Music and literature

There is a wealth of novels which have music, musical instruments, musicians or composers at their core, fictionalised accounts of real people and real accounts of fictionalised characters.  Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, a wonderful account of the century long journey and the owners of an accordion from Sicily to America, or Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, the long story of a break up and a reconciliation, of sorts. Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity or Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, the list is long covering all kinds of music and all kinds of fiction. We asked a few of our colleagues to pick their favourites and review them for you here.  

Book cover of The Noise of Time

Douglas from the Music Library takes a look/listen to this audiobook available at Overdrive, The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.

A fictionalised biography of Dmitri Shostakovich which through three “meetings with power” lays out for us the very great compromises made by artistic communities in Russia during the reign of Stalin and Khrushchev. The novel opens with Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich awaiting his fate, sitting with his packed suitcase in the hallway outside his apartment.  Waiting for the lift doors to open and two men in suits to come for him and take him to the Big House. Where he could expect a bullet to the head for his artistic crimes, listed in a Pravda article, probably written by Stalin, denouncing his Opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”. The first of two killer assassinations, by the state, of this work.  

The dates, the names, the compositions, the main events are all as they should be, in this imagined version of a very real life. How Dmitri Dmitriyevich reacts and comments through his internal and external monologues and conversations are for the greatest part down to Julian Barnes. It is this commentary which, one main thread of the novel, makes us question the veracity of any of Shostakovich’s written dialogue with the world. The Shostakovich of the novel comments on this saying his written output will be worthless to future scholars of his thoughts and deeds. Through the novel Dmitri Dmitriyevich alludes to how the state put words in his mouth or wrote words which were attributed to him.   

At his death, of heart failure on August 9 1975, Shostakovich was probably one of the most successful soviet composers of the 20th century. But is his legacy and his survival, that of a man who did what he did to stay alive, and keep his family alive, or is it that the things he did and said, he truly believed, because he was a party man, leading a charmed life. Whichever of those statements you believe, few of us will ever be made to examine ourselves and the strength of our believes and how strongly we would hold on to those believes in the face of imprisonment or death.  

I recommend you don’t listen to this as an audiobook when you are out for your daily constitutional, it could end in tears. 
Borrow The Noise of Time as an audiobook

Doris from Central Library introduces Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid  

This evocative novel captures the hedonistic lifestyle of a fictional Los Angeles-based seventies band, The Six. Though the band is made up, Taylor Jenkins Reid has made no secret of her love of Stevie Nicks and The Six is reportedly inspired by Fleetwood Mac.  

Daisy Jones and The Six experience highs and lows over a period of years, revealed through interviews with a journalist and written as transcripts. Readers witness the accelerated rise to fame of Daisy Jones and the Six, the struggles of producing a hit album and being on tour and the eventual breakdown of the band.   

Complicated relationships are at the heart of the novel. Not only is there the romantic entanglement between Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne, the married front man of the group, but the tension between Billy and his brother Graham is well written, as are the interactions between the other members of the band. Big personalities and tortured souls feature heavily in this book, adding a vibrancy and sadness to the novel.  

I read Daisy Jones and the Six during the first lockdown in April 2020. Given that we were unable to escape to sunnier and warmer climes, this made the book even more poignant. While plane rides to California were off limits, it certainly made me listen to Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours with a renewed perspective. 
Borrow Daisy Jones and the Six as an ebook or an audiobook 

Bronwen from the Art & Design and Music team tells us about Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers  

If ever there was a book to transport us to a world of sea, sun and bohemia Polly Samson’s novel A Theatre for Dreamers would top the bill! Set on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, through the eyes of our narrator Erica we are dropped into the artistic set living on the island that includes the authors Charmian Cliff and George Johnstone and the Norwegian couple author Axel Jensen and wife Marianne Ihlen. Into their lives comes the young Canadian, charismatic musician and poet Leonard Cohen who meets his muse Marianne and turns the lives of this bohemian set around as we see musician and muse increasingly drawn to each other.  

Erica is fulfilling her late mother’s dream for her to experience an adventure and though Erica is largely outside the main events, we see her eyes opened and innocence lost as wars are waged between the bohemian men and the women on the island over their respective allotted writing time contrasting with the locals who struggle to make a living and feed their families and for whom art is not an option. This book is blissful escapism and captures a period of time in the life of Leonard Cohen.   

Leonard Cohen lived on Hydra 1960 to 1967 and continued to make short visits throughout his life right up to his death in 2016.   
Borrow A Theatre for Dreamers as an ebook or an audiobook, and sample interpretations of Cohen’s music on Naxos Jazz. Go to playlists and select Listen and Read and select the Leonard Cohen playlist. 

Our colleague Fumiko, is normally based in Morningside Library but during the post lockdown period she joined us in Central Library, below she tells us about the author Murakami and his book Norwegian Wood

I was thirty-seven then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth and lent everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in rain gear, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So—Germany again.  

Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’. The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.’ 
— Haruki Murakami’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ starts with these lines.   

Murakami uses various genre of music in his books from pop, rock, jazz to classic music, which attracts many readers. Since I like to listen to any type of music, it was a pleasure when I read Norwegian Wood first time and I devoted my time reading his books one after another.   

In Norwegian Wood, he uses Beatles ‘Norwegian Wood‘ of course and their many other songs and other pop, folk and rock musicians.   

For jazz, Henry Mancini ‘Dear Heart’, Bill Evans ‘Waltz for Debbie’, Miles Davis ‘Kind of blue’, Thelonius Monk ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and many jazz players are mentioned.   

For classic music, the book mentions Debussy ‘Claire de Lune’, Brahms ‘Fourth Symphony’ and ‘Second Piano Concert’, Ravel ‘Pavane for Dead Princess’ and Bach ‘Inventions’ and many mentions about classic music composers.   

Cleverly using this blend of the music, he describes the mood and the lives of young people in the sixties in Japan effectively and gives the people in the books character.  

You can borrow Norwegian Wood as an audiobook and many of his other via Overdrive/Libby app. And moreover, you can enjoy the music in his books with library’s online services, Naxos Music and Naxos Jazz without any advertisement!   

A library user from Edinburgh, David, introduces Trumpet by Jackie Kay. 

Trumpet is the stunning debut novel by the writer/poet Jackie Kay. First published in 1998 it is, as you would expect, beautifully written and tells, mostly through a series of flashbacks, the story of the life of a great Scottish jazz trumpeter Joss Moody. 

The novel starts after Moody’s death when it is revealed that Joss had been born Josephine but had chosen to live her life as a man, a fact that was kept a secret from all but his wife. Through the recollections and reactions of his family and friends we follow his story from 1927. The book deals sensitively with the many issues that this situation creates. His loving wife Millie the only person who knew the truth tells much of the tale and her version contrasts with the reaction of his adopted son Colman whose reaction to the news is at times less than sympathetic. 

The novel is in part influenced by the true story of the American jazz musician Billy Tipton who found fame as a pianist and band leader and who had been born Dorothy Lucille Tipton. It is a moving story, sensitively and brilliantly told but it also works on other levels as well as dealing with issues of sexual and racial identity. 

Borrow Trumpet by Jackie Kay as an ebook or an audiobook.
In his review, David mentions the jazz musician Billy Tipton, Suits me: the double life of Billy Tipton by Diane Wood Middlebrook is available to borrow from the Music Library when we reopen. 

Zoe works in the Libraries’ Central Lending department and is busily collaborating with colleagues from other departments to launch our new online Craft Group. Ursula le Guin is one of the most read science fiction/fantasy novelists, and below Zoe shares with us her regard for her work. 

Ursula le Guin, perhaps best known for her Earthsea series, wrote many more science fiction and fantasy books for both children and adults over her long lifetime. She was a peerless world-builder, philosopher and scholar of human nature. One of her books, ‘Always Coming Home’, available on the shelves at Central Library, is about the lives of an imagined tribe of people, 500 years into the future. Le Guin collaborated with analogue composer Todd Barton to invent the music of this world, and a soundtrack to the immersive experience of reading this unconventional book. The resulting album, created with its own music notation, is ‘Music and Poetry of the Kesh’. 

Library reader Daniel from Leith reviews Utopia Avenue 
David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue took me right into the sixties London music scene and then further afield to America. Along the way I met famous musicians of the time and had a few words with them. I went to a great party at the Chelsea Hotel and felt very rock and roll. In fact, my only real disappointment was not to have met Jim Morrison of The Doors. 
The book concentrates on the experiences of three members of Utopia Avenue, and deals with many of the all too human personal stories that are the backdrop to finding fame and fortune. These form the basis of many of the band’s eclectic songs and music, and hence the story the book tells. 
I’ve been left trying to decide, if Utopia Avenue actually was a real band from the 60s, who would they have been? I reckon they were somewhere between Jefferson Airplane and Fairport Convention, with a touch of The Yardbirds. The whole book felt very tangible and I wanted to be there among it all. 
Utopia Avenue is available to borrow in hard copy 

Mairi too joined us at Central Library in the first post lockdown period from her home library, Oxgangs. If you are not already aware of the works of Mitch Albom, Mairi introduces us to part of what to expect in The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.

What do you choose to read during a global pandemic? Words I never thought I would utter! 

I decided on a fairy tale for adults, and Mitch Albom is the master of them. I had avoided this book as I thought it was about a puppet! I couldn’t have been more wrong, the strings in question were on a classical guitar. 

I was transported around the world with the most eclectic musical accompaniment.  

Starting with Mozarts Eine Kleine Nachtmusic. It was August 1930 in Villarreal and in an erratic 6/5 tempo we met Francisco Tarrega, travelling on to Hector Villa-Lobos living in the Brazilian Rainforest writing his twelve etudes. The a Taverna playing flamenco. 

The protaginist travels to England by boat to escape Franco, and abandoned on a dock there he meets Django Reinhardt heading to America to tour with Duke Ellington, as he speaks no English the young man accompanies him to Detroit! He finds love to the tune of Avalon, enjoys solace on Waiheke Island, then travels to New York to teach, and via La Catedral by Agustin Barrios we return to Villarreal where the symphony ends. 

I would add all living musicians – Marcus Belgrave, Roger McGuinn, Lyle Lovett, Ingrid Michaelson, Paul Stanley, Tony Bennett, Winstom Marsalis and John Pizzarelli were all happy and proud to be included in this book! 

We have created some playlists of some of the music mentioned in the books above. 
All you need is your library card to log on to Naxos and then go to ‘Playlists’ to stream or download this literature-inspired list of tracks. 

Music and literature playlist on Naxos Jazz
Music and literature playlist on Naxos Music Library (classical)

Sendak on stage

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are was published in 1963 – a much loved, much lauded, very famous picture book. And as an illustrator, he has opened and generously filled the imaginations of little minds everywhere. Wild thing critters, with their big heads and short thick legs, judder through his books in hatchy ink, or graphite, and watercolour. He can draw a jitter perfectly, a heebie-jeebie in the trees; just let the rumpus begin.

What is less known about Maurice Sendak is that in the 1970s he began what he referred to as his second career, shifting away from illustrated books – very willingly – into the world of set and costume design. He found a release in the theatre, “I became the person I want to be”, he said of it, and the storyboards, watercolours, dioramas, preparatory sketches, props and costume studies, all the many things he made during this time, are a wonderful expression of just that. As with all great artists, he knew how to make his work distinctly his own.

When he died in 2012 he bequeathed a large amount of his work to the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan, and in 2019 they put on a show, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet. (The book is on order for the Art & Design Library, it’s a treat, and will be available for borrowing soon. In the meantime, do image search the designs and visit The Morgan’s website).

Mozart’s The Magic Flute
“I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart,” Maurice Sendak once said. And so when the director Frank Corsaro contacted him and asked if he might design the sets and costumes for The Magic Flute with Houston Grand Opera, Maurice Sendak was delighted – nervous because of his inexperience – but excited. (“You wanted a fresh, dumb designer and, God help you, you found one,” he wrote later.) Frank Corsaro had no idea of Maurice Sendak’s passion for Mozart; he’d been reading his illustrated edition of The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973), and in terms of mood and tone, he thought Maurice Sendak would be a perfect fit for his new project.

