A DIY Manual for Humans

Top Reads 2016

A Little, Aloud with Love, ed. Angela Macmillan

I feel a little proud of this one, Aunty-proud, because I saw it grow from the early days through to publication and life in the wide world. The third in The Reader’s A Little Aloud series, this is a gorgeous collection of prose and poetry for reading aloud to someone you love, put together by my long-time best friend and colleague, one of the three founders of The Reader, Angie Macmillan.

From Angie’s introduction, in which she describes a shared reading session in a Care Home where she as group leader is the only member under the age of eighty-five, to the final poem in the book, Anne Bradstreet’s quietly affirming  ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’, there is much good reading, good sharing,  in this lovely volume. Shared Reading group members, the afterword following the Bradstreet poem tells us, have taken the poem home to give to their partners. And in the Care Home group, Angie notes,

The poems and books that are important to us at The Reader as the tools of our trade are the ones that make connections at a deeply personal level. Everyone in the nursing home could make such a connection with Burns’ great poem (‘My love is like a red, red rose’) and thus we came together in shared experience both of the poem and in something understood between us.

The book finds many kinds and phases of love, giving all of us something to connect with, recognise and share. You might read this with your sister as much as your partner, with a work colleague or your old, old mother-in law.  You would share  excitement and underlying anxiety in Mr Rochester’s garden-at-night-proposal to Jane Eyre, or perhaps the not knowing where or what  love is in George Saunders’ unpredictable (always unpredictable, George) ‘Puppy’.  Anyone in a domestic love relationship will enjoy the terrific daily love in the pair of poems  on ‘Holding Up’ –  U.A. Fanthorpe’s  ‘Atlas’  (‘There is a kind of love called maintenance/which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it’) and Michael Blumenthal’s ‘A Marriage’.

You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you…

But then,
something wonderful happens:

a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arms up
to the ceiling beside you.

A Little Aloud, with Love helps us hold up the ceiling by giving us words for the everyday of love as well as the grand dramatic moments.

Reading a poem or one of the prose pieces each week, it will last you and your beloveds all year.




Onwards, Readers!


I woke up this morning at 5.24am and immediately got up to log on and see what had happened with the #Big Give since I went to bed. Nearly £500, some of it in very small denominations, that’s what!

It is absolutely amazing to see donations coming in from NYC public library, Bootle New Strand, Central London, Mossley Hill, Cornwall, Norris Green, Kensington London and Kensington Liverpool, Hampshire, Wigston, Salford, Strabane, Prenton and sunny California, as well as dear old Strathey Lighthouse, to name but a few of the locations people are donating from…

Our friends, colleagues, ex-colleagues, Trustees, ex-Trustees, relations, partners, group members and supporters are donating five pounds’ in their scores, as well as £10, £20, £30,£40, £50, £100, £300, £420, £500 and £1000’s…

It is one of best jobs I’ve ever had at The Reader, logging on and reading through the list of donors – and it is not just the money, though at time of writing we’ve secured a total of  £25,876.25  which is TERRIFIC.

But it is not the money that makes it uplifting and exciting … It never is the money, is it?

(Though the day I took a phone call to say we’d got £2.1m from HLF for Calderstones Mansion, it did feel as if money could make you joyful. I was in a hand-car-wash in Everton, and still holding the phone, shouted out to the man wielding the spray gun, ‘I’ve got £2.1 million!!’ and he shouted back ‘Allah be praised!’ and carried on washing my car.)

But that rare moment aside, it is not usually the money.

No, it is the reach of the people who want to support our reading revolution that I am finding really moving. The smallest sums – many of them coming from group members or others whose lives have been touched by shared reading – feel profound. It reminds me of the flowers lining the route of Charles Dickens funeral… of course it was expected that Westminster Abbey would be filled with expensive lilies and it was, but London was full of bunches of wildflowers laid at the wayside, gathered by the poor who knew Dickens wrote their lives.

As we enter the  3rd day of the #BigGive and  support naturally slows down, may I ask you to lend a hand  by talking to people, posting on Facebook, tweeting or emailing the direct link to the donate page to colleagues, friends and relations?


and boldly, boldly but kindly, I ask you to do as I have done and to ask your friends and relations, your contacts and colleagues to give what they can to help us  continue to train volunteers to read with older people, like Rose.

