Q&A with Cathy Rentzenbrink of Quick Reads

We spoke to Cathy Rentzenbrink, Project Director at Quick Reads, about the history of Quick Reads, who they are aimed at and what she’s reading now.

Can you tell us a little about the history of Quick Reads?

Quick Reads is part of World Book Day and was founded by Dame Gail Rebuck, CEO of Random House in 2006 and is supported by Galaxy chocolate. We commission short books by bestselling authors to help get lapsed readers or people lacking in confidence in their reading skills back into reading for pleasure.

Who are Quick Reads books aimed at?

They are written and edited to be full of action and emotion but with some of the barriers removed to be easier to read for the less confident. They are also really good for people who can technically read but haven’t read for pleasure for a long time. One of my favourite quotes is from a very nice lady who said, ‘I felt like a had climbed a mountain but was so proud as it was the first proper book I’d read.’

How important are bookshops to Quick Reads?

Extremely important!

Visiting and feeling comfortable in a bookshop is seen as a really important stage in the development of an emergent reader’s skills. Tutors organise trips to book shops with their learners. Quick Reads are used by English for Speakers of other Languages, often migrants arriving here needing to get up to speed in English, but they are also really great for tourists who speak English but may not be fully confident readers. I would definitely buy Quick Reads in French if I could, as I’m a bit rusty and just find it too much like hard work to pick up something long, especially if the narrative point of views are jumping around and making it difficult for me to follow. As I’m a really confident reader in English it helps me get to grips with what it feel like not to be by thinking about how I manage with French and what puts me off.

Quick Reads are also read by people who have been readers but whose circumstances have changed. These include new mums, people coping with illness including undergoing chemotherapy which plays horrible havoc with the attention span, the elderly and I had a wonderful chat with someone recently whose mother had taught herself to read again after a stroke by using Quick Reads.

Possibly the biggest thing though is that a large part of what we are trying to do is enable people to take part in a mainstream cultural experience. We get so much feedback that it is important to our readers that they are reading a ‘proper’ book. The more people that read and enjoy Quick Reads, the less stigmatised people will feel because a Quick Reads is all that they can manage at this stage on their learning journey.

How did you get involved in the project?

I’ve always been interested in this area as my Dad couldn’t read well until he was 30 years old and didn’t read for pleasure until he retired – I coached him through, step by step! Quick Reads didn’t exist then but he moved from reading the sports section of a paper, to sports biographies, to short thrillers. Now he reads everything except the most complex literary fiction. I’m very proud of him, for lots of reasons, and it means I have a lot of first hand, practical experience of the causes and effects of low literacy and also of the hugely transformative effect of reading for pleasure.

In practical terms I was enjoying working for Waterstones, where I spent 10 years, and wasn’t looking for a new job but someone who had heard me speak about literacy told me about it and said ‘this is made for you!’

Quick Reads always has popular authors writing new stories for them. If you could have any author writing one for you, dead or alive, who would it be?

What a good question!

I think I would try to encourage Victor Hugo to write me something short but along the same themes as Les Miserables, which I have always loved and sobbed through at the cinema last week. I think writing that encourages us to empathise with people who may not have had our advantages is always a good thing and I love books that make me cry and make me feel that I have walked a mile in another person’s shoes .

What are you reading at the moment?

I work for Quick Reads for three days a week and spend the rest of my time writing about new fiction for The Bookseller so I’m always reading a few months ahead. I’m reading for my June feature and there are a lot of good thrillers out there at the moment. Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty is an exceptional literary thriller – beware of pretty strangers!

Quick Reads aims to improve adult literacy skills and encourage the uptake of reading. The 2013 Galaxy Quick Reads books will be available from bookstores and online from 14 February, for more information visit http://www.quickreads.org.uk/  

Rob Chilver