Nicholas Grene is a professor of English at Trinity College but has also been a part-time farmer in County Wicklow since 1965, the year he turned 18. To explain that duel calling one has to tell his family story, and he’s done precisely that in “Nothing Quite Like It: An American Irish Childhood” (Somerville Press).
He was transplanted to Ballinaclash in 1952 from Illinois with his academic parents and his older sister. His Dublin-born father David would travel back to teach classics half of the year at the University of Chicago and would farm the other half. His mother Majorie Grene was, in addition to being a farmer’s wife, a leading American philosopher. Their son recalls in “Nothing Quite Like It” becoming the local Protestant National School’s 13th student and going on later to boarding schools in Drogheda and Belfast. His memoir is an account, too, of the vanished world of farming life dependent upon horses.
One of Ireland’s leading novelists, Sebastian Barry, describes Grene as “ever the elegant prose stylist” and “Nothing Quite Like It” as a “genuinely lovely book.”
In the Irish Times, reviewer Patricia Craig wrote that Grene’s book “can stand as a tribute to his parents, to the farm at Ballinaclash, to local traditions, to farm workers such as the independent-minded Tom Cullen (of ‘extraordinary character and charm’), to the whole of his rural/urban, outdoor/academic, insider/outsider upbringing. It is all recounted with great good humor, self-deprecation, zest and alertness, and makes invigorating reading.”
What is your writing
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I always write in the morning for about three hours starting at around 6.30. The rest of the day then can be spent on other activities, research, preparation for teaching, answering e-mails and the like.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Keep at it.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“Pride and Prejudice,” “War and Peace,” “The Great Gatsby.”
What book are you currently reading?
“The Color of Water.”
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Hundreds. John McGahern’s “Amongst Women” is just one.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
Colm Tóibín’s “The Master.”
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
What book changed your life?
No one book did anything so dramatic as that. Reading “Portrait of the Artist” and “Catcher in the Rye” at 14 were experiences that made me feel like an adult reader for the first time; reading “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Karamazov” at 16 was something extraordinarily intense.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow, if it can only be one.
You’re Irish if …
You feel yourself to be Irish.