Share the Reading, Share the Love

As luck would have it, I was booked in to attend the Reader Organisation conference today in London. I spoke about this organisation at Mother’s funeral yesterday, explaining why it is one of the two chosen charities we are asking people to donate to in her memory. The other one is Pets as Therapy. I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew, which was foolish, because of course the facilitator from the Get Into Reading group I have attended twice was there. She was one of the first people I saw when I went to the coffee and second breakfast spot.
I was wishing more and more that I could swap my first workshop for the one on dementia, when I saw the reports on the work the Reader Organisation has done with people living with dementia sitting on a table. I picked up two copies; one for me, one to drop into the home where Mother was living.
There was an opening session in the auditorium. I took a seat, and then saw Sandra, a local storyteller and member of our poetry group walking up the central aisle. I caught up with her at the coffee break. Her sister died in the autumn, and both of us had been tripped up by a reading about a boy who had lost his mother.
We were in the same group after the break. My emotions sloshed about in that one too, and then it was lunchtime. Another member of my local Get Into Reading group turned up. She is interested in joining the poetry group, so I introduced her to Sandra, and watched them bond.
After lunch there was a fascinating talk about how our brains respond to poetry, and how in particular they respond to functional shifts; nouns used as verbs, adverbs as nouns and so on. Shakespeare was fond of this, and today helped explain why some of his phrases catch us and spin our imaginations as they do. But I was amazed that reading poetry results in increased activity in all parts of our brains.
We were very well fed all day. Despite the fact I was interested in the talk, I could happily have had a mid-afternoon nap, but it was on tothe next seminar.
The whole day was about the strength of shared reading, of building communities around shared reading; using reading to make connections with people, to improve health and wellbeing.
That may sound a far-fetched idea, but one speaker, a recovering alcoholic, puts his now dry state and stable life down to the fact that his doctor pointed him in the direction of a Get Into Reading group. A group he now runs. There were shocking statistics about how little aspiring first year students training to be primary school teachers read. A generation of constant testing and teaching to tests has driven storytime out of many classrooms. These students are the result of these methods. Few of them could name one poet.
The Reader Organistion has plans for Calderstones, a large mansion in Liverpool in a public park. It is to be an international Centre for Reading and Wellbeing. I’m not clear how it will work, but there will be twenty rooms for people to stay in. Maybe they’ll have reading holiday groups. It sounded like the Arvon Foundation, but for readers rather than writers.
With the recession, libraries, the arts are too often seen as luxuries. I have never bought that idea. While Mother was in the home, the phrase that came to me most often was “man cannot live by bread alone”. We need to nourish our minds as well as our bodies. Reading can take you to a different place. Shared reading knits communities, brings people together, increases understanding. I kept thinking of how in Cuba, the cigar makers work to the sound of someone reading a story.
If Mother hadn’t developed dementia, hadn’t responded as she did to poetry, I might yet be ignorant of the Reader Organisation. When I started to look to see if there had been any research into others showing similar responses to those I witnessed in Mother when I read to her, this charity’s experiences chimed with ours. Until today, I hadn’t actually thought of myself as leading a shared reading group, but while Mother was alive, that is what I was doing. I would love to think her legacy might be an increased willingness by staff to read to other residents.

28 thoughts on “Share the Reading, Share the Love

  1. I’m pretty sure that my love of reading for the first 50 years of my life saved me now while enduring horrid injury. Right home from the hospital I was reading. It was terribly difficult and remains so, with a tinge of brokenness. But reading was my therapy, along with art.

    Thank you for sharing about this organization, Isobel, in such a very personal way. –L.

      • Hmmm…. I know what you’re gettin’ at, funny lady, but it’s still a great thing. Maybe I’ll be able to find a way to participate in the global push. Keep me in mind, please….

        • They have a blog you can follow. One of the ideas discussed today was using very local radio for shared reading, so that rural communities, who may find it hard to meet up, can access a get into reading group. Apparently in prisons they have started doing something similar in the evenings when the prisoners are in their cells.

  2. It’s certainly a grand idea…..and I think reading is quite healing – to both reader and listener. The studies done with those in coma who are read to point in that direction too. Shared reading in groups sound lovely. Not familiar with the Reader Organisation but will take a look at their website. I’m glad you had an uplifting day Isobel!


  3. What a wonderful organization. And I’m shocked that story time isn’t included as much or at all in school. I still remember my teachers reading books to us. That was my introduction to Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. Both books have sad endings and I can still see all 30 of us in class tearing up. My teachers engaged young readers and I have never stopped reading. And yes, I still get so emotionally involved I cry. I need to look into this organization.

  4. So glad that you were with so many that shared your ideas. I’m sure your reading to your Mum added much joy to her life.

  5. I’ve been reading about shared reading with much interest. All you say sounds very wise and sensitive to me.
    The interaction you and your Mother had through reading/listening to poetry has always touched me very deeply.
    I do hope this example can germinate in other people’s minds and hearts!

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