The study and appreciation of the life, works and times of Arnold Bennett

From the Big Issue to The Chapter Catcher Review 4 June 2019

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On a recent visit to Hay-on-Wye (24 May) Marie-Claude and I were suddenly confronted by the impressive presence of a familiar figure. ‘I know you! But I’ve forgotten your names’. The friendly greeting came from John (Lord) Bird, with whom we had had the privilege of dining at the latest Arnold Bennett Society Annual Dinner. I hadn’t immediately made the connection between a Literary Festival and a reformed jailbird (no pun intended) and erstwhile illiterate turned champion of the homeless and founder of a national magazine.

John’s first publishing venture The Big Issue, was launched nearly thirty years ago. Now (officially 13 June in London) he was launching another magazine which will, in John’s words, ‘do for illiteracy what The Big Issuedid for homelessness’. Having learned to read and write as an imprisoned young offender, he was a late convert to the shrine  of book worship. But here he was, several decades later, distributing pre-launch copies of Chapter Catcher, in the Town of Books, which happened to be hosting its annual Festival of Literature.

His journey from anti-social illiteracy to philanthropic supporter of homeless people and promoter of book reading has been well documented in his autobiography and was vividly retold under the aegis of the Arnold Bennett Society in Stoke on 30 March. In that address he laid special emphasis on his debt to Arnold Bennett whose championing of the underdog has been one of his inspirational motives.

A chapter from The Card (Denry’s daring exploit in succeeding to dance with the Countess of Chell at a grand ball in Bursley Town Hall) is one of the twenty-three ‘chapters’ included by John in (I quote from his introduction) ‘this bold new magazine [which] has a very simple purpose: to give examples of books by publishing extracts. It hopes to widen what people read, beyond the known and into the unknown, the rediscovered, the classic and the overlooked. Reading for me, should be like going out with a team of huskies: exciting, bracing and challenging.’ The Arnold Bennett Society fully supports John’s venture and wishes him well.

Alan Pedley
4 June 2019

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