First performed in 1791, The Magic Flute was Mozart’s last opera, and it has long been seen as a gift for the designer. It is the story of the fantastical adventurings of Tamino and the birdcatcher Papageno. Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night, has been kidnapped by the ‘evil’ high priest Sarastro, and Tamino and Papageno are to rescue her. They are given magical musical instruments to help them; Papageno, bells, and Tamino, a magical flute, but on meeting Sarastro their quest isn’t quite as clear as they first thought.

Both Mozart and his librettist Emmanuel Schikaneder were freemasons, and this thread of enlightenment philosophy runs throughout the opera. Early masonic texts trace the ‘craft of masonry’ to Euclid in Egypt, and thus masonic imagery has always been wedded to Egypt. Corsaro and Sendak agreed they would set the opera in Mozart’s time. They would tell Mozart and Schikeneder’s story and explore these founding themes. They wouldn’t overturn, defamiliarise, or subvert; they would employ none of these sorts of approaches, approaches that an artist-turned-set-designer might readily employ. They were storytellers, historians; and Maurice Sendak set about his excavations into art history for imagery. He drew sphinxes, temples, pyramids, Horus figures, beds, hieroglyphs… Tut mania was in the air in the late 1970s as a major exhibition of Tutankhamun’s tomb was touring the country. It reached The Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 1978 – and whether Maurice Sendak saw it or not is unclear, but he was certainly looking at the objects when he was drawing his designs.

Maurice Sendak loved Mozart. He loved all music but he loved Mozart especially. As he drew he would always listen to music, and music and drawing shared a symbiotic relationship for him. He’d sit in front of the record player and reach out for what he felt would suit his drawing. He called it choosing a colour, and the colour had to be just right. In an article he wrote for the Sunday Herald Tribune called “The Shape of Music” (1964), he elaborated on this: how he conceives of his drawing as a musical process; how drawings must be animated, and how they must have a sense of music and dance – they cannot be glued to the page. The artists he most admires he thinks of in terms of their musicality; their artistry has an “authentic liveliness” as he calls it. He’d turn to books too, “but it is music that does most to open me up,” he said.

He also drew wonderful fantasy sketches of operas, even before he started to work on them, The Magic Flute being one of them. And just as he saw the work of the illustrator as illuminating a text, so too he saw set design as being in service to the music: “… your job is to make Mozart look even better, if that is even possible,” he wrote.

Listen to The Magic Flute on Naxos.
Watch performances of the opera, as well as documentaries, on Medici TV.
Watch a short video and take a look at some of Maurice Sendak’s designs on the Morgan Library & Museum website.

The article, “The Shape of Music”, is collected in Maurice Sendak’s book Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures, and is available for borrowing from the Art and Design Library when we reopen.

Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges
Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges is a commedia dell’arte fairy tale about a young prince, who is cursed by a witch and travels to faraway lands in search of three oranges, each of which contains a princess.

The tale was collected in Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone, and in the 18th century, it inspired the playwright Carlo Gozzi to write L’amore delle tre melarance. Prokofiev based his opera on Gozzi’s play as well as a translation of the play by the Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold.

It was The Morgan Library and Museum’s Tiepolo drawings, and in particular Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello sketches, that inspired him. He wrote to Frank Corsaro: “It is an odd matter indeed, this almost magical union that occurs between stealer and stealee; it is as though I know what I want but can see it only inside (in this case) a Tiepolo drawing and then I can draw it out and make it quite properly my own.”

They produced the opera for Glyndebourne, the first Americans to be invited to do so, debuting there in May 1982.

In 2013, New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy and many sets and costumes, Maurice Sendak’s among them, were auctioned off. Some photographs are available on the Cotsen Children’s Library’s blog and on the R. Michelson Galleries website (have a look at, among other things, the peeing fountains, gondolas, throne coverings, a dragon in the clouds, and many many hats…)

Listen to Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges on Naxos.
Watch the opera on Medici TV.
Browse the Tiepolo collection online at The Morgan Library and Museum.

Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen
Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen is another opera Maurice Sendak and Frank Corsaro collaborated on for New York City Opera, premiering in April 1981. It tells the story of a feisty young vixen who is captured by a forester but later escapes. She then marries, has cubs, and dies at the hands of a poacher. Revisiting the place where he first caught the vixen, the forester encounters a baby generation of forest animals and is reminded of the cyclical beauty of nature.

Maurice Sendak chose to unapologetically anthropomorphise his animals. The characters he designs are musicians, actors and actresses, dressed up – as a fox or a badger or a frog. He designs the artifice. It is a fun, playful, joyful thing this artifice.

Listen to Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen on Naxos.
Watch the opera on Medici TV.
Do just image search the designs – visit the R. Michelson Galleries website to see 3 sets of chicken feet, frog feet, weasel feet, headpieces for weasels, woodpeckers and ants…

Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker
In 1983 Maurice Sendak designed the sets and costumes for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker. It was his first without Frank Corsaro and he was proud to have achieved it on his own. The original ballet is “about a little girl,” he said in an interview with Marcia Alvar, and “a dream she has… all these adventures occur… [the wooden nutcracker toy comes alive. The evil mouse king declares war and is defeated. The young prince carries her away to a magical garden kingdom in the clouds]… and then at the end… a whole bunch of grown-ups dance at her party. No kid would want that.” Maurice Sendak was unenthused by the project at first, and prickly for being pigeonholed always as an illustrator of kiddies’ tales. And so he made changes, he returned to E.T.A. Hoffman’s story and darkened it up. Marie – Clara, in Sendak’s version – becomes a young woman, and instead of travelling to a land of sweets, she arrives at a seraglio. “A throbbing, sexually alert little story,” he called it.

In 1984 a book was released, and in 1986, the film version.
Nutcracker: The Motion Picture with designs by Sendak is available to watch on Amazon Prime (for a small fee unfortunately, but it’s available).

Listen to Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker on Naxos.
Watch the ballet on Medici TV.

Articles of interest (great pics included):
A New York Times review of the exhibition.
A Smithsonian Magazine review of the show.
A Brainpickings article on Maurice Sendak and “The Shape of Music”.

A stress-free Big Library Read!

Join millions of others around the world in reading a timely book about dealing with stress during the Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club. From 5-19 April, readers can borrow and read Dr Brian King’s ebook The Art of Taking it Easy from our OverDrive service with no waiting list. Find out how to cope with bears, traffic and the rest of life’s stressors with the Libby app or by visiting our OverDrive website

Psychologist and stand-up comedian Dr Brian King gives us a practical, yet laugh-out-loud guide to embracing humour to reduce stress and live a happier, fuller life. In this brilliant guide he presents hands-on techniques for managing stress by rewiring our brains to approach potentially difficult situations through a lens of positivity. Exploring what stress is, where it comes from, and what it does to our bodies and brains, he delves deep into how to address everyday stress—as well as anxiety, insecurities, repression, and negativity—and gives insight into resulting ailments such as anxiety disorders, depression, hypertension, obesity, substance abuse disorders, and more.

The book will be available on the home page of the Libby/OverDrive apps and the OverDrive website from the 5 April and with unlimited downloads is perfect for discussing with your friends and family. You can even discuss the book online or by using #biglibraryread on social media you’ll be entered into a prize draw for a chance to win a Samsung Galaxy tablet and book signed by the author!

Full instructions for using OverDrive can be found on our Your Library website.


Listen and read

Once again, we hand over to Douglas from the Music Library who explains how you can listen to and read about your favourite musicians with your library membership.

I was inspired my colleague Jeanette’s wonderful blog article “Lift your Lockdown Blues with Naxos” posted on the 15 March. The blog featured the blues stars Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. I thought I would have another look at our electronic resources and try and match up some of the music autobiographies and titles on Overdrive with albums or music available to stream or download on Naxos Jazz.

Bruce Springsteen
Born to Run is Springsteen’s autobiography and the audiobook is read by the author. On Naxos Jazz there are a number of Springsteen tracks, all recorded by other artists.
Listen to Born to Run as an audiobook.

Cilla Black
Douglas Richardson’s warm and affectionate biography of one of Britian’s favorite entertainers. There are two brilliant Cilla Albums containing some of her greatest hits on Naxos Jazz.
Read ‘Cilla’ as an ebook.

Amy Winehouse
Chas Newkey-Burden’s biography, details the woefully short life and turbulent times of this incredibly talented singer.
A couple of tracks recorded by other artists available on Naxos Jazz.
Read ‘Amy Winehouse: The biography’ as an ebook.

Tina Turner
In Tina Turner’s autobiographical Happiness Becomes You, which is subtitled “A guide to changing your life for good”, she shares her thoughts on turning the impossible to possible. In Naxos Jazz, I am afraid not much for the Tina fan, but there are a few albums tracks on CDs containing lots of other great music.
Read ‘Happiness Becomes You’ as an ebook.

Stark black and whitebook cover of How Music Works

David Byrne
How Music Works is described as Byrne’s powerful and cerebral argument of the power of Music.
Naxos Jazz seems to love the Byrne/Eno partnership and there are a lot of artists having a shot at Byrne’s Music. On Medici TV, in a documentary on Phillip Glass there is a mention of David Byrne.
Read How Music Works by David Byrne as an ebook.

Leonard Cohen
In his own words, Leonard Cohen tells the story of his long adventurous life. No tracks recorded by the much-missed Cohen on Naxos Jazz, but lots of covers of his songs, with ‘Hallelujah’ appearing more than a few times.
Read ‘Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen’ as an ebook.

Mississippi John Hurt
Phillip R. Ratcliffe’s biography, the first to be written of this much sought-after musician. From many sources, Ratcliffe details the life of John Hurt the son of freed slaves and his career and his later ‘rediscovery’. On Naxos Jazz, just a few songs by the legendary country blues singer and again, found on albums containing lots of country blues classics.
Read Mississippi John Hurt as an ebook.

Bob Dylan
The fantastic children’s Little People, Big Dreams series of books summarises the life of ‘iconic’ singer, songwriter, poet and artist, Bob Dylan.
For a more comprehensive insight, Martin C. Strong’s discography gives the Dylan fan everything they should ever need.
Again, nothing from the man himself on Naxos Jazz but lots of other people want to sing his songs.
Read Little People, Big Dreams: Bob Dylan as an ebook.
Read The Complete Bob Dylan Discography as an ebook.

Elton John
The Little People, Big Dreams series of books summarises the life of spectacle wearing, piano wizard, singer-songwriter Elton John.
Me is Elton John’s first official autobiography, his joyously funny, honest and moving retelling of his life story so-far.
When you search for Elton John on Naxos Jazz, you not only get artists singing his songs in their way but you get several soundalikes, sounding just like the real thing.
Read Little People, Big Dreams: Elton John as an ebook.
Read Me by Elton John as an ebook.

Phil Collins
Phil Collins, drummer and singer with Genesis, child actor and best-selling solo recording artist narrates his autobiography.
On Nazos Jazz and in amongst the Phil Collins soundalike albums there are a couple of gems which we have added to the Playlist (see below), a very fine vocal performance from the real Phil Collins and an album by the Phil Collins Big Band.
Listen to Not Dead Yet as an audiobook.

Discover Playlists on Naxos Jazz
There are playlists containing music by the artists listed above. In some cases these are just a small selection of what is available but in all cases these lists are a starting point to explore the riches of Naxos Jazz.

From the Naxos Jazz page on the Your Library website, click on ‘Go to Naxos Jazz‘ and then log in with your library card. From the menu on the left of the page chose Playlists and then from the selection, ‘Listen and Read’ and choose the artist you want to listen to.

Autism Awareness Week – 29 March – 4 April 2021

Author event with Jane Evans and children’s colouring competition
On Monday 29 March, Newington Library welcomed Edinburgh author, Jane Evans reading an extract from her fantastic children’s book, ‘Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club’.                                                                                  

Jane Evans lives in Edinburgh with her family, their cat called Pie and new puppy Bonnie. Jane discussed her book Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club featuring an autistic character and illustrated by the very talented autistic artist, Ruth Mutch. In this recording, we’ll find about the characters and what makes them that bit different, as well as reading one of her favourite chapters.
Watch Jane reading from Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club on Facebook.

