Happy New Year from The Reader Online – we hope that all of our readers had an enjoyable and restful festive season and that you’re settling into the new start, wherever you may find yourself.
Though we approach each year with a sense of the undiscovered, it’s surprising just how much we hold onto traditions to see in the year ahead. Old habits are as much on our minds as new beginnings, not to mention that January is a good time to clear out clutter – a process which can lead us to contemplate what we need to hold onto as well as the changes we can make. It’s with this slightly peculiar combination that we ponder this poem by American poet Hazel Hall, and how the New Year is not so much a chance for a complete overhaul but perhaps to ‘mend’ our neglected intentions – maybe even get back to the sewing project or book you haven’t visited in a while? A good time to catch hold of the ‘ravelling threads’ before they unravel beyond recognition.
Here are old things:
And here are scraps of new goods,
Needles and thread,
An expectant thimble,
A pair of silver-toothed scissors.
Thimble on a finger,
New thread through an eye;
Needle, do not linger,
Hurry as you ply.
If you ever would be through
Hurry, scurry, fly!
Here are patches,
Strengthening old utility,
Pending the coming of the new.
Yes, I have been mending …
I have been enacting
A little travesty on life.
Joanne Sarginson has been working with us since September as People Intern at our head office in Liverpool. She writes for The Reader Online about her own personal experience of reading being shared within her family – particularly with her brother – and the significant impacts it can have.
My brother was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of eight. I was ten at the time and had recently discovered the Harry Potter series. As a result, I thought that ‘dyslexia’ sounded like a spell everyone’s favourite boy wizard would utilise in order to disarm an aggressive Death Eater.
Dyslexia had a significant impact on my brother’s relationship with books and the way in which he perceived reading in general. In the years following his diagnosis he visited a series of specialists, almost all of whom recommended that he read for at least an hour per day with one of my parents. The idea was to make books more accessible. By reading aloud, my brother was forced to engage with the writing before him. The words were no longer a cluttered mass of letters on a page and were instead clearly verbalised, allowing him to establish a greater connection both with the characters in the book and message that the author was trying to convey.
However, although he was making progress, a sense of obligation soon began to develop around the idea of reading. Every time that my brother picked up a book, he did so under the impression that there was something wrong with him – that he had ‘special needs’ and that he was reading in attempt to fix himself. As a result, reading quickly became an activity that he associated with pressure as opposed to pleasure. He was increasingly reluctant to read. Eventually, my mum was forced to entice him into his daily reading sessions under the condition that she would reward him with a Curly Wurly at the end.
On a couple of occasions, my brother asked me why I liked reading. I like to think I gave the following response:
“For me, one of the best things about reading is the sense of shared experience. It is comforting to establish a connection with a character, to visualise an element of yourself within them, something which enables you to think ‘that’s what it’s like for me’.
In reality, it was probably much less eloquent and more along the lines of ‘sometimes, I feel the same as the characters’. Hoping to engage his interest, I asked him if he had ever experienced a similar connection with a fictional character. He frowned for a moment and then said:
‘I guess I connect with Captain Underpants.’
Captain Underpants is a children’s book series in which two mischievous school children hypnotise their headmaster, compelling to remove his clothes and perform heroic acts in his underwear. I asked my brother in what way he felt related to Captain Underpants. Was it the idea of a lack of control, the feeling as if he didn’t have total authority over his own actions?
‘I wear underpants too,’ he said.
I read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time with my brother when he was fourteen years old. Before this, my attempts to read with him had been largely unsuccessful. I did not possess the natural authority of a parent figure and, unlike my mum, did not have access to a supply of coveted Curly Wurlys. As a result, my offers were frequently met with a range of responses, including ‘no’, ‘nope’, ‘no way’, ‘nah’, ‘not going to happen’ and ‘books are gay’. My brother’s lack of interest in books frustrated me and I would often moodily contemplate what gave him the right to so forcibly reject my noble and selfless sacrifice of my time, let alone comment on the sexual orientation of a piece of literature. On the rare occasions that he did allow me to read with him, his focus would be erratic and he would rapidly become disinterested.
Initially, it was a similar experience with The Curious Incident – the same shifting eyes, small sighs and restless fidgeting. However, this changed when we reached p56 of the novel and read a passage in which the main character, Christopher, who has Asperger’s syndrome, comments on his perception of special needs:
‘Everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult and also everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him from getting fat, or Mrs. Peters, who wears a beige-colored hearing aid, or Siobhan, who has glasses so thick that they give you a headache if you borrow them, and none of these people are Special Needs, even if they have special needs.’
(The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon, p56)
My brother was completely still. After a few seconds, he opened his mouth and quietly said:
‘that’s kind of a little bit how I feel too’.
Over the course of a month, we made our way to the end of Haddon’s novel. A few weeks later, I found my brother reading The Hunger Games. There were no Curly Wurlys involved. He had volunteered as tribute.
You can read more from Joanne over on her blog: https://joannesarginson.wordpress.com/
The countdown to Christmas is getting less and less with each passing hour, and hopefully by now you’ll be finding the chance to unwind and sit back, looking at the glimmer of the lights upon the Christmas tree. If you still need to get the last bits done, then here’s a poem to get you through the last of the preparations with festive cheer in your heart from Louisa May Alcott – perhaps Little Women is one of the classic novels you’ll be reading over the holiday period?
