whilst working as a junior doctor. As a woman of a certain age, experiencing hot flushes and insomnia, I started to read it at 3am one dark morning, hoping it would help me drift back to sleep. I could not have been more wrong. It is both hilarious and shocking from the offset, filled with the author’s experiences of working on the front line of the NHS. By the time I had reached page 22, an account involving objects stuck in orifices, the book had to be put down as I was unable to stifle the laughter any longer and was in danger of waking my sleeping partner up!

This is not a book for the faint hearted or easily offended: strong language is used throughout, there are details of gruesome injuries that made me cringe, truly heartbreaking stories about births and deaths, and “a constant tsunami of bodily fluids” throughout. That said, it is an important book for all of us and especially now, as it is an eye opener, and insight into our essential yet underfunded and overstretched NHS.

After the first 22 pages, I took the book downstairs where it became my day time read. I could laugh out loud all I wanted to it, and also shed a tear as it is genuinely devastating in parts. I’ve finished the book now, but have gone back to it and from time to time read the funny bits to my partner and son which always raises a laugh. I have come to ‘This Is Going to Hurt’ late but I’m glad I did because it’s been a fantastic and uplifting addition to my time in lockdown.”
This is going to hurt is available to borrow as an audiobook and ebook.

Tell us what you’ve been reading in lockdown and how it’s helped.

 

Friday book quiz: round 3 (the answers)

The answers to the third round in the Friday book quiz from the Library Resource Management Team are below.

1. From which language is the novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” translated?
a) French
b) Czech
c) Italian

2. With which title did Salman Rushdie win the Booker prize?
a) Moor’s Last Sigh
b) Satanic verses
c) Midnight’s Children

3. In what publication was Wilkie Collins’ novel “The Woman in White” first serialised?
a) All the Year Round 
b) Bentley’s Miscellany
c) Household Words

 

4. What is the profession of C.J. Sansom’s character Shardlake?
a) Doctor
b) Lawyer
c) Soldier

5. Olive Kitteridge is married to a
a) Pharmacist
b) Teacher
c) Piano player

 

6. Complete the title of Sue Black’s book “All that remains”
a) A life in death
b) Life after death
c) Death is not the end

7. What is the name of the Labrador in Kate Atkinson’s novel “Big Sky”
a) Hercules
b) Barney
c) Dido

8. Who features in “Elizabeth is Missing”?
a) Maud
b) Eleanor
c) Sybil

9. In “His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet from what village is Roderick Macrae?
a) Cullen
b) Culbokie
c) Culduie

10. In which novel by Jane Austen does the following quote appear?
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid”.
a) Persuasion
b) Northanger Abbey
c) Sense and Sensibility

Friday book quiz: round 3

Try the questions below in the third round of the Library Resource Management Team’s book quiz.

Answers will be revealed on Monday here on the blog.

1. From which language is the novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” translated?
a) French
b) Czech
c) Italian

2. With which title did Salman Rushdie win the Booker prize?
a) Moor’s Last Sigh
b) Satanic verses
c) Midnight’s Children

3. In what publication was Wilkie Collins’ novel “The Woman in White” first serialised?
a) “All the Year Round”
b) “Bentley’s Miscellany”
c) “Household Words”

4. What is the profession of C.J. Sansom’s character Shardlake?
a) Doctor
b) Lawyer
c) Soldier

5. Olive Kitteridge is married to a
a) Pharmacist
b) Teacher
c) Piano player

6. Complete the title of Sue Black’s book “All that remains”
a) A life in death
b) Life after death
c) Death is not the end

7. What is the name of the Labrador in Kate Atkinson’s novel “Big Sky”
a) Hercules
b) Barney
c) Dido

8. Who features in “Elizabeth is Missing”?
a) Maud
b) Eleanor
c) Sybil

9. In ‘His Bloody Project’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet from what village is Roderick Macrae?
a) Cullen
b) Culbokie
c) Culduie

10. In which novel by Jane Austen does the following quote appear?
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid”.
a) Persuasion
c) Northanger Abbey
c) Sense and Sensibility

Friday book quiz: round 2 (the answers)

The answers to round two of the Friday book quiz are revealed below. Come back on Friday for round three.

1. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South – in which novel?
a) Where the crawdads sing
b) Queenie
c) An American marriage 

2. Which creature features in the title of this Maja Lunde’s novel?
a)
The history of people
b) The history of bees
c) The history of unicorns

3. “A natural” deals with the struggles of a young footballer, the author is?
a) Ross Raisin
b) Andy Apple
c) Fraser Fish

4. “Stories of the law and how it’s broken” is the subtitle of which novel?
a)
Crime and punishment
b) The cases of Taggart
c) The secret barrister 

5. Which novel deals with the disappearance of three pupils from Appleyard College and the aftermath from this?
a)
Ghost wall
b) The Van Apfel girls are gone
c) Picnic at hanging rock 

6. The “Salt path” by Raynor Winn follows the coastal path from where in the UK?
a) Somerset to Dorset 
b) Kent to Hampshire
c) Lincolnshire to Northumbria

7. Witold Pilecki is the subject of which award winning book by Jack Fairweather?
a) The survivor
b) The volunteer 
c) The hero

8. Which of the following is the title of a novel by Charlie Mackesy
a)
The boy, the fox, the badger and the horse
b) The boy, the goldfish, the fox and the horse
c) The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse 

9. Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are the main characters in which novel by Hallie Rubenhold?
a)
The girls
b) The five 
c) The circle

10. Which workplace features in the title of this Joanne Ramos novel?
a) The farm
b) The office
c) The factory

Friday book quiz: round 2

Our second round in the Friday book quiz from the Library Resource Management Team.

The answers will be revealed on Monday and look out for the third round next Friday.

1. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South – in which novel?
a) Where the crawdads sing
b) Queenie
c) An American marriage

2. Which creature features in the title of this Maja Lunde’s novel?
a) The history of people
b) The history of bees
c) The history of unicorns

3. “A natural” deals with the struggles of a young footballer, the author is?
a)
Ross Raisin
b) Andy Apple
c) Fraser Fish

4. “Stories of the law and how it’s broken” is the subtitle of which novel?
a)
Crime and punishment
b) The cases of Taggart
c) The secret barrister

5. Which novel deals with the disappearance of three pupils from Appleyard College and the aftermath from this?
a)
Ghost wall
b) The Van Apfel girls are gone
c) Picnic at hanging rock 

6. The “Salt path” by Raynor Winn follows the coastal path from where in the UK?
a) Somerset to Dorset
b) Kent to Hampshire
c) Lincolnshire to Northumbria

7. Witold Pilecki is the subject of which award-winning book by Jack Fairweather?
a)
The survivor
b) The volunteer
c) The hero

8. Which of the following is the title of a novel by Charlie Mackesy
a)
The boy, the fox, the badger and the horse
b) The boy, the goldfish, the fox and the horse
c) The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse 

9. Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are the main characters in which novel by Hallie Rubenhold?
a) The girls
b) The five
c) The circle

10. Which workplace features in the title of this Joanne Ramos novel?
a) The farm
b) The office
c) The factory

Hundreds of books delivered to vulnerable Edinburgh families in isolation

Families with vulnerable children who are shielding at home in Edinburgh are to have hundreds of books delivered to their doorsteps thanks to a new charity partnership.

Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity (ECHC) – which supports the Royal Hospital for Sick Children – has teamed up with Edinburgh Libraries to help children and their siblings feed their imaginations while shielding for 12 weeks.

Edinburgh Libraries’ Book Bus

With libraries currently closed, Edinburgh Libraries has made available a Book Bus filled with around 1800 books for children and young people to ECHC. The bus will be stationed at the charity’s office, where volunteer delivery drivers will collect book packages and deliver them to local families who are known to the Sick Kids hospital on a regular basis. Through the book deliveries, the charity aims to bring fun and distraction to children and to help improve their mental wellbeing during lockdown.

The book delivery service has also been made possible thanks to generous sponsorship from Baillie Gifford.

Caroline Leishman has been shielding her family of three boys for eight weeks as her youngest son is on active treatment for Leukaemia.

She said: “Coming up with new and exciting ways to keep everyone occupied and distracted while also looking after a clinically vulnerable child becomes a little bit harder as each week goes by.

“It was such a relief when the book parcel from ECHC arrived on our doorstep. The kids were so excited to open it and discover all the new books they had to read which gave us some much needed breathing space!

“Books are such a wonderful resource for children who are shielding. They let their imaginations run wild so they can go on all sorts of fantastic adventures without ever leaving the safety of home.”

Book bags ready to be delivered

Roslyn Neely, CEO of ECHC, said: “We know from our work in the hospital that taking part in fun and creative activities that feed the imagination is the best way to take away children’s fear and feelings of isolation when they are unwell.

“It must be unimaginably tough for children and their siblings having to shield at home when they already face significant health challenges. We know the power of storytelling and the benefits that brings to children in hospital so we’re positive it will have the same effect in the home.

“We believe that nothing should get in the way of being a child. Even though they can’t physically be out and about in the world right now, children have a huge appetite for adventure and there’s a whole world of creativity and magic in their imaginations.

“Bringing books to their doorsteps through this wonderful partnership with Edinburgh Libraries is a great way to ensure they still have access to that. We’re also so grateful to Baillie Gifford for their sponsorship and to all our volunteer drivers for making this possible.”

City of Edinburgh Council Leader Adam McVey said: “We’re delighted we can help families known to the Sick Kids and thanks to our library team who have been superb. One of our mobile libraries is filled with about 1,800 children’s books so what better way of putting these books to good use.

“Books are a wonderful resource and will really help families having to self-isolate in their homes for 12 weeks. Reading as a family is a joy and can help to improve well-being – a recent study found that six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by 60%. This is a great example showing how working together with partners in the city can respond to the needs of our communities.”

Book deliveries are one of a number of things that ECHC is doing to support children and families during the pandemic, all of which are being delivered safely in line with government restrictions during this time. All books that are returned to the Book Bus will be held on board for 72 hours for infection control before being recirculated.

Staff preparing the Book bus and bags

The charity is also distributing Emergency Care Packs of food and essential supplies, toiletries and arts and activity items. Families known to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children who would like any of the emergency care packs on offer are asked to contact Leigh at ECHC on 0131 668 4949 or leigh.drake@echcharity.org.

If you wish, you can make a donation to ECHC’s Emergency COVID-19 Appeal online.

Join an online book group

Some of our libraries are keeping in touch with readers by starting up online book groups. Why not join them?

Open Book with Craigmillar Library 

Craigmillar Library are partnering with Open Book to host an online book group via Zoom. The meetings will be once a fortnight on Tuesday mornings, from 10 to 11 am.

Open Book provide all the material and each session it is a short story and a poem or two. The theme this month is Future. Participants can take part in shared reading or staff will be happy to read the whole thing. If participants feel more comfortable just listening, they can turn their video off. The reading stops every now and again for the group to discuss the story or poem.

Staff are already thinking of how these sessions can continue in the future once things return to normality and how they can work with other local services to reach out to people who might enjoy shared reading.

Booking is via Eventbrite and the next session is on 19 May.


‘Heard a good book lately’ with Stockbridge Library
A new online audio book group has been started up by Carol who works at Stockbridge Library. Using the RBDigital service, everyone in the group can borrow and listen to the same audiobook at the same time. There is a huge range of authors and genres, but Carol decided to pick titles which are not only good for discussion, but gives themes to explore and research too. The first book chosen is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  The novel depicts the story of two slaves in the south east of the USA set in 19th century and their bid for freedom. It won the Pulitzer prize for fiction 2017.

The concept of the audiobook group however is no stranger to Stockbridge Library, a group has existed for over a year now with inclusion and accessibility at the core. However the beauty of audiobooks is that anyone can enjoy them at any time, if you are out and about, doing stuff about the house or relaxing.
“The audio book group has been fantastic opportunity to bring people together with or without sight loss. It also allows another option to discuss books in different formats. It’s not just about the writing, you’ve got to enjoy listening to the narrator. A few favourites have been ‘A Girl of slender means’ by Muriel Spark and ‘Our man in Havana’ by Graham Greene.” 
 
With the advent of lockdown it’s important to keep discussion and a sense of community going, so Carol is hoping you can join her on Tuesday 26 May at 7pm. Joining details are available on the Stockbridge Facebook page or Eventbrite.

‘Reading takes you places’ with South-west Edinburgh Libraries

Our Libraries in the South-west neighbourhood of Edinburgh have joined together to create a virtual book group too. So if you enjoy chatting about books and are looking for new reading suggestions, this one is for you.

Whether you’re already a member of a library book group, or have never been part of a book group before, you’re all invited to join.

A live discussion will take place through a free online video/ audio call service (such as Skype) fortnightly. The next meeting will take place on Thursday 21 May at 3pm, when they will discuss ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig.

All books chosen for the book group have multiple ebook copies available through Edinburgh Libraries, so everyone will be able to borrow a copy for free. Guidance on accessing and borrowing e-books from the library is available on the Your Library website.

If you are interested in joining the book group, please email Melissa.Hollingshead@edinburgh.gov.uk

 

What libraries mean to me with Val McDermid

Crime writer Val McDermid is a perpetual favourite with Edinburgh Library borrowers. Her books, with their atmospheric covers and poetic titles, tell stories of crime, justice and retribution in Scotland. She has also written an updated Jane Austen novel, set during the Edinburgh Festival, Northanger Abbey, and picture book My Granny is a Pirate.

