Tag Archives: The Reader Organisation

A Lovely Trip to Liverpool…

On Monday I had the pleasure of going to the head offices of The Reader Organisation to meet them and see what they do and if I might be of any use/benefit/something to them. The meeting wasn’t until the afternoon and so as it was in Liverpool, a city I have been through but never actually wandered around, I thought I would make a day of it. So I thought, with the power of the virtual world, I would take you all with me, especially as it has become a ‘city of culture’ in the UK in the last few years.

Liverpool is a city that really I know nothing about which is rather naughty really considering that part of my heritage is from there. Granny Savidge Reads and her routes are in fact from Liverpool, the Wirral and Southport, so there is some Mersey blood in me somewhere. I am sure that my Uncle Derrick (Gran’s brother who used to tell me Sherlock Holmes tales on long walking holidays) once told me that if you see ‘Hill’ on a drain cover in the north that’s because that side of my family made them. How true this is could be debateable knowing the sense of humour of my great uncles and the fact that he was known to exaggerate, I will have to ask Gran this weekend. Anyway as I left the station I was instantly hit by the grandeur of the surrounding buildings, mainly museums.

I decided that my first port of call, pun intended, would be the Albert Docks down by the Mersey. It was weird walking around the city because when I was younger the only soap opera that my Mum and I would watch was Brookside and so I kept seeing buildings from the title sequence and so the theme tune was in my head for most of the day. If you haven’t seen it you can here. When I reached the docks I was stunned by what greeted me, the mix of modern and older buildings is quite something.

The reason for my visit there was to see the Merseyside Maritime Museum. Knowing that I don’t like boats or books based on boats you might find this odd. However there is an exhibition on the Titanic there and as I have something planned for the blog on the 100th anniversary I wanted more insight into it, more on that soon…

After being submerged/immersed in the history and events of the Titanic I popped next door to the Tate Liverpool…

I had a good old wander round; art is very subjective so I don’t want to bore you with everything I saw, looking at the permanent exhibitions. I have to say I do prefer going around art galleries on my own, I think it’s a very personal experience and some things you walk past and think ‘meh’ and others you feel like staring at for hours. I find if I am with a group you are all at different paces and I either rush… or get bored. I did pop and see the temporary exhibition but I didn’t think you would want to see what was inside. Is this sort of thing really art?

The other reason I was excited about the Albert Docks, and this is quite sad to admit, was that when I was a teenager this was where the UK’s breakfast show ‘This Morning’ was filmed. Who knew that this very spot would be where the Richard and Judy Book Club was started… sort of. I was sad to find that Fred’s floating weather map was no longer in the middle (if you are thinking ‘what??’ the weather man on This Morning used to do the weather in the middle of the dock on a floating set of the British Isles, whenever he jumped over to island we all watched in case he fell in.)

Now of course I couldn’t mention, or really go to, Liverpool without paying homage to their most famous export, The Beatles. I have to say I am not a huge fan (I think my Gran might have seen them at the Cavern, again this could be an Uncle Derrick story) but I do like some of their songs and it would have been foolhardy of me not to have found the cavern…

Only that wasn’t The Cavern, this was…

Oh no that’s not right, this is where it used to be…

I got very confused. The morning had whizzed by and so it was time to head to The Reader Organisation’s headquarters. I don’t want to talk too much about what went on, in case I jinx it, but it was wonderful to meet the staff and hear their stories of how the reading groups they run aren’t changing lives but are making them fuller and happier, plus then the Director of the company Jane who discussed why and how she set it up. I will admit at some of the stories, which were incredibly touching, I welled up. I then had to swiftly compose myself as I was taking part in a reading group, reading aloud (eek) and reading Shakespeare and poetry (my heart dropped) yet reading it and discussing it was wonderful (I am not quite converted, yet) and really got me into it, because there were no right or wrong answers.

A few hours later and it was time to head back (I did manage to pass, and fall into, a bookshop on the way but I will report more on that tomorrow)  as I was due to meet a certain Polly of Novel Insights, as we were off to have a lovely dinner before going to see the singer Caro Emerald. She was AMAZING, if you ever get the chance you must see her. Stunning.

There was some boogying in the aisles from me and Polly but all too soon it was time to say goodbye.  After 26 years of friendship we were both discussing how scary it is now we are thirty… before we then started to pretend we were auditioning for Spooks in Manchester Station while we waited for her bus.

I am not sure I am ever going to really grow up. Anyway, what a day! Liverpool I thoroughly loved you, I will be back very soon. Have any of you been to Liverpool, is there anything I missed? If you haven’t been to Liverpool do go! Where have you been off to for a visit recently? Shall I take you on more of these trips, by the power of the internet and a bit of imagination, in the future?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!

A few weeks ago I got very excited about the arrival of some books about books. The one I decided to read on and off first was ‘Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!’ The idea behind the initiative of this book from Vintage is to remind people about the joy of books and to have them running out to read more. I had hoped to pop thoughts on this up on World Book Day yesterday however I was so conflicted by it I needed to mull it further.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2012, non fiction, 192 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’ is a collection composed of ten essays by authors (such as Blake Morrison, Zadie Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Mark Haddon etc) as well as people in the industry such as Virago founder and Man Booker judge Carmen Callil and Jane Davis, who is the founder and director of The Reader Organisation which this book is supporting, discussing the importance of reading and the joy that books can bring in their many forms.

