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).