There are many ways to read a book. I always read first thing in the morning and last thing at night as both represent quiet periods. I aim for an hour but this depends on how captivating the story is. If the weather is good I walk into work and listen to D.H Lawrence novels on Audible. If the weather is bad I get the bus and attempt to read but this is becoming increasingly difficult since buses started talking to us, reminding us to pick up bags or to join NCT’s Facebook page, then there’s the digital schizophrenics – the people who appear to be talking to the whole bus but are in fact wired up to their phones and holding a personal conversation. The trip only takes 5 minutes which is never enough time to finish a chapter, so I tend to read articles on my phone.
In the summer evenings I like to read at the end of my garden in a makeshift hammock that collapses if you lay in it for more than an hour, as if forcing me to do something more productive with my time. Then there’s the bath which functions like a form of solitary confinement and can go on for hours. The trick is not to drop the book in the water when you top up the hot with your toes, and to get out when your fingertips are so shrivelled up it’s like you’ve aged forty years.
I’m in a bookgroup that meets up every month, meaning I get to read on occasion for pleasure. This is rare as a lot of my reading is either related to journalism, education or a forthcoming digital project. We choose a different pub each time and sit down and have a meal. It’s an international bookgroup so I often encounter authors and books I’ve not heard of before as well as varying cultural perspectives.
When I was a founding director of Nottingham City of Literature I created the bookgroup challenge, hoping to create a city-wide read of Pat Barker novels for her recent appearance at the Nottingham Playhouse. The idea was that this would become an annual event, and bookgroups would be consulted on who they would like to see visit Nottingham next. City of Literature has recently appointed their first exec director in Sandy Mahal. She’s got an impressive CV and a background in libraries, so I’m confident she will build on this legacy and do wonderful things.
Here at Dawn of the Unread our desire to see younger people read has been strongly focussed around outcomes, mainly in improving literacy levels. Our manifesto positioned illiteracy as a form of child poverty and so we’ve attempted to create a thirst for reading by presenting 8 page comics exploring literary figures as well as guiding reading through a bespoke App and occasionally visiting schools.
Last week I got talking to a builder in his early thirties from Wales. He’s been a drug addict, in and out of prison during his twenties, and has just started to repair relations with his daughter now he’s finally got his shit together. He left school at 14 and can’t read or write. He said his daughter keeps offering to read to him but he’s too embarrassed. I explained to him the importance of reading with our children, if nothing more than to create a bond, and that in allowing his daughter to teach him to read it would help her grow in confidence, offering warmth to her father who she’s seen destroy himself for too long. He wasn’t having any of it. Too much time has passed. He’d got by without reading and writing so why bother now. But I’m not giving up that easily on him. I’ll just have to find him more jobs to do around the house so we can continue the conversation.
I’ve just joined what is possibly the most important bookgroup of my life. It’s a ten week reading of Karl Marx’s Capital vol 1 at the Nottingham Contemporary (20 Jul 2016 – 28 Sep) with Professor John Hutnyk. He’s been hosting these annual readings around the world and now it’s our turn. I’ve joined for three reasons: Firstly, I’ve quoted Marx often but I’ve not really read from the original sources. I feel like a fraud and this needs to stop. Secondly, the sessions last for three hours and include a two hour lecture from Professor Hutnyk. I want to learn how he takes complex ideas and makes them more accessible – the lecture then feeds into a one hour discussion. Finally, I feel like I’m economically illiterate. The last few years has seen expense scandals, banks fined up to 252billion in fines for mis-selling products and services, the introduction of zero hours contracts and the growth of temp agencies, insecurity at work due to restructuring and cuts, the impact of Brexit (my son was made redundant a few days after the referendum when the company he worked for had a contract cancelled) as well as the culture of free bred through the internet. The realisation that ‘everything that is solid melts’ is becoming an all too familiar reality as our phones become digital wallets and our financial transactions become more easily monitored. Technology may also offer convenience but it also removes labour. The unexpected item in the bagging area is staff as countless jobs are lost to self-service machines. Even Waitrose have got in on the act! The situation has got so bad that unassessed universal credit is the most practical way to deal with unemployment. There’s no need to justify being on the dole any more. It’s become a rite of passage.
I want to know why the world is in such a mess and if there are any alternative means of living. I’m certainly not a communist but neither do I believe in capitalism in its current manifestation. I just want to understand economics and how we can possibly get through this mess.
The bookgroup is comprised mainly of PhD students from University of Nottingham, but people have travelled from around the country for it. I counted thirty one of us on the first session and this includes artists, members of unions and political parties, casual staff, and my favourite, an unemployed woman who joined the group because it seemed to offer a good use of her time.
In the spirit of Marx I’ve offered up a regular post on the LeftLion website to share our journey. If a different person writes up their responses for each session we can create a dialogue that will stand as testament to how a varied group of people feel about issues directly affecting their lives. Obviously the group comes with limitations – it would take a very forward thinking boss to give someone three hours off work a week to contemplate how alienated individuals feel through labour – but it is a mixed bunch all the same.
We’ve got to plough through 100 pages a week of this beast of a book and it’s going to be a hard slog. I’d never do it on my own which is why bookgroups are so important. I need fellow travellers to help me through the dialectics, comrades whose facial expressions convey that they are as equally confused as me, and the reassurance that at least 31 people in the world are prepared to read something which takes them out of the comfort zone.
Sign up and join us for a ten-week course (20 Jul 2016 – 28 Sep 2016) on Karl Marx’s Capital Volume 1 Reading and writing with Professor John Hutnyk, in collaboration with Spokesman Books. The sessions take place on a Wednesday (11-2pm) at the Nottingham Contemporary
Dawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.