Reader Poll: Classics on Richard and Judy

Before I start let’s just get something out of the way: The Richard and Judy Book Club is on the whole and on balance a good thing. It encourages reading, helps people choose what to read and gets people talking about books. And while it has been accused–correctly I think–of helping to skew the book trade in favour of coffee table bestsellers and hokey populist emotionalism, I don’t think it’s doing anything more than going with the market flow.

In any case ‘Richard and Judy’ readers, like ‘Oprah’ readers in the United States, are not scared of difficult material. The Richard and Judy Book Club winner for 2008 is Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, a novel about women in Afghanistan which the New York Times described as flawed, but praised for its ‘sheer momentum and will’. Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, another of this year’s books, which tackles manic depression, has been widely praised by serious reviewers in serious newspapers. Obviously the Richard and Judy Bookclub is about readers and lots of them, but popular doesn’t have to mean second rate.

And that brings me to my main beef with the Richard and Judy Bookclub, that there are no ‘classic’ novels on the booklist. Why is there no Elizabeth Gaskell, or the Brontë sisters? What’s wrong with Dickens and what’s so hard about Hardy? Do the producers of the Richard and Judy Book Club think their readers wouldn’t like these writers? If so The Reader magazine would like to bet they are wrong. These great novels are full of stories about difficult human subjects: bad marriages, unrequited love, childhood, families in crisis, joy and mourning. Everything in fact that shows up in the modern novels that do get chosen for the list.

We would like to see a ‘classic’ novel in the Richard and Judy top ten and as of right now we are launching a campaign to make it happen. We’re starting with a poll to decide which novel we should champion over the coming months. In consultation with Phil Davis, the magazine’s editor and having taken suggestions from people in the office we have a shortlist. Please vote for the book you would most like to see championed on the famous couch.

Update: It was announced today (June 16, 2008) that The Richard and Judy Book Club is moving from ITV to the satellite channel UKTV. This is a great chance for a fresh start–let’s have a ‘classic’ novel on the new show.

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The Reader, Issue 30, “I live and write” now available

Issue 30 Cover

Readers will recognise more than a few names on the contents page in The Reader No. 30. By coincidence, they all seem to be Philips of various kinds. We have Philip Pullman talking about the responsibilities of being a writer, three poems by the ubiquitous Phill Jupitus and an interview with the psychologist, Adam Phillips (‘the best psychotherapist in England’, according to Nicholas Fearn in The New Statesman), plus our own Philip Davis, editor of The Reader, of course, lighting fires and being encouragingly astringent along the way. Read his editorial here.

But the Phils haven’t taken over entirely. You will find new fiction by Melvyn Bragg (extracts from his book in progress); Les Murray’s choice of the best ten Australian poems; Blake Morrison’s full article on The Reader organisation’s Get Into Reading programme; Ian McMillan of The Verb (BBC R3); Myra Schneider, Morgan Meis, Tessa Hadley, Josie Dixon, and many others.

Issue 30 highlights include:

  • New poetry by Phill Jupitus, Matt Simpson, and Stephen Sandy, plus we publish the first installment of Les Murray’s choice of favourite Australian poets.
  • Phillip Pullman considers the writer’s responsibility to the reader, the work and to his imagination.
  • We print Blake Morrison’s extended essay, originally published in The Guardian, which examines the work of The Reader Organisation and bibliotherapy more generally as a force for change.
  • Morgan Meis takes us back to the beginnings of sea-faring, bridge-building hubris and tackles Melville and Hart Crane on the way.
  • The Poet on her Work: Myra Schneider talks about her poem ‘Field’ and the way that finding the right form helped let the vibrancy of memory into poetry.
  • Tessa Hadley looks squarely at the difference between stories and reality in her essay ‘Crying at Novels’.
  • Melvyn Bragg lets us read some early manuscript extracts from his new novel, Remember Me, and so witness the not-quite-in-control beginnings of a book taking shape.
  • The Interview: in a far-ranging discussion The Reader editor Philip Davis and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips thrash out a line between imaginative possibility and responsibility, Bellow and Malamud, inspiration and reality principle. Nothing is decided but all seems clearer.
  • Readers Connect is reborn with a panel of five readers giving us their ratings for Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Not to be missed. Which judge will turn out to be the Simon Cowell figure?
  • Plus reviews, recommendations and all our regular features, including the new regular ‘The Old Poem’. Brian Nellist introduces Sir Walter Raleigh’s ‘Like Truthless Dreams’. Enid Stubin writes from the heart in her latest ‘Our Spy in NY’

If your subscription to The Reader is about to lapse, please note: this is not an issue you would want to miss. Visit the shop now.

