The Pleasure of Reading

“The tales and myths and legends did, I am now more sure than ever I was, exactly what Coleridge said they did. They made it clear there was another world, beside the world of having to be a child in a house, an inner world and a vast outer world with large implications – good and evil, angels and demons, fate and love and terror and beauty – and the comfort of the inevitable ending, not only the happy ending against odds, but the tragic one too.” – A.S. Byatt

the pleasure of readingEver wondered about the stories that inspired your favourite author to become a writer themselves? Want to know the books that turned them into a reader as well as the ones that continue to do so?

The Pleasure of Reading is a delightful and revealing collection, edited by Antonia Fraser and featuring over forty acclaimed writers from all corners of the globe and in a period spanning seventy six years, all of whom are bound by their shared passion for reading, including Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Gray, Alan Hollinghurst, Doris Lessing, Roger McGough and patrons of The Reader Organisation A.S. Byatt and Jeanette Winterson.

First published in 1992 in hardback only, this new edition includes essays from five younger writers, including Orange Prize shortlisted author Kamila Shamsie:

“It started with a bear, and a boy in search of his shadow. Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Pan were the twin companions of my earliest memories (an animal and a child – this has a certain symmetry; in my un-reading life, the primary companions of those days were an Alsatian called Dusty, and my sister). Of the two, it was Peter who lodged himself most deeply in my heart, making me dream of adventurers who would dart in through the open window at night and fly me away to Neverland. In the world of J. M. Barrie parents are understandably wary of Peter and his home ‘second to the right and straight on to morning’ but in my world it was my mother who pointed out to me that Neverland was just off the coast of Karachi, located on a series of small islets, known as Oyster Rocks by the unknowing; that two of the islets looked like granite sentinels made her claim seem all the more plausible. So although Peter might fly into rooms in London he ended up just off the coast on which I lived; a comforting thought.

[…]

In the Karachi of my childhood, where we had one state-run television channel and a sheltered life which rarely extended beyond the school yard and private homes, I walked through that wardrobe, flew to Neverland with the boy and his shadow. And in doing so I learnt that novels reach further than their own writers’ imagination. Who do you write for? I am often asked, the question framed in terms of nation or ethnicity. My own childhood reading makes me impatient of such questions. C. S. Lewis is unlikely to have ‘written for’ a girl in Karachi, but that doesn’t mean any boy in London grew up with a greater claim on Aslan than I did. There were things I didn’t understand, of course – What was Turkish delight to begin with? Why did all the children drink tea, which was clearly a boring beverage for grown-ups? – but I was happy to read around what I didn’t understand, some- times accepting other rules of living, other times inventing my own explanations. Finding ways of contending with the mystification was as much a part of the joy of reading as was entering fictional worlds and changing their rules (I refer you back to girls and the darning of socks). It is a great gift to a writer, this early knowledge that there will always be people who don’t know the world you’re writing about, will miss allegories and allusions, and yet will love your books.”

Royalties from the book will go to Give A Book, who seek to get books into the places where they will be of most benefit. Give A Book work in conjunction with Age UK and Maggie’s Centres as well as other literacy projects, and have supported several of our shared reading groups in London with the donation of new book sets – much to the enjoyment of our readers.

For more information about The Pleasure of Reading, see Bloomsbury Books website.

Giving books in Wormwood Scrubs

The first Book Room at Wormwood Scrubs, set up by Give A Book
The first Book Room at Wormwood Scrubs, set up by Give A Book

The debate on books in prisons is still a burning issue since months after the announcement of rules to ban prisoners from receiving books through the post. A petition to get the ban overturned – supported by The Reader Organisation – has received over 28,000 signatures, and there have been various campaigns, including the very active #booksforprisoners hashtag on Twitter which highlights the reformative power of literature.

Our work sharing reading in prisons and other criminal justice settings around the UK demonstrates how literature can have a massive impact on the lives of prisoners and ex-offenders. The sharing of personal experiences through books offers opportunities for prison reform, rehabilitation and prevention of further crime, as well as improving health and wellbeing, increasing confidence and providing the chance for self-reflection. Simply put, our work with people such as N shows what effect reading has on opening up prisoners’ lives outside of their cells:

“You hear a lot of chat about people’s crimes in this place.  In this room we’re talking about other things, so many other things.  And we’re listening to each other.  I’ve learned that we’re all essentially the same.”

(Read N’s story in full on our website)

Our friends from Give A Book, who facilitate the gifting of books to charities, organisations and people who need them the most, have recently set up a new Book Room in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. The room is designed to support the existing library within the prison, encouraging prisoners to read recreationally in an informal setting.

The Book Room has proved immensely popular since its opening, with an influx of donations of great literature from sources including Granta, English PEN and Cambridge Literary Festival. There has also been some great feedback from the prisoners on the wing, which you can read on the Give A Book blog.

There are plans to open a Book Room on all wings of the prison, and it’s a fantastic initiative which The Reader Organisation wholeheartedly supports. Congratulations to all at Give A Book for the success of the Book Room and best of luck for it continuing!

You’ll also find more about the subject of books in prisons in Issue 54 of The Reader magazine, which is out now. Writer and patron of The Reader Organisation Erwin James writes about how the power of a good book gave shape to a profound dream he had while he was in prison, and this issue’s interview is with campaigning barrister and director of Just for Kids Law Shauneen Lambe, who speaks about her work with prisoners on death row in Louisiana.

You can buy your copy of The Reader magazine in Waterstones Liverpool One and a range of other stockists around the UK, or online via our website, where you’ll also be able to purchase a year long subscription for the UK, abroad or institutions: http://www.thereader.org.uk/magazine

“You hear a lot of chat about people’s crimes in this place.  In this room we’re talking about other things, so many other things.  And we’re listening to each other.  I’ve learned that we’re all essentially the same.” – See more at: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reader-stories/reader-stories-greater-manchester-probation-trust.aspx#sthash.HWubm8yT.dpu