Ireland Reads, Thursday 25 February, 2021
by Ruth McKee
Today we celebrate reading. The word celebrate sounds jubilant, like throwing a party—but it can also mean a quiet marker, a way of taking stock of what something means to us. As all around the country people are encouraged to #squeezeinaread, our focus turns to books that have moved us, made us laugh or grow tearful, books that have taken us out of ourselves, or maybe even kept us together, especially since last March, when the outside world retreated.
“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”—Jhumpa Lahiri
We travel of course when we read. When things close in on us, we can open a book and for a while be lost somewhere else. Since last year, when the only landscapes we could explore were interior worlds, literally and metaphorically, book sellers have been busier than ever, despite their shop doors for the most part being closed. But it’s not just about being transported to different places; when we read a novel we inhabit other times, other people, other perspectives. it’s one of the best ways to foster empathy—in a child, in any of us.
“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”—Malala Yousafzai
For many of us books are a comfort; for some reading the most gruesome thriller can be as soothing as a searing romance is to someone else, others find the crisp, clean writing of a favourite author a kind of ointment to the soul. It doesn’t really matter in many ways what we are reading, just that we continue. Maybe you’ve lost your reading mojo—many of us have this past twelve months—and you need to be reminded, or perhaps you’re looking for your next great escape. Either way, here we have authors, librarians, and book organisations talking about those tiny worlds, those portable bits of magic you can carry with you anywhere. #IrelandReads
“Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvellous adventures anyone can have.”—Lloyd Alexander
Writer and performer Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan, on The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin)#IrelandReads
“Books are solitudes in which we meet”—Rebecca Solnit
John Boyne, author of several acclaimed novels, including his most recent A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom.
I just finished reading Stephen Walsh’s debut short story collection, Shine / Variance, which is being published by Chatto & Windus in July. It’s an insightful look at family relationships, particularly those between fathers and children, and is both funny and perceptive in equal parts. I think it’s going to gather a lot of admirers when it’s in the shops.
Kit de Waal, author of The Trick to Time (Penguin) and My Name is Leon (Simon and Schuster)
I’ve just finished Boys Don’t Cry by Fiona Scarlett which is published in a couple of months. It’s the story of two brothers living in a tower block in Dublin. It’s about the love between the two of them and the tug of the streets. It’s heartbreaking and very well told. Recommend it—but not if you have insomnia! It won’t help you drift off!
Una Mannion, author of A Crooked Tree (Faber), speaks about Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud (Penguin)
Paul McVeigh, author of The Good Son (Salt)
Thin Places, by Kerri ní Dochartaigh. When you find a writer who makes you want to find every page her pen has touched.
Nuala O’Connor, author of Becoming Belle (Penguin), and Miss Emily (Penguin)
I’m reading The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen (Penguin), which is a fascinating collection spanning about fifty years of Bowen’s writing and 79 stories. I’m reading it alongside others in the Elizabeth Bowen Society Reading Group, so we read a tranche of stories, then meet online to discuss. It’s a pretty wonderful thing. We talk not just about the stories, and Bowen’s mastery of the intimate and personal, and her skill in writing places, children and fragmented relationships, but we also discuss Bowen’s experiences and relationships, and how her writing sits within her life. All in all, it’s a very rewarding way to experience Bowen’s short fiction.
Librarian Jackie Lynam talks about Leonard and Hungry Paul (Bluemoose Books) by Rónán Hession, the book chosen for One Dublin One Book 2021
Tanya Farrelly, author of When Black Dogs Sing (Harper Collins) and The Girl Behind the Lens (Harper Collins)
I’ve just finished reading Rosemary Jenkinson‘s Lifestyle Choice 10MG (Doire Press). This collection is imbued with Jenkinson’s characteristic playfulness and intelligence, but I have to say it was the political stories that stood out for me. In The Willowherb Dream a photographer on a quest for that killer image professes that he wishes he’d been around during the troubles as a lot of artists “had made their names on the twisted, bloody aftermaths of bombings, on ripped open skulls, on blackened bodies with the clothes blown off them.” In What She does in the Dark, Fiona, an anti-drugs campaigner mourning the loss of her son walks the streets of Belfast on bonfire night. Of her son’s death the previous year we are told: “Jack had been out guarding the bonfire with his friends. They’d all been taking ecstasy. He’d been standing on the top of the bonfire when he’d fallen.” Jenkinson gives us a bleak but extraordinarily vivid view of her home city of Belfast. She is unafraid in her exploration of a complex people who have found themselves in the most unexpected situations.
