The Opposite of Loneliness: Life As A Newly-Graduated Intern

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With much of the world in ‘back to school’ mode, many new graduates may be feeling a bit lost but fear not! Reassuring words from literature and our Communications Intern, Lauren Holland.

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Books about Bereavement: How to help children understand bereavement

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It is one of life’s sad certainties that children will experience grief at some point, we’ve collected together some great literature that can help children understand bereavement.

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Time to Talk Day

time to talk dayNext Thursday – 5th February – is Time to Talk Day, and everyone around the UK and beyond is being encouraged to spend 5 minutes having a conversation about mental health on the day to help break down the stigma surrounding the topic. Whether with friends and family, at work, in school or university or within the wider community, anywhere is a good place to talk.

A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eyes sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
– Matthew Arnold, The Buried Life

Shared reading goes hand-in-hand with stimulating good mental health and wellbeing, with the literature that is read reflecting life often in its toughest times. Through exploring the words of our greatest writers – many of whom experienced tests and tribulations – our weekly groups open up a space where thoughts and feelings can be explored and worked through together, while also providing new perspectives to emerge from the texts and the characters within them.

“It’s good because our lives are like stories.” – shared reading group member on an acute mental health ward

group 1We work in a variety of mental health and community settings on a weekly basis from Liverpool and the North West to the South West and London, with our groups giving members the chance to read, talk and feel better:

“When reading, I could use my voice to express ideas from someone else, outside myself, not to be judged, not to be evaluated by what I meant, not to be diagnosed by my turn of phrase, but just to speak and be heard. When reading, over time I was able to measure my road to recovery, in the clarity of my vision, thought and voice as I got better.” – former inpatient and library shared reading group member

72% of our group members felt that shared reading had helped them to think about things in a different way, and 70% feel their group has helped them to understand people better.

Ahead of Time to Talk Day, our project workers have given us some recommendations of poems that have been enjoyed in our shared reading groups in mental health settings – all great sources to get you talking about mental health and much more.

  • The Door – Miroslav Holub
  • The Journey – Mary Oliver
  • What if this Road – Sheenagh Pugh
  • Phenomenal Woman – Maya Angelou
  • A Return – Elizabeth Jennings
  • The Ideal – James Fenton
  • Kindness – Naomi Shihab Nye
  • I am Completely Different – Sabura Kurado
  • A Time to Talk – Robert Frost
  • When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes (Sonnet 29) – William Shakespeare

Find out more about Time to Talk Day and how you can get involved: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday

Issue 55 of The Reader is now available to purchase

It’s the perfect time to curl up with this brand new issue of The Reader as those cold, dark evenings draw in. In issue 55 which is packed with literary goodness, our editor Phil Davis talks to actress Maxine Peake about risk taking and writing and you will find a fascinating essay from the wonderful Howard Jacobson on Jane Austen. We hope you will also enjoy the excellent selection of new and old literature in this issue including new fiction from llana Baram and a particularly fine collection of poetry from Anna Woodford, Tony Cosier, David Constantine and Paul Connolly.

Please note we are currently having some technical issues with our website, so to order your copy, or subscribe to The Reader please email magazine@thereader.org.uk

We will inform you on here when the website is fixed.

Have a lovely weekend all.

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.

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/

Get a taste of Shared Reading in London

VolunteersThe Reader Organisation will be appearing at not one but two upcoming literary festivals in London, giving you the chance to experience shared reading alongside a range of other exciting book-based events.

Next week, we’ll be part of Finchley Literary Festival where one of our trained volunteers will be leading two shared reading sessions on Thursday 29th May at North Finchley Library. Our volunteer programme in Barnet is ongoing, sharing reading with people living with dementia and across generations within the community, and people within the area will get an opportunity to be part of one of our groups, similar to those currently running across Barnet.

The two sessions will take place at 1-2pm and 2.30-3.30pm, with a maximum of 9 attendees at each session. Both sessions are free to attend but booking is required. You can book online via Eventbrite on the Finchley Literary Festival website.

For those in the South of the city, we’ll be taking part in the Literary Kitchen Festival with shared reading taster sessions on Monday 16th, Tuesday 17th, Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th June. All sessions will take place from 3-4pm at The Peckham Pelican and entry is free.

If you like what you hear at either festival then there are a range of open community shared reading groups happening weekly in Barnet and South London, as well as Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. Take a look at our Reading with Us group map for a full list of groups in London: http://www.thereader.org.uk/reading-with-us

You can also keep up to date with TRO’s work in the capital by following @TheReaderLondon on Twitter.

Looking forward to sharing reading with you Londoners!

