Journeys of Empire: South Asian Heritage Month

What is South Asian Heritage Month?

Shining a light on South Asian histories and identities – South Asian Heritage Month was founded in 2020 and runs from the 18 July to 17 August. This year’s theme is ‘Journeys of Empire.’ Journeys like the odyssey of indenture in the Caribbean and East Asia, the ones taken by Indian Ayahs paid to travel to Scotland in the 19th century, South Asian migration to Britain, and many others.

Here are a few books available at your local library to explore and celebrate South Asian Heritage Month:

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell
This beautiful translation from Tilted Axis press was the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize. Set in Northern India, 80 year-old Ma an unlikely protagonist travels to Pakistan to confront her past. It explores big themes like the trauma around partition, feminism, and grief all with a light touch. It’s a sweeping book which defies the borders of language, gender, and country.
Borrow Tomb of Sand in print

Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi
This lyrical work of fiction follows Ruby and Rania, two young British Indian sisters. Growing up in a society rife with racism and sexism, one day Ruby just stops speaking altogether. Arshi is an acclaimed poet and writes in a poetic language that is in turns unsettling and tender.
Borrow Somebody Loves You in print or audiobook

Non – fiction:
Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera
A bestseller recently made into a documentary for channel 4. This book aims to tell the lesser-known histories of empire – for example the story of millions of Indian soldiers who fought for Britain in WW2. This book explores how these histories continues to shape today’s England and Scotland.   
Borrow Empireland in print or ebook 

Coolie Woman: the Odyssey of indenture by Gaiutra Bahadur
This is a unique book which charts South Asian women’s journeys of forced indenture under British colonial rule in the late 19th century. The history of indentured women is specifically hard to unearth as there’s little documentation about their lives. (Note, ‘Coolie’ in the title of the book is a racial slur.)
Borrow Coolie Woman in print

I Belong Here: a Journey along the backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi
After experiencing traumatic racist abuse whilst on a train to Newcastle, Sethi resolved to walk the Pennine Way in an act of reclamation and adventure. This book follows her journey to find solace, confidence and belonging.
Borrow I Belong Here in print  

Brown baby by Nikesh Shukla
Written after the death of his mother and addressed to his two young daughters, this is a memoir of race, family and home. What does it mean to bring a brown baby into the world today? How do we live with hope and joy?
Borrow Brown Baby in print

Let Me Tell You This by Nadine Aisha Jassat
This incredible collection tells us stories of family, of belonging, and of being mixed race. Jassat is an Edinburgh based poet and is featured on the Edinburgh Women’s Mural. This collection explores what it is to be a woman of colour in Scotland today. Her writing is mesmeric, powerful, and moving.
Borrow Let Me Tell You This in print or ebook

How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil
The winner of the T.S. Eliot prize 2020, this is a sharp and poignant poetry collection which explores the themes of immigration, boundaries and borders, and what it means to be a guest.
Borrow How to Wash a Heart in print

Reserve any of these titles for collection at your local library.

Walking books collection

Stockbridge Library has a new walking books collection! Whether you’re an avid walker, an armchair walker, or an amateur, here’s a glimpse into what the collection has to offer…

Walking guides

Walking in the Pentland Hills: 30 Walks in Edinburgh’s Local Hills by Susan Falconer – if you’re looking for easy walks from Edinburgh this book is packed full of options. Including popular Pentland trails around Harlaw reservoir and Scald Law, this book also weaves through historical facts, literary connections, and folktale.

Or try somewhere further afield:

Exploring the Fife Coastal Path by Hamish Brown – this route stretches from Kincardine to Newburgh. The walk can be completed in day trips or in 9 – 10 days. Walkers may wish to spend longer in St Andrews or exploring the beautiful beaches and fishing villages along the way. You can even have a go at the chain walk (at your own risk!)

Walking The Dales Way by Terry Marsh – this book guides you on a 79 mile walk across the Yorkshire Dales, ending in the Lake District. A largely flat walk across rolling dales, riversides, and moor. It’s broken up by picturesque villages making it perfect for long distance beginners. Complete it over 4 – 7 days. 

Day walks in Northumberland: 20 coastal & countryside routes by David Wilson – explore Bamburgh, Hadrian’s wall, Lindisfarne and more. These walks cover wide sandy beaches, ancient ruins, and the rolling Cheviot Hills. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, whales, and seals along the way.

Books on walking

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit – from social change to famous walkers: this is a meditation on walking, wandering, and writing. Solnit argues we’ve become too focused on the destination at the expense of the journey – when we give up on journeys we give up the opportunity to discover new things about ourselves and the world around us.

Just Another Mountain by Sarah Jane Douglas – after losing her mother to breast cancer, Douglas set herself the challenge to climb every Munro. Through mountain climbing she found solace, hope, and the strength to overcome.  A poignant and moving memoir on walking and grief.

Hidden histories: a spotter’s guide to the British landscape by Mary-Ann Ochota – ever wondered why some fields are bumpy? How to spot a Roman road? Or do you want to learn more about the history of our landscape, from quarries to ancient burial mounds? This beautifully illustrated book encourages you to ‘get out there!’ and find out.