A long term champion of books and libraries, here McDermid tells us what libraries mean to her, and why the written word is what will ultimately carry us through.

Val McDermid, photograph by KT Bruce

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader, and as a writer? Are the meanings different?
When I go in to the library with my borrower’s card, I feel like Little Jack Horner with his pudding and pie – I stick in my thumb and pull out a plum! There’s always a moment where I encounter something new, and that’s half of the pleasure of reading.

As a writer, libraries have been a huge part of learning my craft. Not just by experiencing the work of other writers and stealing their tricks, but also as a place for research. I started publishing back in the days before Google, when research meant physically searching reference sections, calling up books from the stacks and inter-library loans. And there are still times when only a library will do. Newspaper archives, for example, are a nightmare to search online. The indices of historical biographies lead to all sorts of interesting paths! So I still see them as a valuable resource.

What is your earliest library memory?
When I was a toddler in Kirkcaldy, my mum used to push me across our sprawling council estate to the Templehall Library where she would read me picture books and nursery rhymes.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
I’m frustrated because I’ve got an idea for something new and I need the National Library of Scotland’s archives to help me develop it.

For regular library users, I’d recommend discovering what digital resources your library offers – audio books, ebooks etc. Find an online book group that shares your tastes, or challenge yourself with one that doesn’t!

The hard thing is finding something to compensate for the social life of the library. These days, libraries offer so much more than access to books!

A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
Even the First Minister, a devotee of fiction, is admitting to finding it a struggle right now. I’m doing a mix of old favourites and the new books that still keep arriving through my letter box. What always works when all else fails are short stories. You’ll find all sorts of treats here. Favourite authors often have collections of short stories, and I return to Ali Smith, Katherine Mansfield, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Isaac Asimov and PG Wodehouse regularly, among several others. And perhaps the perfect book for right now is James Robertson’s 365 – a story a day for a year, each one exactly 365 words long!

This question is from Bronwen who runs the Art and Design Library, and is connected to the question above. Is it better to read a challenging book or a comforting one at this time?
It’s a matter for personal choice. Read what you fancy, is my motto. And if a book hasn’t grabbed you by page 20, swap it for something that does! I’m enjoying a mix of comfort and challenge right now, and unusually for me, I’ve got a couple of books on the go at once. One of which is always either an old friend or a new book from an author I know I can trust!

Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I am writing – this is the time of year when I always write the current book. But I am making slower progress than usual. It’s harder to concentrate for long periods, I find. At this time of year, I do very few events normally so I can concentrate on writing. But paradoxically, this year I have had more calls on my time than ever before!

Most of us are taking advantage of the daily outside exercise where we can. I find I’m noticing things I’d not picked up on before. A writing exercise I’d suggest is composing a few paragraphs – or a poem, if that’s what you prefer – about something you’ve noticed on your walk, run or bike ride. If you can’t get outdoors, spend some time looking out of the window, paying attention to what or who you see. Writing about something outside yourself offers more resources – and it can also be a useful way of reflecting your thoughts and feelings.


How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now?
Social media is doing a great job of making us feel connected, and of forming new connections. But it’s not a replacement for human company and contact. Screen time is also, strangely, more tiring than face-to-face encounters. However, making the most of what it can do will carry us through this. And when it’s all over, we will appreciate old – and new – friends so much more.

In the meantime, the written word can be our comfort and our companion.


With huge thanks to Val McDermid and to Hope our #stayathome interviewer from Central Lending Library.

Friday book quiz: round 1 (the answers)

On Friday’s blog, we set the questions to the first round of ten questions in the Library Resource Management Team’s book quiz.

The answers are revealed below.

1. Which of the following is a book by David Peace, author of “The damned united”?
a) Patient X
b) Ground zero
c) Guinea pig

2. “The house by the loch” is a title by which Scottish personality?
a) Sarah Smith
b) Kirsty Wark
c) Chris Hoy

3. Which of the following is a title by Elif Shafak?
a) 10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world
b) 10 minutes 39 seconds in this strange world
c) 10 minutes 40 seconds in this strange world

4. What is the missing word from the title of this Doug Johnstone book, “A dark”?
a) Night
b) Chocolate
c) Matter 

5. According to Oyinkan Braithewaite who is a serial killer?
a) My brother
b) My sister
c) My mother

 

6. What colour of coat does the man have in the recent title by Julian Barnes?
a)
Green
b) Blue
c) Red 

7. According to Manda Scott, what do you call a group of spies?
a)
A cloak of spies
b) A treachery of spies 
c) A zone of spies

8. From which Scandinavian country does Thomas Erikson, the author of “surrounded by idiots”, come from?
a) Sweden
b) Denmark
c) Norway

 

9. Which Adrian Tchaikovsky novel is described here: “Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, Shadrapar is a museum, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity. Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new is Stefan Advani: rebel, outlaw, survivor”?
a) Cage of souls 

b) Children of ruin
c) Walking to Aldebaran

10. Jean McConville is the subject of which book by Patrick Keefe?
a) Do nothing
b) Say nothing
c) Hear nothing

How many did you get?

Friday book quiz – round 1

Just for fun, our Library Resource Management Team have set you a quick book quiz!

The answers will be revealed on Monday’s blog. And come back next Friday for another round of questions.

1. Which of the following is a book by David Peace, author of “The damned united”?
a) Patient X
b)
Ground zero
c)
Guinea pig

2. “The house by the loch” is a title by which Scottish personality?
a)
Sarah Smith
b) Kirsty Wark
c) Chris Hoy

3. Which of the following is a title by Elif Shafak?
a) 10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world
b) 10 minutes 39 seconds in this strange world
c) 10 minutes 40 seconds in this strange world

4. What is the missing word from the title of this Doug Johnstone book, “A dark “?
a)
Night
b) Chocolate
c) Matter 

5. According to Oyinkan Braithewaite who is a serial killer?
a) My brother
b) My sister
c) My mother

6. What colour of coat does the man have in the recent title by Julian Barnes?
a)
Green
b) Blue
c) Red

7. According to Manda Scott, what do you call a group of spies?
a) A cloak of spies
b) A treachery of spies
c)
A zone of spies

8. From which scandinavian country does Thomas Erikson, the author of “surrounded by idiots”, come from?
a) Sweden
b) Denmark
c) Norway

9. Which Adrian Tchaikovsky novel is described here: “Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, Shadrapar is a museum, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity. Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new is Stefan Advani: rebel, outlaw, survivor”?
a) Cage of souls
b) Children of ruin
c) Walking to Aldebaran

10. Jean McConville is the subject of which book by Patrick Keefe?
a) Do nothing
b) Say nothing
c) Hear nothing

Lifelong learning in lockdown – quilt making

Today’s blog is written by Zoe from the Central Lending team. She tells us how she’s finding creative inspiration during this time of lockdown.

