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A Celebration of Reading, by Outside the Box: Women Writing Women

In honour of World Book Night

When we produced Outside the Box: Women Writing Women, we asked readers to take a risk. To step outside their comfort zones and try something new. An author or a genre they hadn’t experimented with in the past. This was no small ask. As Will Gompertz, arts editor for the BBC pointed out earlier this week, Readers with little spare time are overwhelmed by the choice and end up sticking to the authors they already know and trust.

Trust us.

There is a joy in discovering a new favourite author. It’s an intensely personal experience. Someone who you feel understands you in a way that even your oldest friend cannot. You read a certain line and feel as if you’ve always known the words. As if they capture every thought you have ever held inside you, the things you dared not speak for fear that you were alone in feeling that way. That you would give yourself away. That you didn’t belong.

Why is every reader’s experience of a single book so personal? Because of what they bring to it: their emotions, their memories and their own stories. In the words of Samuel Johnson, ‘A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.’

We couldn’t bottle that experience, so we put it in a box for you.

WWW_Memes_Joni reduced

 Warning: These novels refuse to remain caged. Outside the Box is now entering its final month. On 24th May it will disappear.

Some of you have already come on the ride with us and, in honour of World Book Night, we’d like to share with you what reading means to us – because all writers start life as readers. And, as Joni Rodger’s 60 second book reviews will show, we were fans of each other’s work before we got together as a team.

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JesJessica reducedsica Bell savours the words

Have you ever wanted to savour a meal because you’ve never tasted anything so good? Well, that’s how I feel when I read. To me a good book is a meal with intricate scents, flavours and textures that are unrecognisable until I spend a little more time with them. I love to focus on smaller, more self-contained elements when I read because I hate having that feeling of ‘needing to finish it.’ It stresses me out!

There’s a line in Marilynne Robinson’s, Housekeeping, which taught me how to savour (I even have it painted on my coffee mug):

“It was the kind of loneliness that made clocks seem slow and loud and made voices sound like voices across water.”

Isn’t this just so beautiful? Read it again. Slowly. Out loud. Now, feel it. Can you hear the loud and slow clock ticking? Its echo crossing a flat lake trying to reach the disappearing voices of loved ones you wished existed? The still and stifling warm air at dusk? Your heartbeat in your ears? The emptiness in your chest? The melancholia you can’t seem to place? An amazing comparison to loneliness, don’t you think? The clocks, the voices, the loudness of heartache. *sigh* ​​

THIS is what I love about reading.


This is what Joni Rodger’s loves about Jessica Bell’s White Lady 

Jane Davis, escape artist

A middle child is not required to be brave. A middle child has older brothers and sisters who will be the first to cross the finishing line, push back Janeboundaries, come up against immovable barriers. Even if they form a buffer zone, they become, if you like, a second set of parents. Other enforcers of law and order in a noisy home. And a noisy environment is no place for an introvert. An introvert needs escape.

So books become the thing. Portals to another time and place. A bad-tempered, ill-mannered magic pudding called Albert, who, no matter how many times it is eaten, can reform himself? No problem. Places where good always triumphs over evil? Step this way. Just walk through the wardrobe. Ancient travellers’ routes that pass through a harsh landscape of standing stones? That’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen you’re after. (I credit Alan Garner with awakening my deep love of the British countryside before I had seen it with my own eyes.) Books provide an answer to every imaginable question, even those you had not yet thought of.

And, later, Lady Chatterley’s Lover dispelled the mysteries sex education classes shed little light on. The Seed and the Sower taught me what history lessons did not. Lamb and To Kill a Mockingbird showed me that there are good and compassionate reasons to break the law. A Kestrel for a Knave broke any illusions I had about happy endings. Living vicariously has taught me how to be.

Reading provides one of the few legitimate reasons to be unsociable. Not for the sake of it but because, in a noisy world, escape remains essential.


Carol Cooper recalls the childhood favourites that fired her imagination

Carol reducedMy mother reckoned I was late in learning to read. I must have been nearly six and only figured it out while on a trip with her to New York. The flashing street signs WALK and DON’T WALK fascinated me. Why, I wanted to know, was there an L in WALK? She gave me no good explanation, but I’ve been an avid reader and keen typo spotter ever since.