“Reading has given me life”: Better with a Book

Our Young People panel, Baroness Estelle Morris, Dr Alice Sullivan and Simon Barber with Jane (c. @PennyFosten, Twitter)
Our Young People panel, Baroness Estelle Morris, Dr Alice Sullivan and Simon Barber with Jane (c. @PennyFosten, Twitter)

Yesterday delegates, readers and The Reader Organisation staff descended on The British Library Conference Centre in London, awaiting a day of stimulating discussion and thought-provoking insights into the practice of shared reading for our fifth annual National Conference, Better with a Book. The sun was shining early, which was only a sign of the good things to come, and anticipation for the day started early with our #betterwithabook hashtag on Twitter:

Off to ‘s national conference . Anticipating inspiration, ideas and some great poems.

Read. Share. Live. Inspire. Be inspired. Be well.

We welcomed delegates from a wide range of fields, including libraries and community development, education, therapy, law, nursing, and from across the country and beyond – even from as far away as Melbourne, showcasing the global reach that shared reading is beginning to have.

After a welcome from Founder and Director Dr Jane Davis thanking everyone for being advocates of reading for pleasure, the day started by asking whether young people are Better with a Book featuring an esteemed panel, Baroness Estelle Morris (Institute of Effective Education at the University of York), Dr Alice Sullivan (Director 1970 British Cohort Study, Institute of Education, University of London) and Simon Barber (Chief Executive at 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Trust). After reading from their favourite childhood books, Dr Sullivan presented the findings of an illuminating study which found that young people’s reading habits had more influence on their attainment than the level of their parents’ education. The matter of giving young people choice to explore reading in relation to their place in their world was a big talking point – Simon spoke of his experiences of running a group for young people in the mental health inpatient unit at 5 Boroughs, where they chose to read texts as eclectic as Black Beauty and Romeo and Juliet, and Estelle placed emphasis on reading as a social context for children and young people.

Great to be with a whole room of compassionate bookworms ‘s event

The most inspiring and incredibly moving part of the day came when we met some of our readers from shared reading groups in London and Merseyside who shared their personal experiences of the impact shared reading has had upon their lives, from giving them the confidence to live well as well as discover new skills (Jennifer went on to do Read to Lead training), find employment, appear on stage, and in the most fundamental and significant cases, provided them with the means to keep on living. Shared reading was described as a ‘lifesaver’ and the power of the testimonies was truly alive in the room:

Inspiring personal testimonies from readers. Life changing moments beautifully told

such transformation in people’s lives has happened through reading groups!

Incredibly moving, funny, raw stories from those attending groups with

It wasn’t just the effect on themselves that was brought to life – Jennifer spoke passionately about her work reading with people with dementia, and one woman in particular for whom shared reading has brought joy and a release to her life, so much so that it is a major point of her week:

“She’s in the poetry, and for one whole hour she’s happy.”

Seminars honing in on the topics of shared reading in PIPEs, research into the cultural significance of shared reading, examining the working model of shared reading for commissioners and the links between reading for pleasure and cognitive development gave much for us to think about before heading to our main afternoon sessions.

Lord Melvyn Bragg at Better with a Book (c. @Hollingtonn, Twitter)
Lord Melvyn Bragg at Better with a Book (c. @Hollingtonn, Twitter)

Lord Alan Howarth (Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Arts, Health and Wellbeing) chaired a panel discussion how reading in prisons can contribute to prison reform and how prisoners should be helped within the system and on return to the community. The complex topic was masterfully handled by Nick Benefield (previous Advisor on Personality Disorder at NHS England and Joint Head of the NHS Personality Disorder Programme), Lord David Ramsbotham (House of Lords member with a focus on penal reform and defence) and Megg Hewlett (Reader-in-Residence and PIPEs group leader in West London). Following the day’s emerging theme of shared reading ‘opening and unlocking’ individuals, Megg shared the story of a young woman within a criminal justice setting finding herself in the poem Bluebird by Charles Bukowski, and Lord Ramsbotham spoke of his belief in the importance of Readers-in-Residence to both the medical and educational needs of prisoners.

Our keynote speech came from writer, broadcaster and author Lord Melvyn Bragg, who spoke in-depth about the story behind his novel Grace and Mary, which came from his own experiences of his mother being diagnosed with dementia. He spoke about how it was important for him to help and discussed how literature linked with his lived experiences of the condition; in particular highlighting The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot and King Lear (“Nothing will come of nothing.”). In discussion with Jane, Lord Bragg spoke about his life as a reader, saying that he couldn’t imagine his life without books and explaining in powerful words what reading has done for him.

“Reading has given me life…reading has given me several lives…reading has given me access to the possibility of a great number of lives.”