“Like many Lifelong Learning staff right now, I have a bit more time on my hands. I’ve put in a few shifts at the Hub schools, but back at home, there is only so much TV watching, baking, Spring cleaning and even reading I can do before the need for something more constructive kicks in.

I’ve always liked a hands-on project and luckily, the Library’s digital magazine services have come to my aid. Pressreader has proven to be a treasure trove of creative titles on subjects as diverse as photography, knitting, woodworking, painting and gardening.

This has inspired me to begin making a quilt by hand, from all the old child’s dresses, shirts and other scraps of fabric I have been squirrelling away for years, ‘just in case’. Quilt-making is something I would never have had the time to even contemplate under normal circumstances. But I have found it to be a very calming activity to do a little bit of each day, while listening to music or a podcast, and it’s very satisfying to see it gradually take shape. I’ve found plenty of online magazine titles on quilting and patchwork to guide me, ranging from beginner level to tackling more advanced techniques.

Zoe’s quilt takes shape

I’ve also enlisted my daughter’s help in stitching the pieces together, and that makes the whole project easier and more fun. The trade-off is that she’ll get to keep and use what will be a unique, useful and hopefully, a beautiful quilt.

If you feel similarly inspired to take up a new craft or hobby or to rediscover an old one, Pressreader and RBdigital are both well worth exploring.

And if you’d like to get involved with craft activities in a more social setting, there is an online craft group run by Edinburgh Old Town Development Trust. For those looking for a quick way to help out during the lockdown, the Trust is also looking for volunteers to help stitch face masks for key workers. If you’re interested, go to their online newsletter for more information.”

What libraries mean to me with Douglas Wright

In our latest Q & A session we talk to Douglas Wright, library adviser in the Music and Art and Design team at Central Library.

Douglas Wright from the Music and Art and Design team.

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a music lover, musician and reader?
It is a bit of a cliche to say that a library gives you a world of choice or enables you to chose from the world, but it does. You can choose to be with old friends or make new ones. The old friends are the novels and classics that we all return to, to read or listen to, time and again or the new friends like the Sean O’Boyle’s Concerto for Digeridoo found on Naxos.

We use Naxos streaming service at work and I also use it at home. What I have noticed that I have in common with my colleagues in the Music Department is, when we switch on Naxos I the morning we go to the ‘Recently Added’ page and just choose anything from there. Often they are great treats like the Digeradoo Concerto but sometimes we are forced to think again. Like a Beatles /Bach Mash up which didn’t make it to my playlist.

As a music lover I have been part of a team who have been able to promote live music making in the library. We have also had many author talks by musicians or on musical topics, all of which have been a thrill to be part of. The team’s involvement in Make Music Day 2019 was a highlight, I think, for us all. Make Music Day 2019 was also the first time I had played my Ukulele in public and the first time in a long time I had done anything as a musician.

It was nice to dip my toe.

The biggest thing the library has done for me is introduce me to ebooks and I am a huge convert. For the past five years my wife and I have kept a list of our reading for the year. I have always tried to source all my books from my library but I look first to see if we have a copy of the book I wish to read on Overdrive, our ebook service, so I can have it on my phone and effectively have it with me all the time. I have just made myself aware that I have my music, my ebooks and my audiobooks on my phone so I carry the library or a library with me all the time, I think I need to question my own reliance on my phone, but that’s for another day.

What is your earliest library memory?
I was born and lived in Park Road, Kelvinbridge in Glasgow till I was eighteen. Kelvinbridge which is in between St. George’s Cross, Hillhead and Maryhill. On Saturday mornings, we, my Mum, Dad and brother would walk the short distance to St. George’s Cross in Glasgow where we would shop, pay bills, pay some money to my dad’s tailor account and then go to Woodside Library which was beside Jimmy Logan’s Metropole Theatre. My Mum and Dad would leave us in the children’s section and go and choose their selection for the week. I seem to remember that we had three tickets so we would make our small selection which at that time, for me, were books like Paddington, The Wombles and The Famous Five. From then on, I have a sketchy relationship with libraries.

Drifting in and out of love with them, spending years never going near one and then at other times never being out of them.

My relationship with Central Library really started when I had children and started using the Children’s Library. My children are now 26 and 22 so that was a little while ago. Often, if we were all at the library I would sneak downstairs to the Music Library and then as the children got older, we would all sneak downstairs, to chose our music.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
There are many things I am struggling with and without at the moment. I have to say until asked that question, the Library or a library was not one of them. Now thinking about it, I think it is the thing I have been trying not to think about, I have been for the past few weeks distracting myself with things, tasks and ‘shiny objects’. Trying not to think about that bit of my day that’s missing, my ‘normal’. I have gone down a bit of a road there and to try now and get back to the things, tasks and shiny objects.

I have not been reading as much as I did but I have discovered the joy of audiobooks. I installed the BorrowBox and uLIBRARY apps and have listened to a number of books, which allows me to potter about our flat, as Bing Crosby says, “busy doing nothing working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do”. So the advice would be, always listen to Bing, he will know what to do. I try not to throw advice about, there are people worth listening to, and that’s not me. Seriously, Bing, listen to him.

I am not a great fan of the 21st century, despite my increasing reliance on my phone, and it is not great for me – as a Library adviser who is there to look after and ready our physical collection for our membership to borrow – it is not great for me to say that we have a wonderful set of services online with a lot of those services able to answer to your needs 24 hours a day. We do, and for a lot of people, they have never been more important.

Having said all that, one thing that is said to us, the Music and Art and Design team, most often, is how much people, our membership, enjoy dealing with a person, in the library. That is of no solace at this time and if we are struggling without our library, the only real consolation we can have is that this will end, and hopefully for most of us it will end peacefully and will return to something nearer to a kind of normal.

A lot of people are struggling just now – music has the capacity to soothe by reflecting our emotions but also to challenge – what do you recommend as a music lover to those that are struggling?
One person’s soothing balm is another’s annoyance, So recommending something comes with dangers. My go-to favourites might not be to other people’s liking. I might pick Shostakovich who offers beautiful tunes within edgy, prickly, early 20th century Russian angst, but that is not everybody’s taste. I am also quite stuck with classical music, well, classical music from the romantic era. I once heard John Amis, music critic and broadcaster, talking about music and putting forward the thought that, as one ages music lovers gravitate more to Mozart and leave the youthful romantics in their past. I am about to enter my 59th year and I am still waiting to appreciate Mozart.

The great classical/Romantic composer of my choice would be that lovable cranky, cantankerous, angry, curmudgeon Beethoven. All things I aspire to be – cranky, cantankerous, curmudgeonly and angry – I look forward to all of those traits in my unapologetic dotage.

