Library Blog

Reading the Emerald Isle: Favorite Irish (and Irish-American) Books

Friday, March 17, 2023

It's the month when the U.S. - and our fair city in particular - celebrates all things Irish, so our March newsletters asked readers for a favorite book or author of Irish or Irish-American extraction. Here's just a sprinkling of responses to pick up around the edges of the St. Patrick's Day Parade (which passes by a block from the Library)!

This survey's prize goes to William Trevor, beloved by at least four respondents, including replies of "any novel by William Trevor," "the Collected Stories of William Trevor," and "The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor." Click here for the full selection of fifty items by and about Trevor.

Two readers commend Edna O'Brien to your attention; find almost forty of her works (including as e-books and audiobooks) here, from the recent novel The Little Red Chairs to a collection of fairy tales.

On the nonfiction end of things, we got two mentions of Fintan O’Toole, specifically his The Lie of the Land: Irish Identities. We might also highlight his most recent book, the evocatively titled We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland.

We also saw a lot of love for Claire Keegan, especially her Small Things Like These (available as print book, e-book, and audiobook) and Foster.

Other current or recent fiction books mentioned included

These stand alongside some worthy nonfiction mentions:

Speaking of memoirs: We can't talk Ireland and Irish America without the brothers McCourt. Frank McCourt's magnificent Angela's Ashes started it all. (It's not only won numerous awards, but been turned into a film and a stage musical!) Frank's sequel 'Tis won our own New York City Book Award in 1999-2000, and Teacher Man completes the set. Right next to him is the parallel perspective of his slightly younger brother Malachy, one of the great New York City personalities of recent decades. Malachy McCourt's memoirs and other works, including a brief history of the song 'Danny Boy,' can be found here. You can also hear Malachy - a sometime TV, stage, and film actor - read a story by (Library member) John Cheever in this audiobook.

On the canonical and classic side, there's Seamus Heaney's Sweeney Astray as well as Heaney's other works long and short, and Troubles by J.G. Farrell.

No surprise, James Joyce made the list with both "The Dead" (that's an authoritative scholarly edition) and the landmark Ulysses - for which we have both the book itself and many books for context and assistance.

Confession: This blogger had to look up what an "R.M." is, as in The Irish R.M. by E. OE. Somerville and Martin Ross. It's a Resident Magistrate, and you can find here both their complete stories in one volume and Gifford Lewis's book about the authors and the world of their tales.

Did anyone forget that Oscar Wilde, toast of London, and author of The Picture of Dorian Gray, was born and raised in Ireland? He's perhaps even better known for his dramas, as is Brendan Behan, whose The Hostage made the list.

And speaking of dramatists, a respondent gave us GEORGE BERNARD SHAW without specification - so here are roughly 130(!) of his works on our shelves. In fact, one of the treasures of our collection is a one-of-a-kind marked-up typescript of Shaw's play Widowers' Houses. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

Before concluding this swift overview, I might cite a few of the past events we've had with Irish/Irish-American authors or on related topics. Those include

Finally - and quirkily - I've recently had a reintroduction to a creative force who, in his time, might have just hit the peak of both "Irish" and "American" - George M. Cohan. Experience just a scrap of his own singing 'Over There' - or take a look at his memoir Twenty Years on Broadway in Stack 7.

To close, we join a survey contributor in a toast to "The anonymous medieval scribe who wrote: "My little pen goes dripping / Across the fields of books / Without end, for the wealth of the mighty / And my hand is weary with writing."

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