Reading for the ages – and sexes

tinyreadsAhead of World Book Day, some recent surveys have revealed some interesting findings on reading amongst the generations and genders.

To celebrate the day dedicated to children’s reading, Sainsbury’s carried out a survey amongst 2,000 people to compile a list of 50 ultimate books that make up a child’s catalogue of reading. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory topped the poll, followed closely by Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Roald Dahl proves to be a popular choice for kids and adults alike with four of his other works appearing in the list, and while contemporary titles such as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series make appearances there’s a strong nostalgic flavour to much of the list that indicates that parents are choosing to share their own favourite stories from childhood with their children, passing on a love for classic tales through to the next generation.

We especially loved the finding from the survey that nearly three quarters of parents questioned believed that bedtime reading is one of the most important ways to bond with their children.

Read the full list of the 50 books every child should read before they’re 16 here

Yet even though many boys and girls read the same titles at a young age, growing older seems to set a distinction in the types of books the sexes favour. The Nielsen Bookscan Books and Consumer Survey 2015 shows that although nearly half of all books bought last year were for males, only 39% of adult fiction books were specifically targeted towards men – reinforcing the idea that men favour the factual in their reading, whether it be about politics, history or hobbies.

man readingTelegraph Men have asked whether men have fallen out of love with books in a world where thinking and feeling in-depth about emotions is still viewed as part of the female domain and instances of depression, anxiety and loneliness amongst men is on the rise. In our shared reading groups, great literature is open to everyone – male and female, young or older. The texts we read, from classics by Dickens and Eliot to contemporary short stories, create a safe space where emotional matters can be explored but the literature itself is always at the centre.

We welcome along lots of male readers to our weekly groups, some who have rediscovered reading after years. They may come to while away an hour and a half, but often find there’s much more to the groups than meets the eye:

“It’s done me a lot of good. It’s all right going the pub and having a laugh with your mates but sometimes you’ve got to, y’know, enrich your soul. I don’t sleep well at the best of times but this helps me relax. It’s a lot better than taking a Prozac!” – one of our shared reading group members

Following up from the article, The Telegraph has come up with a list of 19 books that make good reading for men, including Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe.

“It has confirmed for me that I am as good as anyone else…I am becoming the man I should have been.”- see how literature and shared reading can make an impact on male readers by taking a look at our Reader Stories

Prison book ban overturned

Wonderful news was announced at the end of last week as the ban on sending books to prisoners in England and Wales has been declared unlawful by the High Court.

Mr Justice Collins has removed the ban previously imposed earlier this year by the justice secretary Chris Grayling and has ordered the policy on what can be sent to prisoners to be amended, commenting that it was strange to treat books as a privilege when they may be essential to a prisoner’s self-development and rehabilitation.

The ban provoked an incredible reaction in opposition, leading to a petition and high-profile campaign garnering support from authors including Carol Ann Duffy, Salman Rushdie and Philip Pullman, who commented after the reversal of the decision that he was glad that reading has been seen as “a right and not a privilege”.

The Reader Organisation is delighted to hear the news, given our work sharing reading in prisons and criminal justice settings across the UK. For hundreds of prisoners each week, shared reading offers the chance to reflect, engaging with literature and connecting deeper to their own experiences.

“The connections and insights of a shared reading group are endless and some of those most in need of new connections and insights are prisoners. I myself have actually become more tolerant of people and value their opinions far more than I used to as I am constantly amazed by the depth of those insights which frequently resonate with me deeply.

I have benefited greatly from the emphasis upon great literature and have learnt more of what it is to be a human being, the role of emotions in myself and others, in fact the whole range of human experience in these finely crafted works than I have in half a dozen psychological ‘treatments’.” – A, a prisoner taking part in one of our regular shared reading group

Read more of A’s story in our Annual Report 2013/14

Writer and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James spoke on BBC Radio 4 following the overturning of the ban discussing the importance of reading in prison and in particular talking about the difference books have made to his life: you can hear the clip here. In Issue 54 of The Reader, he wrote an essay about how he became a reader whilst in prison and how one book in particular gave him hope for the future. In the light of the news, it makes for an even more powerful read.

Recently Lord Faulks QC, Minister of State for Civil Justice & Legal Policy, visited one of our shared reading groups at the Psychologically Informed Planned Environment (PIPEs) in HMP Send. Shared reading has been integrated as part of daily life in seven PIPEs around the country. After his visit, Lord Faulks lent his support to shared reading within criminal justice settings:

“The Reader Organisation performs a vital function in the delivery of the PIPE objectives by engaging prisoners with literature and poetry which is both enjoyable and beneficial for them. I was very impressed with the library facilities at HMP Send particularly with the accessibility to books in all genres.”