The collection starts with Zadie Smith’s ‘Library Life’ which shows the importance of books and libraries in particular to her shaping as a writer and finding books and also as spaces for her to do her writing. It is an impassioned and political essay which looks at how the people making the decisions about libraries are probably the ones with enough income to have their own personal libraries and so may not be the best people to leave in charge of such issues. Blake Morrison, who I have never read before but now most definitely will be, follows with the superb ‘Twelve Thoughts About Reading’ which had me going ‘yes, that’s me, yes, that’s me again’.

I liked Carmen Callil’s essay ‘True Daemons’ but considering she set up Virago books I didn’t feel this was really discussed, it is mentioned but in a paragraph and actually an essay on why she had been so desperate to get the unknown/forgotten/overlooked books published and so set up her own publishing house would have been a phenomenal and far more apt inclusion, it felt a little like a missed opportunity as instead it became something of a piece on class and the books people feel they ought to read rather than ones they want to. The class thing interestingly leads me into my main issue with the book…

A book like ‘Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!’ could have one slight flaw to it and become worthy or preachy. Fortunately there was only one essay in the collection that, to me, jarred and that was Tim Parks, unfortunately it jarred and lingered. I don’t know Tim Parks, I have not read any of his books, but for me his ‘Mindful Reading’ came across as a little bit pompous and clever, in fact it read rather like a high brow person (who knows it and loves it) feeling like he was writing for low brow about how clever we readers are and therefore, not so cleverly, excluding the reader completely. I didn’t like it, and this broke the spell and made me suddenly ask the question ‘if I wasn’t a lover of books would this book make me rush out and read more?’ and I kept asking this as I read on and it left me in a real quandary. I am a book lover as it is, so naturally I would enjoy this book as would any book lover the world over, but is this going to be taken on board by the people it’s aimed at, which technically isn’t me because I am an avid reader, I was not convinced.

From this point on I doubly assessed each following essay and ones that proceeded it, well apart from Mark Haddon’s incredible essay ‘The Right Words in the Right Order’ but more on that shortly. I looked back at Carmen Callil’s essay and found myself thinking ‘I know who she is because I love books, would anyone who didn’t love literature know who she was and would her essay therefore work as well?’ As someone who isn’t a fan of poetry I thought Jane Davis’ essay on the power of it (and indeed reading aloud and why she started The Reader Organisation) was incredible and very moving. There were a couple of lines that almost went into a rather worthy and preachy mode; I put this down to simply her passion, would anyone else who happened upon this book feel the same or would they think ‘who does she think she is?’ With Michael Rosen’s ‘Memories and Expectations’ I found the book lover in me thinking ‘wow, this has made me want to run out and grab Great Expectations right now’ because of Rosen’s poignant memories of storytelling, but also thinking ‘this is a wonderful piece of writing but is it only going to appeal to readers of The Guardian, myself included, rather than the layman who doesn’t read?’ I feel bad writing that, because I enjoyed the book so much personally, but once that one essay made me question the whole collection that question wouldn’t leave.

Three essays in the second half (along with the wonder of Blake Morrison’s essay earlier on) almost erased it however. Nicholas Carr’s ‘The Dreams of Readers’ is a wonderful essay on how no matter what technology comes next nothing will ever beat the novel, he won extra brownie points from me when I found out he writes about technology, it almost doubled the power of the point he was trying to get across. Jeanette Winterson’s ‘A Bed. A Book. A Mountain.’ is a wonderful piece on where a story can take you and the thrills and experience it can bring from wherever you are. The essay that steals the show though has to be Mark Haddon’s ‘The Right Words in the Right Order’ I don’t care if you love books or loathe them, read this and you’ll be converted or simply love books even more than you thought naturally possible. It is brimming with wonderful ideas about reading and books and I loved it. I was going to quote lots from it but frankly you should buy the book for yourself and everyone you know simply for this one essay.

A rather rambling and conflicted set of thoughts on ‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’ overall. As a book lover and on a personal level this was a sublime read in many ways, but I am left with that questions of ‘am I the audience this book should be hitting’ and ‘if I was to give this book to a non-reader would they become converted’ and I am left unsure. If you read this blog I know you love books and so will, if you haven’t already, be off to get this book swiftly (and quite right too as it supports a great cause). Yet what about all those people who don’t read the broadsheets or blogs or who might not see this on a shelf in Waterstones though? It is something I can’t really answer.

Who else has read this and what did you think both as a book lover yourself and then coming from the perspective of someone who doesn’t normally read books? Am I being too critical, is the question of audience with a book like this really relevant? I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this. I am also wondering how I can get involved in The Reader Organisation too; mind you after this review they might not want me – oops. I am coming from a good place with my thoughts though I hope.

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Filed under Blake Morrison, Books About Books, Jeanette Winterson, Mark Haddon, Review, Zadie Smith