Celebrate with a kiss, a pint of green beer or a bit of great literature -- it doesn't really matter, because we're all a little Irish on St. Patrick's Day. But since BookPage is neither kissing booth nor pub, we'll cover that last one: Irish stories.
For such a small island, Ireland has a vast history of notable (though often incredibly sad) writing: Swift, Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Heaney, McCourt, George Bernard Shaw, etc.
And the great books keep coming. Check out these three new epic tales, each taking inspiration from the Emerald Isle:
The O'Briens by Peter Behrens feels like the next generation in Irish literature. The poor O'Brien family seems caught between its potato-famine heritage, its isolation in the Canadian wilderness and the desire to grasp the 20th-century American Dream. It's a fascinating depiction of how Irish sorrow ripples through time. (Pantheon, 3/6)
May the Road Rise Up to Meet You by Peter Troy hits on familiar touchstones of Irish literature--famine, loss, the near impossibility of survival--but against the fresh backdrop of the American Civil War. This debut's four voices (Irish, Spanish and two slaves) tell a classic tale that feels equally Irish and American. (Doubleday, 2/28)
The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney is the conclusion to the beloved Ben McCarthy trilogy. These novels, set in impoverished 1950s Ireland, tell of the epic romance between Ben and his lost love Venetia. The masterful depiction of this tumultuous era in Irish history makes this series the perfect fit for historical fiction buffs. (Random House, 2/7)
For admirers of Frank McCourt and classic Irish memoirs, here are two great examples from the BookPage archives:
Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman by Nuala O'Faolain is the second memoir from one of the most powerful female Irish voices on bookshelves. In this book, she details her reinvention as she enters middle-age. Her process of aging as a "semi-American" is funny, candidly emotional and a great read. (Riverhead, 2003)
Midlife Irish by Frank Gannon is a humorous account of one man's exploration of his Irish heritage. He travels to the Emerald Isle to uncover his family's history and, in the process, begins a likeable, critical discussion of the country's past, present and future. This one just might send you searching for the untold stories lurking in your own family's past. (Warner, 2003)
And for kids with a little green in their blood, these picture books celebrate the spirit of ancient Irish traditions:
A Fine St. Patrick's Day by Susan Wojciechowski introduces a brand new fairy tale to the holiday. Children will love the story of the competition between the towns of Tralee and Tralah. (Dragonfly, 2008)
Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife: A Giant of a Tale from Ireland by Robert Byrd gives a loveable makeover to a classic Celtic legend. How can you go wrong with a tale of dueling giants? (Dutton, 1999)
Do you have a favorite Irish author or story?
There's a new review on our website that will appeal to people who liked Running with Scissors. . . or who are intrigued by families that have 14-bathroom apartments. Or who put hamsters in frying pans.
When I first heard of Wendy Burden's memoir, Dead End Gene Pool, I was skeptical. I reviewed Tad Friend's Cheerful Money in the October edition of BookPage, and I wondered. . . how much is there to say about fallen WASPs? (Friend's ancestors came to America in the 17th century and his father was president of Swarthmore College. Burden's great-great-great-great grandfather was Cornelius Vanderbilt. Both memoirs address the dysfunction in later generations of privileged families.)
I think I'll have to reconsider my position. Although Dead End Gene Pool doesn't hit shelves until April 1, our review is available now online. Nonfiction editor Kate Pritchard called Burden's memoir "darkly funny," writing:
Burden herself is a delightfully strange character, especially as a child, when her fascination with all things morbid was at its peak. (In one episode, she attempts to drive off one of her mother’s suitors by dressing up like Wednesday Addams and trying to cook her pet hamster in a frying pan.)
Sounds like we're not the only ones who've taken notice of this memoir. On Wednesday there was a lengthy write-up about Burden in the New York Times, which includes a slide show of her Portland home. (Note the camel skull on her coffee table.) Penguin also released a video interview with the author which features photos of family members in the book (watch the video after jump).
What do you think—is the WASP memoir a hot genre? Will you read Dead End Gene Pool?