Great news just in time for Christmas for prisoners across the country to receive the gift of reading and we continue to look forward to delivering more shared reading sessions in criminal justice settings in 2015.

Reading Round-Up

lessing_2743124bHere’s the latest nuggests of news from the world of literature, including libraries with famous donors, online libraries dedicated to bringing classics into the modern world – and even one that has no books at all…

How does such a thing work? Over to TRO’s Arts Admin Intern Rebecca Pollard with the lowdown:

Doris Lessing has bequeathed 3,000 books to a public library in Harare, Zimbabwe (where she once lived for over 20 years). Her opening remarks after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008 focussed on how people in Zimbabwe actively asked for books when she visited a school there in the 1980s.

The Guardian details this on its website.


How would you feel about entering a library with no books on the walls? A purpose-built bookless library has been unveiled at Florida Polytechnic University. The library features online electronic books and articles, and is relying on students to recommend the books and journals they need.

You can find more on this story here.


In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an unpublished chapter of the story has been released online. The chapter, deemed too wild for children at the time, sees two new characters board a train out of the Vanilla Fudge Room.

The chapter also shows how Dahl’s original story changed to become the novel we love today: Charlie is visiting the factory with his mother, Mrs Bucket, rather than with Grandpa Joe, and we discover that Augustus Gloop was originally called Augustus Pottle.

You can read the unpublished extract on The Guardian’s website.


The British Library has recently launched the website Discovering Literature which features thousands of collection items about Victorian and Romantic authors. These items vary from modern articles written about these authors and their works, to the authors’ personal letters and their original inspiration.

The website is mainly targeted at GCSE and A-Level students, however it is the perfect way for everyone to access British literary classics and get into reading.

The website can be found here.


Eleanor Catton, the author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries, has recently announced that she plans to use her prize money to establish a grant that allows writers ‘time to read’. The idea for the grant is based in the idea that ‘writers are readers first’, and so the recipients of this grant would simply spend three months reading, and after this time passes, they publish a report about what they read and share their thoughts on this with others.

You can read more on this article on The Guardian website.

Reading Round-Up: 9th August-22nd August

Book Close UpHere we are with another Reading Round-Up, giving you all the literary latest from the last fortnight with our Arts Admin Intern Rebecca Pollard:

The Hachette vs. Amazon war is still waging on. If you aren’t aware of what is going on with this, Hachette and Amazon have exchanged open letters to each other which has resulted in Amazon halting the sales of Hachette novels on their website, and hundreds of authors publishing an open letter against Amazon.

In an effort to remain impartial (this battle has split readers across the world), you can read a summary of what has happened so far on the Guardian website.


A recent Ofcom report has shown that the bookshelves of Britain are still stocked full with literature. The report shows that 16-24-year olds have the smallest book collections, and 55-64-year olds have the largest. It also highlights that whilst physical book collections have dwindled, ebook sales are on the rise – showing that literature is still consumed and appreciated by modern readers.

You can read more on this story on the Guardian website.


There has been controversy around the Warburg Institute, which is cared for by the University of London. Academics have spoken out against the University of London who are currently rumoured to be investigating the legality of the contract they signed with the Warburg family in 1944.

The Warburg Institute’s main concern is ‘cultural history, art history and history of ideas, especially in the Renaissance’; it remains significant, however, due to its removal (and the smuggling of its physical book collection) from Nazi Germany to London.

You can find more about this story here, and discover more about the Warburg Institute on their website.


Three schools in East Devon have come together to write a combined novel. In this Telegraph article, Jane Bidder writes about how children were collectively inspired and involved with the process of writing a story. The children were given an opening chapter, and then asked to choose what the characters should look like, and how the plot should continue.

The idea was thought up by NAFDAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies) as a way of encouraging creativity amongst schoolchildren.

You can read the full story on The Telegraph website.


Julian Gough has created a Kickstarter campaign to fund his newest novel, and has equally found an ingenious new way of funding new literature. He argues that ‘the market in the written ephemera of writers is huge’ but that no modern authors leave a paper trail. He is repaying his backers with postcards, PDFs of his stories, and more besides. He believes that this idea – which he has dubbed ‘Litcoin’ – could be a new way of funding authors who are often very underpaid.

The Guardian reports the story here.


On the lighter side of literature, the Nottingham Post has recently reported on a woman who has 10,000 children’s books in her shed. Arguably in possession of a bibliophile’s dream (or the biggest shed known to man), Gillian James buys and sells her books from her back garden.

