Sunday, January 11, 2015

Literature -- the Irish Way

You'd be surprised what a few hours of browsing the tourist shops in Dublin will do to ignite your enthusiasm for Irish history, culture and the various uses for sheep. There's so much green, for example, and not so much orange. Why is that? Why is the harp a symbol of Ireland? What do all those Celtic signs mean? Is Dublin really the 'Best City in the World' as it says on the hoodie I've just purchased, hoping it will fit my father? When is Bloomsday anyway? There is no end to the thing called All Things Irish.

"These hats and calendars are half-price," the woman behind the counter says, sweeping the air grandly at the wall of merchandise behind her. She waits for me to choose a hat bearing a four-leaf clover or a calendar of quaint pubs and country inns.

"That's it," I say. "Just the Guinness socks, the Dublin hoodie, the Leprechaun lighter, the ten Celtic design refrigerator spoon magnets, the Irish fudge and of course the sheep."


She looks behind me for the sheep.

"Just kidding about the sheep . . . unless you have one half-price . . . in black."

She laughs. The Irish have a sense of humor. If I'd said this in Germany, I might have got a 10-minute straight-faced explanation of why the shop was not licensed to sell livestock. Not fair, not fair, you say. You obviously have not had to explain your ironic little witticisms a hundred times.

I saunter out of the fourth or fifth trinket shop, all selling the same tourist wares, and head off to Hodges Figgis--the big bookstore behind Trinity College. A side note: Hodges Figgis was founded in 1768 and mentioned in Ulysses. It is now--horrors!!--owned by the British retail book monstrosity Waterstones. Is nothing Irish in Ireland anymore?

Oh well. I'm off to Hodges Figgis to pick up the book The Closet of Savage Mementos by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (who I know is Irish), but I also want to browse the Irish fiction section to get an idea of what I'm dealing with if I want to learn everything there is to know about Irish writers. I am, after all, in the throes of All Things Irish.

After a wee browse, it goes without saying I want to give up. There are so many Irish writers I've never heard of. I'm much more familiar with acquaintances who are Irish writers than the ones who came before them. James Claffey and Robin Graham are exceptional writers, and I've interviewed them here at I Must Be Off as part of my Expat Author Interview Series. Nuala Ní Chonchúir is the only writer I know who still lives in Ireland. Together they must hold the key to unlock the mysteries of Irish literature, so instead of browsing these shelves like an eejit, I've decided to ask them what I should read.

James Claffey's debut collection of short fiction, Blood a Cold Blue, blew me away. You can read my review of it here. From his blog: Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, their daughter, Maisie, and Australian cattle-dog, Rua. Blood a Cold Blue is published by Press 53.

Robin Graham is (not only) a travel writer focusing (not only) on Spain. He's published dozens of travel articles. His writing is rich, engaging and smart. Read his essays and travel anecdotes at You can read my interview with him here.


Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a fiction writer and poet originally from Dublin. She has published two novels, four collections of short fiction, a chapbook of flash fiction and three full poetry collections - one in an anthology. Nuala's third much-anticiapted novel, Miss Emily, will be published in 2015. Her novel The Closet of Savage Mementos was the Irish Times Book Club book of the month in December 2014.You can read a conversation I had with the author in 2013 here.


Without further ado, here's my required reading recommended by these fine Irish writer peeps:

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (yay! I've already read this one!!)
The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
Anything by Samuel Beckett (I've read Waiting for Godot. Phew!) 
The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin
Langrishe Go Down by Aidan Higgins
The Country Girls Triology by Edna O'Brien 
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
The Gathering by Anne Enright

And you? Do you have suggestions for me? 

I must be off (to read),


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, Chicken Soup for the Soul and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.