Food, Food, Everywhere

By Emily Lezzeri, Get Into Reading Project Worker

Quick task: give yourself five minutes and write down as many metaphors/similes/idioms to do with food as you can. I managed ten and felt that, given time, I could have summonsed up many, many more. Now, write down as many single words to do with food that you can think of (but don’t include any actual food items). You should  have a long list; mine included nourishment, sustenance, provisions. The English Language is “peppered” with references to food (and drink). Literature is the same, whichever language it is written in. Who can think of Proust and not then think of madeleines? Which literary-minded person can hold a peach and not think of Eliot? The examples are endless.

I have been working at an in-patient unit in Devon dedicated to the treatment of eating disorders. For nearly a year I have run weekly Get Into Reading sessions for men and women of all ages who are struggling, very intensely, with a mental illness that finds its outward expression through control over food. Food, and its ingestion/rejection, has consumed the lives of these people, to the point that they have been hospitalised. I don’t use the word “consumed” lightly; it is simply to emphasise how language can so easily be linked to ideas of nourishment, sustenance or deprivation.

It is the same for literature. We consume novels. We absorb their stories and ideals. We devour poetry and feast on its imagery. If we have read something that disagrees with us (a newspaper article, perhaps) we feel depleted and long for nourishment of one form or another to regulate ourselves. With this in mind, I knew I had to choose what we read in my weekly GIR sessions at the Eating Disorder Clinic very carefully.

My first intention was to avoid texts that had any reference to food. This was a well-intentioned decision that proved difficult to adhere to. Food is everywhere. I was determined, however, to provide an environment that could engage the service-users in a space of time each week that would not focus on the issue of food. We have read poems by Emily Dickinson, Louis MacNeice, Wordsworth and Poe. We have read stories by Tobias Wolff, George Mackay Brown and Chekhov.

Comments from participants have included:

“the group makes my mind feel free and at ease”

“I feel a lot more positive and creative and inspired to do other intellectual things, rather than focusing on my anorexic behaviours”

We are currently reading Animal Farm; food production, and who controls it, figures strongly in the novel but it is not the focus of our discussions. We are talking about the links between poverty and politics; we are talking about greed and want; we are talking about trust and betrayal. We are NOT talking about food.


Mersey Care Reads is shortlisted for Guardian Public Services Award

Mersey Care Reads, the partnership between The Reader Organisation and Mersey Care NHS Trust, has been shortlisted for the Guardian Public Service Awards.  There are two other projects competing with us in the ‘Partnership Working’ category, and we’ll be hearing the results at the awards dinner on 22 November 2011.

Our entry for the prize was very much focussed on partnership – not just the fact that the Trust and The Reader Organisation are working  together, but the personal partnerships formed between Mersey Care staff and the Readers-in-Residence, as they work together to set up and facilitate reading groups on wards and in day settings.  Trust professionals bring their skills in group work and the positive relationships they have formed with service users, essential to recruiting groups.  The Readers-in-Residence bring literary expertise and the energy that comes from having someone  from ‘outside’ coming on site.

In addition, we concentrated on the outcomes the project has seen:  ‘Improvements in confidence, memory, creativity, listening skills’ as the SURE team noted in their 2008 evaluation of the project.  Or as one service user put it, ‘It’s good because our lives are like stories.’

Man Booker Prize Celebration Event in Liverpool

The Man Booker Prize Celebration event is being held at Garston Library (BOWDEN ROAD, L19 1QN) on Tuesday 18th October 2011, 7pm-9pm.

The event is hosted by Liverpool Library and Information Services and includes presentations on the shortlisted books, readings, a light-hearted literary quiz and a prize draw. Refreshments are also provided. Copies of the shortlisted books will be available to borrow from the library on the night.  Everyone is welcome to attend and admission is free.

For more information on the shortlisted books, visit

The Hive Network

I was at BBC Radio Merseyside reviewing this morning’s papers earlier today (a lot earlier today!) and amongst all the stories about Liam Fox and the Euro Millions winners, I found a hidden gem: The Hive Network. I don’t know if any of you have heard about this yet and I am just way behind the online times but it’s brilliant. The idea is that you order your books online and collect them from your local independent bookshop. This may mean more sales for publishers and bookstore owners as people come through the doors but above all that, it means that local bookshops become a place for people to connect with other people, not just a faceless website. Hopefully, this will help reverse the trend of the last few years that has seen indies closing down at a rapid rate (a quarter of them since 2006) and reinstate the local bookshop as a community hub. Now then, what to buy first…?

