I’ve been meaning to write about the Reader Organisation whose workshop I attended in Manchester a few weeks ago. The Reader Organisation is "a charity dedicated to bringing about a Reading Revolution - making it possible for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to enjoy and engage with books on a deep and personal level". Dynamic founder and Director Jane Davis has developed a format for a sort of book group out loud which seems for me like the missing link between the reader development work I’ve been involved in for many years and what I’m doing now.
The workshop in Manchester, run by Jane and Training Officer Casi Dylan, was an introductory day on their principles and practices. The participants were health workers and others interested in running groups. A major part of the day was taken up with the reading of a story, in this instance a surreal tale by the brilliant Russell Hoban which was read aloud by Casi with occasional breaks for discussion. It’s not an Eng Lit class nor bibliotherapy but a live, shared encounter with literature, less like a conventional bookgroup, more like the experience of reading to yourself shared with others, but of course it can be enjoyed by those without literacy skills.
Their groups meet in libraries, community centres and healthcare settings.
And although one deep pleasure of the course was Casi Dylan’s beautiful live reading of the literature we talked about, of course the format would work well for digital literature: bringing a group together to watch a presentation then discussing not just its form, but also content and intellectual and emotional impact.
This isn’t about the vague love of bookishness, but the pleasure of intense engagement with specific examples of great writing. Their choice of texts is uncompromising. Some groups have read whole novels together over weeks and months – it took one nine months to read Anna Karenina in its entirety. It surprised me that the model is very much about training facilitators to run groups rather than presenting a model for groups to run themselves, but I like the rigour and vigour of the approach.
We’re hoping to liaise with the Reader Organisation on different ways to use materials from our Motfothotbook project for schools, and I will certainly learn from my experience of their Read To Lead group as we develop ways to ‘do’ new media in public, for instance at the Latitude festival where Chris and Toni are appearing along with the Pet Shop Boys, Bat for Lashes, Spiritualised.. oh and about a squillion other acts…and maybe not on the same actual stage…in Suffolk this July.