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Like a rock in the sea, islanded by fields…..

27/10/2015 Comments off

Reading Mary Lavin’s story ‘In the Middle of the Fields’ in the recent anthology of Irish Women Writers The Long Gaze Back, I was reminded of a visit to East Walpole on the outskirts of Boston several years ago. I had travelled along Washington Street which seemed to extend forever in straight lines south-east of the city. I remember the harsh-sweet smell of hot asphalt when I reached the sleepy town.

It was here that Mary Lavin, the only child of Irish parents, was born in 1912 and passed the first nine years of her life.  At the brow of a hill on the town’s edge, I entered the Francis William Bird Park which slopes down to the Neponsett River across which was the mill where Tom Lavin worked. Here the the small black-haired child was thrilled by parkland, flowers and water, imaging that she flew over the place like a bird. In October 1921, Mary Lavin left East Walpole and crossed the Atlantic to Ireland with her mother for a new life.

The shadows were lengthening when I departed William Bird Park to a chorus of bird song, soon facing the long stretch of Washington Street back to Boston. Next day I crossed the Atlantic through turbulent skies. Francis William Bird Park, East Walpole

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What is it about walking?

23/09/2015 Comments off

Thoreau quotation near cabin site at Walden Pond

Concord, Massachusetts, the birth place of Henry David Thoreau, is a very civilised place these days. When I travelled there from Boston, I had to go to the nearby Walden Pond, the place Thoreau made famous and where he lived the simple life in a cabin for two years. His essay, Walking (1862), is one of the books that faces outward on my book shelf to remind me to delve into the richness of its pages. He comes closest to answering for me the question ‘what is it about walking?’  And he is no champion of civilisation. Rather, he speaks for ‘absolute freedom and wildness’ and not for the merely civil.

Walking, for Thoreau, is above all about entering a wildness where he can recreate himself. It is the wildness of the savage he strives to rediscover. Nature is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours. In this he reminds me of the Irish writer John Millington Synge and his tramples through Wicklow and North Mayo and the Aran Islands.

The most alive is the wildest.

Now for the walking boots.

All In The Cooking 70 Years On

18/09/2015 Comments off

All In the CookingAnna Browne is 97 years old. She was one of the compilers of the Cathal Brugha Street publication All In The Cooking for the college’s Domestic Science students almost 70 years ago. Anna writes the Foreword to the delightful reissue of the book by O’Brien Press. Could this be Ireland’s very first cookery book? And not a glossy photo in sight!

Top Ten Reads – Says Who?

19/06/2011 Comments off

Recently I took a notion that I would like to re-read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I searched high up and low down but couldn’t find it on my shelves, so I dropped into Easons where I was able to buy it for three euros, all 800 pages of it. And off I set again, starting with that  famous first sentence: ‘All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

Anna Karenina seems to always feature in lists of the literary greats and reading the book again got me thinking of such lists. Then I stumbled on the web site for The Top Ten – the book edited by L Peder Zane, where he asked 125  American and British authors to list their 10 favourite works of fiction.

He ended up with 544 titles and from these tabulated a series of Top Ten Lists, including:

The Top Ten Books of All Time

The Top Ten Books of the 20th Century

And yes, there it was, Anna Karenina is listed as the number one choice in the Top Ten Books of All Time.

I take out the book and skip to the novel’s last sentence: ‘My reason will still not understand why I pray, but I shall still pray, and my life, my whole life, independently of anything that may happen to me, is every moment of it no longer meaningless as it was before, but has an unquestionable meaning of goodness with which I have the power to invest it.’ 

A thought to be going on with from the number one literary great.

I met him in my sister’s garden ….

15/05/2011 Comments off

I haven’t yet read Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz – only the first chapter that you can read on BBB 4 web site and where you can also hear an interview with the author herself. It was my Kindle e-book reader that first got me into reading first chapters. Reading first chapters for free became my favourite Kindle feature.

My Kindle was a gift from Santa in Christmas 2009 when the snow seemed to stay forever. The Forgotten Waltz works backwards from that snow-bound winter as the narrative is told in retrospect. It is the story of an affair set in the Ireland of the late 2000s when the property-fueled economy was imploding.

‘Love is always deluded,’ Enright says in her interview about the novel. The story is a trope, she says, an image of the delusion that was the Celtic Tiger. And it starts in the late afternoon of a suburban barbecue: ‘I met him in my sister’s garden in Enniskerry.’ There is a moment when she watches him – the man who is to become her lover – through a haze of cigarette smoke before he turns to look at her: ‘For the moment I am just breathing.’

The first chapter is enough to get me hooked. I need to know what happened next. It will be on my winter list for the Kyleglass Book Worms.

A Book Club Take on The Boy In The Gap

15/04/2011 Comments off

They’re a fussy lot in our Book Club but each and everyone gave the thumbs up to Paul Soye’s The Boy In The Gap. Can it really be that this is his first novel, so fine is the writing achievement?

We were into the suspense from the very first line, I remember the first night ‘on remand’ watching the news, and the tension is held right to the end through the device of having Jack  Sammon – the main character – jot down his thoughts in prison in an exercise book; more precisely, in The Ireland Series No. 03. Coipleabhar – 120 pages. Paul Soye’s writing is exquisitely precise.

Jack’s father dies when he is six and his mother takes on a partner, to whom Jack and his brother assign the nick name Latchico. For our non-Irish book club member we spent a few giddy minutes coming up with expressions to explain our understanding of the term Latchico: ass-hole, wastrel, good-for-nothing, gob-shite….

The story is set in te west of Ireland, in the area of County Mayo around Clew Bay ‘like a grey-blue desert from Achill and Clare Island to Newport and Westport, out along by the Reek…’ The landscape is finely evoked as is the animal life. The young boys get their early sex education as they watch a ram circle with twisted nostrils and mount his first ewe.

The book reaches into deep psychological recesses and the trauma that can erupt when an individual’s balance is disturbed: ‘The world shakes. The world and the delicate things around you are no longer stable.’

There is a consensus among the Kyleglass Book Worms: already we are looking forward eagerly to Paul Soye’s next novel.

A Take on All Time 100 Novels

04/04/2011 Comments off

The List | 101 Books.

I like the approach to reading in this blog. Robert Bruce takes Time Magazine’s Greatest 100 Novels (since 1923) and adds in Ulysses. He is working his way through the list and compiling his own rankings as he reads.

When he finsihes reading a book, he asks the simple question: Did I enjoy it? Then he writes up his personal review and ranks the book against others he has read. Top book so far is To Kill A Mocking Bird. The rankings change as he works through the list.

See how he’s getting on here.

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