Short pause time from my travel rumblings so I can chat about books. Haven’t had much time for them, sad to say. Buying books, yes, that continues apace. It’s the reading bit that’s tricky. Scares me to think the more I query, get assignments and write the less time will be had for my lovely, lovely books. Suppose that’s the price you pay when you make the choice to pursue writing more aggressively, though I shouldn’t complain. “Oh, poor you, scoring a piece in the Chicago Tribune.”
I see your point but raise you my chronic case of bibliomania, a condition with no known cure. Yeah, I thought so. Tables turned.
My current Kindling is Colm Tóibín’s Lady Gregory’s Toothbrush, a short work of nonfiction about Lady Augusta Gregory, WB Yeats and the resurgence in Irish culture around the turn of the 20th century. Fascinating stuff and of course apropos following my travels. Didn’t make it to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (founded by Lady August and Yeats), unfortunately. If anything appealing had been on offer I would have tried to get tickets but I never made it near the place. Or I did – truth compels – but didn’t realize it until I’d gone flittering off in another direction to find some monument to someone or other I needed to photograph and check off my list.
So far, yet so close.
“And while they were in the same place, there came a great mist about them and a darkness, so that they could not know what way they were going, and they heard the noise of a rider coming towards them. ‘It would be a great grief to us,’ said Conn, ‘to be brought away into a strange country.”
– Lady Augusta Gregory
I could spend the rest of my life listening to Colm Tóibín talk, not just for his accent (but, come on) but his brain, and ability to access fact and opinion on literature – specifically Irish but he’s a Henry James expert as well. It would be my ultimate dream to take a course taught by the good professor, though it would kick my arse.
SEE: B.A. in English literature; vague knowledge of much, expert on nothing
Today I went over to Amazon UK to buy Eimear McBride’s Bailey’s Award (formerly Orange Prize) for a first novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and two more titles jumped into my cart:
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013 and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014
Home is a foreign country: they do things differently there . . .
In a tiny flat in West London, sixteen-year-old Marina lives with her emotionally delicate mother, Laura, and three ancient Hungarian relatives. Imprisoned by her family’s crushing expectations and their fierce unEnglish pride, by their strange traditions and stranger foods, she knows she must escape. But the place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider.
At Combe Abbey, a traditional English public school for which her family have sacrificed everything, she realises she has made a terrible mistake. She is the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn’t know how to fit in, flirt or even be. And as a semi-Hungarian Londoner, who is she? In the meantime, her mother Laura, an alien in this strange universe, has her own painful secrets to deal with, especially the return of the last man she’d expect back in her life. She isn’t noticing that, at Combe Abbey, things are starting to go terribly wrong.
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2014 DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE
Literary Giant seeks young man to push bathchair. Own room in Hampstead, all found, exciting cultural milieu. Modest wage. Ideal ‘gap year’ opportunity. Apply Prys Box 4224XXC.
‘It’s only England,’ said Mr Fox, ‘just a few hours on the train. You can always come home.’
‘Ah’ve never been though,’ said Struan, ‘never been South.’
‘Then you should,’ said Mr Fox, ‘you really should.’
So it is that Struan Robertson, orphan, genius, and just seventeen, leaves his dour native town of Cuik, and arrives in London in the freakish fine summer of 1989. His job, he finds, is to care for Phillip, dumbfounded and paralysed by a massive stroke, because, though two teenage children, two wives, and a literary agent all rattle round Phillip’s large house, they are each too busy with their peculiar obsessions to do it themselves. As the city bakes, Struan finds himself tangled in a midsummer’s dream of mistaken identity, giddying property prices, wild swimming, and overwhelming passions. For everyone, it is to be a life-changing summer.
This is a bright book about dark subjects: a tale about kindness and its limits, told with love. Spiked with witty dialogue, and jostling with gleeful, zesty characters, it is a glorious debut novel from an acclaimed writer of poetry, non-fiction, and short stories.
The Winding Stair Bookshop – Dublin
(TWS takes its name from the title of a WB Yeats volume of poetry)
“Take, if you must, this little bag of dreams, Unloose the cord, and they will wrap you round.”
– WB Yeats
What’s that? What did you say? Which books did I buy in Ireland? I should have told you earlier, please forgive.
First, I found some lovely old banged up Penguins:
This was my very first classic Penguin shopping spree in a real bookshop. The Winding Stair in Dublin had multiple shelves full, just so happens I chose some of the most battered of the lot. I buy them because they’re vintage Penguins, sure, but it’s more about what’s inside than completing the collection, which runs to hundreds and hundreds of books. This is not going to happen. Not unless I come into a fortune, one large enough to pay someone to scout the books and line them up in the formal library of my stately manor. And read them to me, whilst I sip tea.
Why not? Don’t judge. This is my fantasy.
Then there are these beauties I also found at TWS:
Kevin Barry’s an Irishman I’ve heard loads about, all of it good.
From the author of City of Bohane, a debut collection that “could easily have been titled ‘These Are Little Masterpieces’” (The Irish Times)
This award-winning story collection by Kevin Barry summons all the laughter, darkness, and intensity of contemporary Irish life. A pair of fast girls court trouble as they cool their heels on a slow night in a small town. Lonesome hill walkers take to the high reaches in pursuit of a saving embrace. A bewildered man steps off a country bus in search of his identity—and a stiff drink. These stories, filled with a grand sense of life’s absurdity, form a remarkably sure-footed collection that reads like a modern-day Dubliners. The winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and a 2007 book of the year in The Irish Times, the Sunday Tribune, and Metro, There Are Little Kingdoms marks the stunning entrance of a writer who burst onto the literary scene fully formed.
Related: Jumping Off a Cliff: An Interview with Kevin Barry – The Paris Review
Flann O’Brien. He shouldn’t need an introduction but literary history hasn’t done its job well. His real name was Brian O’Nolan and he was a playwright, novelist, journalist compared to Borges and other writers of stellar reputation, the lucky sod. He wrote his novels under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien and I don’t actually know why. Could find out, couldn’t I. Maybe when I’m not busy. HAR.
I needed a good starting point for O’Brien’s work and this book seems to fit the bill.
Related: The Flann O’Brien Centenary – from The New Yorker
I’m not the only person I know who’s read more about Joyce than by him.
Related: James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’: Why You Should Read This Book – The Economist
The Woman Novelist and Other Stories by Diana Gardner: a Persephone Edition
Oh, Persephone… Heard of them? They publish lots of mostly WW II era, lesser-known or unjustifiably out of print titles in gorgeous editions. They have french flaps, plus each has custom-designed front free endpapers and bookmark.
A quality press, though shipping costs from the UK are exorbitant. If you come across them in a bookshop, BUY THEM.
Diana Gardner, by the way, was a neighbor of Leonard and Virginia Woolf.
On the last leg, now. Bear with me.
Allison and I had no time at all in this shop or only time enough for me to run in, grab two books, and run out to rejoin our tour.
I wanted a book by Hugo Hamilton, having just attended his talk at the Dublin Writers Festival. As will happen, another book decided to come along.
All solo books are lonely. Did you know that?
And, that’s a wrap. Thanks for your patience, loves.