Rose, 77 and living in a Home for last 3 years says of her shared reading group:

It puts something in your mind. It doesn’t always come straight away but the mind starts thinking. This is the only time we talk, you see. The rest of it is always in there [points to head] and we’re not happy. Everything that’s been happening in the group has been very true. Real. And this stuff that’s written down makes you feel different. It makes you feel lucky to be here. Because whatever’s in these stories is true – a lot of them are very truthful – they say a lot, they mean something.


Onwards, readers!



That shining place

Rose’s Reader story

Rose is 77 and has been a Care home resident for over 3 years. She has been attending a weekly Shared Reading group organised by The Reader. 

These are  her words. 

You might have a friend here but they’re not really interested in what you’re saying. There’s a lot of them sad. Lots of people that don’t feel happy, frightened to speak. You keep a lot to yourself. There’s no one who really takes any interest. I don’t think anyone else cares. It’s only you who comes and does these things and it’s something to look forward to. I look forward to the poems and I look forward to you talking.

We’re all pleased about you coming. We feel like somebody cares. We didn’t know what to expect when we first started the shared reading group, but what we got was lovely! If you didn’t come, we’d have nothing to think about.

It’s surprising what it does to the mind. Your mind starts wandering when you’re unhappy, it wanders too much. After you’ve been and we’ve read these poems, I think it helps a lot. Everything in your mind seems clearer. I often think about them after you’ve left.

It puts something in your mind. It doesn’t always come straight away but the mind starts thinking. This is the only time we talk, you see. The rest of it is always in there [points to head] and we’re not happy. Everything that’s been happening in the group has been very true. Real. And this stuff that’s written down makes you feel different. It makes you feel lucky to be here. Because whatever’s in these stories is true – a lot of them are very truthful – they say a lot, they mean something.

Bringing it out [puts her hand on her chest]. It brings out what’s been gathering here [hand on chest]. Not leaving it there. Leaving it there makes you unhappy. Bringing it out with the group. Whatever’s been bothering you.

Reading about other things and other people makes you feel better. I thought my life was bad but I think some people have gone through worse. It’s a shame because a lot of people have suffered haven’t they? It makes you think ‘well it wasn’t too bad’. It helps. And we like to know you’re coming here because it brings back memories in a way. It’s important not to chase them away – remember them!  You start thinking about what you’re life’s been like and you think ‘this is very important’.

See – you’ve had a life where you haven’t always been happy, and you can’t really put it into words, it just stays there [points to head]. But talking about these poems, I think it helps. They’ve got a lot to say these poems about life as if, that’s the way life’s got to be. It can’t be good for everybody. We hope it is, but it never is, is it? These poems means something don’t they? They mean something because you can’t wait to hear them, read them and think about how it’s been a bit like the life we’ve had.

(Together we read the poem)

Slowly, slowly wisdom gathers:
Golden dust in the afternoon,
Somewhere between the sun and me,
Sometimes so near that I can see,
Yet never settling, late or soon.

Would that it did, and a rug of gold
Spread west of me a mile or more:
Not large, but so that I might lie
Face up, between the earth and sky,
And know what none has known before.

Then I would tell as best I could
The secrets of that shining place:
The web of the world, how thick, how thin,
How firm, with all things folded in;
How ancient, and how full of grace.                    Mark Van Doren

Good poem that one. They’ve all been good really. It gets everything together that one. It’s very true what it says, it’s what happens in our life. And that’s the way our life is. Slowly but surely, we’ll get there. It’s put me in the picture now. Yes, and it’s a very nice place. Mustn’t worry about it. ‘Then I would tell as best I could the secrets of that shining place’ – we know that shining place don’t we?


Can you help The Reader raise money to bring shared reading, company, pleasure, thinking and comfort to Rose and others like her?

This year, The Reader is taking part in The Big Give’s Christmas Challenge, with the opportunity to raise £40,000 to support older people through Shared Reading.

But we need your help. Click  here to find out more about The Reader’s Big Give and how to donate – all donations must be made online between midday Tuesday 29 November and midday Friday 2 December.

Please help spread Rose’s Reader Story and help us train volunteers to read in Care Homes