Navigation Skills for Walkers – this book by the ordnance survey will help you build up your confidence or help brush up on old skills. It includes tips on map reading, using GPS devices, and using a compass.

Discover the full walking collection at Stockbridge Library or browse the Walking collection titles online and reserve for pick up at your local library.

And don’t forget to check out Libby for some more great walking-themed ebook, audiobook and magazine titles!

Writers of Edinburgh

Our latest story on Our Town Stories highlights authors who have helped put Edinburgh on the literary map through their own connections to the city or because the city plays a central role in their stories.

We feature Jenni Fagan, Quintin Jardine, Doug Johnstone, Alanna Knight, Alexander McCall Smith, Ambrose Parry, Aileen Paterson, Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Sara Sheridan, Muriel Spark and Irvine Welsh. 

The changing face of the city is captured in its various guises from the dark Victorian streets of Inspector Jeremy Faro to the genteel private school of Miss Jean Brodie to the stark realities of Renton’s 1980s Edinburgh.

Advocates Close by Alexander Adam Inglis, c1890

So, if you’d like to know a wee bit more about the people who created these books and characters closely connected with the city, and perhaps discover some reading gems you’re not so familiar with, take a look at Writers of Edinburgh on Our Town Stories.

The story is part of a wider project with the Living Knowledge Network Libraries for Breaking the News. Look out for other activities, exhibitions and events happening across our Libraries soon.

Bestiary – what is it?

This month’s blog from the Art and Design Library is on the


Today, the word bestiary, is loosely defined. Pretty much any collection of animals – descriptions of animals, or stories about them – can be understood as a bestiary. But more specifically, what was a medieval bestiary? (And what is it that is so compelling about bestiaries; why do the pictures and the stories sit so strongly in our imaginations?)

The relationship between humans and animals is as old, complex, and interwoven, as time. All people everywhere, throughout history, have thought about what that relationship might be: the hows, the whys, the whats, of looking at animals. What are we looking at when we look at an animal? What do we see, what do we feel and think? How do we value animals, and how then do we act towards them (or how do we not act?)

All big fat questions, especially in an age where the natural world is so threatened, and the climate crisis so real…

To think our way back into a medieval mind and a medieval conception of how animals sit in the world, is, of course, a difficult thing to do. So what can bestiaries tell us about that medieval mind, or the mind of a medieval somebody who was aristocratic or royal. (The medieval somebody would need to be aristocratic or royal, to be able to own an expensive and elaborately decorated book like a bestiary…)

What is a bestiary?

A bestiary is a medieval encyclopaedia of animals – of sorts. It was both a natural history text and a religious text. Animal symbolism was very important in the middle ages, and the central question when encountering an animal (or a rock or a plant; some bestiaries included these too), was: 
How is this animal significant to your inner moral world? And how does its behaviour and characteristics throw light on your understanding of the Christian faith? This hedgehog here, the one the picture is making you think about, curled up, bundled up, the wind blowing as you watch it. What does it tell you about God?

British Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

(The balls on the hedgehogs’ spines are grapes (or maybe figs or apples). The story goes they carry them away at harvest time to feed their young. Other stories: they curl up when people approach and creak like a cart. A cooked hedgehog could be made into medicine; and when the north wind blows a hedgehog will close the hole to its lair.)

Bestiaries were also extremely popular. They were full of religious allegory, but they were light and comic too, they were entertainment.

The real and the fantastical

Bestiaries contain entries on animals that are both real and fantastical. The unicorn sits alongside the lion which sits alongside the owl which sits alongside the griffin. No distinction was made between the real and the fantastical.

If a medieval prince looked at our lives, steeped as they are in technology and an online world, would they find the real life/fantastical relationship we lead equally as strange as we find theirs? Perhaps.

The origins of the medieval bestiary

There are a number of sources for the bestiary. One principle source is a Greek natural history text called the Physiologus which was written in Alexandria between the 2nd and 4th centuries (and by the late 4th century, a Latin translation was also available).

Other thinkers significant to bestiaries were Saint Ambrose, Isidore of Seville, and Rabanus Maurus. And so what developed in 12th century Europe was a large compilation of different texts. The texts were not set in any way, and the order and number of animals would change from bestiary to bestiary.

And for some beasts and stories…

The Lion

The lion is the king of the beasts, and it’s one of the animals with the most stories. Here are a few of them.

When a lion’s cubs are born, they’re born dead, but three days later they are brought to life by the mother breathing on them and the father roaring at them. That lion’s mouth is a fearful thing – breath, life, roooooarr! We learn to roar like a lion as toddlers. Our conception of the importance of lions (and similarly dragons) starts early. This story is, of course, about the crucifixion and the resurrection. All bestiary stories come with meanings.

Other lion tales.

When a lion is in the mountains and notices it is being hunted, it rubs out its tracks with its tail.

It always sleeps with its eyes open.

A lion is frightened (not unsurprisingly) by hunters and spears, and so looks at the ground. Lions are afraid of the sound of creaking cartwheels, fire, and seeing a white cock.