The Independent has recently reported that the attic that was used as the inspiration for Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre has recently been opened to the public. Norton Conyers have opened their doors for people wishing to see to where Bertha was confined in Mr Rochester’s home.

Don’t forget, you can keep in touch with what’s happening at TRO by following us on Twitter: @thereaderorg

Reading Round-Up – 1st-8th August

Want to be kept up to date with the latest happenings in the literary world, but too busy buried in a book to find out? You’re just in luck as The Reader Online is here to offer you a digest of the what’s happening with all things books and reading related. With our regular Reading Round-Up, you never need be out of the loop again.

The Reader Organisation’s current Arts Admin Intern Rebecca Pollard is your guide:

this bookThe #THISBOOK campaign by Baileys Women Prize for Fiction has recently come to a close with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird taking the top spot. By using the hashtag #THISBOOK, thousands of readers took to Twitter to state which book, written by a woman, had been the most influential to them.
You can find the Top 20 most influential books on the Women’s Prize for Fiction website.

The Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist has recently been announced, and many people within the literary community are celebrating the fact that this year’s awards have been extended to authors across the globe (as long as the novel is written in English). However, as the Booker Prize only takes into account the views of the judges rather than the public, there is still the issue that the novels (two of which have not yet been released) may not be prizeworthy in the eyes of the public.
The Guardian’s third annual Not-The-Booker-Prize, however, combats this. The prize follows similar rules to the Booker, yet the books are nominated by the public, and judged afterwards. The Not-The-Booker shortlist has just been released if you wanted to check out the public’s shortlist (they’re also running a competition to win the shortlist – but you didn’t hear that from us).

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has been the subject of controversy this week. Her recent book The Scarecrow’s Wedding depicts a scarecrow blowing smoke rings to impress a girl. Although Donaldson says ‘never encourage smoking in a children’s book’, some parents believe that the concept is too adult for its intended audience.
You can read more about this on The Guardian’s website.

On a lighter note, authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jackie Kay, Will Self, and Howard Jacobson have shared their summer memories in The Guardian article ‘A Postcard From My Past’. Adichie shares a photo of her and her brother during the long ‘summer vac’ in Nigeria; Jacobson’s contribution sees him rejoice that his son and grandson love the summer (which he never did).
The full article is available to read here.

Poetry: The New Tools of the Trade?

Tools of the Trade coverBy Rebecca Pollard, Arts Admin Intern

‘Any healthy man can go without food for two days – but not without poetry’ – Charles Baudelaire

Here at The Reader Organisation we firmly believe that reading poetry (and prose, too) in a group setting – such as the shared reading groups we run across the country – is beneficial for the reader’s mental health and wellbeing. Not only is it a social activity, but it is proven to increase group members’ self-confidence and self-understanding.

Our belief in literature has been reiterated by the Scottish medical community who, in collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library, have published Tools of the Trade, a poetry anthology which has been gifted to every graduate doctor in Scotland this year.

Whilst some of these poems specifically refer to medical life – Michael Rosen’s ‘These are the Hands’, and ‘A Medical Education’ by Glenn Colquhoun – many also deal with the ideas of moving on, moving forward, and dealing with difficult situations. These literary tools are not only invaluable for the mental health of the new doctors in providing a space to explore common medical situations (both humorous and serious), but there is also a focus on the patients’ view of medical life – and what doctors can do to improve this.

Arguably, many of the graduate doctors may never read the anthology;  however its presence both in their lives, and the fact of its actual publication demonstrates how integral poetry is for a person’s wellbeing, regardless of their occupation, interests, or personal situation.

If you have recently graduated, recently overcome an obstacle, or just need a bit of a pick-me-up during the working week, you might find this poem to your liking (and may have heard it recited at a recent graduation ceremony):

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

W. E. Henley

English or American literature on the syllabus?

Cover-Of-Mice-And-MenLiterature has been making headlines over the weekend with new plans to overhaul the GCSE English Literature syllabus in schools. In a shake up of the current syllabus, it has been reported that Education Secretary Michael Gove has called for works by American authors – including Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Crucible by Arthur Miller and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – to be removed, in order for students to focus on works by British writers such as Jane Austen and Shakespeare.

The news has sparked a passionate response from academics, writers, readers – and even a pointed comment from one exam board – who all argue that rather than broadening the literary content on offer, as Mr Gove has said will be the case with the new measures, young people will instead be disencouraged from finding literature that has the potential to inspire and move them.