David Diebold, author of This is How We Dance talks about How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy, and Dirt, by Bill Buford
Short story author Niall McArdle gives us a wonderful selection from his reading pile
David Butler, author of City of Dis (New Island), and All the Barbaric Glass (Doire Press).
Having recently finished George Saunders‘ highly stimulating close-readings of classic Russian short stories, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, I’m bingeing on Chekhov‘s late stories in as many different translations as I can find – in particular: Ionych; The Grasshopper; The House with the Mezzanine; The Literature Teacher; Lady with Lapdog; and the ‘little trilogy’ The Man in the Case/Gooseberries/About Love. It’s extraordinary the difference a translation makes! In Lady with Lapdog, on first seeing Anna, compare: ‘”If she’s here without husband or friends,” Gurov reasoned, “then it wouldn’t be a bad idea if I got to know her.'” (Wilks, Penguin) with ‘”If she has no friends here she might be worth picking up”, calculated Gurov.’ (Hingley, OUP)
Anne Griffin, author of When All is Said (MacMillan) and forthcoming Listening Still (Sceptre)
I’ve just re-read Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline). What I love about it is the quirkiness of Gretta, an Irish mother in London, whose husband Robert has gone missing. Their adult children, each struggling in their own private lives, return home to track down their father in the heatwave of 1976. This is a funny and deeply moving book. One of the best things about your favourite books is that they are only dying for you to pick them up again and have another read. I guarantee you will find something new to awe over every time.’
Elaina Ryan from Children’s Books Ireland, talks about Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak
Jan Carson, award-winning author of The Firestarters (Penguin) and Malcolm Orange Disappears
I’m currently part of a research project at Queen’s University in Belfast. I’ve spent most of the year looking at how dementia is depicted in novels. Far from being depressing, it’s been the most uplifting, life-affirming experience exploring how readers tell these important stories with such humanity, tenderness and creativity. I’m currently reading Oona Frawley‘s beautiful novel Flight (Tramp), which focuses on four people brought together by their mutual need. Sandrine is a Zimbabwean woman, who’s moved to Ireland in the hope of a better life. She’s recruited by Elizabeth and becomes a live-in carer for her elderly parents who are beginning to forget themselves. Flight is so well-observed and the characters so carefully drawn, I’ve been utterly captivated by it since I picked it up a few days ago.
Louise Kennedy, author of The End of the World is a Cul de Sac (Bloomsbury) talks about We Are Not In The World by Conor O’Callaghan (Penguin)
Sam Blake, author of best-selling crime fiction, including The Dark Room (Corvus)
I’ve just finished reading Monica McInerney‘s The Godmothers which is a joyous page turner combining beautiful characters, stunning locations and a gripping plot (and not a dead body in sight!). I loved it – it really is the perfect lockdown read. I’ve also recently read Claire Allan‘s Ask No Questions – her best thriller yet, and I’m well underway with Sheila Dempsey‘s Who Took Eden Mulligan? which I’m loving too. I just had to start Jane Casey‘s new standalone when it arrived, out in May – The Killing Kind. I adore Jane’s writing, and I was hooked by the first page, her detailed observation makes her characters jump off the page, and she is a master plotter. I’m a devil for having different books on the go in different parts of the house, and on the non-fiction front I’m almost finished Jim Fraser‘s Murder Under the Microscope, which is absolutely fascinating.