I have also been pushing myself to other genres, I have tried and enjoyed some of the works of Miles Davis, jazz trumpet legend and I have, strangely, for the past few months, been listening to country music. Recently, I watched a major BBC 4 documentary series on country music and I listened to some of the artists featured in that. That could, of course, be a throwback to my father’s record collection, which included country and western, folk and some dodgy sectarian accordion bands.

On Radio 4, there is a segment of a show called ‘Inheritance Tracks’ in which people describe a piece of music which has been handed down to them and which they hand on to someone they love. I am pleased to say that I have already achieved that with a song by Johnny Cash, the great country and western singer/songwriter, called “A Boy Named SUE” which I got from my father. I played this to my son years ago and he loved it and thought it funny, and it is still on one of his play lists.

Whichever way you inherit your music there are pieces of music which are given to you, which you connect with, somebody or something or an event or a time, place when you were happy, sad, anxious. A song which evokes a memory of a loved one or a beloved thing or in my case I song I sang whilst nappy changing.

Music tinged with emotions which perhaps might be too strong to be dealt with at this time. Can I say the best piece of advice I was ever given was, never listen to advice. Although, that was said about child rearing, but apply it to your music choices. Go to our Naxos website and chose the first CD cover that jumps out at you not because you have heard of the composer or artist but because the CD cover is yellow like the sun or it has your favourite word in the title.

I am reluctant to suggest anything except, try anything, and if you don’t like it, try something else and keep trying till you find the things, book, songs, symphonies, opera which will be your new or old friends.

Are you listening to music just now? What are you listening to? What would you recommend as a way through?
This is now going to be a large cop out, I am listening to music at the moment but I realised I haven’t actually chosen anything. I have been listening to BBC Radio 3 or to Classic FM, so, letting others choose for me and it has been wonderful. I have listened to a programme about building your CD library, one which was focused on the wonderful Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky, a work I had forgotten I had studied years ago for my Higher Music and I was amazed how much I remembered. I listened to a strange production of an Opera by Cherubini. Lunchtime concerts of string music and operas in the afternoon. At this very moment the Bavarian Radio Chorus are singing Alfred Schnittke’s Three Sacred Hymns, which I would never have chosen but are sublime. Morning request programmes with music from classics to Romantics to American Minimalists.

How can we connect as librarians, borrowers, readers and musicians just now when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement or do we need more? How can music help to overcome this?
There are parts of this question to which I really don’t know the answer, if there is an answer.

I think, we continue to be a part of the things that are already happening, online groups, concerts, being part of doing things collectively but separately.

Music always unifies in some way and will find a way to be part of the healing we will all go through.

It seems, everything which is happening at the moment requires some kind of social media, it concerns me there are people without access to all that is going on, for whatever reason and their isolation may be even greater. For me, social media is only ever a tool, a little bit of all the things we do. I have been trying and failing, to write something about all the things that social media is and isn’t, all the things it does and the things it doesn’t do. I have ranted and railed, agreed and disagreed. Scrubbed out and started again. All I have come up with is, what it doesn’t do, is let me pick up my granddaughter when she falls over in her back yard, me, like millions of other grandparents in the world, but it does allow us to see her and hear her and sing with her. Until we are all together again, it will have to do.

With many thanks to Douglas for sharing his thoughts on what libraries and music mean to him. 

What libraries mean to me with Molly Kent

In today’s library Q & A session, we ask artist, student and library advisor, Molly Kent what libraries mean to her.

Molly is currently in her final year at Edinburgh University studying for her MA Hons Fine Art and Art History. Molly is currently curating her degree show which uses the traditional medium of rug tufting to create an immersive installation space on the topic of doubt. The work draws on contemporary existence regarding social media and living in an internet-driven environment through the visual aesthetics of digital glitch. It also highlights the importance of a time-old craft, evolved and made relevant to the field of contemporary art through various areas of research. Making use of bright and neon colours, unsettling phrases and organic shapes, each piece intends to mirror the feeling of doubt through sensory experience and highlight the commonality of doubt, albeit often brushed under the rug. Rugs, that we’d normally see as domestic objects, begin to morph and climb walls, resembling bacteria and virus structures, as if mutating before us. It plays on the idea that doubt can be perceived as an ailment that overtime shifts and morphs into something new continuing its hold over us.

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as an artist and as a student?
Libraries have often been one of the main starting points of my research when it comes to approaching a new series of artwork. While my current work centres on my personal experiences and emotions, the medium I am currently working with is new to me. Libraries have offered me an otherwise unattainable insight into the process of rug making, with both my university library and Edinburgh City Libraries holding a series of books that weren’t available online. As well as a wonderful holding on contemporary arts more widely, the library gives insight into other practices as well through exhibition catalogues that inspire new methods and presentation.

In particular, Edinburgh City Libraries has a great holding of books that go through the step by steps of rug hooking, including what fabrics, yarns and adhesives to use. Information into the practical side of rug making is somewhat scarce online and the insight gathered from these books has been invaluable to my practice. In addition to this, being able to experience a whole host of artistic expressions from so many areas of visual culture through the rotating monthly exhibitions in the Art and Design Library sparks creativity from often unexpected works – opening up ideas to branch off existing works into new multidisciplinary methods.

Also, I grew up in libraries, so to speak. Often taken after school to access books that we couldn’t at home, and as a safe place to work, libraries have become a haven for me over the years. The ability to immerse myself in so many different topics, enabling my research and artistic practice to reach new avenues is invaluable.

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

What is your earliest library memory?
My earliest memory of libraries would be from back home in Birmingham, at my local library after school. My mom would take me in so I could read to my heart’s content, often getting through a book a day. Talking to the librarians was a highlight and over time I’d be allowed to help out around the library, especially after my mom started to work there.

When I was around 12/13 years old I would be helping to run craft sessions. These sessions helped me find my love for creating and helped others express themselves through art too. I continued to help with the craft sessions when I started working at my hometown library at 17 years old.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
Without a doubt, yes. As I’m coming to the end of my degree, it’s especially difficult not to be able to dip back into all the books I’ve been looking at for the past year or so, or find inspirations in new ones. Books have always been one of my main sources of creative inspiration and the loss of access is difficult. As well, having worked as a library advisor for the past 7 years, and having a good understanding of catalogue systems, it’s easy for me to find books on particular topics and areas quickly. Now, with just the internet and e-services, it’s more time consuming and far more difficult to find relevant information quickly.

