I’m not Irish, and it’s no longer St. Patrick’s Day, but since I neglected to cook any corned beef and cabbage at my other online abode, I thought I’d better feature something appropriately green over here. I’m a fan of the Wall Street Journal’s “Five Best” format, so here’s a Five Best of Irish Lit (no Angela’s Ashes, I promise).
1. “Dubliners” by James Joyce (1914)
Stuff White People Like recommends this all-purpose comment on Finnegans Wake: “‘I love Joyce, although I feel as though Dubliners captures the spirit of the Irish more than this book.’ (Note: It is an old white-person trick to steer conversation away from books that you have not read.)” I’ll drink to that—I will never read Finnegans Wake, and I think Dubliners is the only Joyce worth your time, though I can only comment on A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (required reading in Catholic high school) and half of Ulysses. I listened to Dubliners on CD.
2. “At Swim-Two-Birds” by Flann O’Brien (1939)
Postmodern before it was McCool—indeed, before there was even a word for it. “O’Brien, Flann” doesn’t appear in the index of the Donald Barthelme biography I’m reading, which makes me wonder if Barthelme even knew how derivative he was.
3. “First Confession” by Frank O’Connor (1952)
The first short story I ever read. Solid gold.
4. “The Ginger Man” by J. P. Donleavy (1955)
I was introduced to this book by none other than TNC’s own Max Watman, and I’ll be forever grateful. Sebastian Dangerfield is one of the finest and funniest characters in English literature, and nobody I’ve recommended him to has disagreed. Bonus: Donleavy inspired the beloved Pogues bar-ballad “Fairy Tale of New York.”
5. “The Commitments” by Roddy Doyle (1987)
I’m cheating, here—I haven’t read this book. But the movie is so perfect that I can’t imagine the novel is anything short of a minor masterpiece. Here’s to “Dublin soul”: “Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.”