Happy St. Patrick's Day! When you raise a (green) beer to honor an Irish saint for his brave 5th-century snake-banishing (via Riverdance, perhaps?) take a moment to consider Ireland's rich literary legacy. Here are a few of our favorites from today's best Irish authors:
A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black
Black's atmopheric mysteries are as full of twists as they are elegantly written (Black is a pseudonym for prize-winning author John Banville). We love his take on 1950s Ireland and his savvy amateur detective Garret Quirke.
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
This quiet story of the life of an everywoman in 1970s Ireland turns into a wider exploration of the country's past, present and future in the capable hands of Tóibín, one of today's most accomplished Irish writers.
Faithful Place by Tana French
No list of Irish writers would be complete without Tana French, whose textured mysteries have taken the suspense world by storm since she made her debut in 2007. In Faithful Place, she brings the Liberties—a housing project in Dublin—into the spotlight, uncovering the truth behind a decades-old disappearance.
An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray
Murray is best known for his excellent second novel, Skippy Dies, but his charming, Wodehous-ian debut, set in a crumbling Irish mansion, is a social satire for the ages.
At the Edge of Ireland by David Yeadon
In the tradition of classics like Under the Tuscan Sun, big-city reportor David Yeadon recounts his adventures and attempts to fit in with the locals after moving to the most isolated outpost in Ireland he could find—the Beara Peninsula.
My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain
This novel blends past and present in a time-tested formula. It's the story of modern-day Irishwoman Kathleen de Burca, who becomes obsessed with the story of an ancestor who escaped Ireland during the potato famine.
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle is best known for his novels for adults, but in this magical middle-grade novel has an Irish setting that shines, a tough heroine and, best of all, a ghost.
Most Saturdays end up being readathon days, but this Saturday, you can read for a good cause. By hosting National Readathon Day on January 24, Penguin Random House, GoodReads, Mashable and the National Book Foundation hope to raise funds to support the National Book Foundation's literacy programs. In America, 40% of adults are at or below basic reading proficiency, and 14% are illiterate.
How can you help promote literacy this Saturday? Host a reading party, or encourage your local library to host one, and invite your friends to donate to the cause! The Readathon will go from 12:00-4:00 P.M., which is the perfect amount of time to really dig into a book you've been meaning to start for a while. So get out there and read for a good cause!
Nashvillians got a literary treat on Saturday night, thanks to local nonprofit and writer's collective The Porch. In their first annual fundraiser, founders Susannah Felts and Katie McDougall put together an "only in Nashville" lineup of musicians and storytellers for a very memorable evening.
The headliners of "A Tale of Two Tims" were Tim O'Brien and Tim O'Brien—one a National Book Award-winning author of books like The Things They Carried and Tomcat in Love; the other, a Grammy-winning Americana and bluegrass performer. Despite occasionally receiving each other's mail, the two had never met until this weekend.
In an introduction that laid out the mission for The Porch, Felts (left) said that they wanted the city to be known as much for its writing as it is for its culinary, culture and music scenes. McDougall (right) went on to honor storytelling as a very human need, something as natural as breathing. "And like breathing, it's easy to take for granted," she said.
It certainly felt that storytelling was as natural as breathing for the artists featured in A Tale of Two Tims. First up was Korby Lenker, who charmed the crowd with the song "Book Nerd" (which is apparently a favorite with the staff of Parnassus Books, for obvious reasons!).
Lenker's second song, "My Little Life," was performed with flair on a ukulele.
Next up was spoken-word artist Minton Sparks (pictured with guitarist John Jackson). Watching someone tell you a story might sound like a dull, Victorian sort of entertainment, but Sparks makes her tales of country life and the strange characters in her own family tree completely mesmerizing, incorporating music, expressive body language and onomatopoeia into her electric performances. In between stories, she treated the audience to some off-the-cuff anecdotes from her early (and quickly abandoned) career as a songwriter, saying "some of my material's not what radio is looking for, to be honest."
Next, musician Tim O'Brien took the stage to perform a couple of songs, including one inspired by the work of Annie Proulx, "Brother Wind."
Then it was on to Tim O'Brien, author, who broke the ice with a magic show complete with lovely assistant, disappearing cards and a dancing table.
Then, it was the long awaited moment when the two Tims (hereafter referred to as Author Tim and Musician Tim) came together. "He's gonna do magic and I'm gonna sing," joked Author Tim...but actually, the two participated in a Q&A session moderated by Andrew Maraniss (whose first book, Strong Inside, just made the NYT Sports bestseller list).
