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A St. Patrick’s day guide to reading

March 18, 2012

In honour of yesterday’s festivities, and the patron saint of Ireland, I have decided to add a belated classy touch to the celebrations. Not that I necessarily think they need it, I am very happy to say I, too, spent the day in front of a television screen featuring bulging, sweating, dripping, filthy, angry, taught and delightfully skimpily dressed bullnecked men in very close contact (and no, it was not gay porn), with a pint of Guinness (in a lady-sized half pint glass) in my hand and with my head alternately decorated by a pint-shaped hat and a traditional, cone-shaped balloon-emblazoned party hat. I was also riveted and hugely entertained by the joyous festive spirit on the late-night tube ride as recently immigrated gentlemen O´Shea and O’Reilley recovered from the bitter blow of their nation’s loss to the white-clad erstwhile colonists by leading the entire carriage in a rustically tune-less chant of “Ireland,Ireland” accompanied by a fellow enthusiast’s “Paaddy paadyy give it up for paaddy”.

Nonetheless, I have always been a promoter of multi-faceted celebrations of any joyous day, and negative to limitations based on stereotypes or commercial expectations. As such, I am providing here a list of some excellent (or at least highly diverse) Irish books. By this I include: Books set in Ireland and/or written by Irish writers.

So next year, if one should find oneself reluctant to join in with the green-clad bacchian masses, one has the option to calmy retreat with one of the belowmentioned volumes, safe in the knowledge that one is nonetheless quietly celebrating the spirit of our proud, leprechaunical neighbours.

1) Oscar WildeThe Picture of Dorian Gray

Needless to say, a classic. A deep and delightful psychological depiction of human vanity and the consequences of surpression (and as such in it’s own way encouraging outrageous celebration – it is bad to surpress emotions!)

2) James Joyce, Ulysses

For those are looking for that drunken stream-of-consciousness style without indulging in actual intoxication, and at the same time embarking on one of the great classics of 20th century literature. If Ulysses seems too daunting a task, he has some excellent short stories.

3) Cecelia Ahern, P.S. I Love You

Not one for the tomes or the social commentary? Big fan of Hillary Swank or Gerald Butler? (I know I am.) Want to celebrate St. Paddy’s in the lighthearted manner to which one has become accustomed? Try Cecelia Aherns P.S. I Love Youallegedly better than the film (which was horrendous. But Gerald Butler did look rather attractive. Hillary Swank was just annoying).

4) Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl seriesMore in the mood for childrens books/have children? For the singular most unlikeable hero of preteen fiction, written by someone with a charmingly irish-sounding name, look no further. Despite the main character’s horrendous personality (reflected, I think, in his name) these books are fairly fast-paced and technological, described by Colfer himself as “Die Hard with fairies”.
5) C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His BoyWant fantasy, but want the way it used to be? C.S.Lewis’ narnia series are the literary highlight of so many childhoods, mine included. If you have previously limited yourself to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, try some of the lesser known once such as The Silver Chair, or The Horse and his Boy, where you don’t have to put up with the annoying Pevensie children, and get some really dark orientalism thrown in as well.

6) Emma Donoghue, Room

About children, definitely not for children. Booker shortlisted tale of a mother and son imprisoned in a basement. Reminiscent of the Fritzl case, it is strong

reading, but nonetheless gripping. Though if you are one to be annoyed at narrative voices at odds with the content, beware that Room is narrated by a 5-year-old.

7) Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

Not a personal favourite, but nonetheless better than the atrocious Jack Black film by quite a lot. Also does have some genuinely amusing moments, and there is a lot more (perhaps too much?) to it than the children’s version suggests, and Swift has covered most bases when it comes to creating fictional creatures in ironically near-human societies.

8) Patrick McCabe, Breakfast on Pluto

A bit of shocking honesty from a humble book blogger here: I have not read this. But I have seen the film, and I love it. I love the idea, and the narrative voice, and so I suspect that the book might be a delightful but emotional and painful romp through transvestitism in 1970s Ireland.

9) Seamus Heaney, Beowulf

Not strictly speaking written by Heaney, but as good a celebration of our feral pasts as any. This translation of one of the greatest works of old english is just amazing. I am a bit of geek for Old English, especially due to it’s close similarity to Norse, the language of my forbearers. It is a crazy poem of the very first superhero and his fight with an evil monster (and the evil monster’s underwater mum, who incidentally is supposed to be incredibly ugly and look nothing like Angelina Jolie). Any linguistics geeks might (as I have) like to invest in the bilingual edition.

10) Marian Keyes, The Other Side of the Story

Unashamedly chick-lit, Keyes is nonetheless one of the really big names in the genre. And when people are celebrating around you, you don’t always want to read something intelligent (or if you are drunkenly reading sometimes it is hard to follow narratives that have a lot of structure and poetic weight). I haven’t read her earlier works such as Watermelon or Sushi for Beginners (My mum thought 12 was too young for those raunchy woman novels, and gave me something else to read, probably something educational like Jane Austen. What an awesome mum, though I’m not convinced I thought so at the time) but I have heard they are actually quite good. The Other Side of the Story is, I suspect, the last one before she went sharply downhill, This Charming Man is awful, and The brightest star in the sky is just, OH GOD, so bad. I didn’t even finish it.

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