As National Storytelling Week rolls on, we’ve very appropriately got a piece from Short Story Book Club founder Steve Wasserman, who has started up a special read-aloud initiative of his own to help spread the storytelling love far and wide…
When I first heard about The Reader Organisation, and their bold strapline (“Bringing about a Reading Revolution”), I confess that I took the credo with a fistful-sized pinch of salt. In a world where everything from pet shampoos to multi-coloured sugar water vaunts itself as “revolutionary”, I presumed that this was just another bit of neat marketing speak: congenial intentions dressed up in costumes of the avante-garde.
But I decided to give the revolution a spin anyway and started attending a Get Into Reading group. Only then did I began to get it. By this I mean that I began to understand that the word “revolutionary” was being used with absolute legitimacy. It was the perfect trade description. In fact there was really no other word to describe what was going on in this group when we sat down to read together. It was, is, a revolution. Not just in the Marxist sense of historically necessary transitions from one social system to the next, but more so in the ancient roots of that word: the Old French revolution with its associations of rotating celestial bodies, and the Latin revolutus – revolving, turning, rolling back.
Rolling back to what? Jane Davis, chanelling Arnold, explicitly states what the revolution is about in her essay (now my Manifesto) The Reading Revolution. It is, she explains, largely about meeting “unmet primal needs”, that “unspeakable desire [for]…knowledge of our buried life”. But also for “connection”: connecting, even for just an hour or two at a deep human level with another creature; connecting from the often lonely space of our booming, buzzing, disconnected minds, and finding through embodied language (facial expressions, gestures, the sound of a voice) kinship, coherence, and communion. I think I get that now, I really do.
Jane Davis’ genius is in recognising that the “knowledge” (some might call it “happiness”) we’re all so frantically seeking does not always come from the more traditional, socially-sanctioned routes of counselling and psychotherapy, especially now that so much of it is IAPT-delivered. Or even from consuming nourishing reading material at home or on the tube. It doesn’t come from Facebook. It doesn’t come from Twitter. But it almost always does come through a me-you connection with another human being. As long as there is some egalitarian, shaping, inviting conduit through which these two human beings can connect. Reading aloud is that revolutionary conduit.
In some way then, the rolling back is also temporal: rolling back to the millions of years in which homo-sapiens sat around fires telling stories, sublimating their pains and pleasures into the “life-saving equipment” of anecdotes, tales and verse. Or in the span of our own personal histories: rolling back regressively to the deep, nurturing narrative cathexis set up between our infant selves and their carers. And if we lost out on some of the attachments and bonds we needed back then, maybe this revolution is about seeking them out now.
So in the very fullness of this revolutionary recognition, Read Me Something You Love was born. How it works is that I meet with someone and they read aloud with me a piece of literature that they love. As in a Get Into Reading group, we occasionally interrupt the reading with personal responses. I record our discussion, and edit it so as to keep only the content that the reader is happy for others to listen to. I then share this Read-Aloud Love on the internet. No money is exchanged for this service. We are both being “paid” in the doing of the activity. Both benefitting from the unadulterated, flowing pleasure of reading and being read to. For reading done in this way is also about clambering through the literary “scaffolding” (short stories, poems, extracts from novels) that “help us get around our inside space…mapping, exploring and even settling those places where we are still primitive”. Apart from my podcasts RMSYL also happens on a monthly basis with Megg Hewlett for our Short Story Book Club, which uses the Reader model.
If you’d like to do some mapping, exploring and settling through reading something that you love, please do get in touch. Details can be found here.
Until then: vive la (reading) révolution!