Home burning books Burning Books Q and A—Alan Titley

Burning Books Q and A—Alan Titley

Alan Titley talks all things bookish for the companion series to our popular podcast, Burning Books

The Táin: Ireland’s Battle Epic, by Alan Titley is the first chapter-book edition of Ireland’s greatest legend for more than 30 years. 

Titley goes back to the source material for this new edition, and his translation sparkles with the wit and humour—as well as the thrill and battle—of the ancient tale. Illustrations by artist Eoin Coveney lend a fresh and modern feel. This is Celtic myth as you haven’t read it before.

A book from your early days

As a young fella I was fortunate in being able to read early, even before I went to school and was fed on comics and Enid Blyton like a lot of others. But the first book I remember that clobbered me in the head was an illustrated young person’s version of Don Quixote—Quicksote to me. I can still see it, remember it, and smell it. 

Dog ears or book marks?

Mostly book marks, because I have a huge collection of them gathered along the way. I have no compunction, though, about writing or scribbling in a book. It is a sign of love, or even hate, certainly of engagement. 

A quote you can say by heart?

‘Maireann croí éadrom i bhfad.’ A light heart lives for a long time. Also, I have an aphorism of my own which goes, ‘In every meeting there is at least one bollocks.’ I have found this to be true.

Do you lend without expecting a book returned?

Usually only if I have a second copy! On the other hand, if I lend a book I am not surprised if it is not returned, as I might do the same myself. In fact, I can see books on my shelves right now that I have never returned!

A book you return to over the years?

Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. You can dip in anywhere and find a carnival of riches, mayhem, fun and anarchy. Also, Eduarde Galeano’s great trilogy on the history and founding mythology of the Americas, south and north, Memoria del Fuego, Memory of Fire. A book for the whole world.

The right book at the right time?

I read Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Cré na Cille in my first term in college. Blew my mind. Never thought that talk could be so inventive, wild, passionate and endless.

A book that taught you something important?

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. Explains with style and aplomb why the world is as it is and has come to be over the last 13,000 years. What more would you want?

A book that makes you laugh? 

Myles na gCopaleen’s An Béal Bocht. Anything by Woody Allen.

A book you associate with a particular life event? 

We went on a tour of New England some years ago, and I started reading Nathaniel Philbrick’Mayflower. Couldn’t put it down.

The story of those English exiles who first set foot in what is now the US, their beliefs, struggles and Indian wars. It still tells us a lot about the States. Reading a book in a particular place can be a revelationary experience.

One of your own books that you’d save over others

Either An Fear Dána or An Bhean FeasaThe latter deals with the life, times, torture and hanging of Goody Glover who was put to death as a witch in New England in 1688 and who refused to speak English at her mock trial, either because of her disdain of the the law, or she did not know it being an Irish slave, more pleasantly put as ‘an indentured servant.’

A book you are reading now?

I have just read The War of the Poor, by Eric Vuillard, and am reading George Moore’s The Brook Kerith.

A book you’d leave in there to burn 

Any book by Jane Austen, sorry, every book by Jane Austen. They are just chick-lit for people with a bit of education written in a dull pasty style as smooth as watery blancmange without a joke, a jolt, a jerk, a jest.

I have no interest in the act of dropping a handkerchief on the lawn or drinking tea with the wrong cocked finger becoming a metaphysical condition. It is the only time that I can think, at a push, that burning books might have some justification. The snobbery, the pretension, the class snottery is gut-churning and soul-vomiting.

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

I have no real interest in stuff.