Now there are so many fewer things to do outside the house, it is easier to get a solid block of time in which to read without distraction

Contributor: Holly Rees

Have you read more or less during lockdown, or much the same as usual?

I have read a lot more than usual during lockdown. The additional time that I have at home since lockdown has been a lovely opportunity to read more. I am not doing things like going climbing, skiing or out for other social activities (or even going to the supermarket very often!!) so I have found myself both reading more and watching more films.

Has lockdown affected your choice of reading material?

Not directly. I think what has affected my choice of reading material has been the social reckoning related to the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA (where I live). Over the summer, this lead me to read more informational non-fiction books about anti-racism and the history of racial injustice in the USA and Europe. I have also tried to read books from a authors across a broader range of nationality, gender and race than I used to.

Have you switched from your normal genre? eg started reading poetry, short stories, non fiction, drama?

I did try reading some poetry for variety, but I did not enjoy it all that much!! I have really enjoyed a few anthologies of short stories, a genre that I had not read at all before the lockdown. 

Have you been using reading in a different way – for example for comfort, raising your spirits, for escapism, distraction?

I don’t think so. 

Have you been finding it harder to concentrate during lockdown?

I would almost say the opposite. Now there are so many fewer things to do outside the house, it is easier to get a solid block of time in which to read without distraction.

Now that you can’t go to a bookshop or library to browse, how do you get inspiration for titles? (Radio? Friends? Online reviews? Emails from Amazon, Waterstones, etc?) 

I get a lot of books as ebooks (Kindle) from the Boston Public Library, who also have great recommendations. Recommendations from “famous” individuals (particularly Roxanne Gay and Barack Obama) have also been major sources of book ideas for me.  Finally, I use a website called “Goodreads” to note and review books that I read, and I have a couple of voracious reader friends who also use it. I can see what they are reading and how well they like it, so I use this as another great source of recommendations.

Have you embarked on reading all the books you already own but have never read?

Not really!!! I think since I moved to the US 6 years ago I haven’t had time to amass a collection of unread books.

Have you been listening to audiobooks rather than, or in addition to, reading? If so, does listening add something different/extra to your experience of the book that you don’t get by reading it yourself?

Yes! I use Audible (which is unfortunately now Amazon-owned, but sadly remains one of the best options for audiobooks), or the public library when possible. I listen while I exercise, walk to and from work or do other chores. I really love the experience of being read to, especially if it is an autobiography that is read by the author or a novel read by the author. I’m currently listening to Cicely Tyson’s autobiography “Just as I am”, read by her. It feels like a privilege to listen to her telling me her own life story.

Have you started books and been unable to finish them?

Not very frequently. There have been a couple of audiobooks I didn’t like and didn’t bother finishing “Clanlands” (this was absolutely not what I expected – very focused on the friendship between the narrators and not on Scottish history!!!) and “The Shadow King” – I really want to like this novel about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, but it was perhaps a bit complicated to get into as an audiobook – I kept getting very confused.  

Have you been reading books about pandemics? eg The Plague by Albert Camus, Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Roses of Eyam by Don Taylor etc?

No!!! I don’t want to read about it!! 

Where are you sourcing your books/audiobooks from?

Boston Public Library (eBooks and some audiobooks), Harvard Bookstore (can order books for pickup or go instore for short periods with limited capacity) and Audible (audiobooks – I get 2 per month).

Can you recommend up to 5 books/audiobooks that you have enjoyed/that have helped you during lockdown?

  1. “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah: This was utterly hilarious, as well as providing some insights into what life was like as a mixed race child under the crelty of apartheid in South Africa.
  2. “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin Diangelo: This was quite an uncomfortable read since I could recognize a lot of negative thought patterns in myself, but I am glad I have taken in the information. I hope to revisit it frequently to avoid forgetting.
  3. “The Great Believers” Rebecca Makkai. A wonderful, and very sad, recent novel about the AIDS crisis in the US.
  4. “Our house is on fire: Scenes of a family in crisis” by Malena Ernman, Greta Thunberg, Svante Thunberg, Beata Ernman. 
  5. “The collapsing empire” by John Scalzi. I never, ever, thought I would like a sci-fi book, but this was extremely compulsive. 

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