Children’s colouring competition – three lucky winners will receive a signed copy of Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club, with our first prize winner also getting a book token. To enter, colour in one of our cute penguin pictures. Or if you’re unable to print at home, you can submit your own drawing of a penguin.
The competition is open to Edinburgh residents with an EH postcode. Winners will be selected by Jane Evans and illustrator Ruth Mutch. The deadline for entries is Sunday 18 April 2021 – so get colouring!
Colouring competition pictures and details on Facebook

Staff awareness
Autism Awareness Week is an opportunity to celebrate and raise awareness and education around autism. We are encouraging library staff to raise their own personal awareness of autism and to consider in team meetings how we can apply what we’ve learnt in our library service.

Citywide conversation
Our librarians will be tweeting out to organisations and individuals the following questions:

“Edinburgh Libraries – Autism Acceptance.
Alan Gardner, a true friend of Edinburgh Libraries once said – We do not have Autism, we are Autistic – and this has resonated with us.
What assumptions around Autism would you correct?

What would you tell your younger self about acceptance?”

The twitter responses will be gathered and collated into a blog article released next week.

Alan Gardner in conversation with Maya Aslam, Directorial Researcher, Edinburgh Business School.
Alan and Maya will discuss lockdown, coming out of lockdown and how as an autistic person and friend of Edinburgh Libraries we can help change the assumptions and preconceived ideas for Autistic people in the workplace and in life.
Recorded discussion, date and time of release to be confirmed.

Do you like your art fictionalized?

Stories that make art their subject or artists their characters can help to bring art and its history alive to readers and at the same time can teach us things and spark off an interest to learn more about an artistic movement, artist or time period.

Staff from Central Library have been busy reading and have come up with a few suggestions for stories that bring art to life. Many of the books below are available to borrow in ebook and/or audiobook format.

Zoe from Central Lending and Central Children’s introduces us to How to be Both by Ali Smith
How to be Both is a really interesting book exploring love, family, truth, art, and grief. It’s split into two narratives, one told from the point of view of a contemporary English teenage girl called George and the other from the perspective of an Italian Renaissance painter called Francesco. Some editions of the book begin with one narrative, some with the other. It’s definitely a work of two halves, or sides, as it explores the not-so-binary relationships between concepts such as life/death, male/female. As you might expect from a novel loosely about art, it is also preoccupied with the act of seeing, and being seen: that things and people are more than how they appear, if you take the time to really consider them. 

Although there is some trademark Smith playfulness and lively dialogue, it’s not a light and fun novel to read. It feels like more of a philosophical thought-experiment, using the characters’ lives as a vehicle. Smith really zooms in on what it means to be alive, as she spends a lot of time describing minutely what George, mourning her mother, is thinking and feeling, and what Francesco the artist is seeing and doing. This book asks you to pay attention and think, as Smith demonstrates in her incredibly erudite imagining of Francesco’s life as an artist, in her painstaking exploration of George’s emotional inner life, and in her sharp-eyed deconstruction of the real paintings and frescoes featured in the story. “There’s always more to see” says one of the characters in the book, and this sums it up perfectly.
Borrow How To Be Both as an audiobook.

Jen from the Art & Design and Music Team reviews Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Piranesi lives in a marble world that is rushed through with saltwater tides and weather. There is only Piranesi in this world, the incongruously dressed Other who he meets twice a week, and hall upon empty hall of statues. He fishes, he mends his nets and clothes, he writes in his notebooks and he lovingly tends to the dead – all 13 of them. 

Until chalked messages appear and the darkness of the tale, the disjuncture and the unease at the metaphysics of the place, broaden out. The character “16”, a sixteenth person, appears to Piranesi and his beautiful marble world, like the tides, bulges.

I read this book in the early hours of black winter nights, in a locked-down world, feeding a baby. It was wonderfully apt to think on, and as a response to the 18th century artist Piranesi – his etchings of city ruins and imaginary prisons – the book feels so surprising, deep and luminous in every way.
Borrow Piranesi as an ebook.

Bronwen from the Art & Design and Music Libraries introduces A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
Have you ever found yourself in a church admiring the craftsmanship of the kneelers punctuating the rows of pews? Tracy Chevalier’s A Single Thread takes up the story of the broderers of Winchester Cathedral; the exquisite workmanship and skill of the kneelers they embellished with fine embroidery, and the real-life tale of real-life head-broderer Louisa Pesel. But the main story is around the fictional character of Louisa, one of the generation of so-called `surplus women’, left alone after the death of so many young men in the First World War, who struggling for independence finds solace and comfort in the companionship of her fellow broderers of Winchester Cathedral.
Borrow A Single Thread as a ebook or an audiobook.

Doris from Central Lending Library reviews The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild 
The Improbability of Love, a quirky debut novel, is a delight from start to finish and is full of passion, intrigue, great wealth and skulduggery. 

The main character is Annie McDee, a private chef who finds a mysterious painting in a London junk shop. But, this is no ordinary work of art. It is in fact a talking painting with an imperious attitude. Measuring only 18 inches by 24 inches and painted by French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau, the little painting has an extraordinary history. Many want the painting and will stop at nothing to achieve their aim. 

Light in tone, The Improbability of Love also explores the darker side of the art world, examining the relationship between wealth and real value. 

Though a work of fiction, the Improbability of Love is informative and Rothschild mentions a number of artists and their paintings including Cezanne’s card players and Klimt’s Adele Bloch Bauer, thereby, simultaneously entertaining and educating readers. 
Borrow Improbability of Love as an ebook. 

Fiona, Central Library Manager, tells us about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch is the first book which sprung to my mind when the idea of art in fiction was mentioned. It’s one of my favourite books and I’ve read it three of four times. It’s not an easy book to sum up but at the heart of the book is a small painting – The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt’s, who died at the age of 32 when a gunpowder factory near his studio exploded. The painting is one of the few of Fabritius’s works which survived.

In the novel, the painting is rescued from an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum by 13 year old Theo, whose mother dies in the same explosion. Instead of returning the painting Theo keeps it, and the book follows him as he grows to adulthood, still wracked with guilt and grief.

It’s a long book covering lots of different themes – I’ve seen it compared to Great Expectations by Dickens. I loved it!

Hope from Central Lending and Central Children’s considers how the author Alan Hollinghurst writes beautifully about art/artists and the pursuit of beauty in The Sparsholt Affair.
In his most recent novel, The Sparsholt Affair, the protagonist, Johnny Sparsholt is a portrait painter, his life and work overshadowed by a scandal surrounding his father, David Sparsholt. The book looks at the prejudices and hypocrisy of post-war British society – a society where a man could be a hero, only to have his name and reputation destroyed when he goes to bed with another man. 

Jonny, though famous in his own right, always feels he is followed by this scandal, which destroyed his parents’ marriage, landed his father in gaol and saw the family name dragged through the gutter press. Throughout the book, full of painters and the painted, admirers and the admired, Jonny forges a path falling in and out of love with a beautiful but unobtainable man, and ultimately, unexpectedly becoming a father himself. There is a wonderful scene at the opening of one of Jonny’s exhibitions, seen through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter.

Painting and beauty is a constant in this strange, lovely, scathing novel, which leaves much unsaid, but stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Joanna from Art & Design and Music shares her appreciation of Fair Play by Tove Jansson.

Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and awarded Bernard Shaw Prize for Translation in 2009, Fair Play is the last novel written by Tove Jansson, when she was 75.

As an artist and a writer Jansson is best known as the creator of the Moomin stories, which have been published in thirty-five languages. Overhemingly talented she was a painter, illustrator, cartoonist and comic strip artist. From 1930 till 1960 she worked as an illustrator and the cartoonist for the Swedish-language, leftist, satirical magazine Garm, drawing caricatures of Hitler and Stalin.

Towards the end of 1960 she start to write for adults and her prose was usually semi-biographical. This is the case in Fair Play.

Fair Play is mainly a love story, but unusually ends happily. This is a book about life, love and art. I’m not sure if this book is a novel built with seventeen chapters or just seventeen short stories put together. Portraying everyday life of two loving partners in their seventies: Mari the writer and Jonna the graphic artist and a film maker. But this story is not as obvious one, the plot is much more complicated. In some way this story box is a kind of chinese puzzle box. So we should remember, that in real world Mari impersonating Tove herself is much more than a humble writer girl in this story. Jonna is a portrait of Tove’s longlife, friend, lover and companion Tuulikki Pietila. Each chapter shows us Mari and Jonna in different situations and circumstances. In their spacious and distant workshops with the shared attic space with the sofa TV and collections of film cassettes. Feeling a little bit like eavesdropping we can hear their discussions about art, ideas for writing, small everyday quarrels, jokes about taste in films (one of them is all for ambitious Fassbinder kind, the other one prefers B class Westerns). We can also see them in the boat arguing in the mist about their mothers, on their small island in a cabin size house or in the Great City of Phoenix (title of one story). Travelling with the 8mm Konica, nervously looking for the next roll of Kodak film.

And where is the art you may ask? Art is the main subject of this book. The art of living and the art of loving. Everything beautifully sketched with Tove’s delicate writing.
Borrow Fair Play as an ebook.

We hope you might enjoy reading some of these books as much as we have and would love to hear your recommendations.

What libraries mean to me with Heidi James

In our latest library Q & A session, we ask writer Heidi James, what libraries mean to her.

Heidi James is the author of novels, Wounding, So the Doves and The Sound Mirror and the novella, The Mesmerist’s Daughter. She has had poetry published in many journals and has a PHD in English Literature.

Portrait of Heidi James
Heidi James

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader and as an author? Are the meanings different? 
The library was, and I mean this without exaggeration, a life saver for me. My teenage single mum was skint, I was book-mad from an early age (I was reading from age 3) and our weekly visit to the library after we’d done the shop was magic for us. The luxury of lingering in the warm safe quiet, savouring the sweet dusty scent while choosing books couldn’t be beat. It’s staggering that they are under threat considering that they provide so much more than books for the community that is absolutely essential.  

My relationship with libraries has changed throughout my life. I used to hide out in the library and read all day when I was teenager bunking off school, learning more than my lessons could convey. As a student, they contained the vital and mysterious sources of knowledge I was desperate for and felt I would never be able to understand or discuss. As a writer and someone who spends a lot of time alone, libraries maintain a contact point with others, they are a beneficent host, offering a feast of thought and connection.  

What is your earliest library memory? 
With my mum (see above) holding a book in the queue to check it out, staring out the huge floor to ceiling windows at the river Medway. It was raining, and I remember not wanting to leave.  

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 very lucky that I have access to books and the peace and space to read them, so I’m not struggling. I know my local library [Crawley in West Sussex] is closed for in-person browsing but you can browse the catalogue online, reserve and then collect, which is great. They also have digital copies available. I think what’s so difficult for many at the moment is not having the peace/time/space to read what with many families being together all the time and of course, the library provides so much more than books. I wouldn’t presume to offer advice, but Twitter can be great for book lovers, lots of us are on there talking about books we love, sharing recommendations and support. 

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 completely relate to this, and I find myself feeling frustrated and angry with myself for ‘wasting’ time, but I’ve realised that’s pointless and that being unable to focus is entirely justified. What’s helped me is reading lots of short stories (many great ones available online too); particular favourites are by Wendy Erskine, Maria Fernanda Ampuero and Kathryn Scanlan. The Common Breath, Visual Verse and 3:AM all have great stories online.  

I’ve also been reading lots of books about nature and listening to podcasts. That’s really helped. 

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, but the lack of attention and sense of unease isn’t helping! It’s slow going to be honest, but it is what it is! I would keep a journal, and be patient with yourself. Just writing short passages describing what you can see from your window or on your walk, writing down thoughts and worries, your response to something on the TV or a conversation is all good work. It’s exercising the writing muscle and you may find you uncover a rich seam of ideas and if not, it doesn’t matter. 

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 proving to be really vital at the moment, and while it can’t replace that connection we have in real life, it’s at least maintaining those links. I wouldn’t want to put more pressure on anyone at the moment – we’re all doing our best (well, most people are!). I can’t imagine a world without books, without stories; as humans we understand ourselves, others and the world we are in through stories we tell or are told.  

With huge thanks to Heidi for talking to us about what libraries mean to her.

You can borrow her novels, Wounding and So the doves as ebooks via Overdrive/Libby app.

