Home burning books Burning Books…on paper— Rosaleen McDonagh

Burning Books…on paper— Rosaleen McDonagh

If your house was on fire, what books would you save from the flames?

In the first of our new companion series to our popular podcast, Burning Books, Rosaleen McDonagh, author of Unsettled (Skein Press), tells Ruth McKee what books she would save if her house was on fire.

Don’t read this memoir in sorrow and outrage, read it because Rosaleen McDonagh is so proud, smart and ingenious, she will make you feel more properly alive. Beautifully written, this book beats back the darkness. It brings us all further on.” 

Anne Enright

Moving and eloquent, this collection is both the story of one woman’s life and a work of profound literary activism.

Emilie Pine


A book from your early days?

Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple. It spoke to me about racism, violence and women’s rights. 

The Rules of Attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis. I was trying to understand settled culture. The book is American. At the time all my settled friends were reading it. There have been so many books and they have all offered me so many different takes on life: they have made me laugh, cry, think and want to be a better writer.

A short story?

My all-time favourite short story is called Corrie by Alice Munro. This story centres on a woman with an impairment who took charge but not in an inspirational or triumphant way. It was Munro’s focus on the woman’s personality rather than her impairment that made it so interesting.

A book you return to over the years?

Toni Morrison’s Beloved

The right book at the right time?

Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout. This book came into my life while I was coping with a lot of grief. It centres on a pastor who runs a small parish in America. His wife has just died. He tried to continue working and living and doing his duties, for his parishioners. There is a fantastic two-page description of how he crumbles. Every now and then I reach for that passage. 

A book that taught you something important?

All books do that in their own way. I am not really looking for a book to teach me. I am looking for comfort. I am looking to be stimulated and challenged. I am also looking to see bits of myself. Maybe the book Neuro Tribes by Steve Silberman. This book gives a history of disability/impairment. It has a focus on Autism but the wider context gave me great security.

I want books that will mind me , that won’t harm me, that I will be the better for reading them.

The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson. I had to inform myself about transgender people. I wanted a story that was complex, that was based on love with identity at the heart of it. I am the better for having read it and enjoyed it. 

A book that saved you?

Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosieni

A book that makes you laugh? 

My book Unsettled. By the sheer fact that I finished it!

A book you are reading now?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I am loving it! 

You can save one non-book item: what is it? 

Music. 


Burning Books…on Paper is our companion series to our popular podcast Burning Books. You can find the latest episode with Kit de Waal here.

Eastwood