When Quick Reads was founded in 2006 I was an assistant manager at Hatchards. I can remember thinking that short books for less confident readers were a good idea. I can also remember wondering pessimistically how many people in that bracket would manage to get themselves into the corner of the basement of Hatchards and stumble upon the books made and meant for them.
Since taking over as project director at Quick Reads last April I continually think about these two questions. Why do our books need to exist and how can we get them into the hands of the people who need them?
The core of what we do at Quick Reads is ask bestselling authors to write short books full of the same action and emotion that would exist in their longer works, but written and edited to literacy guidelines. Do we need to do this? Yes, because one in six adults of working age in the UK struggles with their literacy and would not be able to read a longer and more complex book. Yes, because by providing achievable texts that are well-jacketed, “normal” looking books, we’re making sure we don’t discourage people from taking their first step on a longer reading journey (we get vast amounts of feedback that this is incredibly important to our emergent readers). And, yes, because if our emergent readers are brave enough to overcome all the barriers that they will face in trying to engage again with reading, then we want them to encounter a really good book!
So how do the books get into the hands of those who need them? Well, it’s not easy. The causes of low literacy in adults are many and varied but there are a lot of sad stories behind the statistics. One of the most difficult things for me to get to grips with as someone who has always viewed a book as a friend is that for many people books and reading are a source of worry and potential humiliation. Most emergent readers will need the help of an intermediary and this could be one of the many inspiring professionals that we work with such as librarians, tutors, employers or prison officers or could be personal, a friend, relative or neighbour. All these people are highly significant helpers on the road to reading and are likely to be regular visitors to our bookshops. What I probably didn’t know back in 2006 was that Quick Reads has a flourishing and vital element that takes place far away from bookshops: libraries, colleges, hospitals, prisons, shelters and workplaces are all vital to our mission to enable as many people as possible to take part in a mainstream cultural experience. I like to think about it now and imagine all these different sorts of readers being brought together by the same set of books, starting a new chapter by turning that first page.
So, whether you sell, write or publish books, please accept my heartfelt thanks for your support. A lot has changed since 2006 and our entire industry is undergoing seismic change but the main thing that has not changed is that the need has not gone away, so I would urge you to lend Quick Reads your efforts in whichever way you can. It is not always easy to get people reading and one in six is a worrying, challenging statistic, but I am really proud that as an industry we are trying to do something about it.
Cathy Rentzenbrink is project director for Quick Reads