Gary Mackay-Steven’s Quarantine Bookshelf

“Reading takes your mind off things and puts you somewhere else,” says the Scottish winger, who’s needed that escape lately.

The Outfield: I’m going to take a guess and say there aren’t many NYCFC players reading Hemingway right now.

Gary Mackay-Steven: [Laughs] I enjoy reading a lot. I’ve always liked having a book—we have a lot of free time through travel and in hotels. In quarantine, you’re home a lot and there’s nothing better than getting a good book. It does more than take your mind off things—it takes your mind into a whole new world. I think it’s a great pastime.

What have you been reading in quarantine?

I’ve been reading a lot and it’s great to have time to sit and read all sorts of genres. It’s all random, to be honest. Recently, I’ve been reading older classics by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read The Great Gatsby before the movie came out with Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s amazing and so descriptive of parties, the glitz and the glamour of the 1920s. That was the first that I really enjoyed [by Fitzgerald].

And Hemingway?

I read an Ernest Hemingway novel next. The first Hemingway I read was The Old Man and the Sea. It was great and I went back to him at the start of this quarantine. I read A Moveable Feast next. It may be one of his first books—I’m not sure—but it was just about … it’s hard to explain what it was. It wasn’t a story but it was a memoir about the time when he lived in Paris. It was funny because he described in it in the 1920s that he became friends with F. Scott Fitzgerald in real life and other writers that are beloved today. That was really cool to know that their real lives crossed paths.

When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

What about Fitzgerald?

I read four F. Scott Fitzgerald books. Tender is the Night which I went back to during quarantine to go over it. It’s a great book.

It’s a very personal book for Fitzgerald. It sort of mirrors his own life at the time.

Exactly. His own personal relationship was tragic in a lot of ways. In Tender is the Night, there was a lot of that personal tragedy, so I thought I understood his story. Similar to The Great Gatsby, it takes you somewhere else—the South of France—where it’s just like summertime in the South of France, the beaches; it’s a place where I took a holiday a few years ago. It’s just an amazing place. With the craziness of the world, it’s nice to delve into a book that’s nice.

What’s your normal reading routine?

It’s mainly when we travel. I like reading books when I’m at my bed, just before I turn off the lights. We travel and spend a lot of time in hotels and planes. I always have some sort of book with me. It can be a wide range of books. I enjoy all biographies from sports stars I admire, to anything, to fictional stories too.

What’s been your favorite book during quarantine?

I really enjoyed The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s been on my radar for a while and people told me to read it. I never got into it before but it’s a beautiful story. The last autobiography I read was Usain Bolt’s—it varies greatly. It takes your mind off things and puts you somewhere else.

What’s your tally so far in quarantine?

Good question—I’ve been doing other stuff but I think I’m on my fifth book now.

[H]e was all relaxed for combat; as a fine athlete playing secondary defense in any sport is really resting much of the time, while a lesser man only pretends to rest and is at a continual and self-destroying nervous tension.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night

Life away from the club probably has been tough. How have you prepared to keep yourself fit at home?

[NYCFC] have been amazing in terms of keeping us with our training programs and keeping us engaged. As for our week, we have workouts on Zoom and weight training. We were sent some equipment like dumbbells so we could do our own work in our houses and apartments. It’s been kind of structured to the week. We’ll have a workout of some sort, whether it’s something different during these unique circumstances, where it’ll be kickboxing on Zoom to get our cardio up in a fun way where the team feels connected. It’s been great because if you were left to your own devices, maybe it would be really tough, but you quickly adjust to the new way it is right now. It’s different but we’re getting through it.

What about for you, personally? Have you learned anything about yourself through quarantine?

It’s just little silly things. I play guitar and I’ve been working on that. I think I’ve improved a little. I love acoustic music, a lot of R&B, and Spanish music. I love old music. Older bands, what I grew up with and what my parents like. When I ordered some books at the start of quarantine, I ordered juggling balls. I’m really enjoying juggling—my new thing is trying to juggle with more than three balls. It’s very difficult but I’ve enjoyed it. We are doing a yoga routine on Zoom. I’ve been meaning to start it but I never did. I never realized how stiff I was everywhere, but yoga has certainly helped with that.

What are five books you would recommend to people?

I’d put The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo in there because I feel like a lot of people would enjoy that. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway—those are short stories. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. It’s about sleep and why sleep is so important for everyone. It’s an eye opener in terms of being an athlete. Sleep is so important for rest and recovery, but reading that book hit home how important it is to get eight hours plus, and if you skip a night of sleep, it shows the type of things that can go on in your brain. It dives into all types of sleep. It was really scientific but it kind of changes little habits in yourself. 

You’ve got one more in you?

One more—there’s so many. I’m going to get off this phone and think, “Why couldn’t I think of one more?” ❧

Image: Edward Hopper, Office in a Small City