The Third Chapter

By Mary Weston, The Reader Organisation‘s Mental Health Project Manager

As Lisa mentioned earlier, today is World Mental Health Day and for the third year running, we have teamed up with Mersey Care NHS Trust and the Bluecoat running to bring the Chapter and Verse literature festival to users of local mental health services this week.  The three-way partnership began in 2009, when we brought Brian Keenan, who was appearing at the festival, to Ashworth special hospital – one of the most moving events I have experienced in my time with The Reader Organisation.  We have hosted poetry workshops, author readings (Brian Patten sharing his memories and poetry with seniors at Waterloo Day Hospital last year was another high point) and even a jazz-poetry jam, with sax and a double bass.

Hard acts to follow, but this year’s line up is looking good.  On Thursday 13th October  Reader-in-Residence Eleanor McCann and our Events and Publications Manager Maura Kennedy will be bringing John Healy to the Kevin White unit.  Healy is the author of The Grass Arena, a story of alcoholism and redemption which is acclaimed in the recovery movement.  The Kevin White is Mersey Care’s drug detox inpatient unit, which has hosted one of our longest standing reading groups, so it is an interesting fit.

At the same time, Colin Grant who wrote a biography of Bob Marley, will be talking and playing tracks at Ashworth Special Hospital.  A patients’ music group will also be there to play him out.  Events at Ashworth always take a lot of organising, and Cath McCafferty, who manages Mersey Care Reads within the Trust, will be behind the scenes dealing with it all.  This is the one I’m looking forward to most of all, not only for the music, but because the patients always respond so eagerly to artists who are willing to come into their rather circumscribed world.

On Friday afternoon Sarah Hall will be talking to community reading group members from Southport and Kirby about her new collection of short stories The Beautiful Indifference.

One thing will be different this year:  we have recently welcomed Maura Kennedy into our team at the reader as our Events and Publications manager.  Equally at home in the sophisticated world of the arts and in the down to earth settings we work in, she’s  going to be a big presence in the organisation, and it looks like we may be able to look forward to a many more events like these, right across the country!

Stories Before Bedtime

Stories Before Bedtime is a series of late-night readings at the Criterion Theatre in London’s Piccadilly Circus, designed to champion the love of reading and stories and to transport the audience back to a time when being read aloud before bedtime was a fundamental part of everyday life.

Each evening will feature three classic stories that revolve around a central theme, read by well-known actors and writers. As well as reminding people of the power and joy of storytelling aloud, the selection of readings are designed to discover or rediscover classic tales.

The first scheduled Stories Before Bedtime is a ghost-themed ‘Halloween’ special on Friday 28th October 2011, featuring Tim McInnerny reading M R James’ Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad and Mark Gatiss, reading E F Benson’s ‘In The Tube’.

The series is hosted by the Criterion Theatre, in association with The Reader Organisation and Vintage Classics (which hold the top 20th century classics list in the UK).

Stories Before Bedtime ONE: A Halloween special of ghost stories
Friday 28th October, 10.30 pm
Criterion Theatre, 218-223 Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus, London, W1V 9LB

Get dressed up in your favourite Halloween outfit, order a Devil’s handshake cocktail from the bar, and bed down for some ghoulish storytelling treats.

Featuring Mark Gatiss (League of Gentlemen) reading E.F.Benson and Tim McInnerny (Notting Hill, Blackadder) reading M R James.

Tickets: £12.50 (£10 GIR member/concession available in person from the Criterion box office)

Book your tickets online or call 0844 8471778

Dressing up strongly encouraged.

