Posts Tagged ‘Ireland’

Enough is plenty

Our bodies are designed to tell us when we’ve had enough of something. And in a sane world we listen to the message and we stop. But we live in a world in which extremes are good and saying you’ve had enough is just pathetic. So the more our bodies send us warnings the more we find ways to reject them. […] We do it because we’ve bought into the idea that we’re morally required to ‘challenge’ ourselves. So we give ourselves lectures about how we ought to be, instead of listening in silence to see how we are.

When I first came to Corca Dhuibhne I heard a proverb that means ‘enough is plenty.’ […] If I thought about its meaning at all, I assumed it applied to food and drink. Now I think it applies to all the appetites, including our appetite for work and for personal challenge. Too much or too little of anything means lack of balance. The Celts believed that the health of each individual affects the health of the universe. I don’t know if that’s true. But I do know that the essence of health is balance. And I think the route to finding it is awareness in stillness.

—Felicity Hayes-McCoy, The House on an Irish Hillside

pei view prince edward island fields

I read this charming memoir just before leaving on vacation, where my husband and I spent several days wandering green fields and red sandy beaches, drinking in the views of the blue Gulf of St. Lawrence and patches of pink and purple lupines along the roadsides. The author is writing about western Ireland, and her words did remind me irresistibly of my own visit to the Aran Islands, long ago. But we found the same sort of deep stillness and rest on Prince Edward Island. (The photo above is the view from our doorstep there.)

As I reenter the world of commutes and email, errands and obligations, I’m keeping these words about balance in the forefront of my mind. (And picking up ingredients for a few salads, to balance out all the seafood, ice cream and pie we ate this week.) More PEI photos and stories soon.


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shoes book harvard yard

(It’s not quite warm enough to lounge in Harvard Yard with a book. But it will be soon!)

I Don’t Care if We Never Get Back: 30 Games in 30 Days on the Best Worst Baseball Road Trip Ever, Ben Blatt and Eric Brewster
The subtitle says it all. Two best friends – one baseball nut and one baseball hater – embark on an epic (some would say completely insane) cross-country baseball road trip. Wryly funny (if repetitive at times). Recommended for baseball fanatics. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 6).

Fingal O’Reilly, Irish Doctor, Patrick Taylor
A fun installment in Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor series, with all the usual colorful characters in the village of Ballybucklebo. I missed Barry, the young doctor who usually works with O’Reilly, but this was good comfort reading.

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, ed. Jocelyn K. Glei
This short book is packed with productivity tips from 20 authors. Further inspiration to create a schedule for myself and work on blocking out distractions. Recommended by Anne.

Scarlet, Marissa Meyer
This sequel to Cinder follows Cinder’s escape from prison but focuses more on Scarlet, a French farm girl on a search for her missing grandmother (accompanied by Wolf, an enigmatic street fighter). The storylines intertwine in surprising ways. Much darker and more exciting than Cinder. I can’t wait to read Cress (book 3).

Death in a Strange Country, Donna Leon
Commissario Guido Brunetti investigates the death of a young American sergeant stationed near Venice. Brunetti is likable and thoughtful, but the plot of this mystery dragged, and the ending was downright unsatisfying.

Catching Air, Sarah Pekkanen
I devoured this book in a day. Pekkanen tells a warm, relatable (but not predictable) story of two couples who move to Vermont to run a B&B. The men are brothers with a troubled history, but the story belongs to the women, who are each dealing with big questions about children, vocation and love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 6).

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, William Zinsser
I’ve been meaning to read this book forever. Zinsser’s practical, witty guide is packed with useful advice for journalists, memoirists and business writers – anyone who wants to (or has to) write nonfiction.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

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April is National Poetry Month, so I’ll be sharing poetry on Fridays here this month (and more often if I can’t help myself).

First up: one of my favorite poems from Seamus Heaney, whose words I discovered in a college course on Irish literature.

inishmor aran islands


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

That last line is a perfect evocation of what poetry should do. And this whole poem – its images, its Irishness, its use of simple words to convey a deep truth – is vintage Heaney.