Books for coping, resilience, and knowing sometimes, it’s OK not to cope

In a world of so much uncertainty, Hope from Central Library gathers suggestions from colleagues for books they turn to that help them cope.

Lately, I have felt like the world I am walking in is built from sand which has hitherto held firm, but now is loose and crumbling beneath my feet. The certainties of the world around me are falling away, the grains of sand catching the light, all rainbow coloured, as they crumble. It’s a scary feeling, and one I think many of us know, as we emerge from a Covid winter. We are unsure of our footing in this new world.  

Many nights I find myself dreaming I’m running through an Edinburgh transformed into an ice rink, the world slipping and sliding and uncertain below my feet. I know my colleagues have experienced similar feelings of loss, disorientation, uncertainty.  

Here we choose beloved books about resilience, about coping, and about sometimes knowing it’s OK not to cope, to slip on the ice of this strange new world, and take our time to get up again.  

Front cover of The Outrun

Hope chooses The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot
The Outrun is a book about going home to find who you really are. In her late twenties, Amy Liptrot was an alcoholic living in London. As her obsessive behaviour spiralled out of control, she found herself endlessly contacting her ex-boyfriend and begging him to come back, give her another chance, though he had told her already he couldn’t cope. A horrible assault was the trigger which sent Liptrot home to Orkney, and the farm she grew up on with a field behind called The Outrun.  

This is a book about nature, about family, about healing however it also manages to not gloss over how damned hard it was for Liptrot to heal. The Outrun takes readers birdwatching late at night, noting rare species, swimming in an ice cold sea, and learning what it means to come home.  

I knew very little about alcoholism before reading this book, but the immediacy of Liptrot’s story made me feel her struggle and long for her to succeed through the reviving darkness of her long Orkney winter.
Available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.  

Front cover of Cat's Cradle

Zoe chooses Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut 
As in all Vonnegut’s books, there is a lot of wisdom about being alive on this planet and wry humour about people in general and the situations we find ourselves in. I find his take on these things enormously helpful and comforting to read at any time – but this particular book also has a looming apocalypse in it which will feel apposite to many.   

Vonnegut addresses this alongside the rest of the chaos in his story with a Zen-like grace, which is profoundly affecting. He was a master storyteller who took a long, wide view of life while never distancing himself from it – I think he had a rare gift for showing us ourselves with patience and love. A book to read and re-read! 
Available to borrow as an ebook

Front cover of Educated by Tara Westover

Bageshri chooses Educated by Tara Westover  
“Not knowing for certain but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It has never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”   

These are the words used by Tara Westover in her memoir, Educated, to describe her life.  

The author was born in a survivalist Mormon family in a north-western U.S. state Idaho. The book describes her struggle to become educated by overcoming all the uncertainties in her life. The family had its own beliefs and own ways to live life on a harsh mountain. There was no space for modern medical science and the children were not sent to school.  

The whole family’s life was ruled by the author’s father and his strange beliefs. He didn’t trust the government which lead to him not getting birth certificates for his children.  

The author’s determination to escape from violence in her family, her quest for knowledge, and her urge to become independent lead to her achieving things which seemed impossible. It is really fascinating to read about how she managed to achieve a PhD at Cambridge University despite all the uncertainties in her life.
Available to borrow as an audiobook.   

Front cover of Any Human Heart

Doris chooses Any Human Heart by William Boyd   
Any Human Heart is a wonderful novel about loss, resilience and the funny twists and turns of life. It tells the story of Logan Mountstuart, a flawed yet sympathetic character, who is born into privilege and ends up facing a number of hardships – some of his own making – during his lifetime.   

Written as a diary, Any Human Heart is moving and comical. It chimes with me because it makes me consider what it means to be human. Dealing with the universal themes of identity, love and fractured relationships, Any Human Heart is both profound and playful and reminds me that everybody’s life contains pain and sadness.   

I have read Any Human Heart at least four, maybe five times, and I know it’s a novel that I will return to again and again. Every time I pick it up, I always find something new and incisive. Full of beautiful prose, I will never tire of this modern classic. Thoroughly recommended. 
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Ania chooses My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The first of the Neapoliitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend is a beautiful story about a friendship, narrated by one of the main characters Elena (Lenu) across few decades from early childhood. It is also a never-solved riddle of how an individual can rescue herself.   

It’s full of uncertainty on many levels. Uncertainty of the future, private dramas, stress, violence, poverty, constant tension and yet it’s full of hope, love and a strong friendship that can survive in some very difficult and rough times. 
Available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook 

Front cover of Love in a Fallen City

Yi-Chieh chooses Love in a Fallen City by Ailing Zhang and Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao  

Written in 1943 when Shanghai was occupied by Japan, Love in a Fallen City is a classic in modern Sinophone literature.   

Before writing this novella, author Eileen Chang experienced an uncertain period. In 1939, her plan to study in London was terminated by the war and a few years later she was forced to end her studies in British Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion. On her return to Shanghai she was an unwelcome figure in her family, but it was during this period her writing started to receive attention in occupied Shanghai. She also fell in love with a married man.   

Like the author, the female protagonist in this novella faces great uncertainty. Unwanted by her mother’s family, Bai Liusu is urged to secure economic stability by finding a new husband. She falls in love with a young attractive entrepreneur who just finished his studies in England but neither of them trusts each other’s commitment.   

The novella ends without clear resolution, but Bai is fully aware of the looming uncertainty and we know she will persist.
Available to borrow as an ebook.   

Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao 
Long before the restrictions of the current day, Taiwanese people faced strict lockdown from 1945 until the mid 1980s under the authority of the KMT Chinese Government.  

Thanks to her Mainland background and her family’s close association with the KMT ruling class, Sanmao Chen was one of the few allowed to travel abroad. At a time when travel was impossible for most, she enchanted numerous Taiwanese readers with her exotic depictions of the Sahara Desert, and her attractive Spanish husband, Jose.   

Sanmao’s diaries and letters reveal the perennial uncertainty she was experiencing. Yet her stories are exciting, adventurous, and full of imagination. Her pursuit of freedom inspired many Taiwanese readers in the 70s and 80s and Mainland readers after the Cold War. I was so fascinated by her stories of the Sahara Desert and Jose, that I made my mind to “exile myself overseas”.   

Front cover of A Promised Land
Front cover of Long Walk to Freedom

Paul chooses Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, and A Promised Land by Barack Obama
For me, both books are by inspiring people, and show them not being daunted by setbacks in ways surprising themselves. Both very honest and reflective, open about their self-doubt and disappointment, facing into uncertainty by keeping faith with their values and beliefs through adversity. 
Long Walk to Freedom is available to borrow as an audiobook.
A Promised Land is available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Ahead of International Women’s Day 2021 staff from Central Library highlight inspiring women who have touched their lives. 

Did you know? International Women’s Day is in its 44th year since being recognised by the United Nations in 1977, but it had its infancy in New York as far back as 1909. 

Although International Women’s Day is now a globally recognised event, countries across the world vary in their approach to it. Some nations mark it as an opportunity to celebrate traditional femininity and womanhood, while others use it as a focal day of political protest against issues ranging from reproductive rights, femicide and domestic violence. This year’s campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge, which highlights the brave and often fatal struggle for equality across the developing world. But it’s also a call to action, aimed at people living in more peaceful countries such as Scotland, to take a stand against discrimination in all its forms.

Staff at Central Library have chosen a selection of creative people from across the world whom they admire and whose work fits the theme of Challenge. As you will see, our chosen writers, artists and adventurers all had to push against the status quo in order to express themselves creatively, and each of them were trailblazers in their own way. We feel they deserve to be championed!  

Please read on…

Douglas from the Music Library says:
Born in the Barnton area of Edinburgh, Thea Musgrave had a Boarding School education away from the city but returned to Edinburgh University to study Medicine, later changing to Music. After a long career in Music and now in her 93rd year, Thea Musgrave is still working and composing. 

In an interview for the BBC in 2018 Thea Musgrave was asked about being a woman composer. She responded by saying,  “Yes, I am a woman, and I am a composer. But rarely at the same time”. Asked in the same interview if she had any advice for young composers, she said “Don’t do it, unless you have to. And if you do, enjoy every minute of it.” 
Listen on Naxos Music Library

Florence Price (1887 – 1953) was a composer, musician, organist, pianist and teacher. In 1932 her 1st Symphony won the Rodman Wanamaker competition and was performed in 1933 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, making her the first African-American woman to have a work performed by a major symphony orchestra. Unfortunately, Florence Price’s works are still little known and rarely performed or recorded.
Listen on Naxos Music Library

Gregg from Central Lending says: 
Gerda Rohorylle, known as Gerda Taro, was a photojournalist who came to prominence through her coverage of the Spanish Civil War. Her early black and white photographs had a distinctive square format, though in later work she favoured a more rectangular style. Her work is noted for being bold and direct. Lisa Hostetler, of the International Center of Photography in New York, has described the strengths of Taro’s work as “Their graphic simplicity and emotional power”, and her “effective portrayals of individuals at war”. Taro was killed aged 26 while working at the frontline in July 1937. She was later buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Her tomb was designed by the artist Alberto Giacometti, who gave her the epitaph, “So nobody will forget your unconditional struggle for a better world”. The Art and Design Library has a monograph of her war photography. See the International Center of Photography’s online exhibition of Taro’s work.

Belal from Blackhall Library says:
Zaha Hadid was a leading British-Iraqi architect, artist and designer, and was the first female recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Prize (2004), challenging the largely male architectural establishment. The Complete Zaha Hadid, part of the Art & Design Library’s physical collection, presents the complete monograph of Hadid’s works, from her early, unbuilt projects and ideas from her student years, to her very latest projects around the world, including the Aquatics Centre for the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, and the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum in Michigan, USA. The book also features her furniture, product design and exhibitions.
Visit Zaha Hadid Architects website to find out more about her work.

Jeanette from the Art & Design Library says:
Jo-Anne McArthur is a multi-award-winning photographer whose groundbreaking work documents our complicated relationship with animals, in particular those we eat, wear, experiment on and confine in zoos and aquaria. Her books, including ‘We Animals’, call into question the ethics of how we treat the other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. In 2003, she founded We Animals Media, an online resource bringing “visibility to hidden animals worldwide through compelling photography and film”, with an archive of 10,000+ images which anyone can use for free to advocate on behalf of animals.

McArthur was the subject of the 2013 critically acclaimed documentary ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’ which explored the question of whether non-human animals were property to be owned and used, or sentient beings deserving of rights. Her work is often done undercover and exposes the reality of animals’ lives we were never meant to see, resulting in images ranging from beautiful and haunting to utterly shocking and brutal, yet always urging us not to turn away but to pay attention, take action and make change. Find out more on Jo-Anne McArthur’s website.

Ania from Central Lending says:
I have always been a great fan of an amazing woman, Wanda Rutkiewicz, a Polish mountain climber who successfully climbed K2 without supplemental oxygen. Rutkiewicz also reached the peak of Mount Everest, becoming the third woman to reach the peak, and the first Pole.

Front cover of Edge of the Map

In the 1980s when Rutkiewicz started her ‘adventures’ it was a huge undertaking. It was nothing like commercialised expeditions of today. Also, in her time it was strictly a male bastion. She became widely recognised as a face of the emancipation of women in mountain climbing and went on to advocate for women’s climbing. She published books and produced documentaries on the subject. However, underneath all her great achievements, her life was also filled with many tragic events, loneliness, anxiety, rejection, and depression. Rutkiewicz was last seen alive in October 1994 while climbing Kangchenjunga. Her body has still not been found. Read more about her life via Wikipedia.
There are several ebooks on women climbers available to borrow on Overdrive/Libby app. Read ‘High Infatuation’ by Steph Davis or ‘Edge of the Map’ by Johanna Garton.

David from Morningside Library says:
Nan Shepherd was born in West Cults, near Aberdeen in 1893 and died there in 1981. During her long life she spent hundreds of days and thousands of miles, travelling on foot, exploring the Cairngorm mountain range, which lies between West Cults and Aviemore, in North East Scotland.