There are more…

The Whale

Two Fishermen on an Aspidochelone in a bestiary, about 1270, unknown illuminator, possibly made in Thérouanne, France. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, 7 1/2 × 5 5/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig XV 3, fol. 89v.
Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
Unknown French illuminator, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The whale is so enormous it can be mistaken for an island. It can lie on the surface until plants grow on its back. When sailors land on a whale, and when they light a fire, the whale feels the heat, and then – splash – down it dives, deep into the sea, taking the sailors with it.

When a whale is hungry and it opens its mouth, the smell is so sweet that little fish are drawn towards it. They swim inside, and the whale swallows them down.

The Christian allegory follows. The whale, tempting and luring, represents the devil, which drags those he deceives down to hell.  

Here’s a link to a great little animation. (And a lot of other interesting things.)

The Unicorn

Illustration of a unicorn hunt; detail of a miniature from the Rochester Bestiary, BL Royal 12 F xiii, f. 10v. Held and digitised by the British Library.
British Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The unicorn is a wild creature. It is strong and fast, and resembles a small goat or an ass or a horse. It has a long straight horn in the middle of its head with a spiral groove running up it. To capture a unicorn, a young virgin girl must sit by herself in a forest, and the unicorn will come and lay its head on her lap. Sometimes it suckles from her breast. Then, out of the wings, come the hunters, and they kill or capture it.

The horn of the unicorn can be used to detect poison. If you dip a unicorn horn in a poisoned drink, it purifies it. Powdered unicorn horn is also an aphrodisiac.

And the allegory? The unicorn represents the incarnation of Jesus in the virgin Mary’s womb – and his subsequent capture and death. Its fierceness and wildness is the inability of hell to hold him. The single horn represents the unity of God, and the unicorn’s small size, Christ’s humility in becoming human.

The Kingfisher

There are kingfishers in the Botanic Gardens. I always look out for them, and I always find seeing them an amazing thing. They are streaks of blue that dash low over the water. Their call is a soft rapid high-pitched squeaking.

In the bestiaries, kingfishers lay their eggs in the middle of winter, when the storms are at their strongest. They lay them in the sand, and for seven days they hatch them. They then look after them for a further seven days. All the while they are nurturing them, the sea remains calm, unseasonably so for the time of year. And because (one of) the Latin names for a kingfisher is halcyon, sailors call this time the “halcyon days”.

Incidentally, other phrases we use that come from bestiaries are “crocodile tears”, as a crocodile always weeps after eating a man. And “licking into shape”: bear cubs are born shapeless, and are literally licked into shape by their mothers.

How many are there?

Lots. In 2019 the J. Paul Getty Museum put together an exhibition, Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World and it’s still possible to explore it online. Many bestiaries were made! See the Wikipedia list here.

What is it that is so compelling about a bestiary?

Who knows. They are about wonder, they do all the things that a picture and a story does – wonderful things. The animals we meet in bestiaries are animals that sit in trees and on mountain-tops, but they also include animals that don’t; fantastical animals. The real animals sit side-by-side with the fantastical animals. The fantastical feels real, and the real fantastical. And that feels pretty wonderful.

Some further links I came across researching this blog:

Some blogs from the British Library – on the medieval bestiary; and another one of beastly tales (again there are lots). 

A London Review of Books article of the exhibition publication for the J. Paul Getty exhibition mentioned above, Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World, edited by Elizabeth Morrison with Larisa Grollemond (Yale University Press; 2019).

A link to a project on the Aberdeen Bestiary.

A compilation of digitised material on medieval bestiaries.

And a few books from the library…

If you’ve enjoyed reading about these bestiaries, please do come and explore our collections.

Browse our catalogue or come on into the library. (And of course, we have many books on many things… Please do come and take a look!)

What does it mean to be a reader today?

Library Advisors Hope Whitmore, Fiamma Curti and Dawn Gibson share what they think it means.

eBooks, graphic novels, blogs, audio and eaudiobooks, traditional printed books, fiction, non-fiction, and that genre that falls somewhere in between the two; there are many ways to be a reader in 2022, which is why the theme of World Book Day, You Are The Reader, is great – opening, as it does, a discussion of all the ways we can be readers now.

Illustration copyright: World Book Day

As a child, I struggled to read, the weird symbols on the page that didn’t make sense until I was seven when suddenly they did. Until this miracle of clarity, I was read to by my parents, by my siblings, or cross-legged on the bumpy carpet at primary school story-time. Even then, before the symbols made sense, I was a reader. I was hungry for stories. The worlds of Narnia, The Children’s Odyssey and Mordor were all wonderfully, terrifyingly real. I fought to learn to read, not because I had to, but because I needed to, needed to experience these stories myself, without the limit of one chapter a night (though I would often plead for more.)

I guess my point here is, that even though I wasn’t reading, I was engaging with the text in a real and vivid way. Reading wasn’t simply about knowing and deciphering the letters, it was about how books placed me in the world of someone else, someone in whom I was deeply invested, someone I shared adventures with and could not bare to see left in peril. The symbols were the means, a gateway, but the real experience of reading was far bigger than they could convey.