(Photo from my trip to the Aran Islands in 2007, which caught my heart off guard and blew it open.)

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inishmor view 3

I grew up on the plains of West Texas, under vast skies that blaze orange and golden at sunset, stretching high and blue above during the day. Those plains stretch for hundreds of miles, the view broken up only by spindly telephone poles and by curving pump jacks rocking rhythmically up and down. I am used to landscapes that make me feel small.

As a native of that dry land, though, I have little experience with bodies of water bigger than a lake or a backyard swimming pool. My first views of oceans were mostly of the bird’s-eye variety: I had flown back and forth over the Atlantic Ocean half a dozen times before I found myself standing on the edge of it.

It was a bright, blustery day in September, during the year I spent studying for my master’s degree in Oxford, England. A lifelong friend of mine was spending the semester in Galway, Ireland, and I flew out to visit him for the weekend. The day after I arrived, we boarded a ferry to Inis Mór, the largest of the three Aran Islands.

Dotted with weathered, picturesque cottages and crisscrossed with ancient stone walls, the Aran Islands – Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr – float in the mouth of Galway Bay, just a few miles off the western coast of Ireland. Sparsely populated, they attract a steady stream of tourists but still remain green and quiet. We checked into our hostel, then rented bikes and rode all around Inis Mór, stopping to pick blackberries by the side of the road and occasionally pulling aside to let a horse-drawn cart pass.

Eventually, we found our way to Dún Aonghasa, a ruined, tumbled pile of stones that crowns the island’s highest hill. The tiny visitors’ center gave us an idea of the structure’s previous life as a fort, used by the islanders to protect themselves from invaders approaching from the west. We made our way out into the sunshine, eager to see the ruins and the view for ourselves.

I’m over at TRIAD magazine (run by my friend Kristin) today, writing about my experience on the Aran Islands. I’d love it if you’d click over there to read the rest of my essay.

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march books 2

Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution, Nathaniel Philbrick
Since moving to Boston, I love reading about it and its history. This account of the British occupation of Boston, the mustering of the ragtag colonial army, the battle of Bunker Hill, and the evacuation of the redcoats, was fascinating. Philbrick focuses on Dr. Joseph Warren, friend of Paul Revere and leader of the patriot movement, as well as Samuel Adams and other colonial leaders. He traces the events leading up to Bunker Hill and the later fight on Dorchester Heights, complete with maps and interesting asides. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 30).

An Irish Country Wedding, Patrick Taylor
I love this series following the adventures of Drs. Fingal O’Reilly and Barry Laverty in Ballybucklebo, County Down, Northern Ireland, in the 1960s. This book features O’Reilly’s long-awaited wedding to the sweetheart of his youth, but first the doctors must solve several problems. Their indispensable housekeeper falls ill; a young couple seeks advice on buying their first house; Barry begins dating a pretty schoolteacher; and the crooked town councillor, O’Reilly’s nemesis, is scheming again. Great fun.

Writings from the New Yorker 1927-1976, E.B. White (ed. Rebecca Dale)
I love E.B. White (as you may have noticed): his keen observations and quiet wisdom, so perfectly rendered. This collection of short, witty pieces from his many years at The New Yorker was delightful, instructive, hilarious and occasionally profound. Wonderful for dipping into or reading straight through (if, like me, you can’t get enough).

44 Scotland Street, Alexander McCall Smith
I like McCall Smith’s mystery series about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana, and picked this novel up for my book club. It follows the loosely connected lives of half a dozen people who live at the titular address in Edinburgh. Some of the characters are likable, some not, but it’s fascinating to watch their paths crisscross and see how they all perceive one another. And since I’ve visited Edinburgh, it was fun to travel there again.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, Shauna Niequist
I love Shauna’s blog and her two previous books, Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet. She writes with warmth and honesty about food (and our complicated relationship to it), the craziness of working and traveling and raising two little boys, finding time to build friendships as a grown-up, and memories of places she loves (her parents’ lake house, Chicago, Paris). This book made me nod in recognition, chuckle, and wipe my eyes – and I’ve already made three of the recipes. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 9).

