Austen Project is a Dickens of a good idea

Hi everyone!
I’m Lauren, and I’m the discussion leader for the Mitchell Classics Book Group. In 2012, our reading group was one of the Reading Agency’s Dickens Champions. This year, the Reading Agency is giving reading groups across the country a chance to be part of the Austen Project, which is a fantastic opportunity to read and blog about some of the best works by Jane Austen, and I really hope that you’ll consider taking part.
Our reading group really enjoyed being a Dickens Champion, and without a doubt, it was not only fun, but a richly rewarding experience as we had the chance to read, and in many cases re-read some of our favourite books by Dickens. By reading and discussing several of Dickens’s books within a relatively short time, our group found we were able to compare and contrast his books in a way we hadn’t been able to before. This allowed not only a deeper level of discussion, but it also renewed our love of favourite heroes (Oliver, and Pip) and wish for the rightful comeuppance of the worst baddies (Uriah Heep, and Sikes).
I would encourage all reading groups that love Jane Austen’s books to sign up to the Reading Agency site to follow the project, and especially to give The Austen Blog Project a go! Even if you have never blogged or written about your favourite author or book before – don’t worry! For many folks in our reading group, it was first time they had done anything like it, and the friendly folks at the Reading Agency made it all very easy. So all you Jane Austen fans out there get cracking! Just fill in the online form and, who knows, your group could be selected – good luck!

Friday Blog July 26 – Join the Jane Austen Blog Project

Here’s an invite from Reading Groups for Everyone:

The Reading Agency is thrilled to be partnering with HarperCollins to offer 10 enthusiastic reading groups the chance to take part in The Austen Project and experience Austen as never before.

The Austen Project, pioneered by HarperCollins, pairs six bestselling contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. Taking these cherished stories as their base, each author has written their own unique take on one of Jane Austen’s novels.

The Austen Project will launch in October 2013 with the release of Joanna Trollope’s reimagining of Sense & Sensibility, and continue with Val McDermid’s reworking of Northanger Abbey in spring 2014 and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Pride & Prejudice in autumn 2014.

Get involved

The Reading Agency is searching for 10 reading groups to join The Austen Project for the year, beginning by reading Sense & Sensibility in September 2013 and blogging about it. The 10 lucky reading groups will each receive a set of 10 books, reading guides and other materials to spark discussion.

To get an idea of what other groups, including our own Mitchell Classics, got up to with a similar project see the Dickens Champions blog

If your book group would like to take part in The Austen Blog Project, please register your interest here by 7 August and add your group to the site.

Reading Groups for Everyone

Friday Blog May 10 – what can our young readers teach us?

This week’s guest blogger is Alison, librarian at Castlemilk High School and Springburn Academy

In my capacity as a secondary school librarian I have been working with two bookgroups, predominantly first years, and I have come to the realisation that our young people have a lot to offer us in terms of how we engage with books.

The challenge with this age group is to create book groups that are dynamic and engaging, while also promoting literacy.  The format of read a book, come back, review and analyse it, was not a solution that would satisfy the requirements of “dynamic and engaging” for the young people.

I believe that some of the activities we have worked on would be completely at home in an adult book group.  They would also help to encourage participation from so called non-readers, lapsed readers or reluctant readers (dragged along by a friend usually!).  I’d like to explore a few with you.

  •  Diary of A…..WIMPY1-120x176

The Diary of A Wimpy kid series is always in great demand so an activity around this always goes down well with our pre-teens.  Together we worked on brainstorming what qualities a diary format book had.  Cue sticking post-it notes all over the table with adjectives as diverse as “crush”, “war” and “rivalry”.  We then decided to write our own diaries based on books we had read or hobbies we had.  This prompted them to think about different narrative styles and how we could adapt existing books or be creatively free.  My attempt to convince them that my Diary of a Scary Librarian was entirely autobiographical was met with giggles and protest…..

What qualities do we think make a good diary format novel?  Is this a legitimate form to use when attempting to tell a great story?  Or will it always fall short of its potential?  Think Adrian Mole, The Color Purple and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I’d encourage all bookgroups to see if they can adapt a novel and see how it would differ in diary format.

  •  Reverse film adaptation

The perennial debate of ‘what is better; the book or the film’ features regularly in my discussions with pupils.  Unlike most of my friends, there is no overwhelming majority exclaiming that “the book is ALWAYS better”.  So I gave my young members the chance to explore the situation and pick one of their favourite films.  They then had to write their own story interpretation of it. 

How would we do if faced with the same challenge?  Maybe we should be a little less harsh when we look at the work of screenwriters faced with novels that, in all honesty, are available for our own individual interpretation?

  •  Who Am I?

An excellent ice breaker in my first book group session was the Who Am I, Post-it on your forehead, only yes/no answers allowed game (proper title would be welcome!).  As we worked round the group we introduced ourselves, offered up our foreheads to our neighbour to determine which fictional character we would be and then the real fun began.  This allowed the pupils to explore characters that they knew well, or were completely unfamiliar with.  Rather than focusing on a review of one book we discussed and recommended a selection of books.  This encouraged the pupils to borrow books they had learned about at the end of the session.

