Books to read in lockdown
Books, lists

6 books to read while you’re in lockdown

I’ve got to tell you guys that a more optimistic (to be read: in denial) side of me wanted to be a fountain of creativity and productivity and all the other -ivities that lots of lifestyle blogs and influencers are telling us we should be during this weird time. Weird is a bit of an understatement – I’ll go with surreal. Anyway, all of that turned out to be miles off from even the shores of reality.

Sometimes we just need to take things very, very slowly. You haven’t written 2,000 words of your debut novel? That’s okay. Haven’t felt inspired to paint a masterpiece? That’s fine. Not learning a new skill to make you hot shit at work? No worries. Sometimes it’s an achievement just to get up and fight through the day again. Sometimes having a shower and changing out of pyjamas and into your favourite booty-accentuating leggings is all you need to do to be “productive”, whatever that means anymore. Please can we give ourselves permission to NOT be renaissance men and women in the middle of a rather scary pandemic. Thanks.

Now that that’s covered, let’s look one of the ways we can deal with staying home more: reading. I’ve found comfort and, when I can’t bring myself to write, a kind of creative nourishment in books recently. Even more so than usual as a bookworm. So with that in mind, here’s a little lockdown reading list to help you escape for a few hours, no matter where in the world you are.

Mythos by Stephen Fry

This lovely retelling of the Greek myths brings together two of my favourite things on this Earth: Stephen Fry and mythology. Oh, and a stunning book cover. I can’t tell you guys how much of a comfort I found this book to be – it feels like he’s reading me bedtime stories. You can hear his razor-sharp wit and the gentle cadence of his voice come through the page – a testament to his skill as a writer, I think.

Right, enough about my clear crush on Stephen. More about the book. The narrative itself does a fantastic job of weaving together all the (kind of incesty) threads of Greek myth we’ve picked up from popular culture, creating one big, beautiful tapestry for us all to appreciate and learn about.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This bestseller is actually on my to-read list, but the simple fact that it’s just come out as a TV series (in the UK, at least) makes this a perfect lockdown read.

I’m very here for something emotionally devastating, which apparently this is. Can we please make ’emotionally devastating’ into its own genre? I’ve got suggestions: On Chesil Beach, The Memory Police, et al.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

I’ve written a full review of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, and I loved it so much I had to mention it again here. It’s so delicately written and explores the ripple effect a single action in a single relationship can have masterfully. Genre-wise, I’d put it somewhere in the realm of magical realism. There may be time travel and a grouchy ghost, but it is primarily a story about relationships, and an exploration of that ‘what if?’ feeling we get when, in taking one course of action, we close off all other routes into the future.

Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I was very late to the literary game reading this, but I loved it when I finally got into it this year. Escape into the smokey world of 19th century London, and get better acquainted with one of the best-known characters in popular culture: Dr Jekyll – or Mr Hyde. He answers to both these days.

Even if you’re already familiar with what happens in the book, more or less, the way this is written will have you in a fever to get to the next page, and the next, and the next. One of the reasons I loved this gothic novella so much is the sheer depth of the themes it explores. From the duality of mankind to the nature of good and evil, the struggles of addiction, society versus the primal within us all – and probably a whole lot more I’m yet to discover on my next reading.

Emma by Jane Austen

Reading books from a different time, culture, or genre than the one you’re accustomed to feels like a good way to escape for a bit, don’t you think? Emma is one of Austen’s most popular and best-loved novels, and was recently turned into another film adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhoose.

Emma is a bit of a nosey know-it-all who fancies herself a bit of a matchmaker. We all know someone like this, even today, I’m sure. Anyway, she’s got a good heart really, but through the course of the narrative we see her mature (to be read: eat a slice of humble pie) thanks to a series of match-making blunders and her own stubborn determination that she’ll never fall in love or marry. She’s far too clever for that. The drama of it all, you guys.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Ah, Agatha. Your tales of detective fiction are like a comfy, oversized bean-bag I can sink into after a long day, preferably with a glass of red wine. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd isn’t the first novel she wrote in her Poirot series, but it is the first work of hers I read during my BA. It’s an easy but very satisfying read, where Hercule Poirot entertains but also gets down to the bottom of a gruesome murder. Best bit about this novel? Very interesting use of the narrator. I’ll say no more.