The Reader Download Edition:

If you’re thinking about subscribing but want to feel the quality of the cloth first, why not take a look at the previous issue of the magazine, issue 29, now available online for free. Visit The Reader download page.

Edge Hill Short Story Competition–Readers’ Prize

Get Into Reading manager Kate McDonnell writes with news of Get Into Reading’s involvement with the 2008 Edge Hill Short Story Competition. The shortlist for the £5000 prize for the best single author short story collection published in the last year, was announced in May. Get Into Reading reading groups have been asked to judge individual stories. This is a new experience for them. Kate says:

I was approached by Ailsa Cox, the organiser, who had heard of GIR and liked the idea of putting the stories before our readers and asking them to judge the £1000 Readers’ prize.

The 5-strong shortlist is settled on by a judging panel (which this year includes Hilary Mantel) and Ailsa has selected one story from each of these collections for us to read with our groups. The names of the authors have been removed.

In GIR groups, we usually reflect on a book a little when we’ve finished it, but much of our discussion is immediately reactive–focussing on what’s in the book as we read it, what it suggests to us and what it means to us as individuals–but this time we’ve been asked to stand back from what we’ve read and see it as an object–and it’s been very interesting and different. The short story is a problem form for many–often feeling either inconsequential or incomplete, but so far our readers have been very open minded and sophisticated in their choices.

The award ceremony for the prize is to be held at the Bluecoat Art Centre in Liverpool in July. Read more about the shortlist here.

Les Murray Reads in Liverpool: Wednesday 4th June, 8pm at the Bluecoat

Les Murray

The Reader Organisation has teamed up with The Bluecoat in Liverpool for this rare chance to hear Australia’s leading contemporary poet reading from his work. One of The Reader magazine’s favourite living poets (there are three, guess the other two). His new two-issue series on the best Australian poets begins in issue 30 of the magazine, available in June. Read the editorial for issue 30 here.

Les Murray, is visiting Liverpool on Wednesday 4th June. Be in his company as he reads his poetry and signs copies of his collections. This is an exceptional opportunity not to be missed!

Les Murray, Wednesday 4th June, 8pm, at the Bluecoat. Tickets £5/3 available from the Bluecoat box office: 0151 702 5324, or click here to book online.

Imagine… Doris Lessing

Doris LessingLast night, BBC 1 broadcast a tribute programme about Doris Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. Presented by Alan Yentob, Imagine… Doris Lessing: The Hostess and the Alien, tells the story of Lessing’s personal life and literary career: her early years in uncultivated Rhodesia, her perpetually difficult relationship with her mother, her fervent political and spiritual beliefs.

Jane Davis, Director of The Reader Organisation, was a contributor to this programme, leading a training reading group with colleagues and undergraduate students at the University of Liverpool.

Reading Lessing’s novel Shikasta, “had an astonishing affect on me”, says Jane. It was this book that set off an electrical current that powered the development of The Reader Organisation. Jane’s aspirations for a Reading Revolution have been inspired by Lessing’s ardent beliefs: “We own a legacy of languages, poems, histories, and it is not one that will ever be exhausted” (Nobel lecture 2007); great books help us to be human.

The Reader Organisation believes that reading is a force for social good that can build community and enhance lives. It is our aim to ensure that quality literature is accessible to all: to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in sharing this resource. Lessing’s plea to Jane to “Read. Read more” has affected not only her life but the lives of many people who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity, or inclination, to pick up a book.

If you missed the programme last night, it is available to watch on BBC iplayer for the next seven days (until Tuesday June 3, 2008). You can also read an interview with Doris Lessing, first published in The Reader magazine, issue 17, Spring 2005.

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Doris Lessing Documentary Features The Reader Organisation. BBC1, Tuesday May 27, 10.35pm.

Coming up on BBC1 on Tuesday May 27th, the Imagine series, presented by Alan Yentob, is running a documentary on Doris Lessing, featuring an interview with Jane Davis, Doris Lessing fanatic and Director of The Reader Organisation. Jen Tomkins wrote about the day the crew visited here.

Mind and Body Readers’ Day at the Brindley, Saturday 17th May

The Readers’ Day held at the Brindley Arts Centre on Saturday was a great success: it seems that guests, organisers and workshop facilitators all enjoyed themselves and found it inspiring, interesting and informative.

