Sunday, 1 March 2009
Reading The Reader
The Reader is a magazine which I've heard of a fair few times, and been quite intrigued by, but had always dismissed as one of those ever-so-clever, pretentious magazines publishing unreadable poetry alongside tedious in-jokes. When I was offered an issue to review, I realised how very wrong I was.
What strikes me first about The Reader (I have the Winter 2008 edition, no.32) is its astonishing variety. Yes, there is new poetry and fiction (including works by Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, and Marilynne Robinson) but also accessible essays (on Milton's 400th birthday), reviews, recommendations by readers, articles about Reading Life, interviews and even a crossword. These range from something which wouldn't be out of place in a scholarly essay to that which feels more like a bookish conversation with a friend - what seeps through every section of the magazine is a love of literature and a desire to share this passion.
Better than that, The Reader, as a company, also works in (I quote) 'day centres, old people's homes, community groups, hospitals, drug rehabs, refugee centres, public libraries, schools and children's homes and many other places to bring the pleasure and value of reading to as many people as possible.' And that's got to be a good thing.
More about the issue itself. The first item I turned to was an interview with Phil Beadle - the teacher behind Can't Read, Can't Write, a TV documentary teaching adult literacy that was one of the most moving and valuable programmes I've ever seen. I blogged about it here. Strange choice for an interview, thought I, but it quickly clicked - Beadle's beliefs in the releasing potential of literature is exactly the ethos of The Reader. And a very good interview it is too.
Next I went through the three 'Reading Lives' sections - quite a vague heading for reader contributions about the ways reading works in their lives. A while ago Kirsty at Other Stories wrote about blogging and books - you can even download that issue here - but the articles in no.32 were away from the computer. Caroline Clark writes about coming to love literature long after her childhood; Ian McMillan on the pleasures of contemplative reading. For me, the best piece in the entire magazine was Sarah Turvey and Jenny Hartley's on Prison Reading Groups. Jenny Hartley wrote a great little book called Reading Groups (talked about here) and this item is a similar survey on a smaller scale. A moving piece, which demonstrates that the idea of literature as a redemptive activity might not be such an archaic idea.
I'll be honest with you. As an impoverished student, I can't afford a subscription to The Reader (though back issues are only £2 at the moment, from the website), but I do encourage others to get a copy or two and consider subscribing. Lots to agree with, lots to make you think, lots to add to the tbr pile. And they're looking for submissions in all the areas they cover (I'll certainly be submitting something in the future).
I've been wondering, off and on, where the modern day literary journal is - what can follow in the legacy of, say, The Yellow Book, Athenaeum, Rhythm - may I tentatively suggest we have found it in The Reader?