Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading
Rainer Maria Rilke
This blog has been set up to host a Lockdown Reading Project, looking at how living under lockdown restrictions for prolonged periods of time has affected people’s reading habits, their ability to concentrate and their motivation. You will find blog posts describing different participants’ individual experiences of reading during a pandemic, plus some book recommendations. If you would like to participate in the project, please contact us here.
Lockdown lethargy – is it a thing? For me, certainly, I’m sorry to say. At the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020 I thought I would use the enforced seclusion at home to plough my way through substantial 19th century novelists: Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontes, Wilkie Collins and many, many more. I have read and loved novels by all of those authors, and thought I would fill in the gaps. To my surprise, I couldn’t bring myself even to pick up a single one of them, let alone embark on reading them. It was disconcerting – what had happened to my concentration? I turned to shorter, less demanding works, but couldn’t finish them. An unfinished book haunts me with a sense of failure, but I couldn’t muster the energy to persevere.
After several conversations with people who, it turned out, were experiencing the same dispiriting lack of motivation, I decided it would be interesting to see how widespread this malaise was. Was lockdown exerting some mysterious negative influence, draining us of energy? Or did hardier souls than me find the wherewithal to knuckle down and read all those tomes they had been meaning to read for years?
Hence the Lockdown Reading Project. Here you will find how other people have experienced reading under lockdown, and gain some book recommendations along the way. I hope you enjoy reading people’s musings on their reading, or failure to read, in these strange, unsettling times.
- Graham Bartlett talks about his second callingI did actually want to explore something about how it was different for women both in terms of what they go through, but also what they offer
- Graham Bartlett, bestselling author and advisor to crime writers, talks about his police careerAll I ever wanted to do was join the police
- Elly Griffiths talks about life under lockdown in her latest Ruth Galloway book The Locked RoomI’ve always wanted to write a locked room mystery, and here we are in a locked world
- Professor Stuart Sillars talks about illustrated fiction between the warsI came to think of these magazines as very important survival mechanisms, keeping people together in communities
- Peter James talks about his mate Roy Grace, Super Recognisers and playing with timeHe’s always been like a real character, almost like a mate to me
- GraceAt the beginning of lockdown in the spring of 2020 I thought I would make use of the extra time at home to catch up on my ever growing, and increasingly daunting ‘to be read’ pile
- I know I have books that I will never open, and on a few occasions I’ve bought them just because they are beautiful to look at!I have at times used audiobooks as company in the middle of the night, but apart from that, I have just picked the books that look like an interesting mystery.
- For many years I’ve read fairly randomly; nearing the end of a novel I’d decide what was the logical successor and then illogically read something entirely different.I favour reading fiction, with occasional biographies, usually about writers or composers.
- It is very easy to put down an electronic book and forget you have it. A physical book sits by your chair, or by your bed and is a reminder to carry on reading.Have you read more or less during lockdown, or much the same as usual? Well, it rather depends on what you define as “usual.” Before I retired, about a year prior to Lockdown, most of my reading was done on the train during my commute.
- I have steered away from pandemic themes …I read quite a lot in normal times and so I think my reading consumption has not much changed in terms of quantity
- StinkpipesYou may feel that Cambridge is a rather clean and fresh-smelling kind of place, with all the greens and commons. But one piece of street furniture, found all over the place, suggests it was once a much smellier city.
- The Leper Chapel and the largest fair in medieval EuropeThe Barnwell Junction end of Newmarket Road is now more commonly known for Cambridge United, but it was once the site of a leper hospital, known as Stourbridge Hospital.
- Hunting the ghosts of local businessesBuildings often tell stories and hint at their history
- Tony’s TroughBetween a set of bike racks and next to Lloyd’s Bank, on a north Cambridge traffic island, there is a rather strange monument: a memorial dog trough. This was erected in 1934, in memory of a dog named Tony. It was put there at the request of Prince Chula of Siam, who studied at Trinity… Continue reading Tony’s Trough
- Chesterton MillTeenage me had a paper round and I used to deliver papers to a converted mill in the mid-1990s. It was the office building of an educational publisher called Pearson Publishing. Their order was all the daily papers plus a large amount of trade press. I used to have to do that drop-off first, then… Continue reading Chesterton Mill
- The Babes in the WoodWhat a sorry little tale this is …
- A Family of PhrenologistsWhen we think of seaside promenade attractions, such as fortune-telling, palm-reading and so forth, we tend to imagine stripey booths and bead curtains.
- Discovering Tower TreasuresWhat’s really housed in Cambridge University Library’s fabled 17 storey tower? Contrary to a popular notion among students, the tower is not packed with pornography (Neville Chamberlain did rather unfortunately refer to the tower as ‘this magnificent erection’) but you might be surprised to learn that it houses a remarkable collection of so called ‘ephemera’… Continue reading Discovering Tower Treasures
- The Average Boy“When stress of weather, or the coming of long winter evenings, or any other reason gives the indoor part of life a larger importance, this indoor handy book will be found an invaluable companion.” If your children are bored being cooped up at home under the current lockdown, this may well be the book for… Continue reading The Average Boy
- Angel roofsThere are more angel roofs in East Anglia than anywhere else in the country
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Librarian, avid reader of detective novels and Victorian fiction, I love the North Norfolk coast, Suffolk countryside and angel roofs in East Anglian churches. And trees.
Engineer, musician and filmmaker, with an interest in travelling in old vehicles and on bicycles.
I worked on the Tower Project at Cambridge University Library, probably the happiest time of my entire working life. I was part of a small team tasked with cataloguing online all books received between 1800 and 1925. We catalogued 220,000 before the funding ran out. The books were stored in the Library’s iconic 17 storey tower – hence the name Tower Project. I miss those quirky, intriguing and sometimes bizarre books, so now I write about them on this blog (see Tower Treasures).
I enjoy East Anglia’s wealth of medieval churches with their stunning rood screens and angel roofs. East Anglia has more angel roofs than anywhere else in the country by far – appropriate somehow to our vast, wide open skies.
I’m a bit obsessed with trees (I have planted 17 so far in my garden) and detective fiction.
My cure for low spirits is watching Life on Mars. And being at Lord’s cricket ground with my sons. And standing on Holkham Beach under a vast Norfolk sky.
In April 2020 I started what would become a year long project. I set out to cycle each and every lane and drove road in the fens to the south east of the River Cam in Cambridgeshire, somewhere I knew but had forgotten. Initially I chose random routes but soon formalised either the start or the end of the route so I could photograph the same field from the same spot each time I passed, a selfie as well. The route is at least 30km and I have cycled it most days for one year. One year on I have covered over 10,000km on each and every drove road and lane, past every perch and rood of the fenland landscape and rediscovered this fascinating place. The photographs now form the basis of a short film that will be accompanied by a new soundtrack that I am working on, a soundtrack composed entirely on vintage analogue synthesisers and recorded direct to cassette tape. One year, 10,000kms, two bikes and one life saved.