When you stroll past fitness lovers jogging around Belfast with headphones firmly plugged in their ears, you would be forgiven for assuming that a catchy tune is setting their pace.
But how many of you would guess that one of these hot, sweaty runners is actually catching up on the latest book on their reading list? Well, next time you spot Conall McDevitt MLA absorbed in one of his running sessions, picture a flashing arrow pointing at him. You have found the jogging poet!
A couple of weeks ago, Conall took my call in his busy SDLP South Belfast constituency office, patiently listened to my pitch, and kindly agreed to kick off this blog series. He didn't set any conditions, didn't ask for a preview. Nothing. Granted, he knows me a little but still, if this is not being a true sport, I don't know what is.
He then lent me his flashlight to let me peek under his blanket of books (in direct reference to last week's blog... we're talking metaphors here!) and told me his story.
Once upon a time, a very young Conall caught the reading bug from his parents; he hasn't stopped reading since. A childhood shared between Dublin and Malaga gave him the opportunity to discover Cervantez's adventure stories, whilst enjoying children's classics by London-born Enid Blyton.
From childhood reads to Conall's all-time favourite, Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry, Robert Tressell's Ragged Trousered Philanthropists fought to the top to claim the award of the main literary influence in his political career.
Tressel's book presents a new understanding of the relationship between workmen and their employers through socialist resolution precepts on alleviating and eventually abolishing poverty in the working classes. Conall defines it as a reminder of "man's capacity to segregate and divide at the same time as celebrating the power that lies in quiet and determined activism".
Vitality, anger and humour make this book worth a read, whatever party your political heart beats for.
Conall listens to books, devours books, breathes books.
This week, Conall is reading Back to Work by Bill Clinton, an inspirational read which he describes as "a new take on how we can meet the often competing objectives of building a stronger economy, creating more jobs at the same time as protecting our environment."
The New York Times has referred to it as "really several books in one slender volume. It's a lucid one-man rebuttal of the Tea Party's anti-government agenda. A series of shrewd talking points for Democrats trying to hold on to the White House and battling for control of Congress in the midst of a sour economy and growing voter discontent. (...) And a practical set of proposals" for coming out of the recession.
But Clinton alone doesn't do it for Conall: he regularly breaks the pace to read Shakespeare's Tempest with his son Oisin.
Yin yang. The perfect balance.
Like father, like son, like grandson... Reading runs through the McDevitt's generations.
Children love stories, but how many read regularly? Nowadays kids' brains are attacked by a constant string of electronic stimuli from conception to death. With a TV in each room, zillions of colour channels, XYZboxes and other Wiis, reading is no longer the obvious way to keep children entertained, not to mention to cunningly trick them into learning grammar and spelling.
Thankfully, like the McDevitts, a lot of parents continue to pass on the literary torch to their offspring.
I'm ready to bet that when he grows up, Oisin will have fond memories of the time spent reading with his dad... and will be able to write about it without using a spell check. Shakespeare and others will have taken care of that.
I'd love to hear your thoughts if you'd like to leave a comment below and I'll leave you with Conall's favourite quote of the week from one of his father-and-son reads - As You Like It:
"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."