Posts Tagged Reading Group

Shared Reading

I’ve run a book group for several years and hearing several different opinions of the same book is always a fascinating experience. A book’s themes often lead to interesting conversations and we usually have a laugh too.

However, recently I’ve discovered an alternative type of group; Shared Reading.

Shared Reading is championed and supported by the charitable organisation The Reader. The charity “builds warm and lively communities by bringing people together and books to life”.Shared Reading

The groups are free to join and open to all. However many of the groups are located in places to help those living with conditions such as dementia, complex mental health issues and chronic pain, as well as those recovering from addiction or feeling lonely.

The groups meet on a weekly basis and all the reading is done out loud during the session, with both the group leader and the participants doing the reading. At appropriate points in the poem, short story or prose extract there will be a pause and the leader will start a conversation about the text. Group members might talk about the impact the words have on them, their interpretation of the text or simply whether they are enjoying it or not. No one is forced to contribute or to read aloud but it’s hoped that the groups’ inclusive atmosphere gives everyone’s voice and opinion a chance to be heard and appreciated.

This week I had the chance to shadow the leader of two Shared Reading groups in north Birmingham; one in a care home for the elderly and another in a community centre. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

The older people looked at two poems: New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge and Moon Compasses by Robert Frost. It was a lovely to hear the positive message they took from the first poem about each new day offering a new beginning. The second poem took more concentration but the description of love at the end pleased them all.

The community centre group were looking at the chapter, ‘Mother’, in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. They had looked at the first half of the chapter the previous week but I was soon brought up to speed. We talked about the chaotic home over which Laurie’s mum presided and her constant hope that one day the husband who’d walked on her would return. The session finished with the poem My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth and us agreeing that even though we are no longer children, it’s still lovely to see things in nature that bring us joy.

These groups are a million miles away from a school English Literature lesson. They are all about personal interpretations of the texts and how they make us feel.

All the Shared Reading group leaders are volunteers and have been specially trained for the task. I’m contemplating putting myself forward.

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Notes From A Big Country by Bill Bryson

If you want to learn the art of writing humour based on everyday life, this is the book to read.Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

It’s also the first book by Bill Bryson that I’ve ever read. It came into my hands not through choice but because members of the library reading group that I coordinate requested something by Bill Bryson.

Notes from a Big Country is a collection of Bill’s columns about life in America that appeared in the Mail on Sunday‘s Night & Day Magazine in the late 90s. Despite being twenty years old the topics addressed are still interesting today, things such as the death penalty, Americans driving everywhere instead of walking, the devastating effect of a skunk spraying in your home, the history of diners (they came in prefabricated kits on the back of lorries) and how low key Christmas is in the US compared to here.

Bill Bryson has a wonderful turn of phrase and this quote made me smile in particular: My father, who like all dads sometimes seemed to be practising for a world’s most boring man competition.

I read the book straight through from start to finish because of our looming reading group meeting but I would advise others to dip in and out so that each column can be savoured like a favourite chocolate.

I had another American connection this week when I was congratulated on Twitter for my article in the Washington Post.  Unfortunately I had to be honest and admit to never having written for the Washington Post and explain that the article was probably written by my doppelganger, the US sports writer Sally Jenkins.  This is the second time I’ve been mistaken for my more famous counterpart. A couple of years ago I was contacted by someone who wanted help with their autobiography following ‘my’ success ghosting Lance Armstong’s It’s Not About the Bike. Perhaps one day the US Sally Jenkins will be mistaken for me!

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The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson

I’ve just read The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson and attended my first ever Reading Group meeting. The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson

The book is a cleverly structured and utterly absorbing work of fiction based on the real Suffolk  Red Barn Murder of working class Maria Marten by her upper class lover, William Corder in 1827.

The book is set in the 1930s and the main character is Josephine Tey, who inherits a cottage from her godmother, close to the site of where the murder took place. Josephine Tey is based on a real person of that name, a playwright and novelist from the inter-war years.

The story revolves around the cottage and its previous occupants. One of whom is Josephine’s godmother and the other a young woman, who was Maria’s fictional best friend.

I loved the twists and turns, the evocative descriptions of 1930s England and the concept of a story within a story. It’s spooky, atmospheric and highly readable!

The Reading Group has just been formed at a local library and I have volunteered to help with it, along with another lady. Neither of us has experience of any other reading group and everyone around the table just put forward their general feelings about the book (and it was interesting to hear the views of those who weren’t as impressed as me).

But I’d like to hear from all you experienced book group members out there. Do you have a structure to your meetings? Do you go through a list of points for discussion? Does someone lead the meeting or is it a free for all?

It would be good to know how to get the best out of these meetings so that everyone goes away satisfied that they’ve had their say and maybe learned something from what others have said.

 

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