Wednesday 19 December 2012

News from inside

We're very pleased that we'll be getting regular feedback from the Prison Reading Groups that we support. Here's a report from a women's prison: "Our first feedback is on Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter. Everyone got very enthusiastic about this story of creepy goings-on during an expedition to the arctic in the 1930s. Paver gets the atmosphere so powerfully; partly, we thought, because the voice of the narrator is so convincing. Then there are the specific details – such as what they eat and even the plates they eat it off –which all help to take you into this extraordinary world. Very scary!"
Thanks so much for writing in. We love to hear more about where the books are going.  Now return to Give a Book.

Monday 10 December 2012

Poems in the waiting room

Once, waiting, I read 'Thaw' by Edward Thomas:
Over the land half-freckled with snow half-thawed 
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed, 
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as a flower of grass, 
What we below could not see, Winter pass.

The waiting got better. Poems in the waiting room. And then please do go back to Give a Book.

Monday 3 December 2012

Reading and mental health

There was an article in the UK Huffington Post  recently about the real benefits of reading--it describes the flowering of a group of readers in a mental health unit through the power of reading. Once again this is thanks to the superb Reader Org whom we often mention. Do read the article and then go back to Give a Book.

Monday 26 November 2012

Happy Birthday to The Reading Agency

The excellent organisation The Reading Agency  is 10 years old. The Reading Agency is a wonderful charity whose aim is to inspire more people to read more. They work particularly closely with libraries which give equal access to books and reading. They celebrated their 10th birthday at the British Library last week and Jeanette Winterson gave the inaugural Reading Agency Lecture. It was characteristically trenchant, wise and rousing--she quoted Andrew Carnegie "who believed in books and the chances they offered" and who "wanted libraries to be the universities anyone could attend and no-one would ever have to leave." She also said:  "Books as objects matter. Ebooks are not an improvement; they are an addition" and that "for kids in particular ebooks aren't the answer....Early reading is physicality--the taste, smell, weight of books." We should all pay attention to this, and then go back to Give a Book.

Monday 19 November 2012

Jeanette Winterson on Reading

In her wonderful memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  Jeanette Winterson writes: “Books, for me, are a home. Books don’t make a home—they are one, in the sense that just as you do with a door, you open a book, and you go inside. Inside there is a different kind of time and a different kind of space.
There is warmth there too—a hearth. I sit down with a book and I am warm. I know that from the chilly nights on the doorstep.”
Also, check out her journalism—she wrote movingly about our friend The Reader Org in The Times .
Now go back to Give a Book.

Monday 12 November 2012

The key to happy ever after

F.R.Tallis, clinical psychologist and novelist, wrote an extremely interesting article for The Times
(6th August 2012).  Tallis writes that while we all know that reading is good for us there is a crucial fact often overlooked which is the importance of reading fiction: fiction, like non-fiction, transmits information, but it's of a different kind. Stories provide insight into human behaviour, a vocabulary for emotions….exposure to fiction in childhood, he writes, has an enormous impact on the development of social awareness and emotional intelligence…..The first person fully to recognise that exposure to stories was essential for good mental health was the Austrian psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim who argues that fairy stories are a safe place in which to learn about monsters…
Brain scans show that when reading a book people simulate the narrative in their heads. In other words, our brains have to put in some work…When we read we are more actively engaged in the creative process; we participate.
Fiction, Tallis concludes,  is often rubbished as escapism. But escapism has never been a problem and it might be the solution.
Now return to Give a Book.

