Noel first found out about The Reader Organisation whilst searching for support groups for mental health. After following various links, Noel found an article from the Guardian about books saving lives, describing the effects GIR has had and located his nearest group in London. Here, he talks about what he values about his experience in a Get Into Reading group and the literature he has most enjoyed:
The groups are held in a relaxed environment and the atmosphere is one of calm, so immediately you are at ease. This is often a contrast to how you feel before attending, but once you become immersed in reading and sharing within a group this relieves anxiety.
The selected books that we have read are intelligent, full of imagery and thought provoking. You are absorbing vivid images of characters and their feelings together with a colourful, descriptive view of their surroundings. The characters are travelling on whatever journey the author wants to take them on. In reading you become part of that journey; you really feel as though you know these characters, their hopes, fears, anxieties and how they relate to others.
The power of reading is that you can become focused on the characters and storyline; which improves your concentration and stimulates your mind, and in doing so removes that feeling of isolation as you are viewing and experiencing a greater world outside of your own. This is not a short-term high but a sustained healing if you continue to venture into books whilst at home; it impacts your personal life.
In discussion breaks as a group we talk about these characters and their environment. Often there is sympathy, anger or happiness towards individual characters within the story. Other group members may or may not agree with your view but, regardless, you have the freedom to voice your opinion; there is no judgement. The fact that you share your thoughts is very positive because it allows self-expression, which in turn nurtures confidence and self-esteem. By sharing your opinions and understanding of these characters you often feel a connection with their lives and also other group members and group leader who may have had similar experiences.
On many occasions characters and situations have evoked feelings and experiences within me both happy and sad. Thoughts and feelings that have lain dormant for many years suddenly arise and within the GIR group, and here you have the freedom and security to explore those feelings, which are ignited by the book or poem. It is safe to talk about these feelings because there is no shame or embarrassment. The group’s setting is unconditional and nobody puts demands or expectations; you just simply continue sharing the story and whatever feelings arise are OK to express.
‘Tea with the Birds’, Joanne Harris – the journey of a girl from a period of illness in a psychiatric hospital venturing back into the outside world, at first tentatively. From the annoyance of her Japanese neighbour whose early morning vegetable delivery wakes her she then discovers his world of creative bird carvings and oriental tea.
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens – an explosion of intricate emotional detail and vivid colourful imagery, Charles Dickens takes you through the mindset of Pip through his interaction with some odd characters. The way Dickens gives such detail not only of Pip’s emotions but all that surrounds him, whether it is the countryside or Miss Havisham’s house, really is really absorbing.
The Divine Comedy, Dante – I started reading this book when our group leader enthused about it. This is really a journey of the mind and so much of what is written has such depth and meaning. A very intelligent, emotional description of all he encounters; people places
and the feelings that arise, every verse holds so much vision and understanding
I have enjoyed most the poems we have shared in GIR. Often the chosen poem relates to the story that we have been reading (remarkably!) and continues the theme. There are many powerful verses within these poems; intelligent and evocative they really make you think and it is enjoyable to discuss and share views of other group members. These poems are very thought provoking and often take you to places that you haven’t been before.
‘A Million Teachers’, Andrew Rudd – “a room with windows each one looking out on different world”
‘Everything Changes’, Bertolt Brecht – “everything changes. You can make a fresh start with your latest breath”
‘Paradiso XX’, Dante – “As the lark who climbs into the air, singing at first, is then silent, content with the final sweetness which satisfies her.”