Claire Aiken: Pandemic has brought back the art of reading words for pleasure

The Covid pandemic has started a new wave, bringing back the book and the art of reading words for pleasure
The Covid pandemic has started a new wave, bringing back the book and the art of reading words for pleasure

‘Words have a magical power, they can either bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair’. So said the great Sigmund Freud, one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the 20th century.

But, words espouse so many more emotions than the extreme juxtapositions of happiness and despair. What is spoken, written and read impacts and influences all aspects of our personal and professional lives especially with our 24-hour news agenda, consistent flow of emails, the apps we use, the social media messages we post and most importantly of all the conversations we have.

However, the pandemic has started a new wave, it has brought back the book and the art of reading words for pleasure! Multiple research has been conducted and confirmed that people are reading books much more, than at any time in the recent past.

And, what better time to pick up a new book than during your well-earned summer break especially if you’re dependent on the Irish weather. Whether you’re travelling up to the north coast, visiting the rugged and wild Donegal, taking a flight to the sun or simply chilling at home, here is some inspiration from the Aiken team’s bookshelf…..

To kick off your break we’ll wean you from the laptop and emails with an insightful business book from one of the best in the game, one of the select few who has got it right more often than not when it comes to the Irish economy. David McWilliams’ ‘A Renaissance Nation’ provides a brilliant yet optimistic overview of how the Irish economy and society has transformed from the Pope’s visit in September 1979 to the visit of Pope Francis in August 2018.

He explores how the liberalisation of Ireland from the early 80s has fed into the economic expansion, shifting Ireland from an agricultural-based economy on the edge of Europe into one of the world’s wealthiest small nations. Throughout the book, McWilliams exemplifies how the growth of independent thought, acceptance and liberal thinking in society paved the way for progress and wealth creation, akin to the Italian Renaissance where a wave of creativity brought a new golden age of prosperity in Europe. While he may need to add another post pandemic chapter, it is a fascinating story of the downs and ups of the Irish economy.

In McWilliams’ vein of doing the research, exposing the flaws and calling it right, our next recommendation is investigative journalism at its best. Empire of Pain, written by the award winning author of Say Nothing, is an expose of the Sackler dynasty’s ruthless marketing of painkillers, generating billions of dollars and millions of addicts. Keefe has used his excellent writing skills to lucidly unravel and reveal the complex story of the Sackler family, their greed, arrogance and the devastating impact it was all built on.

OxyContin, a potent opioid ravaged mainly the poor and disadvantaged. Meanwhile, the Sackler family were being endorsed for donating millions to galleries, museums and universities. A reminder at a very pertinent time in our history that while the talent and influence within the life sciences sector is a key conduit for positively transforming and saving lives, in the wrong hands it can be the source of abject misery.

From so called medication to food, Bee Wilson’s book The way we eat now, is a fascinating exploration of the evolution of eating and diet over recent decades. Based on science with research referenced, Wilson’s book is informative and persuasive without ever preaching. Her examination of global food trends and the societal impact of our modern food environment take the reader on a journey across the world while at once providing understanding of the impact of what we eat on our bodies. An illuminating read not just for those interested in food culture but for those who want to eat well.

For those who want to experience a trip into a different way of life, Educated by the American author Tara Westover is a gripping, and at times disturbing, memoir of a young women growing up preparing for the End of Days with her survivalist Mormon family and embarking on a journey to seek out education and ultimately leave home. With extracts that are surreal, except they are not, this is a book that will be hard to put down. Not only will you cheer for Tara in her quest for education, but you may also learn about a religion and way of life that is completely alien to you. A fantastic read that will keep you turning every page.

Staying on the theme of family and upbringing, American Dirt, a 2020 novel by American author Jeanine Cummins is an unforgettable story of a mother and son's attempt to cross the US-Mexico border. Not without its own controversy the novel has received a litany of mixed reviews with some questioning its authenticity. For many though, it will evoke emotions of fear and terror – with the reader imagining him or herself in that same position – and wanting to yell – run faster! Fuelled by hope and love and a mothers fight to protect her son this is another one that will draw you in, immersing you in their journey.

After the last 18 months we’ve just had, there has to be one book in the portfolio that reflects the pain and the sacrifice of so many during the pandemic.

“You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” is without doubt among the most clichéd ways in which one could review a book, but there really is no better shorthand to sum up Adam Kay’s 2004 – 2010 diaries from the frontline of the NHS Labour Wards. Working as a junior obstetrician, Kay recounts the sights, the sounds (and the unfortunate smells) of working across several under-staffed and over-stretched hospitals. The hilarious meets the tragic meets the absurd, often on the same shift; and while Kay pulls no punches in detailing the emotional and physical cost to those who commit themselves to 90-hour work weeks for the good of others, the book is also full of life-affirming stories that highlight why those who look after us continue to do what they do. This is going to hurt, but it’s worth it.

Finally, one to motivate, empower and inspire you just before you get back into the working groove is a nugget of a golden oldie. ‘Shoe Dog’, Phil Knight’s memoir is about the turbulent rise of Blue Ribbon the plucky shoe company you now know as Nike. This is the story behind the Swoosh, documenting the early failures and last-minute breakthroughs that occurred during the company’s formative years.

Knight is candid in his recollection of Nike’s history, from business brilliance to the sweatshop scandal but it’s also filled with the relentless pursuit of excellence. It’s a memoir fuelled by grit and passion and finding the will to just do it.

Happy reading!

:: Claire Aiken is managing director of public relations and public affairs company Aiken

:: Next week: Richard Ramsey