Front cover of The Living Mountain

In The Living Mountain, Nan writes poetically and spirituality about the effect that walking into the mountain has on her senses. She writes about the Mountain range as a living whole entity, made up of many component elements. However it is how these essential elements make her feel alive and feel connected to the mountain that shapes Nan’s poetic and evocative writing. She sees the mountain range as something to walk into, and to both lose yourself in and find yourself in, at the same time. Writing in the 1940s about the thoughts, feelings and emotions that a mountain range could heighten within yourself, was very much the opposite of the male dominated mountain literature of the time of reaching and dominating the peaks, which Nan so aptly describes as a trivial diversion. Nan literally was a free spirit who challenged conventional wisdom, and you can feel her spirit set free in this slender masterpiece. 
Borrow The Living Mountain ebook via Overdrive/Libby app.

Doris from Central Lending writes:
As a teenager growing up in a sleepy North of England village during the 1980s, I craved glamour and excitement. To me, Annie Leibovitz and her photographs embodied those qualities. 

I first came across the American photographer when her images of Anjelica Huston and David Bowie were published in the mid 1980s. Her iconic cover of a heavily pregnant Demi Moore for Vanity Fair magazine caused a huge stir in 1991. Although celebrated, Annie Leibovitz’s photography has sometimes been dismissed as superficial and overly commercial.  Whatever your opinion, undeniably, as one of the few female celebrity photographers, Annie Leibovitz is a trailblazer. Tying in with this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Choose to Challenge’ , she certainly challenged the norm and brought provocative portraits of celebrities to an eager public. 

Annie Leibovitz cites both Richard Avedon and Henri-Cartier Bresson as influences to her work, in titles such as ‘Women’, which forms part of the Art & Design Library’s physical collection.
See a retrospective of her early work on the Hauser and Wirth gallery website.

Front cover of Flights

Joanna from Art & Design Library chooses:
Olga Tokarczuk, Polish writer, activist, and public intellectual who has been described in Poland as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful authors of her generation. In 2018, she won the Man Booker International Prize for her novel ‘Flights’, translated by Jennifer Croft. In 2019, she was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize of Literature.
Borrow ‘Flights’ as a ebook.

Zoe from Central Lending says:
I have chosen Svetlana Alexievich, who is a historian, journalist and activist from Belarus. She is celebrated for painstakingly gathering ordinary people’s stories and perspectives of war and disaster, such as Chernobyl, and for exposing the propaganda, deceit and the magnitude of suffering behind the official accounts of these events. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. She has been threatened, persecuted and even arrested a number of times following publication of her books, and was forced into exile for ten years in 2000. She continues to be politically active, lately during the 2020 Belarusian protests. 

Edinburgh Libraries have a number of Alexievich’s paperback titles including ‘The Unwomanly Face of War’. Read more about her life and work on Svetlana Alexievich’s website.

And lastly, I would like to celebrate the work of Nawal El Saadawi, who is a pioneering Egyptian writer and activist. She has bravely challenged Islamic codes and doctrines especially concerning the traditional status and treatment of women and girls, paying particular attention to issues such as child marriage and FGM. She has received death threats, been imprisoned, and has had to flee Egypt to escape persecution. El Saadawi has inspired an entire generation of young activists and feminists across the world  – such as Egyptian writer Mona El Tahawy – and she continues to be an advocate and campaigner for human rights, still speaking out against racism, religious fundamentalism, capitalism and imperialism, at the current age of 89.
El Saadawi’s autobiography is on the shelves at Central Library. Read an interview with her on The Guardian website.

Choose to challenge – Panel discussion event for International Women’s Day

“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.
So let’s all choose to challenge.”

Stockbridge Library will host a Panel Discussion for International Women’s Day on 8 March at 6pm on their Facebook page.

Local author and poet Claire Askew will be in discussion with writers Stella Hervey Birrell, Helen Sedgwick and Theresa Muñoz. They will talking about this year’s International Women’s Day theme ‘Choose to Challenge’.

Portrait of Claire Askew
Claire Askew

Claire Askew’s books include the poetry collection This changes things (Bloodaxe, 2016), the multi-award-winning novel All The Hidden Truths (Hodder, 2018), and the creative writing guide Novelista (John Murray, 2020), among others.  She is a former Jessie Kesson Fellow and was Writer in Residence at the University of Edinburgh from 2017 to 2019.  Her next book is the novel A Matter of Time, forthcoming from Hodder in September 2021.

Portrait of Stella Hervey Birrell

Stella Hervey Birrell is an award-winning novelist poet whose debut poetry pamphlet, Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. sold out in a week. She co-parents one trans and one enby child: neither of which would award her for her efforts. She blogs at #atinylife140, tweets as @atinylife140, posts cat pictures on Instagram as stella_hb and can be found on Facebook as StellaHerveyBirrell.

Portrait of Helen Sedgwick

Helen Sedgwick is the author of The Comet Seekers (Harvill Secker, 2016) and The Growing Season (2017). The first of her Burrowhead Mysteries trilogy, When the Dead Come Calling, was published in 2020, with the second, Where the Missing Gather, due in 2021. She lives in the highlands with her three-year-old daughter and five chickens.

Portrait of Theresa Muñoz
Theresa Muñoz

Theresa Muñoz is a Canadian-born poet living in Edinburgh. She is a Research Associate at the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts at Newcastle University, where she teaches Creative Writing. She has one collection, Settle and has been nominated/shortlisted for a number of prizes. In 2020 she received a Creative Scotland Award to write one of the first poetry sequences on inter-racial couples, entitled ‘Mixed Feelings’.  

Meet the author – an evening with Monique Roffey

An exclusive Edinburgh Libraries online event, celebrating the power of women and writing on International Women’s Day.

Monique Roffey

Join us to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day with award-winning author Monique Roffey.

Monique Roffey will be reading from and talking about her Costa Book Award winning novel The Mermaid of Black Conch, published by Peepal Tree Press. The judges called The Mermaid of Black Conch, ‘a story of rare imagination and exciting scale – an adventure and a fable, a glorious myth that tells a far bigger story.’

This will be an unmissable treat to celebrate the power of women and writing!

This event will take place online via Zoom starting at 7.30 pm on Monday 8 March 2021.

For more information about the event and to book your free ticket please go to Eventbrite.

A selection of Monique Roffey titles, including The Mermaid of Black Conch are available to borrow as ebook or eaudiobook and print for Edinburgh Libraries members. 

Edinburgh Libraries are celebrating World Book Day and International Women’s Day – March 2021

March gets off to a busy start with Edinburgh Libraries! Here’s our programme of activities for World Book Day and International Women’s Day. We hope can join us!

World Book Day – 4 March 2021

Battle of the books on the Children and Young People’s Facebook page
A battle like no other… For World Book Day, eight of Edinburgh Libraries’ finest storytellers go head-to-head, Mon 1 March -Thurs 4 March. Watch the reading battles and vote for your favourites to decide the champion!

Our School Libraries
Every day from Monday 1 March – Thursday 4 March, pupils will be invited to take part in a Book-Off of Carnegie Medal Prize nominees. Two previous year’s nominees will be pitched against each other and pupils asked to vote for their favourite. The winning book from each day will move forward to the final on Friday where pupils will be asked to vote for their overall winner. School Librarians will also be offering activities and quizzes for pupils to try during online learning.

Look out on Morningside Library and Newington Library Facebook pages for children’s activities and quizzes during the week.

Ratho Library Chatterbooks reading group is also celebrating World Book Day with a dress-up challenge.

International Women’s Day – 8 March
A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.  So, let’s all choose to challenge.

Women in Football
Our School Librarians will be hosting a video Q & A with Fiona Brown, who plays as a forward for FC Rosengård in the Damallsvenskan and the Scotland national team.
Our Librarians and Sports departments have gathered questions from pupils to be put to Fiona in a pre-recorded video.
Look out for this video going live on Monday!

Panel Discussion Event, 8 March at 6pm on Stockbridge Library’s Facebook page
Local author and poet Claire Askew will be in discussion with writers Stella Hervey Birrell, Helen Sedgwick and Theresa Muñoz. They will be talking about this year’s International Women’s Day theme, ‘Choose to challenge’.

Local author Elaine Gunn, 8 March at 7pm
Ratho Library had a lovely chat with author Elaine Gunn about her feminist fairy tales, The Silver Moon Storybook. Watch Elaine talk writing, fairy tales, feminism and more on Ratho Library’s Facebook page.

Meet the Author – An Evening with Monique Roffey, 8 March at 7.30 – 8.30 pm
An exclusive Edinburgh Libraries online event, celebrating the power of women and writing on International Women’s Day.
Monique Roffey is an award-winning Trinidadian-born British writer of novels, essays, a memoir and literary journalism, a Senior Lecturer on the MA/MFA in Creative Writing at The Writing School, Manchester Metropolitan University, and tutor for the Norwich Writers Centre. Her seventh book, The Mermaid of Black Conch won the Costa Book of the Year, 2020. It was also short-listed for the Goldsmiths Prize 2020 and longlisted for the Rathbones/Folio Award.
This is an unmissable treat to celebrate International Women’s Day! 
Book your free ticket now via Eventbrite.

International Women’s Day – Live Quiz at 7.30pm
Join Moredun Library for an interactive quiz on Facebook Live to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Join the Facebook event fun

Women: their communities, Monday 8 March
Sighthill Library talked to four amazing women about their work in the Sighthill community. Read about Pat Lee, Gill Dunn, Linda Newlands, and Marjorie Edmondson on Sighthill Library’s Facebook page on Monday 8th March to help us celebrate International Women’s Day and these amazing women.

Ratho Chatterbooks, Tuesday 9 March at 4pm
Ratho Chatterbooks will be celebrating International Women’s Day by using the Little people, Big dreams series of books available to borrow via Overdrive/Libby app. There are some amazing women in this series and Ratho will be asking the group to take some time to interview then write a profile about an amazing woman in their life.

Edinburgh Queer Sci-Fi Book Club

Today we hand over to Jac, Jess, Liz, and Kate from the Edinburgh Queer Sci-Fi Book Club who normally meet at McDonald Road Library on the first Monday of the month. Whilst it’s not been possible to meet in the library, they’ve continued to meet online and they welcome new members. Anyone interested in more information or getting added to the book group list should email:

Poster of the Edinburgh Queer Sci-Fi Book Club

During the past year they’ve read:

Book cover of Woman of the Edge of Time

Woman on the edge of time by Marge Piercy
In this feminist sci-fi classic, Marge Piercy imagines both a utopian society we could get to if we dare to dream and act on those dreams and the dystopian world that we might head towards instead if we give up on hope. Set in New York in the 1970s, the story follows Connie Ramos, a working class Latinx woman, first into a psychiatric hospital and then into two possible but very different futures. With themes of poverty, domestic and institutional violence and psychiatric abuse it is a dark book. But it is also a book of hope and inspiration for anyone who is dreaming of a gender-less society based on sexual liberation, inter-generational community and co-operation.
Available to borrow as an ebook.

Front cover of 'Pet'

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Pet centres on Jam, a Black trans girl living in a community formed in the aftermath of a revolution, where there are, or should be, no monsters left. Aimed at the younger end of the young adult range, Pet is an astonishing feat of craft that asks difficult questions about what allows child abuse to go unchecked, what it might take to recognize it, and what justice might mean. Emezi handles emotive subject matter with a sensitivity and deceptive simplicity that in no way detracts from its power.
Available to borrow as an ebook.

Front cover of The left hand of darkness

The left hand of darkness by Ursula le Guin
The left hand of darkness is a classic for good reason. Exploring themes of gender and sexuality through the meeting of interstellar cultures, it was groundbreaking when written and continues to be thought provoking to this day. It follows the story of ambassador Genly Ai who is sent to negotiate the joining of the planet Gethen into a federation of planets he represents. Although it isn’t a perfect book (it foregrounds heteronormative relations) its poignancy and insight make it well worth a read.
Available to borrow as an audiobook.

Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler’s acclaimed trilogy, Lilith’s Brood, imagines humanity as a species saved from near extinction through the intervention of aliens, the Oankali. Apparently benevolent, the Oankali seek to free humanity from its violent, hierarchical tendencies, and to combine their peoples’ genes to transform them both. Butler’s powerful and disturbing work reflects on colonialism, slavery, and humanity’s capacity for change.

