A reading room of one’s own

Course leaders Leah Varnell and Naomi Ziewe Palmer

Course leaders Leah Varnell and Naomi Ziewe Palmer - Credit: Archant

We often forget about the enjoyment a good book can provide. ELLIS TAYLOR rediscovers a love for literary discussion


XXXXX - Credit: Archant

For many people it is simple for modern life to take over and for reading to take a step back. Books become a holiday luxury, or are rushed through without much thought.

When you are immersed in a good book it is often too easy to get lost in the plot and forget about the depth of the text, and as we progress away from opportunities of education, the possibility of a deeper reading seems to disappear.

However, a new literary retreat in Devon aims to challenge this by giving readers a break from everyday life alongside an informative and interesting course.

The Reading Room, created by Exeter College lecturers Naomi Ziewe Palmer and Leah Varnell, is suitable for all levels and encourages those with no or little literary history to give it a try. And best of all, there are no essays or exams!

A dynamic range of day and weekend courses are available throughout the year, with each course focussing on a different topic. Previous sessions include the Romantics in Devon and the Gothic.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a Dickens-themed day course which looked at the classic novella A Christmas Carol.

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I must shamefully admit that, despite currently studying for an English Literature degree, I had never read A Christmas Carol before my day at The Reading Room. In fact, I had only ever vaguely touched upon Dickens. So it is safe to say that I went into the session a little concerned, despite my experience in studying Literature.

The courses are held in a family run B&B in Chagford where guests can stay. Six of us attended the day course, which ran from 10am-5pm, and when we arrived we settled into the drawing room of Greenbank house, allowing us to relax on comfy sofas whilst a warm log fire burnt away.

We were greeted with a goodie bag filled with Dickensian related treats, as well as a notebook and pen so we could jot down notes throughout the session. We also enjoyed a cup of fresh coffee and homemade mince pies as we introduced ourselves, making us feel at home.

All course material was also provided, including extracts of the novella and pages of information related to the topics we would cover throughout the day.

Discussion easily flowed, and no answer or idea was wrong. Each guest was free to speak up whenever they wished - there is no hand raising in the Reading Room! Aspects of A Christmas Carol and of Dickens’ life, which we had never considered or known, suddenly appeared.

In true student style, we had regular breaks to give our minds a little rest, and our bellies a large feed. A delicious homemade lunch was prepared by Greenbank owners Frances and Peter Goudge which set us up for an afternoon of more discussion and activities.

There was never any pressure to answer or get it ‘right’, and we were even given a choice in tasks which allowed for a small period of independent study. For our group, it worked out well as half chose to look at two Victorian poems, and the other half tried their hand at creative writing.

By the end of the day we were all full of new knowledge, buzzing minds, and satisfied stomachs. Not only had a deeper reading of a literary classic been opened up to the group, but in the process we had an extremely enjoyable experience.

The courses are always intimate, with groups not exceeding eight people. Book groups and private parties are also welcome to hold exclusive sessions with Naomi and Leah. They have also recently launched gift vouchers for the courses. thereadingroomdevon.com