So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Five books for you to crack open in lockdown. I hope, as you’re reading this, that you’re keeping safe and well, and that you’re staying an actual 2 metres away from everyone when you’re out and about. Seriously, lockdown has taught me that very few people actually know what 2 metres looks like. Ugh.

If you have any other recommendations, please pop them in the comments!

Kelly

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Bookshops in Manchester
Uncategorized

Independent Bookshops in Central Manchester

Well, ladies and gents, this is going to be a bit of a change from our usual ‘independent bookshops’ posts because to be honest, I was a little disappointed – a first for me!

I’m as surprised as you are, possibly more so because I actually braved Storm Dennis for this. I had a few bookshops lined up in central Manchester, namely Chapter One, Manchester Book Buyers, and Paramount Books. I did stumble upon a couple of others, but we’ll talk about those later. Onwards.

Chapter One

This is going to be quick, kids. While this place used to be a bookshop and cafe, it seems they’ve retained the bookshop theme without actually selling books. So this bookshop…is not a bookshop.

It’s weird, and pretty confusing given that their website, Instagram, and Google listing suggest that they do sell books. It literally says ‘independent bookshop’ on their bio.

Call me old-fashioned, but I just can’t come to terms with the fact that books are purely decorative at this place now. That being said, it really is a pretty cafe (great for the ‘gram?) and they do a cracking soy cappuccino. This seems like a lovely place to get work done or study for your next exam – I just think they need to change their name/Google listing to avoid this exact situation.

Manchester Book Buyers

I was excited about this right until I walked into the little nook nestled quite inconspicuously on bustling Church Street. I’m the kind of person who disapproved of dog-earing pages and can’t bear to break spines, so you can imagine how jarring it was when I saw mountains of books piled on top of each other with little to no care.

Covers were bent backwards over themselves, pages squashed into accordion look-a-likes under the weight of their fellow sufferers, and it was near impossible to actually find anything in the mess of it all. Not for me personally, but if you’re in the market for a cheap read and don’t mind the wear and tear, this’ll suit you just fine.

Paramount Books

This place was very promising at first glance, and I really liked the quirky fact that you could hear music playing from here before you even arrived. There are a few bits about this place that left me less than interested in actually buying a book, though.

The proprietor seems to have an issue with mobile phones. I spotted no fewer than five signs ordering customers to SWITCH OFF YOUR PHONE! With no reason whatsoever disclosed. Like…why? Is this an aeroplane? Will I get kicked out? Was it made illegal in the 10 seconds before I got here? Not a great first impression, primarily because I don’t like being told what to do.

Magma

I stumbled across Magma while having a bit of a wander. It’s one of those artsy-looking bookshops that have quite a limited range of actual books, a huge range of niche magazines, and zines that make me ask the question “who on earth is buying these?”

The section I found particularly alienating here was the zine section – which I’m normally pretty excited about. One of the zines for sale was a collection of screenshots from the Simpsons, printed on coloured paper, and stapled together. No writing. No real substance. Just laziness masquerading as something so profoundly avant-garde that us plebs can’t possibly ‘get’ it.

Anywhere Out of the World

This one was promising, but my excitement faded quickly. There was a single wall of shelves – with a decent range of decently priced second-hand books on them. A table with some ‘reads of the month’ laid out. A decorative old cash register. And that’s about it.

Nowhere to sit in this rather dimly-lit space. No clear indication of who actually works there and who’s come to say ‘hi’ to their friend at work. No acknowledgement from staff when you walk in as a now-befuddled customer. Just…odd. But this one definitely has a lot of potential as a bookshop – it just needs warming up a little, and better customer experience.

The John Rylands Library

Shout-out to my friend Nicola for letting me know this place exists. This made up for the strange disappointment I felt after visiting all the independent shops in a big way. Before you even enter the building, you’ll notice its absolutely stunning architecture; it’s like something out of your favourite Harry Potter book (mine’s Prisoner of Azkaban).

The John Rylands Library is a neo-Gothic beauty that was founded in 1900 by Enriqueta Augustina Rylands – get this – in memory of her late husband. Fast forward to today, and the building now forms part of the University of Manchester and regularly holds exhibitions showcasing everything from illuminated manuscripts to a piece of papyrus said to be the earliest existing copy of the Old Testament.

The library is free to enter, and a real pleasure to walk through and experience as a bookworm. A definite must-see if you’re in central Manchester.


Was I just having an off-day with the bookshops? Are there any I missed that would have made my day? What about bookshops in Greater Manchester? Hit me up in the comments, guys!