I’d advise looking into the eBook services, particularly magazines and periodicals we host online now. Being able to browse art magazines and see what’s going on worldwide in contemporary arts is vital, and especially seeing how galleries and artists are responding to and working within the new confines of a COVID-19 landscape. In addition to this, for myself, Instagram is a great place to look for inspiration and community in these strange times. I’ve been able to connect more widely across the UK, and globally, and as I’ve put more time into sharing my work there. I’ve made new connections that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

A lot of people are struggling just now – art has the capacity to soothe by reflecting our emotions but also to challenge – what do you recommend as an artist to those that are struggling?
It’s difficult to pinpoint because we all process things differently. For myself, I am creating more now that I am home and challenging myself to produce something new every day. But for others, trying to navigate this new way of living could be difficult and we shouldn’t feel the need to use this time as one of productivity. If you have the spark to use this time for creativity, my recommendation is to start now. If you’ve ever wanted to draw, paint, sculpt etc. work with what you have currently, be it only a pencil and paper and start making. Or, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about art or any other topics, there’s a whole host of courses being published for free online by some of the biggest institutions online. I’ve been eyeing some courses from Harvard for when I finish my degree next month, as something to keep my brain engaged and continue my learning.

Are you able to practise as an artist just now? What are you working on? What would you recommend as a way through?
I am lucky enough to have a home studio (read: my partner and I have a  home office that is completely overrun with rug-making materials) so I have been able to continue my artistic practice. I was lucky enough to have had my degree show sponsored in part by Paintbox Yarns via Lovecrafts and was sent yarn to work with. So, thankfully, I have plenty of materials to work with. Just before quarantine started I was able to upgrade my rug tufting frame so for the past few weeks I’ve been working on some large scale rugs.

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

How can we connect as librarians, borrowers, readers and as creatives just now when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement or do we need more? How can art help to overcome this?
I don’t think social media can be a total replacement for the physical, in-person communicative experience. Some galleries are creating stunning digital exhibitions, and it’s great that more investment is being made into online engagement with individuals, particularly as this will greatly benefit social groups who were excluded from some mainstream artistic spaces. But currently, it’s a fantastic place for us all to connect. I’ve seen digital book clubs, live-streamed art tutorials, even art tutorials taking place via Zoom. This is all so we can continue learning, sharing and providing one another with feedback to keep our work developing.

Ultimately art can bring everyone together, there’s no need for a high brow understanding of the ins-and-outs of art history. If art makes you feel something or peaks a curiosity you hadn’t otherwise explored, now is a great time to engage with institutions, artist-run spaces, and individual makers within your locality or internationally. Then, when libraries re-open it will be wonderful to bring together a newly engaged community focus into these pre-existing spaces.

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

With huge thanks to Molly for talking to us and sharing what libraries mean to her.

What libraries mean to me with Claire Askew

In our second library Q & A session, we ask author Claire Askew what libraries mean to her. Claire’s first novel, All the Hidden Truths looks at what would happen if (God forbid) there was a Columbine style college shooting in Edinburgh. Her second novel, What You Pay For explores conflicts between family and duty, love and morality, and doing the right thing, when everything seems wrong. Both feature the same detective, DI Helen Birch.
Look out for the third book in the series, Cover Your Tracks, coming soon in August 2020.

Claire is also an award winning poet, a teacher and a witch. She lives in Edinburgh. She is currently working on her fourth novel and can be found on Twitter as @onenightstanzas 

Claire Askew

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader, and as a writer? Are the meanings different?
I’ve been a library lover ever since I was a small child, when my mum would take me to the library most days (though she usually corrects me: I took her to the library, she had little choice in the matter!) But Edinburgh City Libraries will always be extra special to me, because I worked for a year as a Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion in 2016/17 and was lucky enough to meet so many fantastic readers, locals, visitors, and library staff.

I worked mostly out of Craigmillar Library, but could sometimes be found in Portobello Library too. I’d always believed libraries were essential to communities, but that year’s placement really opened my eyes to just how vital library services are. In Craigmillar, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the library is at the heart of everything, for everyone aged 0 to 100+. It’s not just a place to access books: it’s Bookbug sessions and weekend breakfasts for kids and game club and knitting group and so much more besides.

What is your earliest library memory?
When I was little, my brother and I convinced my parents to get a puppy. Millie, the black Labrador, was adorable but completely un-trainable, it seemed. My mum borrowed a book from the library called “How to House Train Your Puppy.” I vividly remember having to go back to the library to apologise profusely and pay for a replacement: Millie had peed all over the book!

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
I live in Stockbridge, and have been moping forlornly past the closed doors of Stockbridge Library on my daily walks. But I’m lucky: I don’t rely on the library to access the internet or to see friends – I know that some folk will be really, really missing those services! But I’m taking comfort in simple activities like re-reading old favourite books, writing in a journal, and knitting. I think there’s a lot of pressure on people to ‘use this time well,’ and I wish we could all just focus more on getting through this in whatever way feels best to each of us. It’s really hard when you’re missing out on essential parts of your life, but hang in there, be safe, and do what makes you feel happy.

A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
I’m struggling to read, too, and I’m allowing myself to revert to ‘easier’ reads and ignoring my ‘to read’ pile! I’ve gone back to my favourite teen read, in fact: Soul Music by Terry Pratchett! I’ve read it so many times in the last twenty years that I know it practically off by heart, but it’s an old friend and feels very comforting right now. I know because we’ve all got lots more time it’s tempting to think ‘I ought to finally get round to reading War and Peace, or some other massive tome’ – but it’s probably a better idea to read something escapist and fun that doesn’t feel like a task!

Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I’m writing a little, but only a little. I do have a novel I need to finish (the fourth in the DI Birch series,) but I’m going easy on myself. Even if I only write a sentence or two a day, that’s still progress in the right direction.

I’m taking a lot of comfort from writing a journal, too, though, and particularly from trying to make a daily gratitude list. At the end of every day I write down three things I’m grateful for.

Sometimes they’re big things like being grateful for having had another day of good health; sometimes they’re small things like being grateful I spotted a cute dog out of my window!

I’d really recommend it as an exercise – it helps me remember there are still good things in the world!

How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now?
Other than social media – which is seeing all sorts of exciting things happening at the moment, from Zoom poetry readings to online book clubs – it’s hard to know what else to do!

I have liked hearing what other people are reading, though, and I’ve wondered about the potential for mass read-alongs. There are mass watch-alongs of movies and Netflix shows happening online, where people all watch a movie at the same time and then chat about it afterwards. Could we do a slower version, with books, maybe?

With many thanks to Claire and to Hope our #stayathome interviewer from Central Lending Library.

What Libraries mean to me with Ever Dundas

Edinburgh Libraries does a Question and Answer session with local writer Ever Dundas, author of Goblin (published by Saraband).

Ever Dundas

What do libraries (including Edinburgh Libraries) mean to you as a reader, and as a writer? Are the meanings different?
I don’t earn much as a writer, which is how it is for many writers – we usually have to supplement our income with the full-time freelance hustle, or a full or part-time ‘day’ job, and fit writing around that. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do this as I have ME and fibromyalgia (I did have a part-time job, but had to give it up as I wasn’t coping and it was making me even more ill). Because of this, I can’t always afford to buy new books, so the library is an amazing resource. There’s something so very anti-capitalist about libraries (which is probably why they’re constantly under attack) – all these resources available to us for free.