When I see children in the library being read to, even tiny babies, I see their engagement as their parent turns the pages, their excitement and anticipation. What will the next page reveal? These tiny infants are also readers. They engage, and engage so deeply, in such a real way, that seeing them, I think, yes, this is what reading is.

I love that there are so many ways to be a reader, as a child and as an adult, so many ways to immerse yourself in a good book. While I love to prop myself up on a stack of pillows with a traditional printed book, feeling the paper in my hands as I turn page after page, I see the appeal of ereaders, their lightness and portability (a whole library in 300grams.) Audiobooks are also great. During a period of agoraphobia, I would listen with one headphone in, one out, to audiobooks as I walked to and from work – the story somehow making the real world less scary, making the walk possible.

Others see reading differently: it’s the only solitary, slow activity in a world where everything is about instant communication and speed, says one friend. I don’t see it like this, but I love that opinions and experiences of reading differ so widely.

Fellow library adviser Dawn Gibson speaks about how reading for her has always been a sanctuary:
“It’s somewhere to go when real life gets too much and I always used to choose fiction and get lost in the inventions and sagas of lives of people I would never meet. More recently I need to know facts, which in part is probably a reaction to the snippets of information that are drip fed through social media. Working amongst the wonderful collection housed within Central Library is almost like having a superpower. I know that if I want to learn about something, this could be helping my daughter to start coding, or how to bake a Swedish Bundt, I can turn to the pages of a book and discover and keep discovering. Since having children it has become almost impossible to read a book cover to cover (I have a very precarious pile of half-read books on my bedside table) but even if I manage a few pages, it still provides a quiet moment, and the opportunity to escape somewhere else for a while.”

While library adviser Fiamma Curti emphasises the fellowship of reading, the connections it forges between one person and another: 
“Sometimes reading can be a group experience, through book clubs or by forcing all your loved ones to read that one book you can’t stop thinking about. Solitary readers still sharing the experience through the story. Or you can just read around people who are reading something else, everyone lost in their own world of fiction, but all connected by the same activity. And even more, you can read and be read to, through an audiobook put on during a long car journey, by reading to someone over the phone, in person before bed. Reading is a wonderful way of connecting not just with the great authors of past and present, with their character and their world, but also with those around you, creating beautiful communities with strangers and strengthening connections with friends.”

There can seem, at times, to be a division within reading, between what is real reading, and what isn’t, but I think that our varied experiences show this not to be real. I’ve been guilty of seeing some books as having a veneer of dust, similar to that on a butterfly’s wings – dust that is not to be disturbed by someone like me, but this too is a fallacy.

Fiamma agrees and goes further:
“Sometimes people preclude themselves from wonderful reading experiences because they don’t think they are going to get it. I see that happening a lot with one of my favourite things in the world: poetry. I often hear ‘I don’t get it,’ or ‘I’m not smart enough for it,’ and to that I reply: there is nothing to get. The beauty of reading is that you shape the book as much as the writer did when creating it. Once the book is in your hands what you get out of it is always right, because it is about your connection with it. Sometimes with poetry all I “get” is the rhythm of the words, sometimes it’s just one image that sticks with me, other times I get nothing until I re-read the poems months later. It’s all valid, it’s all good. As long as engaging with the text makes me feel something, then I’m reading it right.”

She continues,
“Reading is so wonderful because there is no wrong way of doing it. If you want to read a series out of order, no one can stop you. Skip a whole chapter if you’d like. Read the dialogue first and then go back for the description. Skim the page, skip a paragraph, go back to it at the end of the chapter. Leave a book half read and never look back. You, the reader, are the master of your own reading experience. I love to read the last line of any novel before I even start them. It usually makes no sense, sometimes it’s a massive spoiler, but it’s my way of reading and therefore it’s right for me.”

One of the reasons Central Library is so excellent, is the variety of books. As a staff member you can step from the hustle of the library floor with the red new stock trolleys, into the hush of the annex, where the old books live and breathe their dust. There is a magic about stepping from one to another, just as there is in moving from non-fiction to general fiction, to graphic novels and science fiction. There is space afforded to all these, as well as large print, books in various languages, ebooks and eaudiobooks. The latter gained massive popularity in lockdown on our Libby, BorrowBox and uLIBRARY apps, when we couldn’t be open as a physical building. They have maintained this popularity afterwards – which is brilliant. eBooks and downloadable audiobooks are a great extension to our library offer, as well as reaching out to people who might want a book and yet are not able to come into the library.

The inclusiveness of our collections, that we do not – will never – gatekeep, that we have something for everyone, is part of the magic of Edinburgh Libraries, and this is what I think it means to celebrate, you, the reader.

Illustration copyright: World Book Day

World Book Day is coming!

World Book Day celebrates its 25th year on 3rd March this year with the theme – ‘you are a reader’. Libraries across Edinburgh and our school libraries are putting together a range of events. Don’t forget to check out your local library Facebook page for further details.

