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Category: Archive

The gift of words

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

MEMOIR
Perhaps nobody has done more for the revival of the confessional memoir than Frank McCourt and there’s no shortage of Irish and Irish-derived writers following in his footsteps. One of the most interesting is Thomas Healy. In I Heard You Calling in the Night, the Glaswegian novelist tells how one of man’s best friends — specifically a Doberman pup named Martin — helped him to come to terms with his alcoholism and to find a path to redemption.
From a rather different perspective, but one also very much on the theme of inspiration is James Martin’s My Life with the Saints, in which the prominent Jesuit writer discusses over the course of 18 chapters some remarkable historical figures who’ve been an influence in his life. They include Mary and Joseph, Pope John XXXIII, Peter, Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, Ignatius, Dorothy Day and Pedro Arrupe, superior general of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983, whom some regard as a second Ignatius.
William S. Noonan discusses an historical figure who was born as recently as 1960 in Forever Young: My Friendship with John F. Kennedy Jr. Covering some of the same period in New York’s history is Rock the Sham!, Dublin native Anne Maguire’s account of her central role in the founding of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization.
Two 2006 books describe an American’s sporting encounter with Ireland. Rus Bradburd recounts his time coaching basketball in that heartland of Gaelic football, County Kerry, in Paddy on the Hardwood. Love brought New Yorker magazine writer Bill Barich to Ranelagh in Dublin City, where he now lives, but his memoir A Fine Place to Daydream is specifically about the Irish obsession with horseracing.
In The Search for Canasta 404 – Love, Loss and the POW Movement, Maureen Dunn, in collaboration with AP journalist Melissa B. Robinson, tells her story and that of her navy pilot husband Joe, a fellow Irish Bostonian, who was shot down during the Vietnam War.

FICTION
Dublin is emerging as a fertile breeding ground for crime writers. Ken Bruen, who has developed a very solid international reputation in the genre, has two out in hardcover in the U.S. this year, The Dramatist and American Skin. Playwright Declan Hughes joined him on the bookshelves with his first, The Wrong Kind of Blood.
Kelly Kerney got some very positive reviews for her first novel Born Again, which is told from the perspective of a 14-year-old evangelical Christian.
Claire Kilroy’s Tenderwire is the story of a young New York-based Irish violinist who comes across what she thinks is a Stradivarius violin for sale at a knockdown price on the black market.
In poet Nick Laird’s first novel Utterly Monkey, the life of a young high-flying Irish lawyer in London changes on a number of fronts when an old school chum turns up on his doorstep.
New York Times Magazine writer Jennifer Egan’s first novel “Look at Me” was short-listed for the National Book Award and she’s followed up this year with The Keep, which she herself described as a “gothic novel with various twists, set in Europe and America in the present day.”
Jane Harris’s 1863-set The Observations, which has been described as an “entertaining debut,” concerns a 15-year-old Irish girl “who runs away from Glasgow to escape her murky past and ends up working for a mysterious beautiful woman who lives on a country estate outside Edinburgh.”
For those who like shorter fiction, there’s Touchy Subjects, a collection of stories by the prolific Canadian-based Dubliner Emma Donoghue.

POETRY
Tipperary-born, Kildare-based civil servant Dennis O’Driscoll makes regular trips across the Atlantic to pick up major awards for his work. His latest volume is New and Selected Poems. The Gaeltacht of Donegal as well as the inner-city Philadelphia neighborhood where he lives and works as a priest both feature in John P. McNamee’s Donegal Suite, his first book of poems.

HISTORY
Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States, edited by Professors Joseph Lee and Marion Casey, is an important publishing milestone. Meanwhile, anyone serious about their Irish-American history will also have to get The Harp and the Eagle, Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865, by Susannah Ural Bruce.
Ontario resident Don Akenson’s ambitious two-volume Irish History of Civilization is, he said, “based on the premise that if you understand the history of the Irish, you understand the history of the world.”
Peter Hart, who’s was born and lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland, has produced his fourth book on 20th century Irish history, but his well-received Michael Collins biography, Mick, will likely outsell the previous three by a long way.
Kevin O’Higgins: Builder of the Irish State, by John McCarthy, professor emeritus of history at Fordham University, is a reevaluation of one of Collins’s collaborators, a key figure in 20th century Ireland in his own right.
On the subject of great men, sometime Echo columnist Terry Golway has teamed up with prominent presidential biographer Robert Dallek for Let Every Nation Know, which tells the story of John F. Kennedy’s famous “1,000 days” in office through his speeches.
Serious Irish history buffs will treasure Joseph E.A. Connell’s Where’s Where in Dublin: A Directory of Historic Locations 1913-1916. Covering the same period in a different way, Lucy McDiarmid’s The Irish Art of Controversy recalls five public debates in the years just before and just after the Rising in which people argued over whose idea of Irishness would dominate when independence finally came.
Alone of our PageTurner guests, however, Brooklyn native and Queens resident Kevin Walsh made it to the cover of the hip weekly Time Out New York with his impressive and handsomely produced Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis.

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