Friday 9 November 2012

God bless Reading Groups

“It’s hard to train for freedom in a cage” is just one of the memorable quotes to be found in the Oxford History of the Prison edited by Norvall Morris and David Rothman.
Memories of what it is to be free recede as your sentence progresses, as you are forced to accept the rhythm of prison life. Of shower, facility time, work, servery, work, servery, association, bang up. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
As fellow prisoners will confirm the key to maintaining sanity inside a cell lies between your ears. “They can lock up your body but not your mind” is an oft heard phrase.
For most the staple in cell diet of TV, inane adverts, music and ‘news’ from the ‘real’ world,  along with, if you’re lucky, conversation with a really good pad mate will see you through bang up.
But for some this is not enough. Suddenly cast in to a regime bearing some comparison to that found in a monastery. Often forced to confront their own demons. It is no great surprise that some prisoners discover religious faith when they least expect it and some rediscover the pleasures of reading. An activity so often sidelined, certainly in my case, by the daily pressures of life on the outside.
Through my time at HMP the inspiring attitude of staff within the Library and the teachers within Education has not only kept me sane. It has also wrought changes upon me for the better.
In this context the monthly Reading Group requires special mention. The regular opportunity to sit down comfortably in a relaxed forum amongst my peers….To share opinions on books that I might not otherwise have read and even, on occasion, have the opportunity to converse with their author. Not forgetting coffee and sometimes cake or biscuits! This is a precious activity with long term benefits extending well beyond the time it occupies.
Before coming to prison it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to seek out membership of a local reading Group. Neither would I have realised the riches to be gained from seeing books through the minds of others and challenging my own preconceptions.
But now I have resolved to set aside at least an hour each day to reading and freeing my mind. I shall also, upon release, be seeking membership of a local reading group. It will be interesting to see how it compares.
Now go back to Give a Book

Thursday 8 November 2012

more about Prison Reading Groups

We have had an account of one of the Prison Reading Groups, see below, sent by one of the facilitators. We're really excited that we're going to be helping in this enterprise.
"Exceptionally, we read two books for this month: Athol Fugard's Tsotsi and Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. For very different reasons, both discussions were fascinating. Tsotsi is about a cold, empty young killer in South Africa who has a baby dumped on him and gradually discovers the capacity to recognise and feel for another. Sounds corny but is actually very powerful and generated such interesting responses about empathy, crime and choice. .....
The group was very split over JLS: some thought it banal tosh but staunchly defended as 'moving and inspirational' by others, [some] of whom said they were going to send it out to their children. I love that idea of wider circulation and book afterlife."
And so do we. Thanks for writing and telling us about it. Now back to Give a Book.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Prison Reading Groups

We're delighted to announce that we now give books to Prison Reading Groups through the excellent organisation based at the University of Roehampton. We will be hearing more from them as this goes along. Some of the Give a Book team sat in on one of their groups and were really impressed. It's a great new collaboration which we look forward to. There are regular features about their work in the magazine Inside Time which we'll link to as well. Now go back to Give a Book.

Free Word

There's a fantastic place called the Freeword Centre in the heart of London--it's a kind of umbrella organisation where reading, writing and free speech come together. They have great premises, put on excellent events, have many other related organisations under their wing and are altogether a good thing. Check it out. Now go back to Give a Book.

Where the books go.....

Give a Book recently sent books to the  Harris Academy, Greenwich. They are going to send more photos in due course and in addition, the students will be reviewing and providing a load of material for our blog. Thanks! We love to hear how the books are received.  Meanwhile, you can see a picture on our home page.  They tell us that they are incredibly excited and grateful and that truly, for some, this will be their first book. Great to hear from you. Now return to Give a Book.

Saturday 20 October 2012

London reads Oliver Twist

London's City Reads  is Oliver Twist, appropriately enough in this Dickens anniversary year. There are events all over the city to be found on their excellent website--libraries to go to, a Facebook reading group to join, all manner of things to discover and enjoy. 

Saturday 29 September 2012

How do we keep children reading?

Philip Pullman in The Times 29 Sept 2012 says: "Short of a universal power blackout, all I can suggest is get lots of of good books, leave them around, occasionally read to them a bit---and stop at an exciting part. Put them on a high shelf and say, 'Those books are not for you, they're too strong, you're not old enough yet'...and then go out."
His versions of the Grimm Tales is just out--but they're not for you, they're too strong and you're not old enough yet.

Monday 10 September 2012

Children read less......

Another trenchant research document from the excellent National Literacy Trust reveals that fewer children than ever now read in their spare time. 

Saturday 1 September 2012

Happy birthday to The Reader

September marks the 10th birthday of the excellent Reader org and their Get into Reading campaign.  Reader, we salute you.

