PRG group facilitators at Thameside and High Down supported Penguin Random House volunteers at an audiobook event to mark World Book Day on March 7th. Originally devised by the Reading Agency, the project was called the Reverse Book Club and was aimed at less experienced readers.
Participants were invited to the library where they listened to the first few chapters of The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old, an octogenarian Adrian Mole who refuses to go quietly. The PRH volunteers led discussion of what was going on and where it might lead. The men had copies of the book so they could follow along during the session and take it away to finish on their own.
Cathy Wells-Cole, PRG facilitator at High Down, reports:
At High Down the event attracted more than 15 interested men. A few were already members of a PRG reading group but the majority fitted the ‘less experienced reader’ category.
There was a welcoming atmosphere, helped by tea, coffee and biscuits laid on by the library staff in one of the rooms on the Education wing. Marianne and Felix, the PRH volunteers – neither of whom had been inside a prison before – were relaxed, friendly and very well briefed.
Although PRH had provided a cd of the novel, there wasn’t any equipment powerful enough for it to be audible – despite all the librarian’s efforts. And of course nothing could be brought in from outside the prison. So we improvised and read the opening pages of Hendrik Groen aloud, taking it in turns. This was surprisingly successful: several of the men volunteered to read which they did with gusto and the fact that everyone had their own copy made it easy to follow along.
PRH had originally chosen a Dan Brown novel for the Reverse Book Club, but it had proved a bit challenging, so Hendrik Groen was substituted. This purports to be the actual diary of a resident in an Amsterdam care home, and it proceeds at a fairly gentle pace to begin with.
“Would you finish the book?” Marianne asked the men. Most said they would; a few felt it might be more appropriate for the older reader. (As an older reader, I wasn’t so sure.)
We completed about 20 pages, and there were interesting comments – it’s a sort of geriatric One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, said one man; does anything happen? asked another.
Comparisons were made between the petty restrictions of prison/ care home.
The whole session was attentive, enjoyable, and very well led by the PRH volunteers.
And I managed to recruit (I hope) a few new members for the PRG group! Very many thanks to Penguin Random House for providing both books and volunteers and to the library staff at High Down for all the organisation.