To be taught, if fortunate by Becky Chambers
Chambers novella, To be taught, if fortunate, explores the idea of what if instead of colonizing and changing other planets, we changed ourselves? Set in a very near future, it is about a group of four scientists who have been sent on a several decade long mission to explore four planets with vastly differing ecosystems. Though short, it is a thought-provoking book which explores themes of colonialization, the role of scientific research and mental health. While at times quite intense, it is a book that feels very human and asks big questions despite being short.

Trouble on Triton by Samuel Delaney
Trouble on Triton tells the story of self obsessed jerk Bron and his slightly bungling journey of self discovery through infatuation, rejection, and his attempt to find happiness in a society which offers everything he could reasonably want. Delaney skilfully uses Bron to explore and critique gender roles in a society at war with Earth in a book that’s difficult to love but well worth a read.

The long way to a small, angry planet by Becky Chambers
In The long way to a wmall, angry planet, Becky Chambers manages to write a space opera that feels like a comforting hug or a warm bubble bath, which is something we could probably all do with right now. Centred very much on the characters and their relationships, it follows the multi-species crew of the Wayfarer whilst they are doing their job of building wormholes in different corners of the galaxy. If you are after a book full of thrilling adventure and suspense, this might not be the right fit for you. But if what you are looking for is to read a cosy story about a multi-species queer chosen family in space, then this is the one for you.

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Kate Mascarenhas’ The Psychology of Time Travel interweaves the perspectives of four women united by their invention of a time machine in 1967. It’s an intricate and multi-layered book whose strengths lie in its focus on the emotional and psychological impact of time travel, in how knowledge of the future might limit the possibility of equality within romantic relationships, and affect people’s ability to connect with one another. In a genre still often perceived as overwhelmingly straight, cis, and male, Mascarenhas’ novel is refreshing in its representation of women’s relationships with one another: professional, personal, and romantic.  
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook.          

Front cover of The Outside

The Outside by Ada Hoffmann
The Outside explores theme of the unknown in space. Our main character is a queer neurodiverse scientist university of AI gods. By banding together with an alien crew aboard a sentient ship to track down a rogue professor, they explore the nature of truth and whose truth really matters.
Available to borrow as an audiobook.

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
There’s something instantly magical about Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam. The palette of colours and the staggering illustrations are fabulous enough, but the story is gripping and bold, telling of rebellious teen Mia and her adventures on board a spaceship as part of a queer crew that repairs and documents old buildings. There’s love, danger, and workplace solidarity all beautifully depicted amongst an exuberant backdrop of galactic ruins.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon
Rivers Solomon’s The Deep builds on the mythology developed in the music of Drexciya and clipping, which imagines the children of enslaved Black women thrown overboard during the Atlantic slave trade as founders of a new, underwater society. Solomon’s book reflects on what it means to struggle with intergenerational racial trauma, how memory and storytelling might open up more inclusive futures, and the possibilities of queer love.

Front cover of Octavia's Brood

Octavia’s Brood edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha
Octavia’s Brood is a collection inspired by the science fiction accessibility ethos of Octavia Butler, who said that science fiction should be for everyone. Each short story is written by an activist or artist to explore social justice themes and ideas. Often this is each authors first foray into writing fiction and the tales are interesting and varied including space environmental concerns and frequent post apocalyptic themes. Each of the 22 writers takes a new spin to their story which can includes nightmares or visions of their future dream. This diversity of thought keeps you engaged and the only disappointment is when your favourite story ends too soon.
Available to borrow as an ebook.

Discover these and more great titles in our collection of LGBTQ+ fiction and non-fiction ebooks and audiobooks available on Overdrive and via the Libby app.

An interview with Bob and Sigrid from Lavender Menace Bookshop

Today’s article is written by Nikki from Corstorphine Library who tells us about her chat with Bob and Sigrid from Lavender Menace Bookshop.

“This February I decided to look into Edinburgh’s LGBT history, and discovered an interesting new community project along the way. It didn’t take long to find mentions of The Lavender Menace Bookshop, which opened just two years after homosexuality was decriminialised in Scotland. I got in contact with the founders and to ask them about its beginnings, their favourite reads, and the shop’s recent reincarnation as a free-to-use community archiving project.

Hi Bob & Sigrid! So first off – tell us a bit more about the Lavender Menace.

Lavender Menace Bookshop was Scotland’s first lesbian and gay community bookshop, opened by us, Sigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr, in Edinburgh’s Forth Street in August 1982. We were part of a wave of new lesbian and gay writing and publishing which blossomed in the 1970s and 80s and one of many lesbian and gay bookshops in the USA, Canada, continental Europe and the UK. Gay’s the Word were a great support before and after we opened. Back then the acronym LGBT+ hadn’t yet come into use, although we knew some bisexual and trans people and also catered for their interests.

You suffered from book seizures throughout the 1980s. How did you work through this at the time? 

Bob – The books that were seized were those that we imported from the USA and Canada. There was a double standard in use by HM Customs then which betrayed their prejudices. We imported titles by authors that were out of print in the UK, although other titles of theirs were available here. Titles by Christopher Isherwood and Jean Genet spring to mind. Customs had the power to seize the whole consignment if they thought that only one title was obscene.

We had a lot of support from the gay press such as Gay Scotland, Scotsgay, Gay News and the free sheets that were published in London. This meant we were able to get the news out that we were being targeted. We also had small consignments sent to our home addresses using names of characters from some of our the titles we stocked.

Sigrid – The names were Marianne Woods and Jane Pirie. They ran a girls’ school together in the early 19th century and were accused of being lovers. During the mid-1980s, we had imported books sent to us in their names because Customs & Excise were seizing packages addressed to the bookshop and to Gay’s the Word in London. 

Tell us more about the Lavender Menace Archive. What’s the main aim, and how can people support this project?

Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive came out of our revival of Lavender Menace as a pop-up bookshop on the back of the success of James Ley’s play Love Song To Lavender Menace, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. We worked closely with LGBT Youth Scotland during History Month two years ago and discovered that there were many authors and titles which were unknown by the young people we were talking to. LGBT Youth have a small library of titles which were under used because they weren’t familiar to them.

We realised that authors and their titles which we stocked in Lavender Menace and its successor West & Wilde were now out of print and in danger of being forgotten. The nature of publishing is to create something new. Reprinting titles is risky and very expensive.

We realised that the LGBT+ community were in danger of losing some of their history. Setting up an archive would conserve books, their authors and publishers many of which were no longer in business. We have set ourselves up as a community interest company to support the LGBT community by promoting the archive as a valuable resource.

The archive will also have a digital presence at We want to make the site interactive so readers can leave comments and mark their favourites.

Have you seen noticeable changes in how diversity is embraced or celebrated since Lavender Menace was founded in 1982? What barriers do you feel remain in place?

Lavender Menace was one of the few places where people could be themselves without sexual pressure or the use of alcohol. Customers were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to be in the shop given its small space.

Queer spaces, rather like sexual identity have to be seen in their social context. While social attitudes have changed perhaps beyond recognition since the 1980s, there is still prejudice in society and within the LGBT+ community. While we don’t have a public space yet, for access to the archive, I think the best we could do, given that possibility in the future, is to make a space as welcoming as possible by recognising the diversity of the community who will use it. A smile can sometimes be enough.

Lastly – 2020 was a tough year, to say the least. What books got you through it?


  • Humankind: A Hopeful Journey by Rutger Bregman, is an exploration on the fundamental goodness of human society.
  • Box Hill by Adam Mars Jones, a mesmerising novel of coming out, dependency and self-realisation. 
  • I’m currently reading Feminism is Queer by Mimi Marinucci and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart awaits.


  • The book Scotch Verdict by Lillian Faderman has more information on Marianne Pirie and Jane Woods, as mentioned above. It sold well in the shop. It’s about Pirie and Woods, and also about the research Faderman did in Edinburgh in order to reconstruct their story. 
  • As far as getting through 2021 is concerned, I’d recommend the YA Novel – Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo.

Thank you to Sigrid and Bob for their time!” 

You can join Sigrid and Bob for a Live Lavender Menace Q&A event on Wednesday 24 February at 6.30pm. Book your free ticket at:

And if you’d like to hear your question answered by Sigrid and Bob at the event, email it to or tweet @TalesOfOneCity with your #lavenderquestion

Live Q and A with Lavender Menace

We’re delighted to be hosting a live Question & Answer session with Sigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr, the founders of Lavender Menace Book Shop, on Wednesday 24 February at 6.30pm.

Send us your questions in advance by email to or on Twitter using the hashtag #lavenderquestion

Join us for the live online Q & A event by registering for your free ticket at

Sigrid and Bob have also produced a fantastic short film about their recently set up Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive where they talk about some of the titles from the archive by authors who remain ‘Unsung’ to today’s readership.

Watch Unsung: The queer books that tell our story and then let us know what question you’d like to ask them.

A sketchbook of Randolph Caldecott – a new exhibition on Capital Collections

The featured exhibition on Capital Collections presents an example of illustration work by the artist Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) taken from a series of sketches collated into the publication `A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Couples walking under umbrellas in a rain shower

April from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

This volume of sketches captures everyday life in the countryside through the passing seasons. Each sketch has a narrative quality with scenes of people – young and old – partaking in different activities, enjoying the natural scenery around them, as well as scenes of various animals interacting with humans. This sketchbook contains a mixture of vibrantly coloured and monochrome sketches with each image exemplifying Caldecott’s dedication to depicting detail and his clear fondness for depicting his subjects as they were, in their natural environment.

As the collection progresses through the seasons Caldecott reminds us all through these playful images of the circle of life and how the seasons will return one after the other.

The spectators from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Caldecott is best known for his illustrations of nursery rhymes which brought him international acclaim. Despite his relatively short lifetime, Caldecott’s work is considered to have transformed children’s books during the Victorian era, a period which is considered the ‘Golden age’ of illustration with the influence of artists like Caldecott 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.

Quite a small party from ‘A sketch-book of R. Caldecott’s’.

Capital Collections provides a window into Edinburgh Libraries’ Special Collections and makes our photographs, illustrations and books much more accessible to a wider audience.

There are two other exhibitions displaying Caldecott’s illustrated story books to enjoy on Capital Collections:

The house that Jack built
A Frog he would a-wooing go.

Many thanks to our Art & Design Library volunteer Emilie Brown for curating this and other Caldecott exhibitions. For more information on our collections of illustrated books by Randolph Caldecott email the Art & Design Library.

For LGBT History Month, a guest blog post from Abi and Lili from the Edinburgh Zine Library

We’re Abi and Lili, a queer couple who live in Fife. In 2017, whilst living in Edinburgh, we came up with the idea of the Edinburgh Zine Library. It emerged from our desire for enduring zine spaces in the city beyond zine fairs. We wanted to create a welcoming introduction to zine communities, and frankly we were running out of shelf space at home. We were aware of other zine libraries and collections, like the one at the Wellcome Library in London, and we wanted to see if this was something we could make happen in Edinburgh. We turned up at the Central Library for a meeting with Bronwen Brown, who is currently the Library Development Leader for the Music and Art & Design Collections, clutching a folder full of zines and a proposal written the night before. We got lucky, because Bronwen was really supportive, and that afternoon there was a filing cabinet waiting for us in the Art and Design Library! 

The Edinburgh Zine Library in situ in the Art and Design Library

The Edinburgh Zine Library is one of the very few independent DIY zine libraries in the world that is hosted by a public library. It’s been really great for us, and it feels very special to have a space at the Central Library for zines, which so often share voices and experiences that wouldn’t be heard otherwise. We’re proud to bring something different to the library, to be a resource for our community and to help people feel an ownership of their library. We think we have a really good reciprocal relationship with the Art and Design Library that’s really consistent with zine culture generally. We are also very much DIY. We didn’t come to the zine library with any experience of libraries, and we’ve been super grateful to the generosity of other zine librarians, and the work of our members, in figuring out how to build and organise the collection. We’ve done loads of cool stuff as EZL: running workshops at the first Trans Pride Scotland and at the V&A in Dundee, installing a wee temporary zine library at The Welcoming Edinburgh, celebrating our birthdays in the Art and Design Library, and tabling at different events across Edinburgh and beyond. We’ve built a group of members who work together at all the different elements of the library. Most of us are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s always been a core part of who we are and what we do. Several of us are also disabled and/or neurodiverse, so one of the things we work really hard at is finding a way to collectively organise that is flexible and doesn’t put too much pressure on any one person. We’re not perfect, and are still very much a work in progress!