His words proved just as inspiring for our audience:

Melvyn Bragg ‘access to the paths not taken- that’s all in reading’. Amazing closing talk ‘s conference

A closing point from Jane which reminded us of the importance of finding ourselves in reading books from the ages rounded off a remarkable day which highlighted in real human terms the remarkable effects reading can have on so many different lives. ‘Inspirational’ was the word of the day from our #betterwithabook attendees, and it was a very fitting term indeed.

Better with a Book was featured on BBC Radio 3’s Free Thinking by Jules Evans from Queen Mary Centre for the History of Emotions, University of London. Listen from around 38 min 20 secs in to hear about books that have helped guests through hard times and an exploration of our work and research: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0435bj1

An Evaluation of a Literature Based Intervention for People with Chronic Pain

chronic pain study 1 72dpiThe latest research into the effects shared reading is having as a non-medical, literature based intervention into health conditions has been published by The Reader Organisation and research partners.

The study, carried out by a partnership between the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems (CRILS) at University of Liverpool and The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen NHS Hospital Trust, investigates the impact of shared reading for people living with chronic pain when delivered in a clinical setting. As part of the research, The Reader Organisation held a regular shared reading group at Broadgreen Hospital for patients with chronic pain who had been recruited from pain clinics around the Trust.

Intital results from the study, which was examined in a seminar at last year’s National Conference, have proved to show positive impacts in the relationship between shared reading, alleviation of pain symptoms and improved psychological wellbeing, with factors such as absorbed concentration upon the literature, a sense of community, comradeship and social connections being established and an enhanced quality of life all emerging for patients taking part in the group. The study follows previous research from CRILS which focused upon shared reading in relation to mental health conditions and is the first time data has been collected on physical health and a literature-based intervention.

People living with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms such as mood or anxiety disorders, and in turn depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain. One of the contributing researchers, Dr Andrew Jones from Broadgreen Hospital, commented that the study gave a positive indication for patients with chronic pain:

“Early indications are showing that the reading group is making a difference to people in our hospital. But there is something intangible, a deeper impact beyond that, which we can’t measure using existing qualitative research methods. While there is already evidence of the mental health benefits of shared reading, little is known about the benefits for physical health, but the link between chronic pain and psychiatric symptoms indicate it could help.”

The study contains several first-hand accounts from patients who took part, talking about their experiences of attending the group:

“It’s my little island…a safe haven…it’s very informal and comfortable”

“I don’t have pain when we are discussing or reading the story…the whole thing is read out and I don’t have any pain.”

“I’ve really, really got to concentrate…and that’s what it makes me do. It makes me concentrate and listen.”

Though more research is needed into exploring the relationship between chronic pain, reduced symptoms and a shared reading intervention, this initial study gives positive indication that further work can be established and could be extended to dialysis wards and other areas of physical health at Broadgreen and the Royal Hospitals. The shared reading group set up for the study at Broadgreen proved so popular that The Reader Organisation has been commissioned to run sessions there for the next three years.

‘An Evaluation of a Literature Based Intervention for People with Chronic Pain’ is now available to download on our website, where more can be found out about our research projects with CRILS: http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research

CRILS will be at Better with a Book, The Reader Organisation’s National Conference 2014, examining footage of shared reading groups in action as part of their AHRC funded research project on the cultural value of shared reading as opposed to other cultural activities. Places are still available for you to hear more about the relationship between literature, shared reading and its effects on individuals, communities and organisations at The British Library Conference Centre on Thursday 15th May: http://www.thereader.org.uk/events/conference

Stop The World I Want To Get Off!

stop the worldStop The World I Want To Get Off!: A Short Course for Serious Readers
Friday 6th December, 10am-4pm
Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool L18 3JD

£30 (including lunch)/£15 concessions

With just over a month to go to the big day, Christmas is beginning to surround us everywhere. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stresses and strains of seasonal preparation, don’t tear your hair out – instead, turn to some classic and calming literature in our special Short Course for Serious Readers, designed to provide an oasis amidst the pre-Christmas rush.

Take a break away from the heaving high streets, still the jingle of the Christmas bells and forget about present-buying pressure for this day long course where we’ll spend the day looking at moments of literary escape from the whirling world. Join Kate McDonnell, The Reader Organisation’s Quality Practice Manager, to read a selection of poetry and prose by the likes of Wordsworth, Louis Macneice and many others, considering how we make take the peace their words offer us back into the fray to prepare for the final furlong of festive organising.

Give yourself some space with great literature and good company at this seasonal Short Course for Serious Readers. To book your place, contact Literary Learning Coordinator Sophie Johnson on sophiejohnson@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7207.

For more information on upcoming Short Courses for Serious Readers, including our New Year 2014 course asking ‘Can a Book Change Your Life?’, visit the Courses section on our website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/courses.aspx