A St. Patrick's Day Reading List

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Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

With St. Patrick's Day once again upon us, you might be joining throngs of merry goers at the bar to drink whiskey and green beer and to listen to fiddle-and-brogue-based music. Then again, you might rather chew your own arm off. I am not here to judge, and I offer a third option-- which is to acknowledge the vast contributions of Irish men and women to the world of letters.

Here's a list for St. Patrick's Day:

  • GreenThe Green Road by Anne Enright - You can't actually read this one yet, but it's a major new novel coming out in May from the major Irish author. The Green Road is about a family of four children who grow up on the Atlantic coast of Ireland before leaving to see the bigger world. It is epic, sprawling, and a deeply emotional exploration. If you don't want to wait until May, read The Gathering--which won the 2007 Booker Prize--about a family (eight kids!) returning to Dublin for the wake of their brother Liam.

 

  • AshesAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - We included this book in our 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime list, so it makes sense to include it here. McCourt's enormously best-selling memoir explores his wretched childhood growing up in Ireland (little known fact: he was born in New York and moved to Ireland when he was four), and will have you questioning the luck of the Irish in one breath and praising it in the next.

 

  • CountryCountry Girl: A Memoir by Edna O'Brien - The trilogy of novels that began with The Country Girl established Edna O'Brien as one of the best Irish writers of the Twentieth Century. The fictional account of Kate and Baba--who were described by one 1960s reviewer as a "man-crazy and thrill-crazy" duo--was both burned and banned. O'Brien's memoir recounts that experience and much, much more. Is it overwritten? Maybe a little. Is her life over the top? That seems more certain.

 

  • ModernModern Irish Short Stories (Edited by Ben Forkner) - At one point in my life, I carried this collection around with me wherever I went. It moved with me to new apartments, it got dog-eared, and the stories accumulated food stains and coffee rings. There's no better introduction to Irish literature that I can think of. All the big names are in here, including most of the ones in this post.

 

  • TalesTales From Old Ireland by Malachy Doyle, Illustrated by Niamh Sharkey - Now I will commit a minor contradiction. Here's another a fine introduction to Irish literature, but it's for kids. The illustrations are fantastic, too.

 

 

  • Five More Authors Who Belong on This List:

 

The Sea by John Banville - Winner of the 2005 Booker Prize, this is the story of a middle-aged Irishman who returns to the seaside town of his childhood in order to cope with the loss of his wife.

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle - Doyle's debut. The Commitments are a nascent Dublin band in love with soul music. If that doesn't catch your fancy, try Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien - Early metafiction. Published in 1939, the novel is about a lazy, often drunk, author who is writing a book about an author whose characters begin to attack him for being such a second-rate author. This is considered to be his masterpiece.

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe - Not an easy one. The Butcher Boy is about small town Ireland, murder, and descent into madness. Written in stream-of-consciousness first-person, it won the 1992 Irish Literature Prize for Fiction.

Ulysses by James Joyce - The Matterhorn of Irish literature. Many have tried, few have conquered.


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