The Reader Gets Angry Part Two

Some Reader Online readers may remember this article by Gabriella Gruder-Poni, ‘Scenes from a PGCE’ (which was published in part in The Reader 35), in which, well, she got quite angry. In The Reader 42, we published part of an essay in which someone else got really quite angry and now we’re giving it you in full for you to read. Richard Searby, Head of English at London’s Mill Hill School, argues that assessment objectives at GCSE and A level are damaging our brightest students of English Literature as well as the subject itself:

In early December I attended a conference in London run by the Princes Teaching Institute.  We were spending the day considering the vital interface of literature and history.  The Institute itself was established in part to affirm traditional teaching methods in a number of subjects, including English Literature, and it represents a kind of haven for hard-pressed school teachers to take a day out of their classrooms and mix with expert academics in their fields in order to share ideas.  The lectures were enriching and the seminars full of stimulating discussion, with all of us able to test out our ideas and garner those of others.  What was particularly striking and enjoyable was the free range of thought encouraged; intellectual tangents were commonplace and led to some intriguing destinations.

However, A level and GCSE students of English Literature now rarely enjoy such a style of learning.   The nature of how our subject is taught and assessed has been changing radically in the last few years, and very much for the worse.  Students are not encouraged, as we were at the conference, to explore the quirky or the unusual in their A level set texts, let alone at GCSE, at which early stage so much of the damage I will describe is done.  The introduction of Curriculum 2000 (in the same year) brought with it the enactment of ‘Assessment Objectives’* and a new, more reductive way of teaching and examining literary study.   In one of the seminars a Cambridge don was asked his view of assessment objectives at A level.  He looked puzzled, and then had to ask exactly what the questioner was referring to.  A brief explanation was offered, to which the noble professor crisply denounced the very idea of such examining methodology as ‘counter-educational’.

And so, of course, it is.  But whilst agreeing wholeheartedly with his view, nonetheless it disturbed me that a leading academic in one of our top two universities could be so apparently unaware of what has been happening to our subject in schools.  I’ve heard of ivory towers, but this seemed ridiculous.  It isn’t as though this issue is new and hasn’t been discussed widely in the media…

Read it in full here.

NEW: The Reader 43

Ian McMillan writes a poem in celebration of the first staging of The Winter’s Tale, in which we meet Shakespeare in person and get right inside the skin of a bear. And we have fine poetry too from Martin Malone, Rebecca Gethin, David Cooke, and Stuart Henson.

In our Poet on Her Work series, Gwyneth Lewis movingly writes about her great long poem A Hospital Odyssey, written while her husband was suffering from cancer.

We have some great new fiction for you to sample with two extracts from Steve Sem-Sandberg’s mortifyingly powerful Emperor of Lies (Faber, July 2011), set in the Łodz ghetto. And David Almond’s ‘The Book of Beasts’ is taken from his first novel for adults, The True Tale of Monster Billy Dean (Viking, September 2011), a test of a child’s innocence. David Constantine’s short story, ‘Strong Enough to Help’ revolves about the way books and poems can connect people up both to each other and to themselves.

Angela Macmillan talks about putting together her new anthology for a younger audience, A Little, Aloud for Children.

We welcome two new essayists whom we hope to hear from regularly: Andrew Crompton writing and drawing on almost anything and everything, and Alan Wall offering an occasional series on the way that words’ meanings or forms change over time, and yet they stick around part of our everyday usage. It’s like the archaeology of the spoken word. And we welcome back and old friend, Kenneth Steven, who writes of the mountains.

Buy your copy, or subscribe for the year, simply by clicking here.

Show Your Beautiful Face Photography Exhibition

This exhibition showcases the beauty to be found in North Liverpool. Located outdoors on Thomas Steers Way (opposite the Hilton) in Liverpool ONE, it is open to the public 24 hours a day until Monday 3rd October.

Congratulations to the three overall winners  – Terry Bouch, Richard Morrison and Adam Akins. You can see their winning photos here:

We did it!

That’s right, our team of 11 Reader Runners ran the Liverpool 5K Team Challenge yesterday and we all survive to tell the tale! There will be more on this tomorrow (with some rather unflattering photographs) but just in case you were worried that we hadn’t made it(!), I just wanted to let you know that we did it and, I think it’s fair to say, really quite enjoyed it too. A huge well done to everyone that took part, it was a great team effort, and, as I say, more to come tomorrow on how it went and what I ended up reading…

If you’ve sponsored us already, very many thanks – if you’ve not yet and you’d like to, there’s still time (click here).