Now is the summer of our discontent made better by a few good books. Over the course of a year, quite a few books find themselves into the Echo office, all of interest in their different ways, and all competing for attention in what is for sure a crowded and tumultuous market.
If it's a beach that you like for reading, or the hills, or the kitchen table, here are a few high summer recommendations.
Starting out the top is Dan Barry's book about the bottom, that being the tail end of an inning in the longest baseball game ever played. Barry's "Bottom of the 33rd" is a gem, and given the season that's in it, a most pleasing way to pass a few sunny hours. Published by Harper Collins and widely available in stores and online.
"Hard Times, Good Times And The Celtic Tiger," is a memoir by Donegal man James Woods who, like so many others, lost his job in the Irish construction industry when said industry fell over the cliff. The cover has Woods on a lonely stretch of Donegal road with snow-covered Mount Errigal in the background or, as Woods describes it in Irish, Cnoc An Earagil.
The book reads like a diary, but its overall story is one that many Irish who lived through and witnessed the demise of the Celtic Tiger will easily enough identify with. A copy can be tracked down at www.originalwriting.com.
Dufour Editions is a name with which Echo readers are long familiar. The Chester Springs, PA company is the main distributor in the U.S. of books published by Irish authors in Ireland.
One of those authors has a name familiar to politician in the U.S. capital. Lara Marlowe is Washington correspondent for the Irish Times and has been, to say the least, around a few blocks in her three decades of working as a foreign correspondent.
Now while her work is most familiar to Ireland-based readers, Marlowe was actually born in California and has an impressive resume in the news business having worked for leading publications on both sides of the Atlantic.
So in what the cover describes as "this powerful and moving collection," Marlowe offers the reader a selection of stories written, for the most part, in troubled corners of the world far removed from the salons of Washington, Paris (a previous beat) or Dublin. Well worth a read if you are inclined to push back against the airiness and silliness of the season. Details available at email@example.com.
Still with writers from the Irish Times, Rosita Boland has been a fixture at the venerable broadsheet for quite a few years, but she is not the kind to linger at a desk.
In "A Secret Map of Ireland," the Clare-born Boland takes off on a mission to visit all 32 counties and the result is a travel book that is billed as "not your ordinary travel guide" and has been described by writer Colm Tóibín as being essential for anyone visiting Ireland and "even more essential" for those living there.
Looks like a great companion for a visit to the old sod this summer, that is if you can afford a flight at a price that NASA, in the days when it flew astronauts, might have charged for a back-of-the-rocket seat to Mars. Anyway, you don't have to go to the Red Planet to get this book, merely log on to Boston-based publisher Gemma Media at www.gemmamedia.com.
While on the subject of Ireland through a quirky lens, readers might be interested in Christopher Winn's follow-up to his "I Never Knew That About Ireland." The title is similar, "I Never Knew That About The Irish," but, as the title suggests, this tome focuses more on people than place. It is published by Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin's Press which can be checked out at www.stmartins.com.
Not so much a quirky lens but an optically exact one was employed by Kevin Dwyer for "Dwyer's Ireland," a most attractive collection of photos of Ireland's landscape and coastline taken from the air. Again from Dufour at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Cunningham has been mentioned in these pages before, primarily because of his acclaimed novel, "The Sea and the Silence," published in the U.S. by the aforementioned Gemma Media. Cunningham's take on the Celtic Tiger lunacy is "Capital Sins," a tale set in 2006 that centers on a high-flying developer and, according to the cover, "a struggling journalist who may have stumbled on the story of a lifetime." This Cunningham book is available from Dufour Editions and comes highly recommended by leading Irish reviewers.
Also via Dufour are the final words in book form from the late Dr. Garret FitzGerald. "Just Garret," which is subtitled "Tales From The Political Front Line," might not exactly be beach reading for most, but for those interested in Irish political life during most of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st, the man who was twice taoiseach offers a views on players and events that will for sure stand the test of time.
FitzGerald, as not a few readers are aware, comes in for some criticism in Fr. Sean McManus's recently released memoir, "My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland," and the Fermanagh-born priest, not surprisingly, gets a mention in FitzGerald's memoir.
Now what indeed could be beach reading is a sordid tale of murder, again via Dufour, and entitled "Catherine And Friends."
Written by retired Garda Superintendent Pat Flynn, this paperback bills itself as being an insider's account of the investigation into "Ireland's most notorious murder," an assertion that, sadly, has a few competitors.
The beach reading pitch is appropriate in that the story delves into the murder of publican Tom Nevin, who owned a popular pub, "Jack White's," in Brittas Bay, County Wicklow, a favorite seaside destination on the east coast. The trial and conviction of his wife, Catherine, was indeed a sensational story and it is recounted here by Flynn, who actually led the murder inquiry so is recounting from the perspective of a key insider.
IF is of course aware that Echo readers have an abiding interest in the historical struggle for Irish freedom and so it is only appropriate to give space to books of that struggle, most especially in the years spanning the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, and the Civil War. Cincinnati Ohio-based author Cathal Liam has dedicated himself to popularizing some of the lesser known, yet central figures of that struggle and that time.
In "Fear Not The Storm," Liam recounts the story of Tom Cullen, a comrade of Michael Collins, who, though less well known than Collins, played a pivotal role in the emergence of a free Ireland.
The story of Cullen is described by Liam as "a true-life novel and gently-fictionalized biography." But there's nothing gentle about the time and the central character's life which were stormy indeed. Published by St. Padraic Press and details at www.cathalliam.com.
With regard to the drawn out battle for independence, Dufour has placed on offer in recent months a variety of books including "Shadow of the Brotherhood," billed as "the true story" of the 1867 shootings of two constables in Dublin's Temple Bar district, more lately a venue for shots of a different kind. Author Barry Kennerk holds the magnifying glass, not just over the Temple Bar case, but Victorian Dublin in the era of the Fenians.
"Raids and Rallies," is the latest edition of Ernie O'Malley's own account of the 1920-21 independence war. No better man to tell the tale than someone who was in the thick of things. This book has certainly stood the test of time.
While the fates of the 1916 leaders are well accounted for, not all the men executed during the fight for independence are as well known as those who died in Kilmainham in the weeks after Easter 1916. One such was Roscommon's Patrick Moran, who was hanged in March, 1921. Moran's remains were exhumed ten years ago and he was given a state funeral. Now his life story is being added to that honor and is recounted in "Executed For Ireland," written by May Moran, his niece.
Of course, even as the war for a free Ireland was getting underway there was a colossal backdrop, that being World War I, an epic collision of empires that ended the lives of tens of thousands of Irish soldiers who fought in the British army. "Belfast Boys," by Richard Grayson, is an account of how unionists and nationalists fought and died side by side in the trenches. Details at www.continuumbooks.com.
On a very different and concluding note, a summer would not be the season that it is for many without a Maeve Binchy book to savor and Maeve's latest tale, "Minding Frankie," is available widely in the U.S. where it is published by Alfred Knopf. Maeve is a perennial crowd pleaser. You can take that to the bank even as you take this, or any of her novels, to the proverbial beach.