Books were my childhood friends. I grew up without siblings, in an apartment block where children weren’t allowed. My mother had somehow persuaded them I’d be no trouble. That was true, because I was always reading. I lived the adventures I couldn’t have through the pages of Swallows and Amazon, Secret Seven books, and The Family from One End Street.

I discovered a stash of books from my aunt, so many of the books were published long before my time, including Nancy Drew mysteries and of course Little Women. I wasn’t the only lonely child: The Secret Garden taught me that.

And I learned to grow up. Thank you, Beverley Cleary, for makeup tips in Fifteen.


Roz Morris talks about her ongoing love-affair with books

What do I read? Fiction that cares about characters AND plot. Although I’m a sucker for beautiful language, I like a story too, dammit. I’m a slow Roz reducedreader because I’m easily trapped by lovely sentences and ideas, and when I enjoy a book I’m reluctant to leave its world behind.

Much as I appreciate the convenience of ebooks, I still buy print. The waiting volumes remind me I’ve promised to spend time with them. If I bought them on an ereader, it’s highly likely they’d vanish into its bottomless pockets and I’d never find them again. I live in London with my writer husband, and our house is mostly decorated with bookshelves – so much so that different rooms are devoted to different categories, like a shop. My study, where I’m writing this now, is the fiction room – and when I look up from my keyboard it’s a pleasure to see the spines of novels I’ve spent good times with.



Kathleen Jones shares her joy of reading with the next generation

Kathleen Jones, bookworm (Medium)I can still remember the first book my parents read to me – Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddleduck.  I was three years old and already addicted to books. Apparently I made my Dad read Jemima so often I knew the words by heart and would con other people into believing I could read.  But it wasn’t long before I could.  My own children and grandchildren have been immersed in books since they were born and (fortunately!) they are all bookworms.  Books are important, they take you away into another world, inside another person’s head.  How can you ever understand other people – often very different people – if you’ve never learned to imagine what it’s like to be someone else?

When I became a writer, I spent time going into schools to do workshops with children, showing them how to make their own books, tell their own stories. I stopped when I began to feel that modern education systems were crushing the creativity out of students at quite a young age. It’s something I feel strongly about.  Storytelling is part of being human – we need to celebrate and develop it.  We need more books!!




Bookseller, Peter Snell of Barton’s Bookshop, transforms reluctant readers into lovers of the written word

I was born in 1949, so am officially old. I grew up in Singapore, Hackney, Great Bookham, Düsseldorf, Guildford and Leatherhead. I can’t remember Peter Snell black hatnot being able to read and still manage about twenty books a month. I have been a bookseller for seventeen years now, after careers in insurance, finance, IT and teaching. My time with IBM taught me how to get the best out of databases and my history degree also improved my research skills. However, I am not a specialist but a very good generalist. I know enough about a variety things to be able to help an expert or specialist in most fields find the book that they need.

An early memory of reading is of a time when I was nine and living in Germany. My brother, aged eight, was ill with smallpox and I entertained him by reading the whole of Alice in Wonderland. I still get enormous pleasure from sharing enjoyment in books and one of my greatest delights is to have a parent call in to the shop midweek to thank me for the successful outcome of the twenty minutes I spent with their offspring at the weekend, recommending and trialling a number of different books, authors and styles. I have not yet failed to turn a reluctant reader into a lover of the written word. I really do believe that those who claim not to like reading simply haven’t found the right book yet. This is one reason I like to encourage a variety of authors, to ensure that there are books available for everyone.

Jane Davis will be at Barton’s Bookshop on Saturday 25th April signing copies of her latest release. Click here for all the details.

If you haven’t bought your box-set yet, head on over to our website where you’ll find links to a choice of retailers, as well as details of how you can win a fabulous digital swag bag containing a bonus novel from Joni Rodgers, an album from Jessica Bell and loads more. All you need to enter the draw is submit your proof of purchase.

And if you love reading, share your story with us in the comments box.

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