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.