-Kelly

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The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa review
book review, Books

Review: The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

I think I’ve recovered enough from the devastating effects of this beautiful novel to finally share my review with you guys. I mean, I’m going to do my best, but this incredible piece of fiction just does so much with such a gentle touch that I barely know where to begin. Here we go.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Length: 288 pages

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Other bits: translated by Stephen Snyder; 2019 National Book Award finalist; New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year

Synopsis

There’s a nameless island somewhere in a nameless sea where things – and sometimes, people – disappear. It starts off small, with things like hats and ribbons. Then a little bigger, as inhabitants are forced to say goodbye to birds, roses, even books. And the Memory Police are there to *ahem* oversee the disappearances. But there are some who can’t forget, and that fact alone puts them and their loved ones in danger.

When a young novelist learns that her editor and friend, R, is at risk of being picked up by the Memory Police, she comes up with a plan to keep him safe right under the floorboards of her home. As the world around them seems to fall away one day at a time, they hold on tighter than every to her writing as a lifeline to the past and their own existence.

My thoughts

In a word: devastating. One of those rare books that whack you so hard over the head with the feels that you need a week or so to recover emotionally before getting into your next read. Ogawa’s novel traverses a wide range of themes, but if I had to describe the whole book in a teeny tiny nutshell I’d say it’s a perfect narrative representation of loss in its myriad forms.

We’re dropped into life on this unnamed island where right away, something just isn’t right. You can feel it. Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but something’s definitely off.

The island is stirred up after a disappearance. People gather in little groups out in the street to talk about their memories of the thing that’s been lost. There are regrets and a certain sadness, and we try to comfort one another. If it’s a physical object that has been disappeared, we gather the remnants up to burn, or bury, or toss into the river. But no one makes much of a fuss, and it’s over in a few days.

The Memory Police

As you settle into what you’ll soon discover is quite an unsettling novel, you’ll realise that this is the same “can’t put my finger on it” sense of unease that the characters experience whenever something is disappeared from the island.

Disappeared from the island? What? Huh?

Enter, the Memory Police. Men in sharp uniforms with even sharper jawlines and zero mercy. When something disappears, most of the inhabitants dispose of and forget about that thing without much thought; but there are some islanders who don’t forget the things that the Memory Police disappear. And that very fact puts a target on their backs.

The narrative contains a story-within-a-story; the protagonist is herself a writer in the middle of a novel about a young typist who loses her voice. This sub-narrative becomes entangled with her life, starting off as a gentle love story and mutating into something far more sinister as things go from bad to worse in her world and more things – and people – are disappearing.

Above all, this is a story about loss. Loss of people from our lives, be it through death or distance, loss of memory, loss of things to the wear and tear that comes with time; loss of entire body parts, loss of movement, loss of liberty.

So…yeah. Please read this book. It’ll ruin you for a week, then you won’t be able to stop talking about it for ages.

-Kelly

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independent bookshops in Edinburgh
Books, Travel

Independent Bookshops in Edinburgh

I’ll level with you – I wanted to upload this post before 2020, but you know what the festive season is like. It’s hard to write coherent sentences when you’ve eaten so many pigs in blankets you’re on the verge of becoming one. But here we are, refreshed and ready for a whole new year of books and literary gallivanting.

So a while back I asked the lovely people on my bookstagram to recommend their favourite independent bookshops in Edinburgh, and they delivered. I was going to be there anyway to see its famous Christmas Market for the first time, and there is literally always time to visit bookshops. ALWAYS.

Armchair Books

Address: 72-74 West Port, Edinburgh EH1 2LE

This hidden gem feels like something straight out of Harry Potter’s wizarding world. It’s a cosy little nook on city’s West Port, under the watchful eye of Edinburgh Castle.

Every spare inch of space is bursting with books, from beautiful antiquarian tomes to recent bestsellers and everything in between. The range of genres here is unlike any other second hand bookshop I’ve visited so far, so this small, family-run business with that old book smell we all love is a (well-priced) must-visit.

Armchair Books is the kind of place where you don’t have to whisper, but there’s a weird sense of reverence for the sheer volume of literature under its roof. Also they sell very cute tote bags.

Topping & Company

Address:  2 Blenheim Pl, Edinburgh EH7 5JH

It was my first ever visit to Topping & Company, one of the bookshops recommended by you guys on IG (thank you!). They’ve got more shops in Bath, Ely, and St. Andrew’s and to be honest, I might just beg them to open up in Newcastle too.