Our first Birthday Party when we took over the Art and Design Library for doughnuts and zine making

With the temporary closure of the Central Library due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the zine library has been doing very different stuff. We’ve been chatting and planning for the future, have run some digital zine clubs and workshops, ran a zine-in-a-day event, participated in the first International Zine Librarian unConference, and made some collaborative zines. But mostly we’ve focused on staying connected and looking after each other in these difficult times. We’ve held powerpoint nights, sent letters, done watch parties, played games, hung out on zoom and exchanged memes on whatsapp. We’re super grateful for the little family we have, and the bigger community we are a part of. This is one of the things that’s so amazing and important about zines, the way they build connections and community. There is a feeling of closeness and intimacy you can get reading a zine: a feeling of being seen or of not being alone in an emotion or an experience. Most of our favourite people are zinesters or people we’ve met through zines. 

Book cover of Gears for Queers

On a personal level, we’ve also been pretty busy during lockdown because our first book, Gears for Queers, was published in June 2020. The book actually came about through zines in a strange way. When we came back from our first long cycle tour in 2016 we started making zines with vegan campstove recipes and stories from our trip. These made their way into the hands of our soon-to-be editor Kay via the Radical Bookfair in Edinburgh and two years later we had a fully formed book. It was a totally different experience from zine making, and a really steep learning curve, but overall it’s been great to get to talk about cycling and cycle touring from a different perspective. We don’t think of writing a book as a graduation from zines though, and in lots of ways we were really grateful to return to zine making. Some of the biggest supporters of the book have been the zine community though, and we are so grateful for them! We also feel really proud that the ebook version is now available to borrow from the library’s Overdrive platform (or via the Libby app).

One of the ongoing projects at the Edinburgh Zine Library is building our online catalogue. This, we hope, will make it easier for folks to explore the over 300 zines we now have in our collection. You can check it out here at and use the search bar to look for zines using tags. We have already added some of our many LGBTQ+ zines. We have zines made by individual zine makers like Me and Bruce, Queers on the Edge of Town by Holly Casio which is a queer look at Holly’s obsession with Bruce Springsteen, The Man Called Uncle Tim zine series, which is a really nice example of how zines can be used to record oral, personal and social histories – something which is especially important when our lives and relationships often aren’t recorded, or All in my head? Mental Health, a zine by Jacq Applebee about how their mental health intersects with being Black and bisexual through a mixture of personal stories and poetry. We also have zines which are made collaboratively or collectively, like Radical Transfeminism, a zine featuring writing about transmisogyny, justice and desire or The Outsider’s Handbook, a zine for queer, trans or questioning teenagers to help them survive a heteronormative world. One of the things we’re most excited about when we can get back to the physical library is growing the collection with all the amazing zines we’ve come across during the past year.

One of the things we value most about queerness is the ways that it allows for and celebrates difference. We’re a community with an infinite diversity of experiences and identities. Zines are a space where you don’t just have to write about one part of yourself or present yourself as a finished product. They are also spaces which allow you to work through, or just sit with, the messy fact of being.

To finish off this blog for LGBTQ+ History Month, we’re going to share some zine recommendations from us and other EZL members:

El (she/they)

One of my favourite LGBTQIA+ zines in the library is High Precision Ghosts by Ren Wednesday. In Ren’s words, “High Precision Ghosts (a zine about Graham Chapman that’s actually about me) is a ‘gentle and angry’ reflection on growing up queer and searching for role models. In text, illustration and collage, I talk about Graham Chapman’s obstinate queerness in the 1970s, and how I drew strength from that as a teenager growing up under the notorious Section 28 law.” Graham Chapman was one of the members of Monty Python. Born in 1941, he was open about his homosexuality and supported gay rights for much of his life. 

There are a few reasons this zine resonates with me. Though I didn’t grow up under Section 28, queerness and LGBTQIA+ lives weren’t something that was ever spoken about at home or at school. Because of this I didn’t know I was queer for a long time, or have a way to speak about it. My experience of growing up was coloured by an unconscious search for queer role models. This is something I’ve heard called “nascent queerness,” the idea of being drawn to someone because they speak to something in you that you don’t have the language to articulate yet. I was always obsessed with cross-dressing narratives – Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, Nuns on the Run, and Twelfth Night. I realise now this was because these were some of the few examples of gender variance available to me. Ren beautifully frames this search, and the tenderness you feel towards the people and narratives you find that fulfil it. 

I also chose this zine because it reminds me of the queer community I’ve been so lucky to find myself in at the zine library. I first read it because it was recommended to me by Lili, and it always makes me think of the connections I’ve built through Edinburgh Zine Library – to people from history who I will never meet but who have in some way impacted my identity and my activism, and to the incredible support network of my EZL friends and colleagues in the present. So much of queer zine culture is contained in these little recommendations and passing-ons, and it is through these networks that we discover new ways of articulating and becoming ourselves. 
Find High Precision Ghosts in the EZL catalogue

Lilith (they/them)

FML was one of the first zines that got added to the library – Natasha actually showed up at our flat not realising it was just our postal address, and I think we were all temporarily very confused! Natasha’s comics are tender and very very funny and they really speak to what I wrote about earlier about zines not needing to present a finished person or idea. Her comics make space for thoughts and processing and change, and I love hearing her inner monologue.
Find out more about Natasha’s work.

Jas (she/her)

One of my favourite LGBTQ zines was created by our very own co-founders, Abi and Lili. When I first met them in January 2020, we were on our way to Leeds to attend Weirdo Zine Fest in what turned out to be a bright brief moment of real joy in what would become a very difficult and isolating year. While sitting on the floor underneath our table in a room in Leeds Central Library, I leafed through Why Marry At All? A Queer Feminist Wedding Zine. The zine is a sort of a meditation on the experience of getting married (or in this case, joining in a civil partnership) when you are a queer couple. 

The last time many of us were together in person, on a trip to Weirdo Zine Fest in Leeds funded by Creative Scotland’s Go See Share Fund.

I cried under the table in Leeds at wedding pictures of these people I had just met. I was at that time facing up to the fact that despite years of adolescent protestation that marriage was unnecessary that I did, in fact, want to marry my girlfriend, and she wanted to marry me too. I hadn’t ever really before heard other LGBT couples discuss their experience of marriage, of what it mean to them as an ostensibly heteropatriarchal institution, of how it feels to parade your love in front of family members who probably don’t entirely understand it. I had felt very alone and afraid in all of those very large feelings that it felt no one else in the world had ever had. This little zine reminded me of the power and strength of the LGBT community to assure you that you are not alone, and you don’t have to be afraid, that you are in the company of all the others who have gone before you, and will go after. 

I gave the zine to my girlfriend as a Valentines gift that February. She cried too. We are engaged now and I’ve returned to the zine more than once for guidance. 
Find Why Marry At All? in the EZL catalogue.

Abi (she/they)

One of my favourite zines of all time is Dick Tucker: Drag Detective by Scottish artist Ryan Hamill. It’s a beautifully drawn and risoprinted comic about Dick Tucker, a film noir style drag detective. It’s very funny and offers the sort of silliness and joy that you don’t often see in media about LGBTQ experience but is plentiful. I don’t want to spoil the twist at the end, but if you’re a fan of daytime tv murder mysteries, you’ll enjoy it a lot. As a wee aesthetic bonus, each issue is printed in a different colour, so if displayed in order you end up with a mini rainbow flag.
Find Dick Tucker: Drag Detective in the EZL catalogue.

If you’re curious about finding out more about the Edinburgh Zine Library, or want to get involved, find us at, or @edinburghzinelibrary on instagram, or @edzinelibrary on twitter!

If you want to find out more about LGBTQ zines, as well as checking out those in our collection, we recommend checking out the amazing Queer Zine Library and the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP).

Edinburgh Libraries are marking LGBT History Month

We’re marking LGBT History Month with a series of activities and events.

Wednesday 17 February at 1pm – BookCafe online
Central Library’s women-only reading group is marking LGBT History Month by celebrating some incredible queer writing.
Sign up via Eventbrite and join them for an hour together online, away from Lockdown limitations.

Wednesday 17 February at 2pm – Drag Queen, King and Super Queen Storytime
As part of our celebration of LGBT+ History Month, join with us for a special edition of Drag Queen story hour featuring Drag Queen Ada HD – Super Clare Deloon and Drag King cyro.
The session will last 30 mins and can be found on the day on the Children and Young People’s Facebook page.

Thursday 18 February – Unsung: Queer books that tell our story
Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen, the founders of Lavender Menace Book Shop, release a pre-recorded talk about their recently set up Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive. As part of this year’s LGBT History Month, they will highlight some of the titles from the archive by authors who remain ‘Unsung’ to today’s readership.
Watch the short film, Unsung: The queer books that tell our story.

Wednesday 24 February at 6.30pm – Live Q&A with Lavender Menace
The Lavender Menace recording will be perfect and required viewing ahead of a live Q&A session with Bob and Sigrid on 24 February at 6.30pm.
Register online for a free ticket to join the Q&A with Bob and Sigrid.

Bob and Sigrid set up Scotland’s first Queer LGBT Bookshop in Edinburgh. Lavender Menace opened in August 1982 and returned as a pop-up bookshop in 2019 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall. They have since built up an exceptional archive of books, magazines and ephemera and Edinburgh Libraries are also working closely with Lavender Menace to see how they can assist in keeping this legacy alive.

Monday 22 February – Unsung Heroes – students takeover the Libraries’ Tales of One City twitter!
Young people from across Edinburgh’s schools will takeover Edinburgh Libraries’ @TalesOfOneCity twitter account for one day to tell us about their Unsung LGBT+ Heroes from fiction.

Look out for more activity across our social media platforms too!
Our Children and Young People’s team have partnered with Escape, Connect, Relate, our Bibliotherapy project that runs in all High Schools to support positive mental health, and will be highlighting a new LGBTQ+ book list throughout the month.

Community libraries will be featuring important LGBTQ+ historical figures on their social media.

And we have a great selection of LGBTQ+ fiction and non-fiction ebooks and audiobooks for you to discover and enjoy on Overdrive/Libby app.

Making plans and keeping resolutions

Every new year is an opportunity to start fresh, an opportunity to make plans to achieve things, to make resolutions about what you want to do or don’t want to do in the new year! Many of us make new year’s resolutions, but when we reflect back at the end of the year, we find that they didn’t happen. So, let’s make 2021 different. If you are already struggling to keep up with your resolutions, read on to find out what interesting plans our Central library staff have got for this year…

Eleonora from Central Lending says, 
“My first resolution is to try to finish my graphic novel about food recipes.
I have started it during the first lockdown, and I haven’t completed it yet, this will be my big challenge and maybe… I hope… I can publish it sometime in the future.

My second resolution is BUY LESS. 
I realised how much futile things are surrounding my life, sometimes I feel literally suffocated of them. 
Wardrobes, drawers, kitchen cabinets are packed of stuff that I don’t even know of their existence.
So, the plan is living minimalist. Give away what I no longer need, make my house lighter and most importantly make myself free of that thought of “BUY”. Part of this resolution is also trying to make my own cleaning products, so stop buying dangerous detergents/soaps that aren’t good for me and the planet.
For me this year is; “Less is better”.

Third resolution: learning oil pastels. I already started and I am pretty much into it, I just love it and cannot stop doing it. I can spend hours sitting on the chair and drawing.

I am determined to work on two new yoga poses too, I got my fancy yoga blocks for Christmas so I am sure they will help me to achieve my aim.”

Eleonora finds these amazing eresources helpful to keep up with her resolutions:

The year of less: how I stopped shopping, gave away my belongings, and discovered life is worth more than anything you can buy in a store by Cait Flanders
Available to borrow as an ebook

The more of less: finding the life you want under everything you own by Joshua Becker
Available to borrow as an ebook

Hinch yourself happy : all the best cleaning tips to shine your sink and soothe your soul by Mrs Hinch
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Spark joy: the Japanese art of decluttering and organising: an illustrated master class by Marie Kondo
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

and the Yoga Journal magazine via PressReader.

