National Book Lovers Day: The Joy of Reading
Indeed the ability of a great book to capture the imagination and transport you to an amazing fictional universe is just one of the reasons why reading is one of the easiest as well as most joyous creative pursuits. To celebrate National Book Lovers Day, we asked some of our own favourite reading devotees on how they came to be book-lovers, their all-time cherished titles and the reading spots they love the most.
Senator Lynn Ruane is an independent senator serving in Seanad Éireann and the winner of an Irish Book Award in 2018 for her debut title, People Like Me.
My all-time favourite book is In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Philippe Bourgois. I read this book when I was in my early twenties. I always had views on poverty and drugs but this book opened me up to a whole new understanding. It also inspired me to write about addiction and crime in a way that wasn’t sensational but with analysis instead. Philippe gives a real structural analysis of street level drug dealers and gives the reader a real insight into the cause and effect of poverty and inequality. He does this by telling their story after years of living with the people at the centre of the book. If more writers who publish books about crime used this method of ethnographic style research, Ireland will reach a greater understanding of society and the policies we need to address deprivation.
The first book I ever remember having an impact on me is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis. I remember the teacher in school reading a few pages a day over the course of a few weeks, I read my copy at home to get ahead of her. I was fascinated by the characters and it really allowed me to explore my imagination. I remember trying to imagine all these other worlds that might exist that all we had to do was find. I loved anything to do with animals so imagining a world where animals spoke was the best feeling ever. I would lie awake at night imagining what their voices would sound like and what they might say. It was my first real introduction to that type of fantasy. I could see what I was reading.
I read while in transition, and if not while moving, it would have to be the beach. I love reading on planes or trains. Sometimes I imagine myself spending weeks on trains travelling around Europe while reading lots of books. I seem to relax while in movement, I also like life happening around me while I read. I love to be able to put my book down and grab a coffee or a glass of red wine. I don’t work, write or read in silence so the train especially is just the right amount of noise levels and the changing scenery is a plus.
Rick O’Shea is one of Ireland’s foremost book critics and broadcasters. He is part of the voting academy for the BGE Irish Book Awards and runs Ireland’s largest book club.
The question of all-time favourite book is easy for some people to answer and yet almost impossible for me - there's no one book that I can hold above all others and say "this is my favourite". It's like asking me to pick a child! Having said that I don't want to leave you with a big, blank space here and so I'll mention George Orwell's 1984. I read it when I was still in school after having loved Animal Farm and it's not only an amazing piece of science fiction but a deconstruction of the power dynamics inherent in politics that not only made complete sense in 1949 but continues to do so into the 21st century. I'm a lifelong reader of Sci-Fi but as to whether this or the works of Arthur C. Clarke or Douglas Adams made that happen I have no solid idea...
The book that I vividly first remember reading myself has to be Enid Blyton's Famous Five series. When I was a kid there was a TV version of it that I loved so when I found out that it was based on a series of books I devoured them all (even the not-so-great ones written by authors other than Blyton). I suppose they had such a huge impact on me because I was a very working class kid growing up in a corporation house in Crumlin in the 1980s, very far away from a world of private islands, ginger beer, picnics and boarding schools. To me they were my Harry Potter. Although that might explain why I loved Harry Potter so much too in later life...
My favourite place to read is easy. I do a fair amount of my reading in coffee shops when I'm killing time during the week and I love those holidays where you just sit somewhere for a week and read in a hot climate (in the shade!) However, we moved house recently and part of that involved buying furniture. My best and longest lasting reading these days is done on a Sunday sitting in a new 60s-style chair I bought in Ikea in our kitchen/sitting room. There's usually some low-level jazz music on in the background; nothing with lyrics, it's too distracting. I read every night in bed before I sleep for around half an hour as well.
Sarah Fitzgerald is one of Creative Ireland’s Cruinniú na nóg Ambassadors (check out her fun introduction video here) and the innovator of Sarah’s Book Club, a book cloud recycling concept which she presented to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last year.
My all time favorite books, apart from the very obvious (but awesome!) Harry Potter series, would definitely include The Mother Daughter Book Club series by Heather Vogel Frederick. Although they are two very different series, I love them both! The Mother Daughter Book Club follows the lives of 5 girls who each have their own separate identities, interests and ambitions but are all connected by a mother-daughter book club. It may sound a bit like a boring, cliche read, but believe me it is far from it! I really love how relatable all the characters are, each possessing a trait which I either see in myself or in my own friends. The books are written in first person and the chapters alternate between each of the main characters, which is something I really like about the series as it gives you the opportunity to see everyone's perspectives and motives. I first read them at the age of 12, when I received them as a Christmas present. They mean a lot to me as I recently reread them whilst completing my junior cert and I found they really helped me to relax, although I kept forgetting which exam I had that day as I was so engrossed! The books are extremely light-hearted and happy and that’s yet another aspect I love about them! Not my usual mystery/historical-fiction but a favourite all the same! They definitely helped kindle (pardon the pun) my love of all kinds if books... not just those with a spy or a soldier!
I’ve always been a reader so it’s hard for me to remember all the books I read as a young child, but the few that stick out in my mind when I reflect on being read to as a toddler are Big Bear, Little Bear, the Daisy books, The Gruffalo and Fairytale News. My Mom reminds me that I often used grab Big Bear, Little Bear off the shelf and she would have to sit with me while I read it cover to cover numerous times. I even brought it on holidays to Spain once when I was about 4! It was a lovely feeling to sit down with one of my parents and meet all the characters of a book, and I always felt like I was entering a new world. The fact that reading was such a special family time in my house made me want to read even more and I guess the habit just stuck!
My favourite place to read is the beach. Nothing is nicer than books at the beach! I love sitting on the beach, be it on a rock, a deckchair or just the sand, reading a book. I am so lucky that I live close to the beach so I can avail of the gorgeous and refreshing sea air (the windier the better!) and admire the picturesque views. It makes an ideal location to read as not only is it very relaxing to feel the wind whipping your hair and the sand in your toes, but the crash of the waves also adds to the bubble of peace. The beach is definitely my happy place so for me reading at the beach is the ideal combination! I don’t think setting is very important when reading, as I can enjoy a book anywhere, but it does help to have some sort of peace and quiet to be able to concentrate (kind of like when you are studying!) but then again it all depends on the person. Some people may find it hard to read in a busy household and thus may not read as much, whereas others (like me!) can just zone out or plug in some headphones and read. Setting can also affect your love of a book, for example if you read a book about a city whilst in a city, it makes it a lot more realistic, although again this may not apply to all books. But no matter where you are, it’s always great to pick up a pocket full of imagination!! (aka a book!)
To find out about how to become a member at your local library, visit Libraries Ireland.