Category Archives: Book Groups

Launching guest blog series!

We’re delighted to introduce our new series of guest blogs, written by some of the readers being interviewed for the project. The first of these is written by Ferelith Hordon, the facilitator of Alvering reading group. Ferelith has been a children’s librarian for over 30 years, and also a judge of the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards. We are very grateful for her reflections on her memories of fiction.

READING MEMORIES

What are my reading memories? Indeed, what do I mean by this – or what do I think when presented with the phrase? Am I talking about remembering what I have read? Or is it remembering the effect the reading of particular texts had? Is it the memory of what “reading” meant for me as a child and what I felt about it as an activity? Perhaps all these aspects are entwined.

I have no memory of learning to read – though I do not think I am alone in this. Family mythology says I was reading before I was three years old (my mother said by two….I wonder!) It is possible; my father also read very young, forced to learn for himself by a barren nursery. However, I was not reading Dickens or even Blyton at this early age. Living in Sudan, there was no library to raid. I remember Old Lob the Farmer (lovely coloured illustrations) – a series to teach reading though I did not see it as such, an OUP series retelling tales from Greek and Roman mythology and another of folktales from around the world. There was Orlando and Babar and Ursula Moray Williams’ Good Little Christmas Treethese may have been part of the summer breaks back in Scotland.

Time and memory are slippery. When was I reading those wonderful Edwardian tomes that belonged to my father’s childhood (they had his bookplate inside the covers)? I remember vividly When they were Children (Amy Steedman), In the Once upon a Time (Gask), Secret’s of the Hills (Craig) or Our Island’s Story (H. E. Marshall) – books that opened the window onto history and geography and were read and reread by me, crouching on the floor by the bookcase in the spare bedroom of our Perthshire home. Or what about Bee (Anatole France) – a strange choice but it had wonderful illustrations by Charles Robinson, or My days with the fairies with illustrations by Dulac? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. They were always there in the background. What is interesting is that I am clear that the first book I remember reading as a novel is The Lion, the Witch TheLionWitchWardrobe(1stEd)and the Wardrobe (Lewis) and I am convinced that at that moment I became a Reader. I would have been eight (quite late you might say) but Reading is not (from my observation) something that can be precisely charted. Whatever it was about Lewis story, it was the door through which I walked hungry for more.

Reading for me is not just the narrative; I enjoy reading as a physical activity but I am quite lazy and very unadventurous. As a child I reread and reread the books that really hooked me in. I would decide what I wanted to feel – if I felt up to tears I would read Heidi from cover to cover, if too much sadness was not in order, I skipped her banishment from the Alp. I rarely reread the first Mowgli story. I found it too heartbreaking. This may be where I developed the life-long habit of reading the end of the story first !!!! It didn’t put me off reading at all. I joined the local library for myself and my sisters and brother; I chose all the books but do not remember any guidance from librarian or parent. I would walk up with the dog who would be tied to the library door while I went in to sit on the floor to read. I would only stop when the dog began to protest (usually about an hour or two later), then I would remove myself to where he was tied and continue reading. No one seemed to think it strange. I read my way through Sutcliff (my all time favourite), Welch, Harnett, de Angeli, Jane Oliver, John Pudney, M. Pardoe…

Then there is a break – exams, university – took over – I have few reading memories of these years – Gombrich was discovered and Propertius. Then I became a Children’s Librarian – and have a whole new world of memories to tap into.

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Reading Memories by Ferelith Hordon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Memories of Fiction Out and About: A busy start to September

Do book group members get nervous when they take their seats and prepare to share their thoughts on that month’s book? After having a cherished book ‘all to themselves’ is there a moment of trepidation as it’s released to the wider world of the book group for critique?

We’re hoping to pose these questions – and many more – as we interview book group members. And if the answer to both questions is ‘Yes’, then we may know something of how they feel. This week we’ve had a sense of Memories of Fiction going from the speculative to the suddenly very real as we’ve got up in front of various audiences to share our aims and hopes for the project. After keeping the project ‘all to ourselves’ in the first month as we plan and organise, we’ve now had the opportunity to gather some feedback from others, and, very excitingly, meet our first book group.

On 4th-5th September we attended the Story of Memory conference at the University of Roehampton, organised by the Memory Network. Shelley and Amy introduced the project on a panel entitled ‘Memory and Reading: A View from the Sidelines’, alongside papers from Dr Alison Waller (University of Roehampton) and Dr Sara Whiteley (University of Sheffield). All three papers worked really well together, drawing fascinating threads about both memory and reading and how people discuss reading in groups.

On the evening of 4th September we were delighted to host Professor Martyn Lyons (University of New South Wales) as the guest speaker for this month’s IHR Oral History Seminar. Professor Lyons spoke on his and colleague Professor Lucy Taksa’s groundbreaking work, Australian Readers Remember, now celebrating its 22nd anniversary since publication. A podcast of the talk is now available here.

Cover of Australian Readers Remember, published by Oxford University Press in 1992. Painting of scantily dressed woman looking provocatively towards the viewer, holding a newspaper in front to cover her upper body

Oxford University Press, 1992

Professor Lyons, currently on an extended visit to the UK, was then able to join us on Monday for the first meeting of the Memories of Fiction Advisory Group. The group, which aims to meet once a year throughout the project, brings together some of the foremost scholars working in reading and memory. The conversation was lively and engaging, and a huge boost to us as we continue to formulate and refine our research and prepare to begin in earnest.

Speaking of which, perhaps the highlight of the last week was our visit to our first reading group. Last Friday we visited Battersea Library (worth a visit to see the beautiful arts and crafts style reading room) and sat in on the Alvering book group. This month they were discussing Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Amin. We were thrilled to get a really positive and warm response to the project and delighted that over half the group signed up to take part as interviewees. The group, now in its fourteenth year, meets once a month, at 12pm on a Friday. Many thanks to Ferelith and the group for welcoming us.