Following the outcry, there has since been a reply from both Mr Gove who has dismissed claims that he intended to ban works from American writers from being taught in schools, and the Department for Education who pointed to the strict guidance that exam boards have been issued with to cover a wider range of literature within the subject. Within the new requirements, a minimum core of at least one whole Shakespeare play, poetry from 1789 including the Romantics, a 19th century novel and some fiction or drama written in the British Isles since 1914 must be covered by teachers in order to create a ‘broader ambition’ for students.

Mr Gove noted that beyond these specifications teachers are free to include any other texts for study, including Of Mice and Men, which has been studied by 90% of GCSE English Literature students previously, and works from other American others.

At The Reader Organisation, we believe that great literature in all its forms – from British to American to authors of any other nationality, both classic and contemporary – is there to be enjoyed by readers of all ages and backgrounds. In our weekly shared reading groups that run around the UK, readers have been introduced to Steinbeck as well as Shakespeare, with the focus on the text being shared providing a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere where literature comes to life. One of the effects of this is that people’s reading habits can change and develop as they discover books and authors they have never previously encountered before, with guidance from group leaders giving them the confidence to explore further.

G31A7233It’s not just the choice of literature that has an impact, but also perspectives on the world widen through shared reading: 72% of our group members in health and wellbeing settings felt shared reading had helped them to think about things in a different way, and 81%  of our group members in open community groups enjoy the opportunity to develop relationships with people from different cultural backgrounds.

We read specifically with young people in both education and one-to-one settings outside of school, with the entire focus of our sessions encouraging reading for pleasure and a greater love of literature in young people. As a key partner of City of Readers, we’re working within schools delivering Reading Revolutionaries training for pupils to read for pleasure with one another, ensuring that all students have access to a wide, varied and high quality range of literature that they can enjoy in and out of school hours.

100% of the looked-after children we read with one-to-one told us they enjoyed reading books they wouldn’t have chosen themselves, and that they enjoyed discussing their ideas and opinions – together with City of Readers we’re aiming to get even more children and young people reading a greater range of great literature, expanding their horizons and imaginations.

Long may the discovery of great literature continue, both in and out of schools!

Find out more about our reading in education settings and with young people on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/education-young-people

For more about City of Readers and to discover how we’re part of plans to make Liverpool the UK’s foremost reading city and ensuring every young person leaves school reading for pleasure, visit http://www.cityofreaders.org/

More men giving up on reading

Man reading in a libraryA new survey has suggested that there is a gender divide when it comes to reading, with nearly two thirds of men admitting that they don’t read as much as they think they should.

In the study commissioned by The Reading Agency to mark World Book Night next week, 75% of male respondents said they prefer to watch a film or television adaptation of a book rather than reading it and almost half saying that they read fewer books now than they did in the past. What’s more, 30% of men questioned admitted that they hadn’t picked up a book to read since they were at school.

It seems that the reading gender gap starts early, as many teenage boys are less likely to read regularly for pleasure as opposed to girls – figures from The National Literacy Trust show that 35% of girls aged 8-16 read outside of school every day compared to 26% of boys the same age, despite the fact that reading for pleasure is found to have a significant effect on young people’s performance in school, cognitive and emotional development. Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman is leading the way in getting boys back into books and reading for pleasure: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27061158

At The Reader Organisation, we believe that great literature is a vital life tool to be enjoyed by everyone. Our shared reading groups around the UK engage many men in stories and poems on a weekly basis, and the relaxed, non-pressured environment of the groups mean that those who haven’t read a book in years can revisit literature, immersing themselves gradually over time.

One such example of a formerly reluctant male reader who has discovered the joy of books through shared reading is Colin, one of our Readers in Liverpool. A dad in his mid 40’s, Colin had never read a book from beginning to end before joining his shared reading group. Initially coming to take a break from the stresses and strains of family life, he was pleasantly surprised to discover more:

‘It’s good. I’ve never read like that before – I mean I’ve read aloud but I’ve never paid much attention to what I’ve been reading – you know thinking about the meaning of it and that. But this is good and we’ve got all that from this little story!’

068In our shared reading sessions in schools and one-to-ones with looked after children, we’re also encouraging a love of reading amongst boys, focusing on reading for pleasure with books that capture their imaginations: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/education-young-people

At Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s National Conference, we’ll be exploring the impacts of shared reading on individuals and communities. We’ll be hearing from some of our male group members who will share their experiences of the impact reading literature has had on their lives, and also examining why reading for pleasure should have such significant effects on young people both in and out of school with speakers including Baroness Estelle Morris and Dr Alice Sullivan of the Institute for Education.

Another of our guest speakers is a passionate advocate of reading. Writer, author and broadcaster Lord Melvyn Bragg will discuss his life as a reader at Better with a Book. Beforehand, he will appear at Poems That Make Grown Men Cry at the National Theatre on Tuesday 29th April, reading from a new anthology published in partnership with Amnesty International about poems that haunt and move a host of eminent men – sure to inspire more men to find literature that appeals to them and start reading more regularly.