Some of our highlights are listed below:
Community Libraries

Blackhall Library
Blackhall have 10 class visits slots planned and a host of fun activities for the children to enjoy. At the end of their visit, the children will receive a note from the ‘Bank of Blackhall’ and will take home a book.

Central Library
Central Library and Central Children’s will both have special World Book Day displays.

Currie Library
Currie Library –  will be running a Bookbug as usual in the morning, followed by two storytimes (one for 3-6’s and one for 7-10’s) and two drop-in crafts. They will also be asking children to find ‘Wally’ to win stickers.

Fountainbridge and Balgreen Libraries
Fountainbridge and Balgreen Libraries are working together with classes and local community groups to create a very special video which will be revealed on World Book Day on their social media pages.
Fountainbridge also has a storytelling session on World Book Day for 7 to 11 years old, from 3.45 to 4.15pm.

Moredun Library
Moredun Library are having a World Book Day party on Thursday 3 March from 3.30 to 4.30pm. There will be a book treasure hunt, quizzes, a book cover competition, word games and activities. (Spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.)

Morningside Library
Morningside will have an adult’s staff favourites, an adult’s book quiz and three books read in a foreign language, French, Greek and Africaans. Follow the fun on their Facebook page.
They’ll also be running a picture book cover quiz for children on Facebook.

Muirhouse Library
Muirhouse Library are pairing up with their local nursery for a range of stories and crafts.

Oxgangs Library
Oxgangs – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.

Portobello Library
Portobello Library will be having a World Book Day books treasure hunt, a picture book quiz for toddlers and their parents/carers, a colour in competition for 3-5 years and another for 6+ years.

Ratho Library
Ratho – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.

Sighthill Library
Sighthill – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.

Wester Hailes Library
Wester Hailes are reaching out to local primary schools for class visits to the library around World Book Day.
They’ll have some children’s resources (quiz & craft packs) available to pick up from the library too.

School Library Activities

Forrester’s High School
Forrester’s High School have Blackwell’s Bookshop supplying the £1 books and will have various activities (bookmark making / word searches / origami) going on over the whole week. All S1-3 classes can take part and their feature competition this year is a staff masked reader.

Wester Hailes High School
For World Book Day, Ms Prince is doing a presentation for S1 – 3 classes during their reading periods to highlight the fantastic ebook and audiobook resources available via Libby. She has vouchers and a handful of the WBD £1 books to give out as well.

James Gillespie’s High School
James Gillespie’s High School will celebrate with book themed competitions and a display of reader recommendations.

Holy Rood High School
Holy Rood High School will be running competitions across the school during the whole week, and we have a Book Sale courtesy of Blackwell’s Book Shop plus 300 of the £1 books to hand out to S1 and S2 pupils and enough £1 vouchers for everyone else!

Boroughmuir High School
S1 will be celebrating their reading journey and joining in with a book themed bingo.

Gracemount High School
Over the course of the day, Mrs Babbs will be hosting Book Pictionary – to highlight new stock, book tasting – S1 & P7’s, book displays – launch of displays by Nat 5 retail pupils and the £1 World Book Day Book Giveaway.

Liberton High School
Mrs Browne has lots of events planned including Masked Reader, staff dress up – fiction character, Read Or Be Read To, along with the launch of a football themed reading challenge.
Liberton and Gracemount will also both be running a silver themed book hunt to celebrate 25 years of World Book Day.

A fantastical Big Library Read

Join millions of others around the world in reading a fantastic young adult fantasy novel during the Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club. From 2-16 November, readers can borrow and read Tim Ryan La Sala’s wildly imaginative ebook or audiobook  Reverie from our OverDrive service. Travel to other worlds with your library card and no waiting lists, with the Libby app or by visiting our OverDrive website. You can even discuss the book online.

Find out what happens when the secret worlds people hide within themselves come to light. All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different—reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere, Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling.

The book will be available on the home page of the Libby/OverDrive apps and the OverDrive website from the 2 November and with unlimited downloads is perfect for discussing with your friends and family. Full instructions for using OverDrive can be found on our Your Library website.

The joy of rereading

Today’s blogpost is by Central Library’s Hope Whitmore, where she explores the joys and need to re-read beloved books.

“When I was a child, led into Kendal Library, holding my father’s hand, I looked up from my three foot something height at the shelves around me, and declared, grandly, ‘I will read all the books and then I will know everything in the world!’ 

Working in Edinburgh Central Library I would remember this, the wonder of so many books, and the way it seemed possible, to a five-year-old me, that these could be devoured. As a librarian I would see new books every day, not only the New new books, which went on the red trolley (unpacking and receipting these was one of my favourite tasks) but also new-to-me-books, the ones which had somehow (how?) remained hidden, even as I shelved trolleys and book checked. The main library was full of new discoveries to be made, slim little paperbacks, not previously noted, or huge tomes, somehow previously overlooked.

