Reading Ahead is the new name for the Six Book Challenge.
Linda Shaw, 61, had spent a lifetime 'covering up' for her lack of confidence in her reading and writing, having not had a good experience at school, and having left with no qualifications. So six months ago, when she signed up to do a computer course at Huddersfield WEA, and a tutor also signed her up for English classes where the Six Book Challenge was being run, she was pretty reluctant at first. Here she tells us how she's found that reading has given her a new focus in life.
I felt let down by school
I didn't do well at school in English. I was really bad at spelling, and it has held me back a lot in life - I always avoided anything where I might have to do a lot of writing. It affected the kind of jobs I applied for - mostly I did physical jobs like cleaning or factory work, although I was a manageress of a fish and chip shop until I had an accident.
I feel school let me down on reading and writing. Some people pick it up so easily; I needed some extra help but I didn't get it. So when I left school my spelling was atrocious, and I was very embarrassed and self conscious about it. Even now if I have to write letters and they involve a word I couldn't spell, often I'll change the format around to use words that I do know, or I'd have to ask people for help, and I'd feel such an idiot.
I'd only read one book before
I'd never been a reader; I've got a really short concentration span--my mind always seemed to wander when I was reading. In fact, I had only ever read one whole book in my life! It was years ago, when I was about 13 or 14, and it was called Mr Why And Mr What. I've also had a lot of health problems, and life has been really busy, so there never seemed to be any time to pick up a book.
So I wasn't feeling very confident at all about going to English classes, but I kept going, and then when my tutor told us about the Six Book Challenge she said to start by trying a short book. So I took one home .... and found that I really enjoyed it.
I started reading and borrowing several books a week
I got hooked! I found I was borrowing two or three books a week, and one I evening I realised that I hadn't even put the TV on, because I was busy finishing my book! With the Quick Reads books I read for the Six Book Challenge, I could visualise what I was reading and my mind didn't wander. One of my favourite books was about a rich family, where the son had a daughter secretly with one of the maids. I'd read magazines and short stories but never a book of 500 pages. I couldn't wait to get back into it and keep up with the plot. I felt really chuffed with myself when I finished; I couldn't believe I had read all those pages!
I wanted to do as well as I could, because reading has helped me with my punctuation. And I have friends who are big readers; I've talked to them about films and they'd say "I've read the book and it's better than the film." I've always wanted to be able to say the same.
Reading also helps me to escape from everything else that's going on. I've been buying more books to read, from second hand shops, and I've got three or four lined up. Friends also give me books; one I've got waiting to be read is called A 60s Childhood - that was the era when I grew up. I also like murder mystery books; when I have a lot on my mind they help me to get off to sleep. It is better than sitting watching the telly until early in the morning, instead I just read a book for an hour.
Advice for others
Just pick one book, something that you are interested in, and have a try. Choose a book that's not too thick, maybe just 100 pages; try it when you have a bit of quiet time with the telly off - and let it take over your mind; it can take all your problems away for a bit.
I feel like I have got through a barrier. Now when I read a book, I can concentrate. I owe a lot to my tutor. Reading has given me something to focus on, and I really enjoy it.
Find out more about Reading Ahead
Order materials to run Reading Ahead at your organisation.