I expect that quite a lot of people are already familiar with Quick Reads, a programme by The Reading Agency. One in six adults in the UK – approximately 9 million people – find reading difficult, and one in three people do not regularly read for pleasure. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Quick Reads plays a vital role in addressing these shocking statistics by inspiring emergent readers, as well as those with little time or who have fallen out of the reading habit, with entertaining and accessible writing from the very best contemporary authors. The scheme changes lives and plays a vital role in addressing the national crisis around adult literacy in the UK.
Each year, Quick Reads commissioning editor Fanny Blake works with UK publishers to commission high profile authors to write short, engaging books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. Since 2006, over 5 million books have been distributed through the initiative, 5 million library loans (PLR) have been registered and through outreach work hundreds of thousands of new readers each year have been introduced to the joys and benefits of reading.
From 2020 – 2022, the initiative is supported by a philanthropic gift from bestselling author Jojo Moyes. This year, for every book bought until 31 July 2021, another copy will be gifted to help someone discover the joy of reading. ‘Buy one, gift one’ will see thousands of free books given to organisations across the UK to reach less confident readers and those with limited access to books – bringing the joy and transformative benefits of reading to new audiences. The books cost only £1 each – and what a wonderful way of making a real difference.
Before sharing this year’s books, I just wanted to tell a personal story – perhaps a slightly different perspective on the challenges of reading. My own love of reading was inspired by my mother – many of you will know that I lost her last year, through old age and dementia. Our home was always filled with books, and in my youth we would visit the library together – and I fondly remember many times when we would sit side by side, both entirely immersed in our latest reads. When she was caring for my father, her love for reading was set aside for a while – but later, when she was living alone and I became her carer, I helped nurture it again by introducing her to authors I knew she’d enjoy (she loved Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost as much as I did, and was particularly excited when she discovered the novels of Lucinda Riley and read them one after another).
But as her dementia worsened, she began to struggle – I’d introduced her to a kindle, because being able to increase the print size helped with her failing eyesight, but I often heard anguished cries when she’d entirely forgotten how to turn the pages. So we went back to paper books – but with problems remembering what she’d read, she began to find full length novels difficult, and that’s when I thought about Quick Reads. I have so many reasons to be grateful to the programme – I bought a selection of past titles I thought she’d enjoy, and, for a short while, it was an absolute delight to see her able to enjoy reading again.
Let’s take a look at this year’s selection…
– a dark domestic thriller from British Book Award winner Louise Candlish (The Skylight), who thanks reading for setting her on the right path when she was ‘young and adrift’
– an uplifting romance by the much-loved Katie Fforde (Saving the Day), who never thought she would be able to be an author because of her struggle with dyslexia
– the holiday from hell for Detective Roy Grace courtesy of long-time literacy campaigner and crime fiction maestro Peter James (Wish You Were Dead)
– a specially abridged version of the feminist manifesto (How to Be a Woman) by Caitlin Moran: ‘everyone deserves to have the concept of female equality in a book they can turn to as a chatty friend.’
– an introduction to Khurrum Rahman’s dope dealer Javid Qasim (The Motive), who previously found the idea of reading a book overwhelming and so started reading late in life, to find ‘joy, comfort and an escape’
– Oyinkan Braithwaite’s follow-up to her Booker nominated debut sensation My Sister, the Serial Killer – a family drama set in lockdown Lagos (The Baby is Mine).
Let’s take a closer look – see which one of them catches your eye…
Katie Fforde, Saving the Day (Arrow, Penguin Random House)
Allie is bored with her job and starting to wonder whether she even likes her boyfriend, Ryan. The high point in her day is passing a café on her walk home from work. It is the sort of place where she’d really like to work. Then one day she sees as advert on the door: assistant wanted. But before she can land her dream job, Allie knows she must achieve two things: 1. Learn to cook; 2. End her relationship with Ryan, especially as through the window of the café, she spies a waiter who looks much more like her type of man. And when she learns that the café is in danger of closing, Allie knows she must do her very best to save the day…
Oyinkan Braithwaite, The Baby is Mine (Atlantic)
When his girlfriend throws him out during the pandemic, Bambi has to go to his Uncle’s house in lock-down Lagos. He arrives during a blackout and is surprised to find his Aunty Bidemi sitting in a candlelit room with another woman. They are fighting because both claim to be the mother of the baby boy, fast asleep in his crib. At night Bambi is kept awake by the baby’s cries, and during the days he is disturbed by a cockerel that stalks the garden. There is sand in the rice. A blood stain appears on the wall. Someone scores tribal markings into the baby’s cheeks. Who is lying and who is telling the truth?
Louise Candlish, The Skylight (Simon & Schuster)
They can’t see her, but she can see them… Simone has a secret. She likes to stand at her bathroom window and spy on the couple downstairs through their kitchen skylight. She knows what they eat for breakfast and who they’ve got over for dinner. She knows what mood they’re in before they even step out the door. There’s nothing wrong with looking, is there? Until one day Simone sees something through the skylight she is not expecting. Something that upsets her so much she begins to plot a terrible crime…
Peter James, Wish You Were Dead (Macmillan)
Roy Grace and his family have left Sussex behind for a week’s holiday in France. The website promised a grand house, but when they arrive the place is very different from the pictures. And it soon becomes clear that their holiday nightmare is only just beginning. An old enemy of Roy, a lowlife criminal he had put behind bars, is now out of jail – and out for revenge. He knows where Roy and his family have gone on holiday. Of course he does. He’s been hacking their emails – and they are in the perfect spot for him to pay Roy back…
Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman (abridged) (Ebury)
It’s a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727. But a few nagging questions remain… Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you’re going to have a baby? Part memoir, part protest, Caitlin answers the questions that every modern woman is asking.
Khurrum Rahman, The Motive (HQ)
Business has been slow for Hounslow’s small time dope-dealer, Jay Qasim. A student house party means quick easy cash, but it also means breaking his own rules. But desperate times lead him there – and Jay finds himself in the middle of a crime scene. Idris Zaidi, a police constable and Jay’s best friend, is having a quiet night when he gets a call out following a noise complaint at a house party. Fed up with the lack of excitement in his job, he visits the scene and quickly realises that people are in danger after a stabbing. Someone will stop at nothing to get revenge…
If mum was still with us, I think I’d be buying her Saving the Day – I know she’d enjoy that one. For me? I think it has to be the Caitlin Moran. But this is such an excellent collection – something for everyone, and every purchase making a real difference to people’s lives.