When you consider the canon of western literature, you can’t help noting the contributions Irish writers have made to it over the centuries.
Many names are familiar: novelists Thomas Moore, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce; poets and playwrights W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.
Many of us have read Frank O’Connor’s short stories, such as “Guests of the Nation,” that inspired the Academy Award-winning film, “The Crying Game.” And we love to peruse novels by Edna O’Brien and Maeve Binchy.
Because I am such a fan of Irish culture, and with St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I am submitting for your reading and listening pleasure my “Favorite Irish Stuff to Check out at the Madison County Public Library.”
I’ve got to go with poetry first, starting with one of my favorite poets of all time, William Butler Yeats. “Sailing to Byzantium” (from his 1928 collection, “The Tower”) that begins with the famous “That is no country for old men” is one of my top picks. But my favorite favorite is “The Second Coming” (from the 1921 collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer) – “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. . .”
A more current poet, Seamus Heaney, is definitely worth checking out if you are not yet familiar with his work. One of my favorite undertakings of his is a bilingual poetic translation of the epic tale of Beowulf. He translated it into both Old English and Modern English.
My top picks for modern Irish “poems” are actually song lyrics from amazing bands.
The first is U2’s “Running to Stand Still,” which I think is one of the best songs of all time, and certainly my favorite song from my favorite album of theirs, The Joshua Tree. “You got to cry without weeping/Talk without speaking/Scream without raising your voice.”
U2 is the first band I ever saw in concert. It was their Zoo TV tour, 1992, in Birmingham, Alabama. Big Audio Dynamite and Public Enemy opened for them. It was a massive arena concert designed to create a sensory overload for the audience as a satire of modern day media saturation. It worked on me, as I ended up with a two-day migraine from the show. I will never forget the pounding bass literally rattling my bones. I loved it!
The second is from Mumford & Sons’ first album, Sigh No More (2009). The line is from one of the best songs from album that is filled with excellent songs, “Awake My Soul” – “How fickle my heart and woozy my eyes/I struggle to find any truth in your lies.”
My brother Billy bought me my first Mumford & Sons album after a trip he and his wife made to Ireland. With both of these albums (available on CD at the library), I suggest playing them really loud and letting the music and words wash over you. You can also download Mumford & Sons songs for free with your library card through our Freegal Music service – just click on “Online Services” on our website www.madisonlibrary.org.
To help take your mind off the winter that seems to have no end, Maeve Binchy’s 2004 novel, “Nights of Rain and Stars” offers a nice diversion to the sunny Mediterranean, where the story opens with a cruise ship disaster that eventually leads to romance and reconciliation.
My second book recommendation is neither as popular nor as readable as a Maeve Binchy novel, but it has its own unique draw, even if it is just to be able to say you read it.
It’s “Ulysses” by James Joyce, a novel so dense with literary allusion and so twisted by stream-of-consciousness narrative that you would be hard-pressed to recognize it is all about just one day in the life of protagonist Leopold Bloom as he makes his way around Dublin on June 16, 1904.
I will admit I have never made it all the way through “Ulysses.” But I have enjoyed taking stabs at it over the years, and you might as well.
I wish you the “Luck o’the Irish” in finding the perfect read or listen for St. Patrick’s Day. I hope to see you soon at the library!