With its mission to ‘bring about a reading revolution’, the charity’s read aloud groups have taken Shakespeare to supermarkets, poetry to prisons and Hardy to hospitals.

The project, which aims to connect people with great literature and each other, was started in 2002 by the charity’s director Jane Davis. She set up two weekly reading groups for young mothers and adult learners in Birkenhead.
Jane Davis says:

‘I wanted to get books into the hands of people like myself who needed them, so I set up Get Into Reading to bring books and people together.
People began to tell me: “This isn’t just reading, this is good for my health, you should be getting paid by the NHS”.’

Ten years later and The Reader Organisation works with a diverse range of partners, including Mersey Care NHS Trust, Wirral and Liverpool Libraries, HMP Reading, Greater Manchester West Mental Health Trust, Bupa Care Homes, Idea Store, MIND, Tesco and Liverpool Hope University. Each week the charity delivers over 300 groups across the UK, from Glasgow to London, reaching over 1300 people aged 3 to 103.
Impacts of the groups include increased personal confidence and reduced social isolation, improved emotional and psychological wellbeing, greater stability and support, and a growing love of books.

A group member from Liverpool said:

‘Get Into Reading has given me the confidence to move on to a better place.’

To mark the project’s tenth birthday, The Reader Organisation has put together a list of the most popular books from the past ten years of Get Into Reading and wants to find out who you would most like to hear reading these books aloud. You can read the list and vote for your favourite at from Monday 3rd September.   
   The Reader Organisation is a charitable social enterprise based in Merseyside that works to connect people with great literature and each other. During 2012 it developed the Big Lottery Volunteer Reader Scheme on Merseyside, created the new Everton Family Project, and extended its engagement with services across Wirral. Nationally, it has been named as one of Britain’s New Radicals by NESTA and The Observer.
 Get Into Reading is a pioneering Merseyside – based reading project which began in Birkenhead in 2002. The Reader Organisation now delivers over 330 reading groups across the UK, 200 of which are based in Merseyside. Groups meet to read together in a variety of places, including: hospitals, care homes, prisons, GP surgeries, libraries, prisons, supermarkets, homeless shelters, community centres, corporate board rooms, probation centres, schools and mental health day centres.

Monday 2 July 2012

A Life with Books by Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes has written a wonderful pamphlet exploring, explaining and celebrating a life with books. He writes: "I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realized that there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer's voice gets inside a reader's head..." It was featured in The Guardian on Saturday 30th June.  A Life with Books (£1.99) is published by Jonathan Cape to celebrate Independent Booksellers Week and is available exclusively in independent bookshops. All proceeds from the sales of the pamphlet go to the charity Freedom from Torture. IBW runs 30 June-7 July. For more details go to:

Thursday 24 May 2012

Giving books

Here's an excellent project from the Cambridge US public library for giving books to disadvantaged kids in their holidays. Much to learn from it.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Words in the Park

There's a new Literary Festival taking place in the glorious surroundings of Holland Park, London on May 18th-20th.  Words in the Park is the latest venture from the wonderful Ways with Words group of festivals. There are now 4 throughout the UK and they've been going for 21years. More power to them.

Sunday 1 April 2012

Uggie writes...

We've had a recommendation from Uggie the dog. "If I've yipped it once, I've yipped it a thousand  times, where Dog Stars are concerned , you have to take the rough with the smooth. Rinty is rough , I am smooth. All the same I generously recommend Rin Tin Tin, the Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean. Donate to Give a Book here.

Saturday 31 March 2012

Affection for fiction

Philip Hensher in an interview in The Guardian today speaks of his unshakeable affection for fiction: "It allows us to see the world from the point of view of someone else and there has been quite a lot of neurological research that shows reading novels is actually good for you. It embeds you in society and makes you think about other people. People are certainly better at all sorts of things if they can hold a novel in their heads. It is quite a skill, but if you can't do it then you're missing out on something in life. I think you can tell, when you meet someone, whether they read novels or not. There is some little hollowness if they don't."