It’s one of those rare buildings you can enter and know it doesn’t matter how much you earn. I’m able to get books to read for pleasure and books for research for my writing projects and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

As a writer, it’s an absolute joy to see my own book on the shelves in a building that means so much to me, and to know that people who might not earn much are able to access it. Also, I’m not sure if members of the public know about this, but there’s a scheme called Public Lending Right (PLR) where authors can register and they earn a few pence every time someone takes their book out, so you’re still helping authors financially via supporting your local library.

What is your earliest library memory?
The classroom library in my primary school. I remember picking up books by Nicholas Fisk (I was obsessed with space at the time, so I loved the Starstormers series). I also picked up A Box of Nothing by Peter Dickinson, which is still a firm favourite. If I could have skipped all lessons to sit in the corner reading, I would have.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?

Central Library

I badly miss the library. It was a real comfort to me. I enjoyed the short walk through the bustling streets (which are now very eerie), and entering that huge, beautiful building always made me happy. I also loved when Hope was on shift – before I got to know her a bit better and learned she’s a writer too, she’d always cheer me with her greetings. The library staff are a big part of what makes the library the welcoming place it is and I really appreciate their skills and expertise.

I’m trying to use the library closure as an opportunity to get through my massive to-read piles at home. For anyone who doesn’t have a massive to-read pile, you can still get ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and newspapers from the library, so it’s still a great resource. But I know a lot of people will be missing the physical library – it was a real haven.

A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
I’m currently reading an academic book I got my paws on in the recent Palgrave sale – Gothic Animals: Uncanny Otherness and the Animal With-Out, edited by Ruth Heholt and Melissa Edmundson. It has a chapter by Timothy C Baker that looks at Companion Animals in Contemporary Scottish Women’s Gothic Fiction, focussing on my novel Goblin, Elspeth Barker’s O Caledonia, and Alice Thompson’s The Falconer. I haven’t yet read Thompson’s book, but since reading Barker’s I’m evangelical about it and it’s a real shame it’s out of print – it’s not available as an ebook, but when the libraries reopen I highly recommend getting a hold of it.

Ever’s to-read pile

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Gothic Animals – especially the chapter on Patricia Highsmith and her snails (apparently she smuggled her pet snails in and out of the country in her bra, and she would take a bag of snails and a lettuce to social events – this makes me love her even more).

I’ve also been reading Planetarium, which is an utterly gorgeous book in the ‘Welcome to the Museum’ series. I’ve been losing myself in it before going to bed and finding it very soothing. It’s funny how feeling insignificant in the context of the solar system can be so comforting.

If you’re struggling to read, short stories might be easier to concentrate on. Or comics/graphic novels (I highly recommend everything by Charles Burns and Emil Ferris’ My Favourite Thing Is Monsters). Or now might be the time to try an audiobook if you’ve never done so before.

Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I’ve been struggling a bit, to be honest, but that’s partly because I’ve been having one fibro & ME flare-up after another this past month. It’s mostly the flu-like exhaustion rather than the chronic pain, and it can be incredibly frustrating as it’s hard to get things done. But I’m doing OK at the moment, and I’m enjoying this interview – it’s giving me some space to reflect.

I had planned to write a diary, but I’ve been a bit scuppered by flare-ups, and I’ve been using the rest of my time to try and get some work-related things done. But I think externalising your feelings in that way can be very therapeutic, so I recommend it if you’re feeling stressed by current events.

How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now?
I think social media and blogs are useful ways of connecting, although I’m aware that some people won’t have computers or online access and that the physical presence of the library offered that to many. I think current events shows how important and necessary internet access is, and that it’s not some out-there socialist utopia to provide it to everyone.

As someone who is disabled, I’ve talked a lot about making the world (and the publishing industry in particular) more accessible, so it’s been both wonderful and bittersweet to see so many things move online, when disabled people have been pushing for this for so long. I hope, when we come out the other side of this, accessibility will be taken more seriously – it’s not niche. It’s a human right. It’s sad that it’s taken something like this for ableds to realise that. Things can’t go back to ‘normal’ after this. The status quo isn’t good enough.

So I do think blogs and social media are important. Many disabled people find it can be a real lifeline for them, and I generally have no time for simplistic anti-social media sentiments – it’s ableist.

I think the written word is incredibly important right now – in terms of political activism, but also for escapism. I don’t think anyone should ever feel guilty for needing some escapism in times like this – if it can help get you through, that’s what matters. The arts saved me many times throughout my life.

With huge thanks to Ever and to Hope our #stayathome interviewer from Central Lending Library.

 

Comfort reads, while we’re away

This blog post is written by Hope who works in our Central Lending Library.

“I miss the library. I miss asking you whether you liked your book when you bring it back and being told it was great. I miss the people who tell me it was a load of rubbish. I miss seeing you pick up that reservation you’ve been waiting weeks for. I miss the ordinariness, the comforting familiarity of life as we knew it, before this.

In The Cazalet Chronicles, Polly – one of three girl cousins – describes the Second World War as boring and frightening at once. I struggled to get my head round this. If you are frightened, how can you be bored, I thought.

I get it now.

Yet even when we’re closed, there are still books, and while it’s always exciting to encounter a new voice, a new author, but during the worst times in my own life, I find myself reaching for well-thumbed old Penguins which I have read several times before, the stories which are old friends, familiar – when nothing else is, books which will hold your hand, and get you through.

Everyone has their own, the stories which you can escape into, knowing they will provide comfort, while not remembering every little detail, so you still find things to surprise you – doorways and alleys you didn’t see when first you visited the book.

For me, these are my comfort reads. The books I choose to get lost in, time and again.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Mortmaim family live in a beautiful old castle, which is falling down around them. Told in diary form by fifteen year old Cassandra, the novel is at once cosy and whimsical. A love story and a coming of age novel, with hints of the Jane Austen novels, which Cassandra and her sister Rose are so obsessed with, only truer somehow.

Written during World War Two, when Dodie Smith was living in America, it is a nostalgic book, a glimpse back at an idealised time, but not too idealised. The Mortmains have no money, and have experienced their share of loss, and the girls make terrible mistakes in their tentative, enthusiastic forays into love.

I came late to I Capture the Castle, after hearing it cited for years as a comfort read. Now, I feel unable to keep away. The world of Cassandra and Rose, and their ramshackle castle with the moat, is endlessly compelling, funny, sad, and true to how girls feel on the brink of growing up. 

