On The Reader: ‘Our best meeting yet. Full and insightful discussion about so many aspects of this short but multi-layered book. Everyone enjoyed the novel and it was surpri
sing that there were so many opinions and strands to the discussions – everything from relationships, guilt, power, politics and of course the ability to read and what being illiterate can do to a person, especially in prison.’
An emergent readers group where the volunteer’s warmth and careful choice of material make their sessions safe and rewarding
‘D was rather quiet – he said he had a lot on his mind lately and had been lying in his cell just ‘thinking’. Although he didn’t contribute so much during our session, he did seem to perk up towards the end…especially when I read a Benjamin Zephaniah poem and he said it sounded like I was trying to rap, clearly hilarious for all concerned.
Then a little question…’is laughter the best medicine?’ which resulted in some interesting debate about friendly and unfriendly laughter. D was becoming a bit more involved by this point and said it was easier in prison than outside, as you didn’t know how people were going to behave on the outside whereas in [his therapeutic prison] it is more structured. A said that you had to be responsible for your own behaviour and be ‘a big man’ and walk away if people try to wind you up.
Ruby Wax, Sane New World
‘A well-attended and lively session, with the group venturing into new non-fiction territory with Ruby Wax’s take on mental health, neurology/neuropsychiatry and mindfulness strategies for dealing with mental illness.
Group members were encouraged by the idea of ‘neuroplasticity’, the idea that the brain was capable of change and that exercises such as the mindfulness ones described in the book could help that change. This really resonated with the men – why did they do the stupidest things in the heat of the moment? One prisoner afterwards said he had to find out more about this aspect of the brain – ‘it might just save my life’, he said.’
‘We chose Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a compact and readable pre-Christmas novella. Eleven men came though quite a few were new so hadn’t a chance to read it. Some wondered what to make of such an elliptical story where so much of the point is what you don’t know about Holly Golightly. But at least one member responded to Capote’s wit. He picked out the line where Holly says of some prostitutes she knows, “They have the clap-your-hands so often it’s almost become applause”!
As we talked the group became more intrigued, and several who hadn’t quite finished it said, ‘Don’t tell us what happens!’ The best bit of all was one quiet young guy on his first afternoon at the reading group who had only just been given the book. When we all stood up to leave, he said to everyone, ‘I’ve never read a book before. But I’m now going to read this one.’