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Mood Boosting Books and STOP! launched

24 January 2012 / 0 Comments

We had a great night at Canada Water Library when we launched the Mood Boosting Books promotion and Stop What You're Doing and Read This! A capacity audience came out on a wintry night in London town to talk about the importance of reading with Mark Haddon Michael Rosen and Miranda McKearney and Debbie Hicks from The Reading Agency.

What are you reading?
The evening kicked off with people sharing what they are currently reading. Mark Haddon said he is currently re-reading Middlemarch, a good old friend, and has also just discovered audio books, so is listening to Dombey and Son.

Michael Rosen spoke about a book he has been reading called The Unfree French by Richard Vinen, which looked at life under the World War Two German occupation of France. He had had relatives who had disappeared during the occupation, and reading this book led him to a French book called Les Chemins De La Honte, in which he found, in the index, the name of one of those relatives. Michael was able to trace, via the book, his relative's deportation to Auschwitz - he said that the journey which had led him from one book to another, and to make such discoveries was a reading experience which he had never had before.

We start with people and things we know
Michael Rosen read from Great Expectations, and recalled, as a teenager, listening to his father reading it at night by the light of a tilly lamp, to him and other family members on a very rainy camping holiday in Yorkshire. He recalled how he had been completely gripped by it; it mingled in his mind with real life characters from his father's life - Jews from the East End of London but also from Poland, America and France. He said: "That is how we all read. We start with people and things we know, and we make connections and we make it all intermingle."

Miranda, Debbie, Mark Haddon and Mike Rosen

During the discussion, he said that with the invention of mobile phones, texting etc, people who had been predicted to be stopping writing were in fact writing more than ever, but they were relating to the written word in different ways. He said that in the past, books had been quite "self-enclosed" - Dickens was serialised, it was talked about between instalments, but there was not much writing about it, whereas now, for example, with the recent television serialisation of Great Expectations there had been huge amounts of related or 'background' writing about it. He said: "The integrity of the book will get broken in some forms".

Sometimes you need books to be difficult to slow you down
Mark Haddon agreed, citing the new i-pad app for T S Eliot's The Wasteland, which includes essays, film, audio, graphics and text. Mark Haddon said that when his mood needed boosting he tended not to turn to reading, because he looks to books to challenge him, and liked books where, if he found he had switched off and missed something, he needed to go back and re-read it.

He really enjoyed books that you would never expect to see on a list of mood-boosting books - such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road. He said he was glad he had read it, and that reading was like going on a long run, it was something deep inside him that needed to happen every day.

He mentioned Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel as a book which was not necessarily gladdening, but which he was really glad he had read, as it was "so fantastically chewy". He read from The Lost Books of Odyssey by Zachary Mason. He also said he wanted to "stand up for" non-fiction: "If you really want your mind stretching, then try science or economics writing."

Recalling Mark's essay for Stop What You Are Doing and Read This!, Miranda McKearney (from The Reading Agency) said that writers had the ability to put words together and run a cable to the heart of strangers. Mark agreed that "sometimes you need books to be difficult to slow you down", and related his experience of learning Greek in order to be able to read classical texts in their original, rather than translated form.

Reading reduces stress
We were told that a University of Sussex study, 2009 showed that reading improves mental well-being,and reduces stress levels by 67%.Debbie Hicks (from The Reading Agency, said that "Good writers have the power to take us on exciting journeys that can illuminate our own experience. We live in really stressful times; we are not saying that reading will solve all those problems but there is evidence that it will make you feel better. There has been a big social revolution around reading, with reading groups at home, in the workplace, in libraries - there is evidence that reading in groups can boost confidence, help people make new friends and help them to talk about books. Libraries have the power to connect people up via reading; we are not saying that libraries are doctors' surgeries, but in a library you can find a self-help book, a novel to cheer you up and you can meet other readers."

It's better than any doctor's medicine
Debbie said that lists were always contentious and often about what had been left off. But that was why the mood-boosting booklist worked - it had got everyone talking and connecting.
Mood Boosting Books Display "Our Mood-boosting Books campaign is about books that other readers have enjoyed and which have made them feel better, they are not chosen by psychologists but by real readers. There is something there for everyone - novels, poetry, non-ficton. And reading really does work as a mood booster. In the words of a reader who was struggling with the stress of being a full time carer "Reading is like going on a holiday without packing your bags. It's better than any doctor's medicine." - that makes it a pretty powerful antidote."

She said that people who were less confident about their reading could find it harder to read for pleasure, but she cited how The Reading Agency's Six Book Challenge worked to address that, step by step, using for example the Quick Reads books - "good stimulating stories by rally good writers but in an accessible and really short form".

Getting the whole fun of a book
During the discussion, in response to a question from a student, required to read lots of 'dense' books for her studies but wanting to rediscover reading for pleasure, Michael Rosen suggested _ "Maybe that is the medicine, if reading privately on your own is not enough to sustain it, then socialise it."_

He concluded that reading was about "getting the whole fun of a book, ie: its wording, not sweating over the individual words."

Mood-boosting books suggestions on the night:
Suggestions ranged from 1930's British crime novels to Beowulf, the Bible and even Michael Rosen's Sad Book! Also William Styron's autobiography Darkness Visible - a memoir of his depression, but not a book recommended by psychologists and not 'depression for dummies'.

One man suggested Wild Swans by Jung Chang - he said that he had enjoyed learning about the problems they had had in postwar China, how they simply managed to survive and live.

Mood Boosting Books Launch Event

We would like to thank everyone who came, Canada Water Library for a great welcome and being a fab library, Vintage Books for Stop What You're Doing and Read This! and Mark Haddon and Michael Rosen for giving their time and creating a thought-provoking and fantastic evening.

Check out the Mood Boosting Books list.

See more photos from the event.

What are your mood-boosting books?


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