Ireland Reads is a new campaign to get the whole country reading this month in the lead up to a national day of reading on Thursday, February 25th.
Irish libraries have teamed up with publishers, booksellers, authors and others for the campaign, which is part of the government’s Keep Well initiative and aims to celebrate reading and all the benefits it can have for wellbeing and enjoyment.
The campaign is asking everyone to ‘squeeze in a read’ on Ireland Reads Day, Thursday, February 25th. A new website www.irelandreads.ie has been set up where people can pledge to read on the day and see how much time has been pledged by the Irish public so far.
The website also offers book recommendations suited to a person’s interests and the time they have available. There are more than 800 recommendations from librarians all around the country. A website user can simply enter their favourite type of book and how long they would like to read each day and the website will offer the perfect book suggestion and work out how long it will take to complete – a couch to 5k for books!
Campaign partners and libraries all over the country will be running ‘Ireland Reads’ initiatives and events throughout February in the build up to Thursday, February 25th.
Felicity Hayes-McCoy writes:
There’s much to be said for having a writer as your country’s President, not least the fact that Michael D Higgins is better than most of us at putting ideas into words. Often, when scrolling through Twitter for authors’ cover-reveals, recipes and – yes, okay – gifs of cute kittens, I click on @PresidentIRL and enjoy his carefully-crafted speeches on everything from global political strategies to the Virtual Celebration of Ireland’s Fleadh Cheoil. This month he appeared in the Áras, flanked by flags and backed by glimpses of gilt-framed paintings, to deliver a cracking speech about the importance of libraries, and how February’s #IrelandReads initiative is “so rightly placed within the Government Plan for Living with COVID-19”.
Having taken what was supposed to be a brief Twitter break from an edit, I found myself sitting back and drinking in his words. “Libraries are places for the quiet engagement of the soul, for a peaceful contemplating of any neglected curiosity, of intellectual awakening. They are, to use Socrates’ metaphor, the “delivery room for the birth of ideas”, encouraging young and old to be inquisitive about the world in which we live, about how our past is part of what has shaped our present, and about how we might use our knowledge and talents to create a better future, helping us to achieve a sense of belonging, of cohesion.” And, fair play to him, I couldn’t have put that better, even though the Finfarran novels are set in a local library in a small rural Irish community, and have as their protagonist an articulate librarian who’s enchanted by books.
The Year of Lost and Found,the novel I’m currently editing,was commissioned a few years ago, back when life in lockdown was unimaginable. Well, that’s not true, of course, because anything and everything can be imagined: as writers, it’s our business to do just that. But there’s a difference between imagining something and actually living through it and, for me, as for every author I know, the strain of this past year and the uncertain months ahead of us, has come as a mind-numbing shock. I’ve been saved by having deadlines to work to, a schedule of writing and editing that can’t be ignored if the book’s to be on bookshop shelves in June. So, difficult thought it’s been to bend my mind to it, I feel lucky. Without structure to give shape to my life, and provide a channel for my imagination, I think my days would have become amorphous and my nights full of panic-induced dreams. Instead, this book with its unexpectedly resonant title has been my solace during a year of loss on so many levels, from the horror of death to the mundane loss of so many little things that we hadn’t realised we’d valued.
Reading has helped me too, though I’ve found, as have many others, that my concentration span has grown shorter, and my preference is for books I already know. As Michael D said in his speech, a book can be a friend for life. “This national campaign is so valuable and indeed necessary. It encourages everyone to re-discover, or perhaps even discover for the first time, the joy of reading for enjoyment and the wellbeing it guarantees.”Significantly, he goes on to say that it’s been proven, that“taking time each day to read for pleasure is one of the best ways we can combat fatigue and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated restrictions that we all must endure.” I love his choice of the word “wellbeing”, and how, in this time of enforced isolation, he stresses the importance of community. “The books in our libraries offer us information and ideas, but they also stimulate us to pursue more knowledge and to form new ideas of our own that add to our curiosity, and encourage our open-mindedness, for the benefit of ourselves, our friends and our communities.”
In The Year of Lost and Found, my protagonist, Hanna, is coming to terms with the idea that her mother may be sliding towards dementia. There’s never been much love lost between them, and the prospect of coping with what lies ahead feels overwhelming to Hanna who, in middle-age has just found new love after a bad divorce. At the same time, her library is preparing to take part in a nationwide initiative to commemorate the centenary of Ireland’s civil war. Alongside her plotline, which reaches back in written and oral memory to the 1920s, runs the story of Aideen, a first-time mum, focused on the need to protect her baby son Ronan from all that life may throw at him. Ultimately, Hanna finds peace by accepting support from her teenage daughter, while Aideen accepts the joy of living in the here and now. And, for both women, books and their illustrations provide ways forward, from a sumptuous medieval psalter donated to the library, to the picture books Aideen borrows for Ronan and the diary written on pages of school copy books by Hanna’s long-dead great aunt.
I approached this book as an exploration of the nuances of individual and community memory, and of the role of books and libraries in navigating complex emotional times. Looking back now, I can see that, while it’s not about Covid19, it bears the marks of truths I’ve learned from living through this unprecedented year. One of these is summed up in yet another of Michael D Higgins’ pithy paragraphs. “Books are windows to so many worlds, both real and imaginary. Indeed, it has been said that to acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the difficulties that life thrusts upon us.”
(c) Felicity Hayes-McCoy
About The Year of Lost and Found:
Local librarian Hanna Casey is gathering material for an exhibition on Ireland’s War of Independence. But with an increasingly demanding mother, a boss who’s a ruthless self-publicist, and her own family story of love and revenge, Hanna’s personal life begins to conflict with her work at Lissbeg library.
Meanwhile, twenty-one-year-old Aideen, who’s just had her first baby, is convinced that she needs to find her own dad, whom she’s never known. When old wounds are opened in the little clifftop house left to Hanna by her Great Aunt Maggie, it become clear that history is never just about the past. And, as Aideen and Hanna discover, with help, as ever, from Fury O’Shea and The Divil, happiness is about choosing to live in the present.
Pre-order your copy online here.