But, however much excitement I feel on discovering a new book, however thrilling it is to go down to the basement, cut open the boxes, remove the padding and reveal a box of gorgeous just published hardbacks, I am not staying true to my five-year-old self, rather, I have found myself lately going back to old familiar books, those I loved as a child, or in my early twenties, or even more recently than that.

Before lockdown I took out several books, and throughout lockdown have bought many others, but most of them remain unread, put to one side, in favour of the familiar novels I know and love, the rhythms of which I can follow, the beats of the story like the next note in a well-loved song.

Why, when surrounded by choice, do I do this? What happened to the child, who wanted to know all the things? And why do others reread books, particularly at times when things are hard. I set out to find out.

I put out a call on Social Media asking people why do you reread. Many cited familiarity as a reason to return to old books – the comfort of a story you know, the control of knowing what will happen, the pleasure of anticipation, the joy of remembering something suddenly, or pre-empting what is on the next page, with all the uncertainty and fallibility which comes with human memory (which way did this chapter lead, is this path how I remember it?) One friend, said ‘rereading gives comfort akin to rosary beads.’ Another friend wrote, ‘there is reassurance in knowing how something will end.’

There is also, however, the element of having changed, and therefore the book – seemingly once so beautiful, so strange, so romantic – having a different texture. ‘I first read Lolita when I was Lolita’s age,’ said one friend, ‘it reads totally differently reading it at the age of the character Humbert Humbert.’ 

At different ages, our life experience gives us different lenses. My favourite series of all time, The Cazalet Chronicles, follows a family with characters of all ages. You get to be so many different people, from the stubborn Louise who longs to play Hamlet, the beautiful but unhappy Zoe, to the lonely, lovely, dowdy Miss Milliment with stains on her clothes, and her glasses always hazy from the food she drops on them. Whichever stage of life you are at, you can ‘get’ the characters. 

In one of The Cazalet Books, I believe it is marking time, Clary, the imaginative little girl with always bitten nails begins to grow up, and speaks about reading for the sake of ‘meeting old friends again.’ This comes at a time when Clary feels lost. Her father, Rupert, is lost in France following the Normandy landings, presumed dead. She therefore seeks refuge in books, and the familiar friendship of these characters whose stories she knows, and who she can turn to again and again. These people are flawed, complex, human, and beloved, but on the page they don’t change, even as we do.

Perhaps this is what leads us to reread. Many people cite familiarity, in a world where things are looking far from familiar, with a lens, which is coloured by current events and different than any lens through which we have read before. Maybe, when we are so altered, so unsure, so lost, even, we need to reach for these old friends, to open their books, and greet them once again, ready to run the familiar, wild, overgrown paths, and hear their stories told anew.”

Join in with the Big Library Read

Join millions of others around the world in reading a historical fiction thriller during the Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club. From 3-17 August, readers can borrow and read Tim Mason’s “intellectually stimulating and viscerally exciting” ebook or audiobook The Darwin Affair from our OverDrive service. Solve the mystery from home – with your library card and no waiting lists, with the Libby app or by visiting our OverDrive website. You can even discuss the book online.

Historical fiction novel The Darwin Affair takes place in London during June 1860. When an assassination attempt is made on Queen Victoria, and a petty thief is gruesomely murdered moments later, Detective Inspector Charles Field quickly surmises that these crimes are connected to an even more sinister plot. Soon, Field’s investigation exposes a shocking conspiracy in which the publication of Charles Darwin’s controversial On the Origin of Species sets off a string of murders, arson, kidnapping, and the pursuit of a madman named the Chorister. As he edges closer to the Chorister, Field uncovers dark secrets that were meant to remain forever hidden. Tim Mason has created a rousing page-turner that both Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would relish!

The book will be available on the home page of the Libby/OverDrive apps and the OverDrive website from the 3 August and with unlimited downloads is perfect for discussing with your friends and family. If you use #biglibraryread on social media you’ll be entered into a draw to win a Samsung Galaxy Tablet!  Full instructions for using OverDrive can be found on our Your Library website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday book quiz: round 3 (the answers)

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Friday book quiz: round 2 (the answers)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday book quiz: round 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hundreds of books delivered to vulnerable Edinburgh families in isolation

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

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

Edinburgh Libraries’ Book Bus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book bags ready to be delivered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff preparing the Book bus and bags

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

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

Friday book quiz: round 1 (the answers)

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

The answers are revealed below.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

b) Children of ruin
c) Walking to Aldebaran

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

How many did you get?

Friday book quiz – round 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What libraries mean to me with Douglas Wright

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

Douglas Wright from the Music and Art and Design team.