Imagine this in an adult book club “Eliza Doolittle – what book is she from?….That sounds good actually, I might go check it out”  Perfect for those looking for new avenues to explore, or reluctant readers who can become involved without the commitment of having to a read a novel before the bookgroup meeting.

Next week we are planning the Book-Bout.  Here, you fight your book’s corner and tell everyone why it is THE best book.  I can’t wait to see how the pupils convey the key aspects of what makes a book great!

Go on….fight for the books you love!

Friday Blog Feb 8 – Shadowing the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

Today’s blog comes from The Reading Agency  – flagging up a great opportunity for reading groups. Independent Foreign Fiction Prize
Here at The Reading Agency we’re working with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013 – which celebrates an exceptional work of translated fiction, acknowledging the work of the author and the translator equally – and Booktrust on a reading group project.
We’re looking for 18 – 20 reading groups from across the UK who would like to:
     Shadow the Prize by reading and reviewing two of the shortlisted titles
     Attend a Readers’ Day all about translated fiction on Saturday 18 May at the Free Word Centre in London to vote for their favourite title, be part of author and translator discussions, see a translation duel and hear a talk from Prize judge and author Elif Shafak
Each participating reading group will also get the opportunity to be entered for a prize draw to go to the Prize Award ceremony. We’ll be able to provide you with free reading group sets of the shortlisted books and also a £300 contribution to each reading group’s travel expenses to the Readers’ Day so all group members can attend.
To be part of the project, reading groups need to fill out this form on our website by the 18th of February. For more information about the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Readers Project, please see our website.

Gaelic Reading Group/ Buidheann Leughaidh Ghàidhlig

An invitation to Gaelic speakers and learners.

The University of Glasgow / Oilthigh Ghlaschu – Centre for Open Studies/Ionad an Oilein Fhosgailte invites you to join the Gaelic Reading Group/ a’ toirt cuireadh dhut tighinn gu Buidheann Leughaidh Ghàidhlig.

This will be an opportunity for post-beginner learners and above, including fluent speakers, to get together to read and talk about Gaelic writing, in Gaelic, in a friendly and informal environment. To kick things off, we’ll be reading something easy but enjoyable – An Duine Dubh by Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn.

We’ll be meeting on Tuesday 5th of February at 5.00pm in The Centre for Open Studies, St. Andrew’s Building, Eldon St. Glasgow G3 6NH.

Contact to find out more.

Friday Blog Jan 25 – poetry for book groups

It’s Burns Day – so today’s topic is poetry. Has your book group ever dabbled in poetry? There are resources out there to give you ideas. The Poetry Book Society has book group downloads of the ten poets shortlisted for the 2012 TS Eliot Poetry Prize. There are copyright cleared poems with discussion points and a bit of background on the poets. The winner of the prize was announced last week: American poet Sharon Olds for Stag’s Leap – a collection about the end of her marriage. Here’s how the BBC reported Sharon’s win. And for a bit of variety – the Daily Mail!

The Mitchell Poetry Group will be discussing Sharon’s poems at the next meeting – 7th February, 6pm on level 5. Come along if you’re free. Or check out the downloads for your own group.

And remember you can always find ideas at the Scottish Poetry Library Scottish Poetry Library Logo.

Friday Blog Oct 12 – Novels Inc.

Novels Inc. is one of the groups meeting in Hillhead Library; they recently had two sets of books from Reading Groups for Everyone to review, and here’s what they thought:

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos Product Details

The general feeling was that the book was highly original.  All the horror of life in the compound of a Mexican drug baron was seen through the eyes of a 7-year-old boy.  People felt it had been very well translated from Spanish as it read well, was very humorous at times and was a short, easy read.  Because the story was told by the boy, it left the reader to make his own judgements about the guns, the politics, the women (prostitutes) the boy’s father brought to the compound etc.  The horror of the situation was not known to the boy because to him it was normal everyday life that some people were mute (because they’d had their tongues cut out but he didn’t realise that).  His innocence will be short-lived as the book made clear that he was being groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps which everyone found disturbing.  No one had anything particularly negative to say about the book, most people had quite enjoyed it because of its originality.  So a thumbs-up for this novella.

There but for the by Ali Smith Product Details

Alas, it seems that Novels Inc. members are not Ali Smith fans at all and a few could still remember reading Hotel World and not liking it.  The general consensus was that the book was very frustrating as it has no real beginning or end and at times seems like a lot of random thoughts thrown down on paper, like a kind of stream of consciousness.  We never find out why Miles locks himself into the room, what he hopes to achieve or why he decides to finally leave.  A couple of people thought that Ali Smith had tried “to be too clever” with all the puns etc. in the book.  Most agreed that it did deal with some complex contemporary issues like the media circus which results nowadays around every big event.  It also deals with people profiting from other people.  People liked that there was a very tentative connection between some of the characters which they hadn’t been aware of at the beginning.  One of our new members said that the dinner party scene was a parody of the banality of middle class dinner parties and all the pseudo-intellectual nonsense that is spoken about.  Everyone to a man thought that the superb reviews that the book received (according to the blurb on the cover of the book!) were not deserved at all – a bit harsh perhaps but we wanted to be truthful!

Remember it’s worth keeping an eye on Reading Groups for Everyone for free books and other offers. If your group would like to read either of these titles, contact us at as we have a few copies to lend.