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

Lord mayor of dublin hazel chu

Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu

I would like eight-year-old me, or eight-year-old someone else, to be able to read a book and see other children of different races, religions, gender or sexuality and go 'Yeah. That's fine. What's the fuss about?'

Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu

Lord Mayor, would you like to tell us a little bit about your childhood? Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school?

I grew up in Firhouse and went to school in Scoil Carmel in Firhouse - only for a few years though, unfortunately, because I then moved to Celbridge and I went to a school named St. Bridget’s.

Do you think the neighbourhood environment shaped you in any way?

Absolutely, I think that Firhouse was a lovely community to live in - everyone kind of knew each other. I definitely knew a lot of people around my estate. And then in Celbridge, we were the only Chinese family there. In fact, my grandmother who was illiterate would send us care packages and write the address as “Chu. Celbridge”. They were the two things that she got her neighbour to write because that was all they knew in English.

And it always got to us because the postmistress, who was there for for 25 years, knew everyone in the neighbourhood. So, it was a good community. When we moved there in 1986, Celbridge had just started getting built up more so like people were in the process of forming a sense of community and allowing it to grow bigger.

You become Lord Mayor in the middle of a pandemic. How has that affected the role? Is there a typical day as Lord Mayor?

Before I even threw my name in the hat for the role, I rang previous mayors and other people for advice - to gauge whether it would be good for us and if I could do the job. All of them said, "Oh, you'd be great, because you’re very friendly and open you'd be going out to meet people and connect with the community which you love." People said "You are really good hosts, so you will enjoy that side of the job." The role is also very ceremonial - a lot of ribbon cutting - and the Mansion House itself has always been a base for hosting events.

And that's, I guess, the sad part because this is very much a public role for the people of Dublin and I haven't been able to do those public events or have gatherings in the Mansion House. Also, in terms of outreach, we haven't been able to go out to and engage with communities. Sometimes, people think it’s all about drinking pints with the Lord Mayor, but I don’t drink so that was never going to be the case with me. I had thought, well, it would be good to get to know toddler playgroups and have them here inside the house because parents sometimes find that they have no place to go to in the city to hang out. It would have been good to invite the elderly here for afternoon tea because it can be lonely without human contact. But we haven’t been able to have any gatherings or public events here at all. Even my Aunt called me up and said you’re coming near the end of your term now and I haven’t been in your house yet - even she can’t visit.

Don’t get me wrong. I'm in the most honoured and privileged role there is in the city, but it is sad that it hasn't been possible to fully realise that side of the role.

So now to your reading. What's your earliest memory of reading?

Well, my parents didn't speak English, so I was their translator for everything. They spoke Cantonese to me, but there weren't any Cantonese books in the country at the time. My granny didn't send any books in the care packages and we couldn't download to a Kindle, so I don’t remember touching a book until I went to school. We read our daughter bedtime stories every night, but my parents wouldn’t have been able to read anything to me. I was reading by the time I was six and then it was a case of whatever was lying around, but it was when I went to the library to wait for my parents to pick me up after school that my interaction with books really began, as my confidence in English, my second language, grew.

What was your favourite book from childhood?

I remember loving Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon McKenna. And then there was Don Conroy and Roald Dahl. I loved all of the Roald Dahl collections, and these would have been my go-to books during Primary School.

Does your daughter have a favourite book?

She does, it has to do with dinosaurs - anything to do with dinosaurs, she loves them. There is also Chris Judge The Baby Beast, which is a big one of hers as well. I recently realised he is the same person who does the series of cloud drawnings on Instagram - it’s really brilliant.

Do you still get time to read?

Not as much time as I’d like. My father in law is a writer so every Christmas and birthdays, he will insist on getting us books. This year, he gave me Becoming by Michelle Obama and Milkman by Anna Burns.

We like getting books for celebrations, but we never get the chance to read them these days. So there's just like piles of books forming and we can't give them away because that would be rude. But when are we ever going to get to read them? It's not even because of the role. Since I had Alex, there's just been no time to read. I do wish I had more time to read. I remember our holiday three years ago when I got to read and it was so nice sitting there with a book on the beach. And I thought "Ah, this is this is what people do".

Do you have a book that is your go to book that's kind of battered from use over the years?

It has to be Lord of the Rings - Return of the King by Tolkien. It would be sometimes a toss up between that and Harry Potter, but it always wins in the end. Deathly Hallows is another go to because it's just sitting there most of the time, along with The Half Blood Prince. So I have the whole collection. My other half laughs at me!

Is there a book you think every child should have?

Definitely Harry Potter. I didn't read the series until I was 20 actually, but I think I would probably give it to Alex when she's a teenager. I would also give Under The Hawthorn Tree. I think it's an age appropriate story of the famine - it made me interested in Irish history. I studied politics and history in college, and I viewed history as a living subject.

What book depicts your own or another culture most vividly?

Well, my culture is mixed between here and Hong Kong. So when I picked up Wild Swans, a couple of years ago, I remember thinking, this sounds familiar to what granny told me about history in China, how women were treated and how family works. And the emigration story was very similar to my mom's story, in terms of the emotional side of what they felt and how hard it was to integrate. I think it gave me a sense of how hard it was for my mother and generations before that.

Sadly, you and your family have been the victim of racism. Do you feel that books and literature and writers have a role to play in counteracting racism or informing children from a young age?

I think everyone has a role to play. In fairness, journalists have been very supportive and challenging racism in their reporting. It’s not something you would normally think of in Ireland. I think it's important how we tell our history and books give us a sense of that. Like in Under the Hawthorn Tree, it told the story of the famine from the child’s perspective and how bleak it was, without being too harrowing.

Racism is part of Irish history, whether we want it or not. Whether it happens to me or anyone else, it is part of what our society is. So I guess it's about documenting as well as challenging. It’s about education, having open debate and not allowing certain groups to construct the narrative. So before that gets driven to one side or another, I think what we need to do is make sure, okay, we talked about it, but we also educate from a young age. So, I would like eight year old me, or eight year old someone else, to be able to read a book and see other children of different races, religions, or gender or sexuality and go "Yeah. That's fine. What's the fuss about?"

And you know, funnily enough, kids don't look at colour, and they don't see colour, they don't see religion, they don't see any of those issues. At some stage, that changes, so I would like to see writers reflecting diversity in their work. If you are a different colour, if you are a different religion, different sexuality, different gender, you should be able to see from an early age that we are all different but the same.

So what are you reading right now?

Well, at 8pm every day I read Chris Judge’s The Baby Beast. After that, if I have time, I turn to Becoming by Michelle Obama, which I still haven't finished even after a number of weeks. Both are pretty good so far, especially Chris Judge!

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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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