Kathriona Devereux: I’ve rediscovered joy of books — and the wonder of libraries

A work project led Kathriona Devereux to get back in touch with her old love... Cork City Library
Kathriona Devereux: I’ve rediscovered joy of books — and the wonder of libraries

A WORLD OF WONDER AWAITS: Cork City Librarian David O’Brien in Cork City Library on Grand Parade. Picture: Clare Keogh

I’VE started seeing an old flame from the Grand Parade. We had been very close through my teenage years, spending much time together. I had forgotten how stimulating and interesting our time was but we drifted apart decades ago when I moved to Dublin for college.

I’m embarrassed to say my head was turned by modern inventions like Kindle e-books and the belief that most things I would want to know were on Wikipedia.

It was a work project that got me back in contact with my old love — the City Library on Grand Parade.

I was researching the history of the Treaty Debates and wanted to read a number of books about the period including UCC’s enormous book Atlas of the Irish Revolution. Buying the booklist would have set me back a lot and required a number of online deliveries and I wondered if, instead, I could find what I was looking for in the library.

Less than an hour later, I was a newly minted Adult Member with a handy keychain library card and the ability to take out 12 books at a time and keep them for three whole weeks. For free!

Some of the books I wanted were not on the shelf in the city centre but could be ordered and delivered to Cork. Again for free! I requested books from Ballincollig and as far away as Letterkenny. Every book I wanted was on my desk within a matter of days — how’s that for dispatch speed, Mr Bezos.

I haven’t been a member of the library for years, but my children have had library cards since they could hold a book because, as I mentioned, you can borrow 12 paper-based entertainment devices from the library all the time.

When you have children who like to wake up when there is still a five in the first digital position of the clock, books are a wonderful, quiet, low energy activity that you can read with one eye open. With the constant repetition that children enjoy, in time you can actually read some books with both eyes closed.

Books were such an important part of my childhood, I was keen to start the habit with my kids early.

Some of my strongest childhood memories involve reading. At six years old I laughed so hard lying on the couch next to my mom, while she read me Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, that I needed a puff of an inhaler to recover, and I don’t have asthma.

I was so engrossed in Dahl’s The Witches on a family holiday in London that I convinced myself that my aunt, who the night previously had accepted a KitKat from a kind crone, must have turned into a mouse because she wasn’t replying to me while she, I now know, attempted to have five minutes’ peace in the hotel bathroom.

I read the whole of Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women sitting on a perfectly shaped branch for my ten-year-old self in a tree in Palmbury estate.

My kids have progressed from lift-the-flap and ‘That’s not my Tractor, it’s wheels are too squashy’ books to early reader books and my beloved Roald Dahl books (although through a 2021 political correctness lens there is much to make me wince).

Julia Donaldson is a favourite and her ode to books and her celebration of libraries, books and reading, The Detective Dog, is one I can recite from memory.

Thousands of books from the floor to the ceiling,

The books gave the thief the most heavenly feeling.

He gazed in amazement. “Where am I” he said

And Peter replied “In the library, Ted”

You can join if you want to — there isn’t a fee

And then you can take lots of books out for free

Libraries offer such possibility, such escape. Regardless of what kind of person you are or where your interests in life lie, the library is a place for you. 

Sport, history, travel, autobiography, every fiction genre, food, gardening.

Libraries house every facet of human history and are an important force for good in a time of misinformation. The range of authors that a library contains is staggering, words on a page written by people ranging from Tolstoy to Trump.

I used to joke that my first book will be a parenting book called Broccoli Cheers after I devised an, even if I do say so myself, ingenious approach for getting my toddlers to eat broccoli. Holding a broccoli spear aloft, you theatrically and pompously say “Cheers” while tipping your piece of broccoli off of your toddler’s piece and then you savagely eat your spear as quickly as possible.

Your toddler copies you, and if you are very entertaining and dramatic about the, now trademarked, "Broccoli Cheers™ game, you might trick your toddler into eating four or five pieces of greenery. My sequel parenting book would be called Lower Your Expectations because really that level of enthusiasm and performance is hard to sustain.

At the moment, children’s libraries in Cork are running a Summer Reading Challenge and children can win prizes for completing reading targets. My six-year-old has his eyes on the ultimate slime prize! I’m hoping he’ll just win the colouring pencils.

Libraries are such an important, core public service that offer solace, enjoyment, diversion and support.

You may have detected I’m a bit of a fan, I think everyone should become a member. Did I mention it’s free!

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