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

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

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

It was nice to dip my toe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What libraries mean to me with Molly Kent

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

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

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

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

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

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

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

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

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

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

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

Some of our favourite books of 2019

Ever wondered what library staff choose to read? We asked some of our colleagues to recommend a book they’d particularly enjoyed reading this past year. Here’s what they said:

Carol at Stockbridge Library recommends The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.
“I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood, both her books and her politics. This novel has a humour to it although very dark in parts as it relates to this dystopian society, where the main characters Charmaine and Stan start off by living their lives in a car. Desperate to have a better live they embark on a ‘social experiment’ which splits their lives between suburban living one month, swopping it with a prison cell the next. All is not as it seems as both characters stray in their relationship with their alternative others. This is where things start to unfold in a very sinister way. And by the way Elvis makes an appearance, but not as you know him! This book was great fun to read and difficult to put down.”
Available as an ebook

Susan in the Digital Team tells us about The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel.
“It’s fair to say I wasn’t really looking forward to reading “The Stranger in the Woods” by Michael Finkel when it was chosen by my book group. I couldn’t see me enjoying a book about a man who spent almost 30 years of his life with no human interaction hiding out in the woods of Maine – the thought seemed horrifying.  That’s the good thing about book groups though, they throw books and ideas at you that you’d never think of reading and you discover gems like this. Christopher Knight was just 20 years old when he walked into the woods and created a home for himself hidden from the world, whilst living just minutes from other people.  Food and supplies were scavenged and stolen from the rural community around him without anyone ever seeing him, leading him to become known as the North Pond Hermit.  His story is unlike anything you have read and challenges all sorts of beliefs you might have had, bringing up more questions than answers really. Like why did Knight choose the life of a hermit and could you do the same? Why do we feel its wrong to live like this and was it right to try to make him conform to society’s values?  Would you steal to survive and did his thievery make Knight a bad person?  Want a short, fascinating non-fiction read – then this is the one for you.
Available as an ebook

Douglas from the Music Library recommends Sleeping Giants, (The Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel.
“I was in a well-known bookshop one day, browsing titles, when my daughter picked up a copy of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. She was at that point almost set upon by a staff member who began to tell how good this book was and so on and so forth.  This kind of intrusion by staff in any shop is unwanted and unwelcome, so she put the book down and we made to move away. At that moment, an older gentleman leaned over the book table and said quietly, it really is a very good read and not at all how it was just described to you, completely different from anything he had read before, and a page turner.
All of which I have to agree with wholeheartedly, I am not a Sci-Fi reader but this has many more elements than just Sci-Fi. It is very readable, it moves with pace and is over all too quickly.
Sleeping Giants is the first part of a trilogy, the Themis files which I would also recommend.”

Clare in the Digital Team really liked The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.
“I loved The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It’s a book unlike any I’ve ever read before. It was like being stuck in a sinister video game set in a stately home who-dunnit story. The narration changes every day as the protagonist slips into a different character in a race against time to solve the crime before he’s destined to start the story loop all over again – never knowing who he can trust, including himself.
It was complicated and clever and confusing but well worth the effort. I read this book back in January but it’s by far the most memorable book I read all year.”
Available as an ebook

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries recommends two books. Her favourite fiction book of 2019 is Georgina Harding’s Land of the Living.
“Set in Norfolk and Nagaland in North East India, the narratives centres around Charlie, a young British Officer recently returned from service in India and Burma during the Second World War as he tries to reconnect with his childhood landscape of Norfolk, settling back into home and married life working a farm. Switching between the internal dialogue of Charlie’s memories and day to day conversations with his wife in Norfolk we learn more of Charlie’s harrowing experiences during the war and his time spent living with the Naga tribe. Charlie can’t bring himself to tell his young wife all he has experienced and this disparity between his experiences and what he reveals to even those close to him creates a powerful drama in the book. I found the book particularly interesting as I’d never heard of the Naga tribe and the book goes into quite some detail about their way of living and customs which I followed up with my own research. There’s also a dog in the story who lives on the farm with Charlie and his wife in Norfolk who to me seemed to symbolise home and family but when I asked the author this at a book festival signing she said, no, it’s just a dog, dogs are part of farm life.”

Bronwen’s favourite non-fiction book of 2019 is Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail.
“Based on Day’s series of podcasts in which interviewees explore what their failures have taught them, the book is divided into themes we can all relate to, such as family, work, relationships. It’s a powerfully honest book and Day reveals much of her own emotional and other personal struggles, but at the same time I found the book funny and uplifting. This is a book everyone can relate to – we’ve all failed at things at various times in our lives and we’re probably all still failing, and sometimes we learn to do things better the next time and sometimes not. The book made me want to write my own chapter on how to fail at being a library manager…”
Available as an ebook

Nicola from Kirkliston and South Queensferry Libraries picks Me by Elton John as her highlight of the year.
“This official autobiography by the Rocket Man (Elton John) did not disappoint. His early childhood and influence of his mother, whom he had a strained relationship with due to her moods and volatility, were contrasted to the nurturing role taken on by is grandmother. The absence of encouragement to be himself, and a burning ambition and desire to carve his own path lead to him undertaking to study at the Royal Academy of Music ultimately throwing out convention and turning to rock and roll.
There are so many times in his life where he reflects on the turning points which defined his career, often brought about by chance or twists of fate – the most career defining being his being given the contact for Bernie Taupin – his long standing lyricist and song writing partner.
There are so many anecdotes, which reveal an honesty and openness about a not perfect, but a life which has been lived to the fullest. I loved the anecdote about Sylvester Stalone, Richard Gere and Princess Diana coming to his home for a dinner party.
A page turning read, which had me hooked in its openness – a real roller coaster ride if ever there was one – fasten your seat belts!! 😉”

Janette from the Digital Team chooses The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay

A twenty – nine year old man lives alone in his Glasgow flat. The telephone rings, a casual conversation, but behind this a job offer. The clues are there if you know where to find them.

