For many, staying indoors is an unsettling experience. It’s been heartening to see the imaginative leaps being taken by many organisations and artists to help us through – sitting-room gigs, free theatre streams, virtual tours of museums and archives and galleries – but given the limitless choice of the internet, sometimes it’s hard to find your way around.
Tonight, for example, you’re meant to be watching the ballet with one friend, seeing a play with another, while a third FaceTimes you so you can cook a new recipe together. You’ll almost wish it was a regular weekend again; one where you lie face-down on the floor, accuse your partner of something you know they didn’t do, and complain about how you’ve spent all day staring at a screen.
So now, in these overwhelming, overloaded times, it’s the perfect opportunity for the British Council Literature team to launch our new blog series, Literature on Lockdown. For while books have never been the flashiest art form, book people are experts in the art of being alone. We know better than almost anyone how one person can find an intense connection, an exciting new idea, or a more vibrant world than the one outside their window, by quietly spending time with the work of another.
The British Council Literature blog will offer you a path through the wealth of corona-content, presenting an overview of the different ways the literature community – in the UK and internationally – is continuing: how they are fostering relationships across borders; finding opportunities for readers, writers and publishers to stay connected; and figuring out new ways to keep the conversations going that good art always generates.
We hope that with these blogs, you’ll feel the excitement, inventiveness, and passion that literature has always inspired, and continues to inspire under lockdown.
If you’re looking for a new novel to read that might slow your concentration, help you appreciate the extra time you have on your hands, or to help you get some perspective on what’s going on around you right now, the British Council Literature team has put together a list of of 'What We're Reading' to help us through quarantine.
For those seeking non-fiction, gal-dem are featuring an extract from Lola Olufemi’s new book, Feminism, Interrupted, to hold you over until her book tour is rescheduled; while poets might enjoy Nadine Aisha Jassat’s new Twitter thread of ‘spine poetry’ – found poems made from the titles of other books, stacked together by their owners under quarantine.
Multi-taskers looking for something to listen to might be interested in Clare Murphy’s ‘story medicine’ – videos of her performances, currently streaming on social media.
If you’re missing the great outdoors, British nature writer Robert MacFarlane is running the global #CoReadingVirus book group online – starting with Nan Shepherd’s book The Living Mountain; while those who prefer the great indoors might prefer Vice’s readalong of Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a novel about staying in, doing as little as possible, and undergoing a twisted reinvention in the process.
Wondering what creative opportunities might be afforded to them when you shut the world away? Iowa City of Literature have begun their ‘100 Days of Decameron’ – a reading group for those hoping to work through Italy’s equivalent to The Canterbury Tales, a story-of-stories about a gathering of people who escape the Black Death by hunkering down and taking turns to tell a tale.
UK authors including Travis Alabanza and Liv Wynter are taking part in the Free Word Centre’s series, ‘Finding Power in Isolation’ – with performances, conversations and workshops for online participants. Meanwhile PEN Transmissions, English PEN’s magazine for international and translated voices, are increasing their content to keep people in articles, essays and information: recent articles include Lebanese writer and actress Dima Mikhayel Matta’s essay on quarantine, revolution, and being queer in Beirut.
If you want to venture into another country under lockdown, English-language novels that take place in Paris, South Africa and New York are all on the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction; while, if you want another country to come to you, recently-published books translated from the Farsi, Spanish, German, Japanese and Dutch have been shortlisted for the International Booker Prize.
And lastly – to tide you over before our focus on children’s literature next week – if you’re hoping to expand your children’s horizons beyond the four walls of the house, Daniel Hahn, the brain behind The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, has selected a series of children’s stories from across the globe for the latest issue of Words Without Borders.
Next time on Literature on Lockdown: new initiatives and content from Julia Donaldson, Puffin’s online activities, and the weekly poetry broadcasts from Poet in the City.