Reading Rooms Round-Up: Sept ’17

We take a look at some of the poems and stories being shared around the Reading Rooms groups in the past month. 

The story Requiem by 12NOW writer Anne Harris has a rather sober topic as it deals with bereavement, but in our Care Homes project it has allowed residents to have “significant conversations about death” and how different cultures deal with death. They talked about how death notices now note “house private” which was never the case in times gone by. A number of residents also expressed how difficult and lonely it is for the surviving partner, especially those who have been a long time together.  In Seven Oaks, they talked about photographs that come up in the story, and about when you had your photograph taken on “special occasions.” Only one resident had a camera of their own as it was such a luxury growing up. Postcards also came into the discussion as a way of keeping in touch that sadly is not used anymore.

Residents also noted the value of photographs and how “they almost prolong life”. The story was paired with the poem Things that are Lost by Kerry Hardie which seemed to reflect the current “I want it now” culture, with people “only interested in new things”. The session ended with the question “can we see things anew each time we see them?”

Reading Rooms promotes local writers like Lucy Caldwell and we have been using the story The Ally Ally O in our Care Homes project with great results. This story has enabled residents to share all the old rhymes and games they used to play. Also tales of their relationships with their siblings and car journeys. These journeys were so different – no seat belts, the baby on mum’s lap in the front, 8 track cassettes on in the back ground and lots of smoking by parents. Changed times indeed!

We celebrated Roald Dahl Day on 13th September, and – surprise, surprise – here at Reading Rooms we are big fans. Our young readers (many of them Matildas in the making) just love his children’s novels, and our shelves literally burst with copies of them Over the years we have read extracts from Matilda, George’s Marvellous Medicine, The BFG, Danny, the Champion of the World, The Twits, The Witches and others, not to forget Dahl’s poems and short stories with our BBC Children in Need groups.

Celebrated Irish writer Nuala O’Connor‘s new story collection Joyride to Jupiter (New Island Books, 2017) has made its first appearance in the Reading Rooms. Squidinky tells a gentle and unexpected love story featuring a widow who has inherited her late husband’s tattoo parlour in a small coastal town. Our readers at Foyle Disability Resource Centre just loved it and connected deeply with its underlying theme of the ‘buoyancy of love’ in challenging times.

Reading Rooms has also this year extended over to Hull as part of their UK City of Culture celebrations. In a recent Reading Rooms session with home educated children and their parents at Hull Libraries, the story was Chapter 1 from AA Milne’s classic Winnie-the-Pooh (originally published in 1926), in which “we are introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and some bees, and the stories begin”. The ensuing conversation was one of the liveliest to date, covering everything from favourite ‘comfort’ objects, bee keeping and the surreal nature of dreams, including one about a skateboarding guinea pig…

With our Praxis Care group who meet at Verbal, we read Three Questions by Anton Chekov, The Guest House by Rumi, Three Lambs by Liam O’Flaherty and September Evening: Deer at Big Basin by John Burnside. We had so much fun talking about our childhood memories, the people we trust and rely on and even digging for gold!

At Little Legends in Easons Foyleside, we read Mr Big by Ed Vere and we noticed how sad and lonely he felt because everyone imagined he was scary as he was so big. We got to know him though and he was a lovely big gorilla with a brilliant talent! We also read Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton‘s famous Emily Brown and the Elephant Emergency. Easons was packed and we had the lovely Maisey and her mummy play the role of Matilda the elephant and her over protective mammy. And for National Grandparents Day, we read How To Babysit a Grandpa (by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish), discussing how we would babysit our own grandparents, what they like to eat, what games we could play, and what our grandparents are like.

A short stories we can never get enough at Reading Rooms is Liam O’Flaherty’s The Fairy Goose, which has become a firm favourite with many of our groups. Taken from the anthology Classic Irish Short Stories, originally edited by Frank O’Connor for Oxford University Press in 1957, it is a narrative about Irish folklore and the dynamics of traditional village life in the West as an old woman and the goose she inadvertently rescues become the target of the villagers’ projections.

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