Better with a Book takes place on Thursday 15th May at The British Library Conference Centre. Discover more about the relationship between literature, mental health, emotional development and enhanced quality of life. Full day delegate places cost £140 (including, VAT, lunch and refreshments) – book your place online or find out more about paying by cheque or invoice on our website.

For more information about Better with a Book or to make queries, please contact Abigail: abigailleader@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7221.

A Quick Reading Roundup

Following a relaxing Christmas break, we’re back in full swing here at The Reader Organisation and while we’ve been gone, there has been plenty going on in the world of reading, so here’s a quick roundup of interesting topics that have cropped up.

Best Books of 2013:

Throughout December, a variety of lists on the ‘best books of 2013’ were published to help readers see a roundup of the year in reading, while giving a little bit of help and advice to Christmas shoppers, and reminding us what a fantastic year for fiction 2013 has been. The Guardian’s best fiction of 2013 list included Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize winning book The Luminiares and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. This year has also seen an interesting boost in sales of 48 year old novel, Stoner, by John Williams, which became the 2013 Waterstones Book of the Year. Evidently, 2013 has proven to be a year of triumphs for fiction both old and new. Can you tell us what the best book you read in 2013 was? And which book are you most looking forward to reading in 2014? Comment below or tweet us with your choices – we’d love to hear them!

Reading increases brain function:

Over the festive period  a study at Emory University published in the journal “Brain Connectivity”  has found that reading increases brain function. The study monitored participants’ brain activity after reading, and found that it was more active for 5 days after reading. This research links interestingly with research by The Reader Organisation’s research partners, Professor Philip Davis and CRILS (Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems at the University of Liverpool) into brain pathways for which researchers used scanners to monitor the brain activity of volunteers as they read works by writers such as Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Eliot. Professor Davis stated that “the research shows the power of literature to shift mental pathways, to create new thoughts, shapes and connections in the young and the staid alike.” Please see our full blog post on this research here. Both pieces of research place emphasis on the important biological changes that occur when reading good literature, and really emphasise some of the many benefits of reading. These findings help demonstrate the value of our work, and inspire us to continue working hard in building a reading revolution.

Report suggests less people are reading on a daily basis:

John Gingham’s article in The Telegraph reports Ruth Rendell’s belief that “Reading has become a “specialist activity” which only a minority enjoy regularly, rather than something most people do routinely.” The article then suggests that you can see a decline in reading when Philip Hensher refers to noticing the lack of people reading on public transport compared to 20 years ago. See the full article here. Here at The Reader Organisation, we are dedicated to working to make sure that reading is not something only a minority enjoy regularly.  Consequently, this article gives us an even greater drive to continue building a reading revolution and to spread the word on the  the positive work we do in getting people into reading.

With all this taken into account, we are beginning 2014 with an absolute belief in the importance of the work we do and we carry with us a drive to continue doing what we do best which is, getting people into reading great literature.

Reading and the Reader

Reading and the ReaderProfessor Philip Davis, Editor of The Reader magazine and Director of Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at the University of Liverpool has a brand new book coming out this week as part of The Literary Agenda, a new series from Oxford University Press. Phil’s book Reading and the Reader defends the value of reading serious literature, aiming to narrow the gap between the way writers and readers think, and to bring literary thinking into the ordinary thinking of the world – especially at a time when the arts and humanities are under some threat.

The Literary Agenda as a whole explains why now, urgently, is the right time to start reinvigorated work into the meaning and value of reading literature. See below a summary of four areas of exploration that are central to the work of The Literary Agenda:

  • Asks what is the point of literature in contemporary life.
  • Looks at the importance of reading and creative literary-based thinking in the wider world.
  • Addresses the state of literary education inside schools and universities.
  • Encourages a bold variety of personal approaches and individual voices, speaking across different countries, disciplines and temperaments.

Today literary work is being challenged as a way of thinking about contemporary life. Many fear that it has become side-lined by newer disciplines such as cultural and media studies, while others view its failure to attract national funding in competition with more apparently ‘useful’ subjects as the beginning of the end. Equally, the rise of instant social media and new digital technologies provokes the question that arises on every side: What is the point in poetry, plays, novels, in literary criticism and, above all, slow serious and deep reading. These fascinating and very important issues are further addressed within The Literary Agenda.

Interested in finding out more? You can purchase Phil’s book, Reading and the Reader, which is out now,  by simply visiting the Oxford University Press website via this link and pursue your curiosity.