Thursday 28 March 2013

We need a new Language for Mental Health

The wonderful Reader Organisation is calling for a new language to talk about mental health, with senior health professionals, readers and writers discussing the idea in the opening session of the charity’s annual conference, ‘Shared Reading for Healthy Communities’ at the British Library on 16th May 2013.

Unlike the growing number of ‘Books on Prescription’ and ‘Bibliotherapy’ schemes, The Reader Organisation, which is commissioned by health services across the UK, has chosen not to limit the description of its model as ‘therapy’. Literature exists to address the human condition.

Jane Davis, The Reader Organisation’s founder and director, says:

“Those medical words – prescription, therapy – which at first glance carry a medical imprimatur of seriousness, have largely come from the pharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic industries, and actually point to a re-positioning of the inner life as a problem to be solved by experts, by others.”
 Working with health, library, education, adult social care services and other bodies, The Reader Organisation provided 92,400 unique shared reading experiences in 2012. The personalised model, which enables even non-readers to join in as everything is read aloud in the group, is now backed up with strong qualitative and quantitative evidence from researchers.

At the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust in Liverpool, patients are currently taking part in a shared reading group as part of a chronic pain research project, the initial findings of which will be revealed at the conference.
Dr Andrew Jones, consultant in anaesthesia and pain medicine, at the hospital, says:

“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.”

The conference will also explore how the benefits of the shared reading model extends beyond the traditional definition of ‘health’, addressing issues of reoffending, isolation, community cohesion, and reading for pleasure with young people.

A group member at HMP Wormwood Scrubs, said:

“The reading group has boosted my self-esteem and given me more self-confidence when I have discussions with staff and in general; it has encouraged me to read more in my spare-time, which has released a lot of stress off my shoulders as I have been suffering from depression.”

“Great literature connects people. There’s nothing more ancient, nor more deeply healing than that”, states Jane Davis.
“But we increasingly feel the pressure to talk about our work in medicalised terms - intervention, service, outcomes – terms which limit the power of what humanly it is that is making the difference. I want to find a new language, so that people don’t have to say, ‘I’m sick’, when they’re suffering the human condition.”

For more information on the ‘Shared Reading for Health Communities’ conference visit:

For more information, please contact Lizzie Cain, Communications Assistant: / 0151 207 7228

Members of the Give a Book team will be there. Why not join us? Now go back to Give a Book.

Sunday 17 March 2013

More news from inside...

The Prison Reading Groups that we give books to choose their titles. Here are accounts of 3 groups: we’re delighted to get feedback so thank you, PRG for sending them in. Biggest thanks go to everyone who gives to GIVE A BOOK so that this can continue to happen.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In general this book was a hit, and has tempted our members to read the two sequels.

Is this a serious political satire or pure entertainment?

One member thought the parallels with 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!' were striking, especially when prizes or presents are parachuted down to the various 'contestants'.

Another felt that the story had a worryingly serious side to it:
‘a sadly apt indictment of the human need for blood sport…the monitoring described in this book is eerily within reach’
On the other hand we all agreed that Katniss was mostly concerned with winning, rather than subverting the system politically – making this book, on the whole, a light read.

The process of meeting challenges and trying to overcome them is a constant theme here. Does the story make it easy for us to relate to this?
'the ongoing arrival of challenges and the determination to overcome them is an inspirational element’
‘this story could help us to stand up to oppression’
I was concerned that, as readers, we were being asked to accept that the rules could be changed so drastically and purely for dramatic effect. But another member  thought that this was expressly to show the privileges of a draconian regime.

How much do we care about Katniss and Peeta's relationship? Do we want to find out what happens next?

We discussed the conceit of the main characters having to perform in front of millions of viewers and how that affects our perception of them and their 'true' feelings for each other. This didn't seem to deter other members:
‘I had to read the other two books very quickly in order to find out’
‘I couldn't help but get emotionally involved’

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Like most groups on the out, the men at this HMP are keen to read the books people are talking about. So it was no surprise when they chose Yann Martell’s Life of Pi, the Man Booker winner and now a blockbuster film.

The story recounts the terrifying adventures of an Indian teenager who is trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a 450-lb Bengal tiger.

Our discussion was lively, alert and full of surprises. The first member who spoke put us all on our mettle:
‘I thought it was pretty absurd – 227 days on a 26-ft lifeboat: pah! - until I got to the final section and realised what the ‘real story’ was and what the tiger actually meant. It all made sense then and now I think it’s brilliant’
Others were frankly gobsmacked by his explanation:
‘This has turned the book upside down for me’
‘It’s really blown my mind’
From here, the speculation began. If Pi’s ‘real story’ is the one hinted at the end, is the account of the tiger a lie or a way of getting at the deep meaning of what happened? One member had made a note of something said early on in the book and thought it might be at the heart of what the novel is doing. He gave us the page reference, then read it out:
‘That’s what fiction is about, isn’t it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence.’
Another member talked about being new to prison and finding it a tough experience. For him the book was a real help:
‘When I was reading it, I was in India, on the Pacific Ocean, in Canada – and not in here’
At the same time, he also commented on points of contact:
‘Of course they’re different, but I found analogies -  between Pi’s fear of the tiger and what it feels like when you first come into prison’
We finished up the session by reading Blake’s 'Tyger': The verdict:
‘What a scorcher!’

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor:
 a very mixed response. Many hated it, which made for a good discussion. One member was very concerned by the decision of the pregnant girl not to tell the father of her child, and the rest agreed with him (I argued that she was letting the chap off the hook, but they didn’t agree). The highlights were the comparison which one man made with photography, and how it can make the ordinary extraordinary through e.g. juxtaposition: a perfect analogy for this book. Also, the pastiche sent in by absentee member – done with a lovely witty touch.
Now go back to Give a Book

Monday 4 March 2013

World Book Day

Thursday 7th March is World Book Day.
It's the biggest and best book show on earth, so join in,  celebrate and share the power of reading.
And then you can go back to Give a Book.