As soon as you walk in, you’ll notice how (a) warm and welcoming and (b) nicely laid-out the shop is. There’s a HUGE range of books nestled politely in their pristine shelves, waiting to be picked up so they can make your acquaintance and charm you into taking them home. The shelves stand tall and stacked with beautiful books, so much so that they’ve got those cute shelf-ladders dotted around. My inner Belle felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

While I was browsing, a lovely bookseller came over to ask me if I’d like anything to drink while I looked around. Yes, they serve pots of coffee on the house and show you to one of the perfectly placed tables so you can sit comfortably while you debate whether or not you really need all eight books. Don’t just take my money, take my hand in marriage. Consider me wooed.

But they’re not just bringers of much-needed caffeine; they’re also super knowledgeable about basically any book you pick up and will probably have a recommendation or two for you based on what’s in your hands at check out.

Golden Hare Books

Address: 68 St Stephen St, Edinburgh EH3 5AQ

One of the most popular recommendations on my list, Golden Hare Books was actually voted Independent Bookshop of the Year in the UK and Ireland in 2019!

Visually, the shop is stunning; they’ve actually designed the shop in such a way that you can see as many outward-facing books as possible while you browse – a welcome fact that plays on your bookish curiosity. If, like me, you do judge a book by its cover, this is ideal. But don’t take my word for it – take a look:

And if that’s not enough fabulousness for you, the good people there also run a book subscription box. Yep. Books. Delivered. To your door. Or your loved one’s door, whatever you fancy. Very pleasing.

Lighthouse Books

Address: 43-45 W Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9DB

Another of your kind recommendations! Lighthouse Books specialises in curating and selling work by non-mainstream , marginalised, and political voices from all over the world. They also have dogs. Need I say more?

This cosy little bookshop will have you feeling right at home as soon as you walk in. Speaking of homes, they also have a brand-spanking-new Writer in Residence programme that’s definitely worth a look if you’re a wordsmith looking to sharpen your skills or just engage with a tight-knit community of readers and writers.

The Portobello Bookshop

Address: 46 Portobello High St, Edinburgh EH15 1DA

Given that Edinburgh has such a strong presence when it comes to indie bookshops, I was very surprised to find out that Portobello didn’t have its own place until very recently. Enter, The Portobello Bookshop.

This beautiful bookshop made its home in what used to be a fishing tackle shop – fitting, considering the location. Known for its warm, contemporary look and a layout that really lends itself to a leisurely browse of the many books on offer, you could easily spend hours lost in this corner of the city. And just in case you’re not familiar with Portobello…

Here’s what the sunset looks like! Picture yourself breaking into your latest book haul with this as a backdrop. Not too bad, eh?

The Edinburgh Bookshop

Address: 145-147, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DP

We’ve got another award winner in our midst, ladies and gentlemen. The Edinburgh Bookshop (I do love a simple name) was named Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year 2018, and was sweetly described by The Guardian as ‘the kind of bookshop we’d all like to have in our neighbourhood’.

The Edinburgh Bookshop is run by a smiley team with a load of experience in the industry under their belts, so if you’ve got questions or just need a recommendation for your next read, they’re always more than happy to help!

McNaughtan’s Bookshop

Address: 3a, 4a Haddington Pl, Edinburgh EH7 4AE

This one’s a little different from the rest of the list! McNaughtan’s Bookshop first opened its doors in 1957 and specialises in rare, collectible, and second-hand books.

They also have a gallery for you to enjoy, where you’ll also find a quirky mix of newer publications and second-hand typewriters for sale. Like I said, a little something different.

Tills Bookshop

Address: 1 Hope Park Cres, Edinburgh EH8 9NA

I stumbled upon Tills Bookshop completely by accident, during a taxi ride into town one night. Am I always on the lookout for bookshops like some sort of excitable meerkat? Yes.

I mean come on. They have a working fireplace. Imagine rushing in on a blustery day, with winter biting at your heels. Walk in. Browse. Warm up. Pick up a few books you might want to buy. Hang out and read with the sound of a crackling fire punctuating the words on the page.

So there you go, my book-obsessed friends. A quick little roundup of independent bookshops in Edinburgh; if I’ve left any out, tell me about it in a comment! The more the merrier.

-Kelly

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