“Meet Calum Maclean, a free lance hit man for the Glasgow underworld, who is hired to bring about the demise of small-time drug dealer Lewis Winter.
It’s an easy job, in and out. It’s what happens next that creates problems. Calum finds himself embroiled in a turf war between an up and coming crime boss Shug Francis and the man who’s hired him, Jamieson, the long-standing boss in that part of town. Winter was one of Francis’s men and Jamieson put the hit out to send a message to Francis, who shall we say is none too pleased. He may have to do something, like go after Calum.
Written entirely in the present tense, it could well be described as a criminal procedural book. The chapters are short, and I found myself saying ‘just one more chapter’ before long half the book had been read……one more chapter?
This is the first book in what has become a trilogy, the next two are on my list to read over the holidays.”

Nikki from South Queensferry Library recommends To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf is one of those authors I’ve always meant to dip into, but I picked this book up on a bit of a whim. The book is centred around the Ramsay family and their holiday home on the Isle of Skye. Knowing very little about her style of writing and nothing at all about the plot of the book helped me enjoy both the characters and story for what they are. There’s dense poetic description in places, but rather than putting me off it made me want to slow my pace and take in as much as possible. Time is distorted in the story and changing character perspectives on top of this can make it a little hard to follow at times, but Woolf’s focus on the everyday tensions of family life and the affects of grief are very moving. I really enjoyed To the Lighthouse, and I think it’s a book I could come back to again and again and still find a new layer to the story.

Cecylia from Edinburgh and Scottish Collection recommends Things that Fall from the Sky by Selja Ahava.

“Things that Fall from the Sky was one of this year’s reads in our Found in Translation book group. We read it alongside the Finnish book group at our sister library, Iisalmi  and exchanged our thoughts on the book. I found it wonderfully weird and enchanting, also tragic and humorous at the same time. It’s a story or a fairy tale of three characters whose lives are changed forever by random events. A mother dies when hit by a block of ice which falls from the sky. A woman wins the lottery twice and a man is struck by the lightning four times. How they cope with the unexpected events? How they try to explain them? How they love and grieve?
Most highly recommended.”

What have you been reading this year?
Fancy joining a book group in 2020? Get in touch with your local library to find out how you can join their group or drop into the Central Library BookCafe

Read another about another great book recommendation from our Art and Design Library. 


Spooky Halloween Reads

Looking for a spooky read this Halloween? Here are some of our favourite children’s titles! Click on the title to reserve a copy at your local library.

Christopher pumpkin by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
Christopher Pumpkin is delighted to be magicked to life by a witch – until he discovers she wants him and the other pumpkins to get her creepy castle ready for the spookiest party ever! Chris just can’t bring himself to hang cobwebs and cook curried slugs – he’s much more into bunting and fairy cakes!

Horrid Henry and the Zombie Vampire by Francesca Simon
Henry’s class are on a spooky school trip to the local museum, but could there be a terrifying zombie vampire on the loose? Henry soon has his classmates believing Miss Battle-Axe and Miss Lovely might be scarier than they seem. Originally published: as part of Horrid Henry and the zombie vampire.


Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbit
Welcome to the Embassy of the Dead. Leave your life at the door. Jake likes to stay out of trouble, usually. But when he opens a strange box containing a severed finger, trouble comes knocking at his door. Literally. Jake has summoned a reaper to drag him to the Eternal Void (yep, it’s as deadly as it sounds) and his only option is to RUN FOR HIS LIFE! Alone (and a tiny bit scared, to be honest), Jake makes another spooky discovery – he can see and speak to ghosts and, with the help of his deadly gang (well dead, at least) – ancient butler Stiffkey, hockey stick-wielding Cora, and Zorro the ghost fox – Jake has one mission: find the Embassy of the Dead and seek refuge. But the Embassy has troubles of its own and may not be the safe haven Jake is hoping for.

Mossbelly MacFearsome and the Goblin Army by Alex Gardiner
It’s Halloween, and Roger is yet again pulled into a bonkers adventure with the grouchy dwarf warrior Mossbelly MacFearsome. It turns out that Roger has accidentally set free the vicious Goblin Chief Redcap, who is looking to open an ancient portal back to his own world. Now Roger, Moss and their friends must track him down before he unleashes a mighty horde of goblins hellbent on destruction, mayhem – and pickled onions. But how exactly does one find a ghoulish goblin on the one night of the year when everyone is in spooky fancy dress?

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab
Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake, even more than usual. She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs. When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter – and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger. And if Cass fails, the force she’s unleashed could haunt the city forever.

Look out too for the Spooky Reads collection of ebooks and audiobooks on our Kid’s OverDrive site and Halloween Horrors on the Teen OverDrive site.