April mini-project: A 26 Guide to Reading

Our new editor Max Parfitt is running a series of mini-projects through the monthly newsletter. This is the first.

Paul White:

With any kind of guide, where might anyone start? I’d suggest reading out loud. That’s where I started anyway. Not reading out loud myself (although we had to do that letter-by-letter in primary school. I think it’s called phonics). No, what got me into reading most was the three months I spent bed-ridden with rheumatic fever and my mum reading to me for a couple of hours every single day.

I read to my children every night well into their very late teens. I read the whole of The Lord of the Rings to my youngest. I read books to them that I had never read before. I discovered Winnie the Pooh with them not before them.

One of the few pieces of advice I’d give to anyone who writes for a living is, read what you have written out loud. It’s the best way to discover the bits that are clunky or sound disingenuous. I’m not the first writer to suggest that, of course.

These days I mostly read to and for myself. When I’m reading poetry, I still like to read it out loud. That way I make sure I hear the music in each poem.

Book in my bags
books on the table
books in the bedroom
books on kindle
books on the internet
books morning noon night
Reading on the bus
sitting on the train
waiting for a friend
researching in the library
relaxing in the bath
while the bread is toasting
between workshop delivery
in the park with the dog
at the end of the day
and into the night

– Irene Lofthouse

Sophie Gordon:

Every night, before I go to sleep, I must read. It’s essential. The one foolproof way to gently calm the whirring of my thoughts – from work, life, and everything that’s going on in the world. It’s my reset button, preparing me for a proper overnight defrag, ready to reboot the next morning. It’s been this way since I was about seven years old. Without that deep focus on a good book every night, I’m sure I would be a considerably more tired and grumpy person. Thankfully, I read.


Wendy Jones:

Where do I read? Snatched moments here and there. Over morning coffee or late at night. Quiet train or bus journeys (or noisy ones with headphones). Anywhere outdoors if it’s warm or at least not freezing. And – a sad admission this – at 3 or 4 a.m. when I can’t sleep. Fellow insomniacs will know that a book is the best possible antidote to ‘racing brain’ syndrome – and it seems to work equally well whether it’s a good novel (or even a slightly less than good one), poetry or non-fiction. Insidious thoughts get swept away.


Julia Webb-Harvey:

I do a lot of reading for my PhD (in Creative Writing at Falmouth University). Its glorious title is “Exploring J M W Turner’s Cornwall”. I’m tracing and re-tracing Turner’s route and the nineteen paintings that Turner made after his 1811 tour of the Duchy, peering through his paintings to query how Cornwall has changed today. It’s interdisciplinary, at the intersection of Turner Studies, Affect Theory, ideas of the Trace, Geography, and Psychogeography. A lot of my reading is peering at the screen at my desk in my garret. It’s enrichening, but not really for pleasure!

I was struck down by the lurgy a couple of weeks ago and read my way through it – a couple of novels (not taxing) and a wonderful book by Nancy Campbell called “50 words for snow.” It reminded me of the joy that reading gives me, and I think has topped up my creativity tanks. Your invitation to think about it has shifted something, thank you. I believe we become better writers through reading.

Chloe Green:

Lately, I have been subscribing to Substack newsletters with a somewhat reckless abandon. The sterile, blue-white glow of the screen is far from my ideal reading setup (soft lighting, copious quilts, a hardback), but amid the busyness of life online, I suppose we must snatch as many newsletter-length breaths as our inboxes allow! I hope soon to return to my nest of patchwork blankets, heavy book in hand…

How do you read?

Sue Heggie:

As I live over a couple of floors I like to have several books going at a time…

On any floor: Audio (free from my local library) and kindle books in various states of completion. Right now, Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities and the Pleasures of Solitude by Stephanie Rosenbloom, and Made in Scotland: My Grand Adventures in a Wee Country by Billy Connolly. I’ve particularly enjoyed Rosenbloom’s musings on visiting museums and galleries alone:

Tranquillity can be felt as much in the blank white box of a modern art museum as it can in the dark, galactic halls of a planetarium. It can be experienced in sculpture halls amid frozen white nudes, or in a flowering courtyard between galleries.

First Floor (Hard Copy): The Bee Sting by Paul Murray. I’m not as enamoured as the reviews said I would be, but persevering.

Second Floor (Hard Copy): Young Forever by Mark Hyman (I skim read it once I realised I’d basically have to give up cake and chocolate forever so decided I would prefer a shorter life with those in it), Weirdo by Sara Pascoe, and the Portugal Travel Guide 2024 (Yep on my way there to escape the Auckland winter rain!)

Finally, my book club book: A Wilder Life by Joan Louwrens. The thing I like about book club is that I read books I probably wouldn’t pick out for myself. I haven’t started it yet but the notes tell me it is an account of Louwrens’ 35 years practising “adventure medicine.”

Problems ahead: New series of Bridgerton (call me shallow) and The Great British Sewing Bee (even if we are miles/kilometres behind the UK).

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
go throw your TV set away,
and in its place you can install
a lovely bookshelf on the wall.

– Roal Dahl

Aiden Baker:

Morning or evening? Morning, between prayers and writing.

With coffee or wine? Sometimes with tea.

Inside or outside? Inside, as a rule.

Do you snatch any moment you can or do you set a whole day aside? Half an hour, unless this is reading that’s got to be done for writing or some other project, in which case I read as long as needed.

Fact or fiction? Usually non-fiction or poetry, these days, but that may change. An earlier distillation of the routine had me reading novels for about half an hour a day, and indeed the latest book I read was Neil Gunn’s 1952 novel Bloodhunt.Paper, kindle, or audiobook? Usually paper, though there’ve
been exceptions:
Bloodhunt I borrowed for an hour at a time from
Internet Archive, and some years ago I read Raymond Williams’
of the Black Mountain as an ebook.

Paul White:

I suspect we are all reading more than ever in the 21st century. Text, Whatsapp, emails, Facebook posts, Google searches, and X (if you really must), let alone all the stuff we have always (had to) read.I read newspapers (no paper sadly) on my phone over breakfast. I read as little as possible online. What I love reading is books – always have, always will.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the project this month, and please keep reading.

– Max Parfitt

(Ed. This extra little titbit came from Paul White…)

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