Category: Archive

Page Turner: Sharon O’Brien

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

What is your latest book about?
“The Family Silver” is the story of my search to understand the origins of depression in my own family, a search that took me back in time to understand how the lives of my parents and grandparents, all Irish American, had been shaped by the Famine and its legacy. In writing the book after my parents’ deaths I needed to draw on the biographer’s skills and find scattered pieces of the past – my mother’s memo books, my father’s college application letter to Harvard, written in 1923, the family silver, purchased by my vaudeville actor grandfather in 1903, gravestones in American and Irish cemeteries – in order to link inheritance with history, culture, and memory.

What is your writing routine?
I absolutely need to write in the morning. If I procrastinate and postpone until the afternoon, it’s hopeless. Ideal conditions: the writers’ colonies I’ve been fortunate enough to attend. There you have solitude but also community, and it makes writing less lonely.

Do you have advice for aspiring writers?
Just keep at it. Don’t give up. My book took me 10 years to write, and more than once I thought of abandoning it. Also, I found sharing writing in a writers’ group helpful – again, this made the process less lonely and gave me readers who kept urging me on.

Name three book memorable that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure. Hard to answer, so I’ll focus on books I’ve read in the last three years: Ian McEwan’s “Atonement,” Colm Toibin’s “The Master” and Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto.”

What book are you currently reading? I’m reading three books simultaneously (sometimes I go about it this way): Ian McEwan’s “Saturday,” Maryanne Robinson’s “Gilead” and Khaled Hosseini’s
“The Kite Runner.”

Is there a book you wish you had written?
I don’t really think that way.

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Name a book that pleasantly surprised you.
I didn’t expect to like “The Da Vinci Code”…I was pretty snobbish about it because it was so popular…and then I found I couldn’t put it down. Okay, not great literature, but a true page turner.

If you could meet one author living or dead, who would it be?
Jane Austen.

What book changed your life?
William Styron’s “Darkness Visible,” his brilliant and harrowing account of his depression. This was the first book that mirrored my own experience of depression and showed me that another shared my story; it also displayed the power of words to put almost inexpressible experiences into language.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Dublin Airport, because that means I’ve arrived.

You’re Irish if…
one of the first questions you ask someone you haven’t seen in a long time is “What have you been reading?”

Sharon O’Brien will speak lecture on “Remembering Skibbereen: Writing an Irish-American memoir,” tomorrow, Thursday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m. at Glucksman Ireland House, New York University, One Washington Mews, Fifth Avenue. For more information call: (212) 998-3850.

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