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

Julie in the garden

Julie O’Connell Kent

I grew up ... surrounded by loads of books

Julie O’Connell Kent

How has the pandemic affected your job?

Hugely. The pandemic has shifted the way I work in that everything suddenly had to be moved online. Consultations and meetings with clients and colleagues are all primarily online. That has a big impact in terms of the therapeutic relationship and how you connect to the other person.

Do you find the issues that people are coming to you with have changed from the beginning of the pandemic to now?

Fear is the predominant emotion that people seem to be experiencing. But 90% of the work I do is similar to the work I did before. People still have all the same stuff going on but the pandemic has catalysed a lot of difficulties.

Social isolation is a massive issue at the moment, as always, and one that we don’t speak openly enough about in society but it is particularly potent at the moment.

What is your earliest memory of reading?

My earliest memory of reading is when I was given a book at Christmas one year when I was about six. I had learned to read by that stage but that was my first memory of kind of receiving a book as a present.

It was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I know exactly what type of cover it had - it was one of the first editions around the time that the book came out. And besides that, I would have been going through the catalogue of books that was in the room beside my bedroom with books of all levels.

I grew up on a farm with my grandparents, so I was surrounded by loads of books from the 70s in rural Laois. Mostly kids books - I grew up reading a lot of Judy Bloom, and Enid Blyton, and then a lot of classics as well - like those old hardcover ones, you know those really small books that have the old, fabric covers with the really small writing on the yellow pages and that distinctive smell.

Sounds like an idyllic storybook childhood ...

Well, I did grow up with a beehive just outside my bedroom window!

Do you have a favourite author from childhood?

I really loved Enid Blyton - not so much of a fan now because I’m looking at it with adult eyes but at the time I didn’t have the critiques that I have now. I loved Roald Dahl too and was hugely into the Witches - I thought that was the bee's knees. I wanted to be a witch and that actually came to pass! And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the grandparents all in bed and never leaving I was like - that’s amazing.

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

The book that comes to mind is River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall. I have had that book for about a zillion years. I got it when I first started cooking when I was 17. I still use all the recipes putting vegetables at the forefront and using spices in a very interesting way, just as he suggests. The book changed the way I look at cooking and how to centre vegetables as part of a meal.

Tell us about a book that opened up another culture to you ...

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. Oh man… that book! It’s set in the 70s and is about a person’s personal experience of navigating their gender in an extremely misogynstic and binary, homophobic and transphobic environment.

The story unfolds as they try to live life at the outskirts of society because they have been so marginalised. It is fiction but also semi-autobiographical and heavily inspired by the author’s experience. It was given to me as a gift and I actually had to sit down in a quiet room for a little while after reading it - it really hit off something in me that kind of needed to be hit off.

Tell us about your favourite book ...

My favourite book is Revolting Prostitutes by Molly Smith and Juno Mac. It’s a nonfiction book and I think the reason it's my favourite book is because it changed my perspective on things. I knew quite a lot about the topic: sex work and sex workers’ rights, and safety. What made it my favourite book was how well written it is and how intensely clear all the arguments are and the fact that they are laid out in such a straightforward and accessible way.

At the beginning of lockdown, did you find it hard to concentrate and read?

I think I escaped into books and loved this extra time I seemed to have on my hands that I don't have anymore. I was working from home at the very beginning, and then we came back into work fairly soon.

Now, I notice that my mind is racing a lot more, you know - doing that thing that we do when we're faced with something that's so uncertain and so difficult, trying to figure it all out, even though there are so many unknowns.

I found that listening to audio books can be a way in for me if I can't concentrate on the page and I often find myself doing something else while listening. I listened to The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. I got it from the library on the BorrowBox app and that really helped, because I’ve been able to actually read without having to read.

Do you think your job affects what you read or has your reading affected your job?

I'm extremely lucky in that I am one of those really annoying people that loves their job and the reason I love my job is because it's aligned with my values. And what I value informs my reading hugely. I read a lot of nonfiction because I'm really interested in the politics, sociology, psychology and existence of the world we live in. I do love fiction as well but I'm drawn to nonfiction. I think that is the same thing that pushed me to go into this job. I'm interested in people's stories and experiences and how they are surviving in the world so that really influences what I read.

Do you have any book recommendations for aspiring therapists?

Can I give two? The first one that comes to mind is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. It’s a classic and it’s great. It really hones in on the fact that some of what we experience in the world will be great suffering and sometimes, it is in our response to suffering that we learn to give ourselves permission to keep going and to find some kind of meaning even when things are crap - which I think is quite applicable right now.

Also anything by Irvin D. Yalom. He’s a big existentialist lad - Staring at the Sun is good if you're anxious about death. Often when you really get to the bottom of what is stressful for people, a lot of the time it is this reckoning with our mortality, and the lack of control we have over that.

Can you recommend a book for troubled times?

There are so many but I think maybe Pema Chödrön's When Things Fall Apart. I read that years ago. She's a Tibetan Buddhist and it’s about learning when times are hard and while nothing's going to wipe the old away, it’s important to ask yourself if you can find a place of home within yourself where you can land and sit. Even when there's gale force winds outside, and it's all terrible - Can you find a place within yourself that you can call home?

I read it when I was going through a really difficult time, and it gave me a sigh of relief to be reminded that situations are not all-encompassing, that I'm not completely trapped in here and there's some space to grieve.

Tell us about your book club ...

So it's me and three friends, who do aerial silks together which is a really good cultural hybrid - aerial silks and book club. We all have very similar interests and we meet to throw ourselves into the sky four times a week, so we became friends through that. So we set up a kind of rolling book club. We don't necessarily have meetings, we just talk about books all the time and we recommend books to each other, lend each other books and give each other books as presents. That's where some of those books I spoke about came from.

Anything else?

I suppose the main thing I'd like to say is that I've noticed people, putting so much pressure on themselves when they talk about books and other things lately. You know, they haven't been able to read, they haven't run that 20K, and all those kinds of pressures. I think it is good to ask ourselves “what is actually sustainable for me right now?” and to give ourselves permission to read less if we need to. Or read more, if we feel that that would benefit us. That’s something I've been trying to do and have been struggling with but maybe if I say that to others, it'll come back to me and I'll start to hear it as well.


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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