Reading Rights is a summer reading challenge that is being delivered as part of the Leverhulme Trust residency. Reading Rights is open to everyone, and all of the books selected explore human rights issues.
There are three book groups running in York as part of the project and each group will be led by students from the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights and English and Politics departments. The groups meet at different times, so hopefully there is a slot to fit most people’s schedules.
Week beginning 10th June: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid
Week beginning 1st July: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Week beginning 22nd July: Before We Say Goodbye, Gabriella Ambrosio
Week beginning 12th August: The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Group 1: Mondays at 8pm at The Black Swan Pub, 23 Peasholme Green, York, YO1 7PR
Group 2: Wednesdays at 5.30pm at Costa Coffee, 20 Market Street, York, YO1 8SJ
Group 3: Thursdays at 3.15pm at Rowntree Park Reading Cafe, Rowntree Park Lodge, Richardson Street, York, YO23 1JU
For more information or to attend a group email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tweet us at @ReadingRights or start a conversation about one of the books using the hashtag #ReadingRights
The book list was chosen by students involved in the project. Read the reasons behind their book choices below.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
The Reluctant Fundamentalist begins with the precociously talented Pakistani man Changez meeting an ambiguous American character at a roadside cafe in Lahore. The two strike up a conversation and Changez starts to narrate his life story, about his relationship with an American woman and the American dream. This brief, subtle novels deals in race, culture, religion – and above all other people’s perceptions of these issues. It wraps it up in a post-9/11 context that lends even the most innocent encounter a lethal edge, but never judges or lays morality on thick.
I picked this novel because it adopted a viewpoint on these contemporary geo-political and cultural issues that was, to me, totally unique. Simplistic notions like innocence and guilt are discarded in favour of nuanced profiles – you may not always agree with a character’s beliefs or actions, but you always understand how their life brought them to that point. ~ David Elliot
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is a classic Margaret Atwood story that combines science fiction and women’s rights themes. It it set in a futuristic, dystopian society where a woman’s role is simply to breed. To rebel against the rules in this society would result in death. The story is told through Offred, the handmaid, who remembers a time of freedom for all and equality of the sexes.
I picked this book because it was one of my first introductions to dystopian fiction, and got me thinking about the question, “What could become of us, if we don’t take care of each other and human rights?” This book certainly does not seem cheery, but it’s brilliantly written. Think of popular dystopian fiction like- The Hunger Games or Children of Men. ~ Laurie Jones
Before We Say Goodbye
Inspired by a true story and dedicated to its victims, Before We Say Goodbye traces a suicide bombing which takes place in Jerusalem, carried out by a 17 year old girl. Set in a brief seven hour time period, the story is told through the perspective of the both the bomber who initiates the attack, and a victim who is caught up in the explosion – another teenage girl. The story addresses the consequences of the Israel/Palestine conflict through a uniquely human viewpoint; rather than dealing explicitly with the political and historic dimensions of the situation, the reader is faced with the impact the conflict has on those growing up in the context. We see how the two narrators have each suffered and lost at the hands of the conflict, and how – in a different world – the two young girls could even be friends.
Studying human rights throughout this year, I’ve become increasingly interested in the social impact of various political contexts on younger people. This dimension has been apparent in various issues which I have studied, most recently through research on the impact of conflict on children and young people in child soldiering. I think that addressing the unique experiences faced by young people in conflict zones – an age group which is usually associated with innocence and a lack of responsibility – is an interesting and important area to explore, highlighting the real pull of Before We Say Goodbye. ~ Laura O’Shea
The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everybody
This book presents an argument, backed with meticulous research, that inequality is damaging to all aspects of society. It considers examples from 23 of the richest nations and finds the UK, USA and Portugal fare worst when it comes to inequality. The book’s central argument is that people at all levels in society do better when that society is more equal. The book addresses issues such as mental and physical health, imprisonment, violence, education and social mobility. Many of these ideas are also addressed by existing human rights conventions so it seems fitting that this book allows us to consider the monetary aspects of our society which may be preventing us from realising these rights for all.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest publication suggests austerity policies are widening social inequality so there couldn’t be a more relevant time to consider the arguments in this book. I think this is particularly relevant for a human rights reading group as rights on paper mean little in a society where power is located with wealth. I look forward to a lively debate! ~ Kathryn Smith