My Favorite Irish Books!
Top Pick-Nonfiction: McCarthy's Bar: A Journey of Discovery in the West of Ireland, by Pete McCarthy (St. Martin's Press, 2000). A half-Irish Englishman, McCarthy's motto is "Never Pass a Bar With Your Name On It." Hilarious from start to finish, this memoir ends on a soulful note, and leaves you hungry for more.
Top Pick-Fiction: All novels of Irish author Marian Keyes! Each one is a comic take on the young, Irish (and occasionally mixed-up) Everywoman. Keyes has become a master at combining the lighthearted and dramatic elements in her fiction, especially these three novels:
Anybody Out There? (Morrow, 2006). A young Irishwoman goes to New York and finds love. When her life takes a mysterious turn, her kooky, loveable Irish family helps her sort it out.
This Charming Man (Morrow, 2008) tells the tale of three scrappy Irishwomen and the deceitful politician that links them together.
The Brightest Star in the Sky (Viking Penguin, 2010), follows a quirky cast of characters you'll love, with a mystical twist.
And don't miss: Watermelon (Morrow, 2003); Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married (Avon, 1999); Rachel's Holiday (Morrow, 2000); Last Chance Saloon (Morrow, 2001); Angels (Morrow, 2002); Sushi for Beginners (Morrow, 2003); and The Other Side of the Story (Morrow, 2004).
The heroines of Keyes’ more recent novels, The Mystery of Mercy Close and The Woman Who Stole My Life are a bit darker, but the storylines and her signature Irish wit and charm carry you along. Under the Duvet, a collection of Marian Keyes' essays and articles (HarperCollins, 2004). Like Keyes so much you'd read her grocery list? This collection of the Irish author's non-fiction essays and articles showcases her quirky personality, and is easily as addictive as her novels. You'll love the Dublin vernacular.
I just discovered The Wee Christmas Cabin of Carn-na-ween by Ruth Sawyer. It's a picture book set in the time of the Irish Famine of the 1840s. Despite its mournful events, the story is gorgeously illustrated and ultimately life-affirming, enlivened by the magic of the "Good People"... the fairy folk.
Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The time-Honored Ways are the Best -- Over 700 Recipes Show You Why by Darina Allen. Allen is called "The Julia Child of Ireland," and you'll see why when you dive into this wonderful cookbook, full of traditional and modern Irish recipes. Written in Allen's delightful voice, this cookbook includes her definitive Irish Soda Bread recipe...including the advice to cut a deep cross on the loaf before baking, "to let the fairies out!"
Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Morag Prunty. This isn't a cookbook, but a lovely novel about a young Irish-American woman whose marriage goes downhill. She begins cooking her grandmother's old Irish recipes, and through cooking and memories, comes to find her way back to her husband and happiness. I just loved this book.
Midlife Irish, by Joe Gannon (Warner, 2003.) Absorbing memoir by a first-generation Irish-American journalist. Gannon travels to Ireland to examine his parents' early lives, and ultimately finds insight into his own.
Maeve Binchy's novels and short fiction... I love them all, especially Tara Road, a 1999 Oprah Pick; Scarlet Feather, 2000; and Quentins, 2002. Her most recent novels are Whitethorn Woods, set in a small rural Irish town, whose residents are connected through a holy well, and Heart and Soul, a charming Dublin-set tale with several characters from previous novels.
Binchy recently produced a non-fiction work: The Maeve Binchy's Writers' Club, a book of advice, tips, and suggestions for writers of all genres, contributed by Binchy and a host of other well-known Irish writers. Binchy also includes several of her short stories.
In Sunshine or in Shadow: Stories by Irish Women, Edited by Kate Cruise O'Brien and Mary Maher (Delacorte Press, 1998). Short fiction by some of Ireland's most accomplished women authors. Irish Girls About Town (Downtown Press, 2003). More stories from Irish women writers -- Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes among them -- but it's fiction on the lighter side.
The Lacemakers of Glenmara (Harper, 2009) by Heather Barbieri. A grieving young American woman finds love, healing and friendship in a small Irish town.
The Dead, a novella by James Joyce. Demands a second, third…or tenth reading. All I can say is I wouldn't presume to "blurb" a Joyce story!
Are You Somebody, by Nuala O'Faolain her memoir (Henry Holt and Company, 1996) and My Dream of You, her debut novel (Riverhead Books, 2001). Irish journalist O'Faolain pens an unforgettable memoir of her lonely childhood and adult years spent searching for love. Her novel -- which interweaves a story about the Irish famine with her present-day protagonist -- is equally memorable.
Niall Williams' emotional, gorgeous writing goes straight to the heart-my favorites include two novels, Four Letters of Love (Warner, 1998) and As It is in Heaven (Warner, 1999), and the memoir
written with his wife, Christine Breen, O Come Ye Back to Ireland: Our First Year in County Clare (Soho Press, 1989).
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt (Simon & Schuster, 1996). No Irish book list would be complete without McCourt's memoir of his early life in Limerick, Ireland…You'll laugh and cry at the same time as young Frank survives hunger, deprivation, and abandonment to emigrate to the U.S.
Tis: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (Simon & Schuster, 1999). McCourt’s sequel to “Angela’s Ashes” brings young Frank to a new life in the United States. While ‘Tis lacks much of the charm of the author’s first memoir, and at times, has an almost brutal honesty, the truth of human experience jumps off the pages.
Booking Passage by Thomas Lynch (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005). Lynch, an Irish-American poet (and also, of all things, a funeral director) who lives part-time in County Clare, writes a mix of memoir, poetry, travelogue, and a meditation on Ireland and his Irish forebears. He brings an open-hearted humor to all his topics, with an acquired Irish lilt that makes for hypnotic storytelling.