Friday 30 March 2012

When I was a Child I read Books

"I remember once, as a child, walking into a library, looking around at the books, and thinking, I could do that. In fact I didn't do it until I was well into my thirties, but the affinity I felt with books as such preserved in me the secret knowledge that I was a writer when any dispassionate appraisal of my life would have dismissed the notion entirely. So I belong to the community of the written word in several ways. First, books have taught me most of what I know, and they have trained my attention and my imagination. Second, they gave me a sense of the possible, which is a great service-- and too often, when it is ungenerous, the great disservice--a community performs for its members. Third, they embodied richness and refinement of language, and the artful use of language in the service of imagination. Fourth, they gave me and still give me courage.  Sometimes, when I have spent days in my study dreaming a world while the world itself shines outside my windows, forgetting to call my mother because one of my non-beings has come up with a thought that interests me, I think, this is a very odd was to spend a life. But I have my library around me, my cloud of witnesses to the strangeness and brilliance of human experience, who have helped me in my deepest enjoyments of it. Every writer I know, when asked how to become a writer, responds with one word: Read. "
From award-winning author Marilynne Robinson's latest book, When I was a Child I read Books.

Monday 26 March 2012

Bookworm in India

We've been a given a lovely thank you present by Helen from Helping Elsewhere. It's a special beautiful book called The Wedding of the Frogs, and is published by Bookworm where children learn to love books. Thank you, Helen, this really means a lot to us.

Friday 23 March 2012

The £5 note

Speaking of reading in groups, and the importance of reading in general, check out the next £5 note in your possession where there's a picture of the great prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) reading to prisoners in Newgate.  (And by the way, every £5 donation to Give a Book gives a book to someone who really needs one.)

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Reading to Live Well

The excellent Reader Organisation is having their third national conference on May 17th. Here's the info, and we encourage you to go-- because reading matters.
With the current national highlight on the value of reading for everyone, become part of a rapidly growing wellbeing movement: reading aloud together for pleasure.

The Reader Organisation’s third national conference:
Reading to Live Well
17th May 2012, 9am – 5pm
British Library, London, NW1 2DB

Speakers include:
·         Dr Iona Heath, President of the Royal College of General Practioners
·         Jonathan Rose, Professor Jonathan Rose, William R Kenan Professor of History, Drew University, USA, and author of The Intellectual Life of The British Working Classes
·         Lemn Sissay, award-winning poet and the first to write for the Olympics 2012

Our Reading to Live Well conference is aimed at professionals working to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities – those commissioning, delivering, researching, referring or funding services – who want to learn how our pioneering project ‘Get Into Reading’ can help support service users in their recovery, improve the morale and motivation of staff involved and promote the importance of reading aloud together for pleasure.

“Get Into Reading is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in mental health practice in the last ten years.” Dr David Fearnley, Medical Director, Mersey Care NHS Trust (RCPsych ‘Psychiatrist of the Year 2009’)

“It’s like a door has opened and the light has come in.” Sue, full-time carer

Our pioneering ‘Get Into Reading’ project is delivered in all four corners of the UK, reaching people aged 3-103, in hospitals and care homes, libraries and GP surgeries, prisons and supermarkets.

“It’s given me a second chance. I feel my views are valued here.” Gary, probation centre resident and a non-reader

“I never knew this is what books were.” Ted, a literate non-reader, on reading with others

Our Reading to Live Well conference will showcase our Get Into Reading projects in London and across the UK..  We will also explain ‘how and why’ Get Into Reading works for readers and non-readers alike, and disseminate key findings of two recent research projects by the University of Liverpool on the impact of the Get Into Reading model on people with depression and dementia.

Sunday 18 March 2012

More about giving books to Mandrem

Take a look at the blog post by Helping Elsewhere to hear more about the books given to Mandrem in Goa. So good to hear how the books are received and also to hear more about this wonderful organisation. Let's hope we can do something with them again.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Technology enriches the written word...

So writes Ben Macintyre in an interesting article in The Times called "Qwerty is the key to our love of language." He says: 'Readers and writers alike should embrace each new advance in the deployment and enjoyment of words.' Check out the whole article. The conversation continues....

Sunday 11 March 2012

So can you love a library of e-books?