Maraniss' first question for Author Tim was, "Why magic?" To which Author Tim responded, "I asked myself that 10 minutes ago! I almost had a heart attack." He went on to discuss the way that stories "are also an illusion," saying that both stories and magic "require a suspension of disbelief."
Musician Tim agreed that musical performances also require sleight of hand and illusion, saying that most performers he knew were pretty different from their onstage selves.
Most moving moment: Author Tim illustrated the way that readers contribute to a work by bringing their own experience to it by recalling a memory of his platoon singing "Hey Jude." "I remember 100 soldiers going across a rice paddy in Vietnam near dusk, almost twilight. One guy—this makes me wanna cry—one guy started singing that song, and then another guy. And then as we crossed that paddy it was like a boys choir. And we were boys. Nineteen, 20, 21 years old. Don't carry the world upon your shoulders." (Listen to this clip.)
Funniest anecdote: Musician Tim once cashed an unclaimed check from Playboy that was most likely meant for Author Tim. "I owe you $500," he joked.
On the process: Author Tim admitted that "I'm an underwear guy. I rarely get dressed."
Simile alert: Musician Tim imagined that writing a novel is "like writing 100 albums."
The program ended with a reading from The Things They Carried by Author Tim, while Musician Tim played "Time to Learn" to a spellbound crowd—who responded with a standing ovation.
We can't wait to see what else The Porch has in store for us in 2015! For more on the two Tims, check out the interview they did with Parnassus Books.
Have you been staring at a blank page for a few days (or years), waiting for literary inspiration to strike? Good news! Through the end of January, Penguin Random House is hosting a series on their blog Biographile that features essays by successful authors on their writing process and habits.
In a press release, Penguin Random House states that "the series showcases original essays from more than forty fiction and nonfiction authors who share insights, tips, and poignant personal stories on how to get that first sentence on paper." Contributing authors include Maggie Shipstead, whose novel Astonish Me is our Top Pick for Book Clubs this month; Andy Weir, whose debut The Martian made him one of the breakout authors of 2014; David Levithan and many more. Check it out here and get writing!
If reading a book with a holiday theme is the best way for you to get in the Christmas spirit, you're in luck: this year brings some promising releases from new and old favorites.
In her first holiday novel, best-selling author McCrumb brings back the Appalachian soothsayer Nora Bonesteel.
Set in the waning days of the Civil War, this heartfelt novel follows a widow who finds solace in the camaraderie of her quilting group.
It’s Christmas Eve 1814, and Jane Austen is visiting a political family’s ancestral home. But then one of the revelers dies in a suspicious accident.
Three acclaimed writers of Amish romance share stories of love and the simple life in a collection that’s guaranteed to warm hearts.
Spend the season on snowy Nantucket with the quirky Quinn siblings, whose holiday includes a love triangle, a wife caught kissing Santa Claus and a few shots of whiskey.
Elise is no fan of Christmas—it’s the time of year she discovered her husband was cheating on her. Can a stranger help her find joy in the season?
The best-selling author of the Christmas Hope series returns with the story of two single parents, a lonely teen and a childless couple who discover the true meaning of Christmas.
What book puts you in the Christmas spirit? Let us know in the comments!
P.S. You can also enter to win some of these books and other fab holiday reads in this week's contest.
There's a growing trend amongst some of America's most popular authors: the "fan fest," or fan retreat. At these events, fans get to hangout with the author, chat about books and mingle with other enthusiasts.
Recently, best-selling chronicler of the Lowcountry, Dorothea Benton Frank, and William Morrow held a fan fest as a thank you to the legions of readers who have supported her throughout her career. Fans of Frank's humorous tales of love and middle age spent the weekend in the author's hometown, Charleston, South Carolina, and enjoyed cocktails, walking tours of the historic city, a cooking demonstration and more.
Popular romance author Debbie Macomber held her own fan retreat, hosted by Random House, in Nashville last year, and this past summer, Diana Gabaldon held an Outlander retreat with Random House to celebrate the release of Written in My Own Heart's Blood.
We want to hear what books you loved published in 2014! Vote in our reader survey for a chance to win 10 books hand-picked by our editors just for you! Need some help picking a 2014 book as your favorite? You can always peruse our pasts issues for suggestions.
Remember, the book must have been published in 2014 to count!
Click here to enter the contest!