Books from Lockdown

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To say that lockdown has been an unusual time would be a massive understatement. The Stryvling team are a group of current MLitt students of Stirling’s Publishing Studies course, yet due to restrictions we have never met in person. As a way to get to know our fellow course members and some of our lecturers, the Marketing team asked people to write a short piece about a book they enjoyed over lockdown. We thought we should share these with you, so that you can learn more about our wonderful team, and maybe get some reading recommendations too! 


The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri. It was challenging, thought-provoking and harrowing, and it helped me better understand the motivations, perspectives and hopes of those fleeing to the west for refuge and the chance of a better life. 


Each lockdown gets gloomier, so it’s been nice to read Kae Tempest On Connection. A book about art – whatever form it takes – being an undertone of life, Tempest’s words have allowed me to cement my relationship with myself in a rather unprecedented time. 


I’ve really enjoyed Neil Ansell’s The Last Wilderness, a lovely nature memoir about the author’s walks around the West Highlands. They say the same parts of our brain light up as though we’re actually experiencing what we’re reading about, and I could really smell the mossy woodlands, hear the seabirds and see the otters. Perfect lockdown escapism! 


I was hooked to The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. I was on edge with its non-linear storytelling and it kept me guessing how the events were going to unfold. I liked it so much I immediately downloaded Foley’s other thriller, The Guest List


One story that stood out last year was called Fears and Confessions of an Ortolan Chef by Eley Williams. It’s a short piece which involves a tiny songbird and those that feed them figs and illegally drown and poach them in Armagnac for secretive customers. It’s about lipstick coming back on a partner’s sleeves – no questions asked – and the shifting realities we face throughout our day. Williams uses the short story form perfectly to describe one thing whilst communicating a million others.  


I thoroughly enjoyed David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – interwoven stories of people that transcend time and space. This fiction plot shows how decisions can haven an impact on future actions and lead to different paths. 


A book series I’ve been reading a lot recently is The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. I managed to get most of the comics as e-books in a really good deal online at the start of the first lockdown and haven’t stopped reading since then. Although reading a series about a zombie apocalypse in the middle of a global pandemic might sound a bit grim, I actually find it really encouraging to read about humanity surviving and creating new societies while the world is ending.  


One of my latest reads was Ashley Audrain’s debut novel The Push which shows the dark side of motherhood, and how family history can threaten to overpower stability. This is a stunning debut, and one which is a compelling read, full of twists and turns, I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves a psychological thriller. 


Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life was the most thought-provoking book I read during lockdown. Sheldrake introduces the complexities of fungus from the wood wide web to zombies and it was particularly useful to see a guide for how to turn books into alcohol through fermentation in a worst-case scenario! 


Recently I read Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January. An ideal lockdown novel, it instantly transported me to sunnier climes and different times (1960s Athens, Crete and Paris). I’m not much of a mystery/crime reader but Highsmith’s work is an exception – I enjoy her complex (often morally-dubious) characters and the intense, claustrophobic atmosphere she deftly creates. The Crete-setting brought back welcome-memories of a summer holiday there 15 years or so ago. A satisfyingly sinister read!  


My favourite lockdown read was The Stray Cats of Homs by Eva Nour. This captivating story highlights the brutality and horror of war-torn Syria. Inspired by true events, there is a story of a young man fighting to keep his dream of home alive. The Stray cats of Homs is a rare story. It is tender and raw – it will make you shed tears and appreciate freedom. 


One of the my favourite things I read during lockdown was Andy Weir’s The Martian. I found it strangely comforting to read about one man’s response to being left totally isolated on Mars. I really enjoyed how much scientific research Weir had conducted and put into the book itself, and how the character of Mark’s internal processes began to deteriorate the longer he was left on Mars. A genuinely enjoyable read! I can’t wait to read more by Weir! 


I’m currently reading Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-made World by Leslie Kern. Verso Books released it as a free eBook recently in response to ongoing protests in the UK, and I’m so glad they did. The book is sensitive to issues of gender, race, class and age, so while drawing heavily on Kern’s own experience, the work remains dedicated to all people who are marginalised by patriarchal urban spaces. So far I’m finding it an insightful, yet very accessible, read. 


One author I always find myself returning to and rereading is Tove Jansson. One of my latest rereads is Fair Play which is a collection of stories about two women, Mari and Jonna, their love, their work, and their lives separate and together. Regardless if it is the Moomins or her other novels or collections, her work has always brought me comfort, and Fair Play and its stories about giving and taking, compromises, communication and a relationship that survives even if people changes is a perfect example of that. 


I’ve mostly got through lockdown by listening to audio versions of comfort reads, and particularly the Jeeves novels of P. G. Wodehouse, brilliantly read by Jonathan Cecil. But Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case has been a pertinent exception: tired of love, life, and work, a man attempts to disappear from all three in a leper colony near the Congo river.

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