Article by Joanna Trollope arguing that to appreciate a book fully you 'have to feel the heft of [it] in your hand' . And a comment on the Telegraph leader page taking this up, and celebrating the new technology, for the more ways to read the better. The conversation will run and run....

Saturday 10 March 2012

Making books and the e-revolution

An interesting article today by Gaby Wood about the excellent Slightly Foxed.  Amongst other things, they now publish books: real books, printed and bound and selling like hot cakes. The conversation continues...

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Why read?

The conversation continues. An article by Keith Oatley, Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Toronto and author of Such Stuff as Dreams:  'When we read (for example) Chekhov's "The Lady with the Little Dog" we can be both ourselves and Gomov or Anna. Through stories, selfhood can expand.'

Sunday 26 February 2012

What is reading for?

Last weekend in her excellent column in The Times Erica Wagner mentioned the pamphlet What is Reading For? by Robert Bringhurst. He's a historian of typography and, writes Wagner, 'reading is as much a physical process as an intellectual one. "Reading" began with our bodies. Literature predates the book by tens of thousands of years; literature was, for most of human history, passed from mouth to ear, and came out of humankind's deep physical engagement with the world. Literature is life.
Life and literature both deserve celebration--and respect. Bringhurst does not dismiss the e-book; rather he draws our attention back to the possibilities of the text embodied in beauty.'

Monday 20 February 2012

Helping Elsewhere: Books to Mandrem in Goa

Give a Book is sometimes asked to give books to charities or projects other than our regular recipients. We recently sent out books to a school in Goa. Claudia and Andy took them out and now Claudia has written to us:
"We delivered the books to Mandrem school last Friday, so that the headmistress Jacinta could be there and Helen who runs the helping elsewhere charity.
...We took the suitcases to the library and unpacked them with the headmistress, a class and the science teacher.
The look of amazement on their faces was wonderful.
...About 20% of the books  have been given to [another] school, about 4 hours drive into the interior, up in the hills behind behind the coastal strip, where any sort of movement into the 20 th let alone 21st century is very slow... Apparently this little school has even less than the Mandrem school and the books were really [to] help the teachers help the children and provide some sort of starting point to teach from.
.... it was a real delight seeing their excitement when they received the books."

Saturday 18 February 2012

Quick reads

Article about Tony Parsons and the Quick Reads campaign to help people struggling with literacy. HRH The Duchess of Cornwall-- a great champion of literacy-- participated.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

The future of publishing

We recommend an important and interesting article in The Guardian a couple of weeks ago by Stephen Page CEO of Faber. Optimism, realism and bite...

Sunday 5 February 2012

Why read?

A centre recently opened at the University of Liverpool with just this question in mind: The Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems. The Director is Prof Philip Davis, editor of The Reader magazine, and the Centre will research the impact of reading on health--it looks at the effects of shared reading, reading in prisons, the role of reading in treating mental illness and much more besides. We look forward to following its progress.

Friday 3 February 2012

Pratichi Trust

We were pleased to visit the Pratichi Trust in Santiniketan, West Bengal. They've sent us pictures of books that they're sending out to children in schools in rural West Bengal. They have a festival of books, of books by and for children. They do much wonderful work, including helping children to start to love reading books.

The 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world

Someone thought we'd like these pictures of the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world. Thank you, Dawn. We do!

Thursday 19 January 2012

The tactile pleasures of a book...

The author, Clay McLeod Chapman, has written this for us.

"No e-reader will ever usurp the tactile pleasures of a book. A book you can pick up, feel the weight of when you hold it in your hands—even sense the slight breeze when you flip through its pages. I'll take that simple joy over the digital blips of an iBook any day..."

Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the rigorous storytelling session The Pumpkin Pie Show. He is the author of REST AREA, a collection of short stories, and MISS CORPUS, a novel, published by Hyperion books. He teaches writing at The Actors Studio MFA Program at Pace University.

Currently, he is writing a trilogy of children's novels titled THE TRIBE--book one, HOMEROOM HEADHUNTERS, is slated to hit the shelves in 2013, published by Hyperion books. And his short film HENLEY is about to screen at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Thanks, Clay.