A Song for a Christmas Tree
Cold and wintry is the sky,
Bitter winds go whistling by,
Orchard boughs are bare and dry,
Yet here stands a faithful tree.
Household fairies kind and dear,
With loving magic none need fear,
Bade it rise and blossom here,
Little friends, for you and me.
Come and gather as they fall,
Shining gifts for great and small;
Santa Claus remembers all
When he comes with goodies piled.
Corn and candy, apples red,
Sugar horses, gingerbread,
Babies who are never fed,
Are handing here for every child.
Shake the boughs and down they come,
Better fruit than peach or plum,
‘T is our little harvest home;
For though frosts the flowers kill,
Though birds depart and squirrels sleep,
Though snows may gather cold and deep,
Little folks their sunshine keep,
And mother-love makes summer still.
Gathered in a smiling ring,
Lightly dance and gayly sing,
Still at heart remembering
The sweet story all should know,
Of the little Child whose birth
Has made this day throughout the earth
A festival for childish mirth,
Since the first Christmas long ago.
Louisa May Alcott
Looking for something new to do in the New Year? Want to use your love of reading to help make a big difference? We’re currently recruiting for people to join our Merseyside Volunteer Reader Scheme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, in a variety of roles.
“Their faces light up when we walk in. They look forward to that hour. And when we leave, after being with a group, we feel great ourselves.”
‘Well I just love coming. It’s something to look forward to. It makes you think…when I’m here I don’t think of anything else.’ – shared reading group member in Melton Mowbray Library, Leicestershire
Each week our Shared Reading groups are taking place in libraries across the UK, connecting people of all ages and backgrounds with literature and one another. From groups improving health and wellbeing in West London to groups that help stimulate memories and reconnect older people with those closest to them in Wiltshire and the South West, shared reading in library settings is creating a variety of positive impacts for individuals and within local communities.
Researching Reading Groups
Are you a facilitator or a member of a Shared Reading group? A small collective of experienced researchers with backgrounds in education and lifelong learning are currently exploring the part that libraries play in supporting reading groups, including shared reading groups, in the community and in promoting reading for pleasure. Their research will document what is currently happening and highlight best practice in this important area of libraries’ work.
To help, they want to find out more about why people join Shared Reading groups and why they keep coming. If you have a story about your experience of Shared Reading in libraries, please do get in touch.
For more information, please contact Lesley Dee: email@example.com
Here are some examples of what’s happening around the country
During shared reading sessions, people may identify with the experiences revealed by characters in literature and find a way of linking it to their own lives – perhaps subconsciously. Over time, and with the help of the support of others in the group and the texts that are read, they may feel confident enough to find their voice on difficult subjects and discover different perspectives within themselves. A is one of our regular group members at Seacombe Library, Wirral:
“A, who attends the group each week, is a keen reader and it’s always a pleasure to share a story with him. Recently we read an extract from Dickens’s Great Expectations that introduces the reader to Miss Havisham and her self-imposed seclusion at Satis House. I asked A what he made of Miss Havisham and why he thought she lived her life in that way. ‘She could be scared’, was his response. I agreed with him and asked why he thought that was the case. ‘Because she’s stuck in the past; she still wears the same clothes and doesn’t want to move on’.
I asked A to imagine he were Pip and standing before Miss Havisham. ‘What advice would you give her?’ I asked. ‘To move forward slowly’. I thought this was a really insightful comment, and perhaps one that mirrors A’s own experience. We ended the group with A asking if he could keep his copy of the extract so he could read it again in his own time. It was with this request that I realised how much the group had meant to him.”
It’s not only our readers who are benefitting from sharing stories in their local library, but also volunteers – over in Leicestershire, our project with Leicestershire Libraries is almost entirely run by volunteers, creating hundreds of reading experiences and lasting friendships across the county, including the weekly group in Oadby Library:
“What was the best thing for me was seeing, possibly for the first time, the real benefit of shared reading. B said she just listened with her eyes closed to me reading which she found very helpful. By the end of the session her colour had literally returned and she forgot herself and, helped by D’s personality and the literature, became animated and laughed. Equally S and D had apparently been reading poems to each other the previous day and D has joined a poetry appreciation group, inspired by reading poetry in our group.”
It may not officially be Winter until next week, but no doubt the woolly hats and scarves have long come out of storage for the chill that is lingering in the air. Though people are often quick to point the minus points of the season (along with the lower scale of temperature), there is much to celebrate about the coldest time of year too. To those who may be in doubt of any positives, why not take a read of this poem by John Clare – almost a love poem with the declaration “To those who keep their hearts their own/The winter is the spring“.
The Winter’s Spring
The winter comes; I walk alone,
I want no bird to sing;
To those who keep their hearts their own
The winter is the spring.
No flowers to please–no bees to hum–
The coming spring’s already come.
I never want the Christmas rose
To come before its time;
The seasons, each as God bestows,
Are simple and sublime.
I love to see the snowstorm hing;
‘Tis but the winter garb of spring.
I never want the grass to bloom:
The snowstorm’s best in white.
I love to see the tempest come
And love its piercing light.
The dazzled eyes that love to cling
O’er snow-white meadows sees the spring.
I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove’s brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.
It is the foliage of the woods
That winters bring–the dress,
White Easter of the year in bud,
That makes the winter Spring.
The frost and snow his posies bring,
Nature’s white spurts of the spring.