London’s growing Shared Reading Community was treated to two readings from The Reader’s newest patron, Claire Skinner, at its New Year’s Revolution Party at Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel on Thursday.
Actor Claire Skinner, known for stage roles in The Father and Rabbit Hole, as well as being the BAFTA-nominated star of BBC television series Outnumbered, took the floor to read from David Copperfield and then Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
“What a beautiful revolution,” Jane Davis, founder and director of The Reader said at the event, thanking the people across the city that make almost 100 Shared Reading groups happen.
“Shared Reading creates respect, affection, sometimes love – what a way to spend an hour a week.”
Jane explained the difference between Shared Reading and a typical book group to the crowd, who were a mix of Readers, Reader Leaders, Shared Reading Organisers and the public.
“It’s like going to a music appreciation society, versus joining a string quartet. In the string quartet, you’re actually doing it and whether you read aloud or just listen, it’s the same experience with Shared Reading.”
Along with celebrating the groups that happen in London each week, thanks to an army of reading revolutionaries who came along earlier in the day for a Shared Reading Masterclass, Jane also explained how international the practice has become, now counting 80 Shared Reading groups in Belgium alone.
Volunteer Reader Leader Suvi explained that when she moved to the UK, one of the first things she did was head out to get a library card. She’s been leading a thriving West London group for the past three years.
“There’s a moment where everyone is in it, to find meaning – I call it the ‘pulse’,” she explained. “No matter your background, at that moment, we’re all in the text. For 90 minutes we are there holding each other together.”
Suvi reads with people who have moved to the UK from all over the world. “There’s some initial fear when those in the group have English as a second language – but after a group recently, one person said ‘I’ve tackled Shakespeare, I’ll definitely be back next week!’”.
Ian, another volunteer Reader Leader, started out attending a Shared Reading group in North Kensington before making the decision to lead one himself. “When you have a good story within a Shared Reading group it should detonate variable-sized explosions in people’s minds.
“Being a member of a group, it always amazes me; when you feel, developing inside yourself, what you may initially see as a definitive outlook, until somebody else in the group takes what you have read from a completely different angle.
“As a Reader Leader, it’s a constant delight to read something that you have presented to other Readers that is met with initial blank stares, followed by the questions ‘what is that about?’, ‘what does that mean?’, ‘what are they trying to say?’.
“We read the poem again and the words seem to change somehow. You watch as people reach out for a meaning or interpretation that, on first impression, seemed impossible to exist, and you witness a spark or illumination.”
“Many times I’ve heard a Reader say ‘I really like this poem. Can I take it home?’.”
Anne, who spent 40 years in teaching, said she was looking for ‘something different’ when a friend told her about The Reader. “I wanted something that would develop me,” she told the audience.
“I’m keen to promote social activities where every participant is equally valued. Through Shared Reading, I have enjoyed sharing ‘human experience’ – you can only live one life , but dipping into literature in this way, gives us a ‘taste’ of others’ lives.”
One Reader told Anne, ‘the group is the heart of my week’, another said ‘it reminds me of my grandmother reading to me and then inviting me to read a little’.
The event was held at the historic Toynbee Hall, a ‘radical’ social justice organisation that was founded in 1884 to bring political thinkers such as Clement Attlee and William Beveridge closer to real social challenges of their age.
Like Toynbee Hall, The Reader is currently going through a physical transformation that will see it reopen the doors of its headquarters to the public as a unique community built through great literature.
We’d like to thank the People’s Postcode Lottery for supporting this event which brought together group members and volunteers from Barnet, Croydon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton and Barnes, Kensington and Chelsea, and Sutton.