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‘To use and not simply deny negative material’: Shared Reading in action

Written by The Reader, 2nd February 2017
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This month The Reader features in The Psychologist magazine. CRILS' Philip Davis discusses Literature in performance, psychology in action.

"Literature is about the human ability to use and not simply deny so-called negative material: ask any poet or novelist."

Philip Davis, CRILS

Reflecting on the experiences of three individuals, Phil Davis explores how literature and Shared Reading can empower people to confront difficult or traumatic aspects of their own lives. Davis discusses the methods which CRILS (Centre for Reading, Literature and Society) have utilised at University of Liverpool to explore "the uses of reading powerful literature in the wider world of human needs."

Speaking about The Reader's work in varied settings, Davis says:


"The mission is to offer the Shared Reading of serious literature as a kind of powerful social glue that binds small communities of people together through the uncovering of strong personal feeling, normally suppressed or silenced in the cool or cold public world.

Sometimes people come to the groups at the suggestion of a carer, or are referred by a professional, sometimes in response to advertisement or word of mouth: it is voluntary.

Often they are not even people who would describe themselves as serious readers: they come with some scepticism and trepidation, perhaps thinking 'What can reading have to do with mental health and wellbeing?' or 'How can something as seeming esoteric as an old poem have anything to do with my life now?'"

This moment of realisation, of how great literature can be relevant and even helpful, is not an uncommon breakthrough for group members when they first come to Shared Reading. "Keith", a group member mentioned in the article, reflects on this:

"Once you become aware of something, you cannot turn back, you can’t unknow. So now when I see these things in print and they strike home…"

For Keith it is important that an old and formal language gets itself translated suddenly into the hidden inner feeling of his experience. The result for him is a reluctant but inescapable emotional honesty:

"What with books and poems, it makes you look at things honestly. And it’s harder to lie around them… This is, it’s about feelings, there’s feelings so you’re talking about feelings."

The Psychologist

To reader the full article, visit The Psychologist website.



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