Reader Recommends Panel

We started the day with a ‘Reader Recommends’ panel, where each of the panel members – consisting of members of The Reader Organisation team and local author Caroline Smailes and poet Rebecca Goss – recommended their favourite ‘Mind and Body’ read. These included ‘Janet’s Repentance’ from George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life, the poem ‘Trout’ from Seamus Heaney’s collection Death of a Naturalist and D. H. Lawrence’s novel The Rainbow. After lunch was a Readers’ Clinic, where members of the audience posed questions about personal or social problems and concerns to the panel, with books and poems being prescribed as ways to assist. These sessions were great fun, helpful and really tested the memory skills of our team!

The workshops that were run throughout the day were thoroughly enjoyed by all involved and included a diverse choice of options for guests: discussions about specific texts, including Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Tennyson’s In Memoriam; a film/novel workshop based on the powerful The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; a journey from birth to death through poetry; how authors write about memories; an introduction to The Reader Organisation’s Get Into Reading project and much more besides.

Thank you to all those involved in the organisation and facilitation of the day – and to all the guests, some of which travelled some great distances to attend – for making it such a pleasurable and memorable day. Don’t just take our word for it though, here are some comments from Readers’ Day guests:

“I was reminded of the joy of being read to and it introduced me to new works that I hope to read in the future.”

“Great to meet other readers and to hear about great books.”

“Excellent venue.”

“There were some great discussions, I really enjoyed the workshops.”

“Make it longer!”

“The workshops are always very stimulating – I have enjoyed the opportunity to talk to others.”

Also see Caroline Smailes’ blog to read her (and others’) thoughts about it.

Blake Morrison agrees to be Chair of The Reader Organisation Board

Recently, The Reader Organisation has established itself as a company limited by guarantee and is applying for charitable status. This means that we are now an organisation in our own right and whilst we are still supported by the University of Liverpool we are no longer part of its constitution. The Reader Organisation is delighted to announce that novelist, journalist and ‘bibliotherapy’ advocate, Blake Morrison, has agreed to be Chair of our Board of Trustees.

Jane Davis, Director of The Reader Organisation, has responded in excitement to the news, saying:

I am so thankful for Blake’s support and commitment. To have such a high profile ‘voice’ for The Reader Organisation will enable us to go forward with added confidence; to get more people reading, experiencing and benefiting from great books.

Our connection with Blake Morrison was made when he travelled to Liverpool to visit reading groups from The Reader Organisation’s outreach project ‘Get Into Reading’. So inspired by what he witnessed he wrote a feature length article for the Guardian (‘The Reading Cure’, 5th January 2008), which focused predominately on our ‘Get Into Reading’ project and draws attention to the benefits for well-being through literature. Although scientific evidence for ‘bibliotherapy’ is inconclusive, it is becoming recognised that books can reach out and touch people in ways that are impossible in traditional medicine:

These reading groups aren’t just about helping people feel less isolated or building their self-esteem… More ambitiously, they’re an experiment in healing, or, to put it less grandiosely, an attempt to see whether reading can alleviate pain or mental distress.

We were flooded with responses after this article was published – from people from all over the UK and Ireland, as well as France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and the United States – a clear indication that there is a huge potential take-up of ‘Get Into Reading’ practice. Jane has been leading ‘Get Into Reading’ training days across the county, offering an introduction to the basic principles of the initiative and discussing the possibilities of implementing the project nationally.

As a genuine supporter of our work, we’re excited about forging this relationship with Blake. It will enable The Reader Organisation to build upon its recent successes and it firmly establishes us as the recognised authority in reading and health.

Posted by Jen Tomkins

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists Events

News today from Wirral Libraries that Roger Lyon from BBC Radio Merseyside will be appearing to talk about Robert Tressell’s political work The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Widely regarded as a classic of British working-class literature, Tressell’s book was published as socialism was beginning to gain ground and provides a fascinating glimpse into the social life of Britain and the dynamic relationships of the men themselves. Roger will discuss the novel and the issues that it raises for us today. If you would like to grasp this opportunity and can get to West Kirby Library, this free event will be held at 2.30 on Friday 2nd May (refreshments provided). All those who attend will receive a free copy of the book and a booklet pointing to its continuing relevance for contemporary society. For further information or to secure a place for the day, please call West Kirby Library on 0151 929 7808.

As part of the Robert Tressell celebrations being organised in Liverpool this year by PCS and other trade unions, the Writing on the Wall festival brings us three performances of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to the city: Tuesday 6th May and Wednesday 7th May, 7.30pm at The Casa, Hope Street and Thursday 8th May, 7.30pm at the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre, off Parliament Street (all tickets £5, please call 0151 231 6120 for further details).