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Recently I saw a post on Twitter suggesting that Black Swan Green should replace Catcher in the Rye, as the coming of age novel. While lots of people love Catcher, I found it didn’t speak to me, while I found Black Swan Green – the story of a thirteen year old with a stammer, growing up in a normal, but possibly haunted, English backwater – immensely compelling and true to the things we all think and feel when we’re kids. The story has a ghost, a bully, a dangerous older cousin, and a fascinating old lady who once knew a young composer who wrote an opus called Cloud Atlas.

David Mitchell fans will know how his novels overlap, tantalising readers who know what happens in earlier and later novels. 

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Linda Radlett, is young, giddy, and obsessed by the idea of love. Narrated by her cousin, Fanny, daughter of ‘The Bolter,’ this novel is a biting satire of a world of debutantes and aristocrats, but also a tender, sweet portrait of a girl lost in the midst on the twentieth century. Travelling through the Spanish Civil War, Occupied France and a long-gone England, this book is beautifully romantic, terribly sad and weirdly comforting.

I first read this aged twelve, and didn’t understand a lot of it. Revisiting it in my late teens, and then in my thirties, I realised how I love this novel, and the catty wonderful author who wrote it, herself one of six girls whose lives were all touched by the events of the twentieth century, some more tragically than others.
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
When my Dad first read me this, I cowered under the covers, terrified by the chained convict who jumps out at Pip in the lonely graveyard. As an adult I know that there were far worse monsters in the book than the convict Magwitch.

This novel contains the fabled Miss Havisham, and her ward Estella, shut away in the cobwebby Satis House. It’s a book which will break your heart – especially when Pip turns his back on Old Joe, who bought him up (this scene always gets me) – but it’s also an excellent gothic adventure through late Georgian and early Victorian London.

Published in 1861, during the age of industrialisation and scientific progress, the novel looks back on the early 1800s, a time of superstition, ghosts glimpsed through the mists of the fens, convict ships with loud fog horns, and that sense of life and adventure which comes from being on the brink of something about to happen.
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
It might seem weird to recommend a novel about a plague, and call it a comfort read, especially now, but Station Eleven in which 99.9% of us die of flu, is weirdly hopeful. While Mandel doesn’t shy away from darkness and horror, the cutting between before and after the pandemic is incredible in the way it introduces us to characters, making us love them, hate them, root for them, curse at them, and hope they make it from the before into the after.

Twenty years after the plague a theatre group and orchestra tour the wastes of Canada in a caravan pulled by horses. Their slogan, taken from Star Trek is ‘Survival is Insufficient.’ On the way, they encounter a sinister prophet, and his cult.

It’s a book about what survives, and how art, and love and music matter, perhaps more so, even when everything is bleak. It’s catty, and clever and kind, and offers an excellent take down of people who say ‘Everything Happens for a Reason,’ showing the full poison of this point of view.”
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook.

Thank you Hope.

 

Access library services from home

Many of us will be staying indoors over the coming months due to the current health crisis. Edinburgh Libraries provide a range of online services that you can access from home that can help keep you occupied and entertained during these difficult times.

Library2go provides a fantastic range of free ebooks, audiobooks, newspapers and magazines that you can use on your tablet, smart phone or computer. Sign in using your Edinburgh Libraries membership number and PIN. Forgotten your PIN? Use our PIN Reset service. Not a library member? Use our online Join the Library service.

Newspapers – get access to your daily newspaper without leaving the house. You can get 250 UK newspapers including the Edinburgh Evening news, The Scotsman, The Herald, Scottish Daily Mail, The Guardian and the Daily Record on our PressReader service.

eBooks – thousands of best-selling books for adults, teens and kids can be found on OverDrive. Read through the OverDrive website your computer or with their brilliant Libby app on a phone or tablet.

Audiobooks – listen to best-selling books with fantastic narrators on our OverDrive, RBdigital, BorrowBox and uLIBRARY sites.These four downloadable audiobook services give you a wide range of adult, teen and children’s titles to choose from.

Magazines –  hundreds of UK and worldwide magazines are available to read through RBdigital and PressReader. So whether you’re in to Hello!, Amateur Gardening, Good Housekeeping, Auto Express, TV Times, BBC Good Food or Amateur Photography we’ve got it covered.

Please pass on this information to anyone you think might benefit from these services who maybe aren’t already members of the library. Or consider helping a relative or friend get started.

There are clear instructions on how to use all these services available from https://yourlibrary.edinburgh.gov.uk. Any further questions please contact informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk or phone 0131 242 8047.

The house that Jack built

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and gives the public opportunity to view photographs, illustrations and books in a manner that makes them much more accessible to a wider audience. The latest Capital Collections exhibition displays a digitised view of one such special book, ‘The house that Jack built’ brimming with gorgeous, colourful images by the celebrated artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). This book, along with several others by the artist, was created with children in mind and its style became synonymous with Victorian children’s literature, a period considered the ‘golden age’ for this genre of books.

The House that Jack Built, front cover

Despite his relatively short life time, Caldecott’s work is considered to have been transformative in the nature of children’s books and illustration in the Victorian era with his influence still resonating today. Caldecott is considered part of the influential ‘nursery triumvirate’, along with Walter Crane and Kate Greenway. Following the popularity of these authors it became the norm for children’s books to be dominated by image over text.

The work showcased in this exhibition is the first in a collection of books originally published in 1878. The book tells the story of the goings on in and around a country house built by Jack with a myriad of delightful characters making appearances. His illustrations were exercised with a manner of humour and full of life, reflecting his own personality. His images, although often not predominantly meant to make a person laugh, are extremely entertaining and good fun. Stylistically, ‘The house that Jack built’ is written in the form of a cumulative tale. This is when a tale is told by repeating dialogue that builds up to allow the story to progress. As a cumulative tale it does not tell the story of Jack’s house, or even of Jack who built the house, but instead shows how the house is indirectly linked to other things and people, and through this method tells the story of “The man all tattered and torn” and the “Maiden all forlorn” as well as other smaller events, showing how these are interlinked. ‘The house that Jack built’ became a world renowned piece of work, referenced in both political satire and popular culture.

“This is the Cat,
That killed the Rat”
from ‘The house that Jack built’

The Capital Collections exhibition attempts to highlight the brilliance and vibrancy of Caldecott’s work. His ability to express true meaning and subtleties of thought through primarily image and minimal text is something of great admiration and ‘The house that Jack built’ is a perfect example of this. The delightful style and bright colourful images in this book are full of life and can be enjoyed by young and old alike, those with an interest in the history of children’s illustration and those who simply appreciate Caldecott’s artistic style. The exhibition’s accompanying text provides a little more detail into the message of the image and the artist in question, although the images are so detailed and charming that they can be enjoyed and admired just as they are.

Browse all the pages from this delightful Victorian illustrated children’s book on Capital Collections.