Doris from Central Lending has very healthy plans for 2021:
“One of my new year’s resolutions for 2021 is to make more vegetarian recipes. This is for two reasons: to widen the variety of fruit and vegetables I eat regularly, and to use up the week-old celery and carrots that occasionally languish at the bottom of my fridge. 

Central Lending Library has at least two whole shelves groaning with recipe books and it’s heartening to see that there’s a good selection available on Overdrive too. I enjoyed reading a sample of The Clever Guts Diet Recipe Book by Dr Clare Bailey on Overdrive and I’m looking forward to borrowing it and trying out new meal recipes.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Natasha from the Music Library wants to improve some skills she has been working on. She says,
“I haven’t really set myself any resolutions to learn a new skill this year. Instead, I want to improve ones I’m already developing.
I’m an avid knitter and have been knitting for around 10 years now, starting off with a scarf made from no particular pattern. Since then, I’ve made a wide variety of items but one thing I’d really like to learn how to do this year is to draft my own knitting pattern. I received a book about drafting for Christmas which has spurred me on. The various knitting magazines on both PressReader and RBdigital will definitely provide huge inspiration, helping me settle on shape, stitch patterns and construction methods!

Another thing I’d like to improve is my language learning skills. During last summer, I started learning Simplified Mandarin using a few apps on my phone. It’s a beautiful language that I’ve always been fascinated by and have always wanted to learn. I’m now at the point where I can recognise quite a few characters and I have a reasonable idea of what they might mean; I find myself reading the back of packets to test myself! I’d like to get to the point where I can read paragraphs of text and I think looking at the children’s Chinese language magazines available on PressReader will be a great help. I had a look at one the other day and saw the phrase “the girl had long, black hair” so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to understand a little more with further practice!”

Kevi from the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection has plans for gardening this year.
“As the clock struck midnight on 31 December 2020, I raised a glass to celebrate the passing of the strangest year of our collective lives, thankful that my family and friends were safe and realising how lucky we were to be so. On reflection, I realised that many New Years had passed in my life in the same way – with great hope and intentions to change but no action.                                                                                                                        

2020 wasn’t an easy year for anyone, for many it was a year full of tragedy, loss, incomprehension at the new world we were living in, and isolation. The first lockdown was intense, bringing into sharp relief the stagnation caused by years of fearing change and the realisation that when fear is in control, no change can happen. I promised myself that procrastination would rule me no more and a decision, long delayed, has been made, after many years in the same home and in the midst of a global pandemic, I am attempting to move to a new house! It is quite a journey, in fact, one of the most stressful things a person can do, so “why bother”, you might ask?

My longing for a garden is well documented and lockdown only increased my desperation to immerse my fingers in soil. I scaled up my indoor plant growing so much that my family and I now navigate our lives around a proliferation of large fronded friends, flourishing Peace Lily’s, spiky Cacti and Ferns…….my favourite being a little Maiden-Hair Fern which I bought online and am unreasonably attached to, fretting over the slightest crisping of delicate rounded leaf and fine-spraying every morning in devotion to its survival. I experimented with Ginger (so easy, who knew?) and Avocado (fiddly and takes a lot of time but so worth it). Plants have slowly taken over our house, a calming distraction in a year of strife and have convinced me that I must not wait another year but get myself a garden, not the easiest thing to find mid-winter in Edinburgh, a city of many tenements, but one has finally revealed itself as within reach and I can already visualise the veritable verdant forest of plants to be joyfully grown and enjoyed. 
So here is to New Year’s 2021 which, all being well, I hope to celebrate, finally, in my garden.”

Check out these gardening books suggested by Kevi:

Contini’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Carina Contini
Available to borrow as an ebook

Wild Your Garden by The Butterfly Brothers
Available to borrow as an ebook

Veg in One Bed: how to grow an abundance of food, in one raised bed, month by month by Huw Richards
Available to borrow as an ebook

Gardening for the Zombie Apocalypse by Isabel Lloyd and Phil Clarke
Available as an ebook and audiobook   

Ania from Central Lending has some different views about new year resolutions:
“I absolutely love planning things! 
I love knowing what I’m doing today and in the following days, from simple things like what I’m cooking for the family, where and at what time I’m going running, to where is the next holiday.
I’m ‘Miss Planning’ simply.

And yet… I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, especially in current times, when it can be so unpredictable. 

I have to admit I’ve tried before, and I guess as many people, I’ve put trivial things on my “list”: do more exercise, read more, eat healthy, learn another language, loose a kilo or two, be more patient, spend more quality time with my children etc, etc.

Then I thought I don’t need the extra pressure in life, I’m more or less doing the above but without the stress of a written list that needs a tick next to it.

I certainly prefer a “mini, every day resolution”. I’ll try and do my daily run, or yoga, eat 5 of my 5 a day, listen to a great audiobook borrowed from the amazing library selection during my walk, learn few Spanish lessons on Duolingo etc but if I won’t manage…then fine, I’ll do it tomorrow 😁” 

We have got a huge selection of audiobooks which you can enjoy anytime, anywhere like Ania.
Check out our great collection of 1000+ ‘No wait’ audiobook titles.

We have got quite a few members of staff learning a new language this year.
Bageshri from Central Lending has started learning German this year. She says, “Just when 2020 was about to end, another lockdown was declared. With so much uncertainty going around and so much time in my hands, I thought of learning something new. I feel that learning a new skill gives you positivity with feeling of accomplishment. I was always good in literature in my school days and enjoyed learning languages. And was especially good at grammar. I have learnt 3 languages while in school (which is very common in India), Marathi as my mother tongue, Hindi as a national language and English as an international language. I had heard that the grammar of German is quite similar to my mother tongue, Marathi and it was always at the back of my mind that I should learn German one day.

So, here I am learning German now. At Edinburgh Libraries we have got a good collection of language learning material. Both in physical as well as electronic formats. Until our buildings reopen, check out our audiobook foreign language courses on Overdrive.

Apart from learning German I also have decided to practice Yoga and breathing meditation every day. I start my day with an hour of breathing meditation and some Yoga. And within a month, I can see the difference. I am feeling much happier, calmer and more productive throughout the day. In current situations, people are suffering with anxiety, stress, and negativity. I can say from experience that Yoga and meditation can definitely help to overcome these problems. Not only in current situations, but it definitely helps to make your life better.”
Explore ebooks for mindfulness on Overdrive.

Gema from Leith Library and currently also Central Library, has got something interesting to share with us. She says,
“My resolution for this year is not having any, to avoid disappointment! 😄
… but… I am developing a bigger interest on chi kung (or qigong). I enjoy practising it and it helps me feel better in a physical and mental, even emotional, way. It is easy to perform, you don´t need any equipment, it is fun and it can be energizing or relaxing, depending on what you are searching for. I have even used this in conjunction with acupressure to heal a headache or stomach pain.”

We have some physical book suggestions on qigong for when our buildings reopen.

We hope you enjoyed reading about our colleagues’ new year’s resolutions. Please drop a comment below if you would like to share your new year’s resolution or if you have been inspired to try something new after reading this post!

Discover more LGBTQ+ writing

February is LGBT History Month and this LGBT History Month Scotland at Edinburgh Libraries we’re celebrating the huge achievement of the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland towards writing. 

Fiction and memoir writing can offer readers a window into another person’s experiences whether this be another country, another time period, or another identity and gender. We have selected just a few of the many fiction titles and personal memoirs that bear witness to the lives and stories of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Val McDermid is a hugely successful Scottish crime writer whose novels include many lesbian characters whether as the main protagonist or as supporting characters.  

Published originally in 1987 by the Women’s Press Report for Murder by Val McDermid is the first of her series of books featuring Britain’s first fictional lesbian detective Lindsay Gordon – this was unusual for 1987! Report for Murder and other titles in Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon series are available to borrow as ebooks or audiobooks.   

Val McDermid has continued to include lesbian characters in her crime novels. McDermid’s lesbian characters are integrated into her novels and as such are no more or less significant or interesting than other characters. Through crime fiction McDermid has opened up the stories and lives of gay women that in her books are made mainstream.  

Alan Cumming OBE is a bisexual Scottish-born theatre, film and television actor, and writer with an honorary Doctor of the Arts from the University of Abertay, Dundee. Cumming has long been a supporter of LGBTQI+ rights and campaigner both in the USA where he now lives with his husband, and in the UK where he promoted the campaign for same-sex marriage to be made legal in Scotland. He has been known to sing too, with the awards to prove it. 

After appearing on the genealogy television show, Who Do You Think You Are?, Cumming wrote his memoir, Not My Father’s Son , in which he relates a difficult childhood on the Panmure Estate in Perthshire, due to his father’s violence and his mother’s fear. It was to feed into his acting ability but took years for him to find self-acceptance despite his success. The book is a compelling blend of family history, self-discovery, and forgiveness. In places it reads like a mystery; this is tantamount to Cumming’s remarkable skill as a storyteller and compassionate narrator. An important chapter in Scotland’s contemporary queer history.  

Jackie Kay – Jeanette from Central Library writes,
“I first read Trumpet by Jackie Kay when it was published in 1998, having loved her earlier book of poetry, The Adoption Papers. In this novel, the legendary Scottish jazz trumpeter Joss Moody dies, exposing to all that he was a woman, a secret previously known to his wife but no one else, including their son who reacts with anger. The story is narrated by several characters, including those who knew Joss, the man, those who knew him as Josephine, the girl, and a tabloid journalist intent on writing a sensationalist book out of his secret. I was swept away by the beauty of ‘Trumpet’, returning to it many times over the years, and urging others to read it too. So, during this month which promotes inclusion, awareness and celebrates LGBT history, I’m glad of the opportunity to recommend it again. To quote Ali Smith from the introduction of a later reprint of the book, “this fiercely pioneering work makes the walls come tumbling down.”’  

Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain is the Booker prize winning novel by Douglas Stuart. Although a work of fiction, it draws on Douglas Stuart’s own life as a boy growing up in poverty in Glasgow with an alcoholic mother and discovering his own sexuality as a gay young man. 

Shuggie is the youngest of three children living with their mother Agnes. They are forced to move to a mining town close to Glasgow where the whole community is struggling with unemployment, debt and poverty. 

The novel follows Shuggie and his family through Agnes’ struggles with alcohol and the breakup of the family. Shuggie’s love for Agnes is heartbreaking. He is desperate to care for her and help her stop drinking. But he also has to deal with his own sexuality. He is recognised as ‘being  different’ and is accepted and loved by his family. But he is subject to bullying and physical and sexual assault outside his home. It is a beautifully written book and the descriptions of places and people are vivid.  

Damian Barr – Maggie & Me – Another west of Scotland setting, Maggie & Me is a  witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain, but it’s also a story about growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady. Damian’s family is split along a sectarian divide, yet in spite of the violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28, Damian falls in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club. Barr’s memoir is both shocking and funny in equal measure and is testament to his determination to survive despite the odds. 

Ali Smith – Girl Meets Boy –  is a short, lively tale loosely based on the Greek myth of Iphis and Ianthe, but as usual with Smith, there are many other threads woven into her contemporary story – sexual and social politics, ethics, work and family. But this is basically an exploration of human transformation (specifically liberation from loneliness and prejudice) through the power of love. The main two lovers happen to be same-sex and their relationship is depicted with riotous joy and perfect ecstasy. The whole book is a love story – to people, to the good in us all. Highly recommended!  

Sophie Cameron – Sophie is a Scottish author who has swapped the Highlands for sunny Barcelona, Spain, where she lives with her wife and twin boys. Her debut novel Out Of The Blue follows teenager Jaya, struggling to cope with the recent death of her mother – and when angels start falling from the sky, she can barely bring herself to care. Sophie Cameron’s books feature great representation of LGBTQ+ characters, whose lives are rich and multifaceted. Out Of The Blue is at once a brilliant example of magical realism, a love letter to Edinburgh and a thought-provoking study of loss. Although aimed at teenagers, it has something in it for both young people and adults to enjoy.  

All the above titles are available in our great collection of LGBTQ+ ebook and audiobooks fiction and non-fiction on Overdrive. Look out throughout February as we’ll be promoting more LGBTQ+ writing from or about Scotland on social media.