Featured Readers

Each month we sit down for a chat with a ‘Featured Reader’, to find out about their favourite books of all time, their literary preferences, recommendations, revered authors, & the likes...

This Month

Chris Morash website

Chris Morash

I’m always a bit dismayed when I see first editions of Seamus Heaney’s poetry selling for steep prices, because mine are all falling apart from reading and re-reading.

Chris Morash, Chair of the judging committee of the DUBLIN Literary Award.

Tell us a bit about yourself - where were you born? What memories do you have of your neighbourhood growing up?

I was born in Nova Scotia, Canada, and grew up in a small coastal town there called Pictou. I later found out that it was where the first ship departed to cross the Atlantic entirely under steam, the SS Royal William in 1833. That part of Canada has a distinctive and lingering sense of a rich and complex past, which doesn’t quite match the present. The town itself was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else, where you could cycle down the middle of the road, so it was an ideal place to grow up, in terms of what we mean by ‘home’; and yet, there was always that persistence sense of once having been at the centre of a much bigger world.

What is your earliest memory of reading? Do you have a favourite book or author from childhood?

The first book my mother remembers me reading is a picture book, (the name of which we have both forgotten), which she had read to me so often that I had it memorised. So, at the age of two or three I would be trotted out to visitors as a prodigy who could read at a ridiculously early age – until one day I spoiled the trick by accidentally holding the book upside down during my performance. The first book I remember reading myself is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I’ve been fascinated by novels with maps ever since.

Did you use a local library as a child? Do you have a favourite library now or from your past?

I haunted the local library when I was a child in Nova Scotia. I remember reading my way through a complete edition of the works of Edgar Allen Poe at an unhealthily early age. But I read everything. I think that experience established for me at a very early age the sense that libraries were special places – so much so, that I would have a difficult time choosing any one above the others. A lot of my research as Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing takes place in libraries, and I find that there is something about reading a book in a library that sparks inspiration in a way that isn’t so in other places. I often leave the libraries fizzing with ideas, and not necessarily those directly contained in the pages of the book. I have had that experience many times in the reading room of the National Library (where I have a favourite desk) and in the Early Printed Books reading room in Trinity. If I had to pick one library, however, it would be the New York Public Library. It seems to me to be not just a library, but a living symbol of the library as an exemplary institution of the kind of place in which I want to live, where people are curious and find delight in the fact that the world is so various.

Which of your books is battered and worn from using over and over again?

I’m always a bit dismayed when I see first editions of Seamus Heaney’s poetry selling for steep prices, because mine are all falling apart from reading and re-reading. My copy of The Haw Lantern, in particular, no longer has any pages that are attached to the spine, simply because I turn back to it again, and again, in wonder.

As Chair of the Judging Panel for the DUBLIN Literary Award, how many books did you read?

A lot. There were 49 books on the Longlist this year, and 165 or so the previous year. They add up.

What are you reading right now?

I’m about half-way through Neil Jordan’s The Ballad of Lord Edward and Citizen Small (Dublin: Lilliput, 2020). I’ve read all of Jordan’s fiction, and sometimes wonder if he were not one of our greatest film-makers, would he have a higher profile as a novelist. He’s been writing fiction since 1976, and I think that Mistaken (2011) and Shade (2004) are some of the outstanding Irish novels of the past twenty years. The new novel is about Lord Edward Fitzgerald, as seen through the eyes of his African-American manservant/companion, Tony Small; it’s a real pleasure to read, opening up a world we thought we knew from a completely new perspective.

Is there a book you think every child should have on their shelf?

Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I can still recite it more or less by heart from having read it to my own children so often. I think we all need to be reminded, as we grow up, that the wild things are always roaring their terrible roars, and rolling their terrible eyes, but Max can tell them to be still because there is somewhere where someone loves him best of all. A few years ago, my now-adult children gave me a wonderful parody of Sendak’s book for Father’s Day: Where the Wild Dads Went (by Katie Blackburn, 2017), which is very funny.

Is there a book that opened up another culture to you?

There are so many books that have opened up other worlds to me, that it’s hard to pick one. In some ways, for me, that is the main reason I read. I have a very vivid sense of places all over the world that I have never visited, because of fiction. For instance, I’ve never been to the South-West of the US, but I went through a Cormac McCarthy binge a few years ago, and I now feel that I know those deserts and ranches; the same is true of Gabriel Gárcia Marquez and Columbia; and I could go on and on. In what may sound like a bit of a paradox, if I had to pick one book that has opened up another culture to me, it would be James Joyce’s Ulysses. Joyce creates a Dublin that is superimposed over the Dublin of today, a Dublin where you might run into Leopold Bloom buying lemon soap in Sweny’s Chemists. When you know the novel well, it is as if a second, unseen city sits on top of the streets on which the Luas lines run, which is both similar and very different from Joyce’s city. I live outside the city, and with the lock-down I haven’t been in the real Dublin very much over the past year; so, in a strange way, the Dublin of Ulysses has become more real to me than the actual Dublin. It is as if the fictional city is now the real city.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us

My wife thinks that I’m a slow reader (and compared to her, she’s right).

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The only thing I would add is to say that if I have learned anything from chairing the judging panel of the DUBLIN Literary Award, it is a sense of wonder and humility at the sheer number of really great and innovative novels that are published every year. There are so many people, all over the world, doing astonishingly new and original things with the form of the novel, that I sometimes wonder if the possibilities for the future of the novel are, in fact, endless.

From the home of literature, the DUBLIN Literary Award is proudly sponsored by Dublin City Council & administered by Dublin City Libraries. The winner of the 2021 award will be announced on Thursday 20th of May, as part of International Literature Festival Dublin.


The Books

We have been finding out about the books that matter to you, to grow this virtual bookshelf that represents the lives, families and culture of the people that call Dublin home. Here are a selection of some of the books that you have been telling us …

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We want to hear about the books that matter to you. Tell us about your most cherished books, what you’re reading right now, your favourite book from your childhood, and the books that make up the story of your life. Share your recommended reads and take part here

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