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Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices, Leonard S. Marcus
I wrote my master’s thesis on Madeleine’s memoirs, with nods to A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels. So I found this collection of 50 interviews, with Madeleine’s family, colleagues, students and friends, fascinating. Some people praise her to the skies, while others seem determined to prove she had feet of clay. While Madeleine was wise and brilliant, she was no saint: she could be stubborn and demanding. Recommended for fellow L’Engle fans.

Excellent Women, Barbara Pym
Mildred Lathbury, thirtyish English spinster, meets her new neighbors (a rather eccentric, glamorous couple) and gets drawn into their marital troubles. Meanwhile, she provides comfort, a listening ear and cups of tea to various friends (all of whom assume she has “nothing better to do” since she’s single). Some amusing moments, but overall I found the story rather dull. Set in the same era as Miss Read’s tales, but not nearly as much fun.

The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Mitali Perkins
When Sunita’s grandparents come to visit from India, she struggles to reconcile her family’s traditional roots with her modern, California teenage life. (Mitali is herself an Indian transplant to the U.S.) I loved Sunita’s wise grandfather, Dadu, and her straight-talking best friend Liz, though Sunita came off a bit bratty sometimes. A sweet, thoughtful exploration of feeling caught between two cultures.

Renegade Magic, Stephanie Burgis
Kat Stephenson, 12-year-old Regency-era magical Guardian, returns. After Kat’s enemy Lady Fotherington nearly ruins her oldest sister’s wedding, Kat’s stepmother packs the family off to Bath, hoping to find a fiance for Kat’s other sister before any scandal can leak out. But Kat senses “wild magic” in the air around the Baths, and both her new friend Lucy and her foolish brother Charles get caught up in a dangerous game. I like Kat’s spunk, though her magic is not very well explained. Still an enjoyable story. (Second in a trilogy.)

The House on Willow Street, Cathy Kelly
In the tiny Irish town of Avalon, four women – sisters Tess and Suki, postmistress Danae, and Danae’s niece Mara – help one another navigate personal crossroads. Tess’ marriage and antique shop are both struggling; Suki is fleeing a dirt-digging biographer; Mara is healing from a broken heart and Danae wonders if it’s time to tell the secret she’s kept for 18 years. A heartwarming story with charming small-town characters – cozy and hopeful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 8).

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, Simon Garfield
I love maps, and I found Garfield’s book utterly fascinating. He covers ancient maps (as much theology as geography), the age of exploration, the American Civil War, polar voyages, traveling by map in the movies (from Casablanca to The Muppets), GPS, guidebooks, even mapping the brain. Crammed with interesting facts, but written in a witty, compelling style. Garfield also muses on how maps reflect our perceptions of ourselves, and our quest to find our place in the world.

House of Light, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s work, and enjoyed this slim collection of quiet, luminous poems. It contains “The Summer Day,” which I already adored, but I found some new gems, including the end of “The Ponds”: “Still, what I want in my life / is to be willing / to be dazzled.” Lovely and honest scenes from nature, and musings on our “place in the family of things.”

The Lost Art of Mixing, Erica Bauermeister
A gorgeous sequel to The School of Essential Ingredients (which I adored), about chef Lillian and the people whose lives intertwine at her restaurant. Sous chef Chloe and dishwasher Finnegan are both healing from heartbreak of different kinds; Isabelle is struggling against memory loss; accountant Al takes refuge in numbers as his marriage falls apart; and Lillian herself faces a new, unexpected challenge. Luminous writing, and characters I wanted to meet. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 24).

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
I’d never read this classic, and finished it in a day. An odd, dark, yet hopeful story of censorship, war and preserving the written word against all odds. I didn’t connect deeply with any of the characters, but the message is powerful (and oddly prescient, considering it was written in the 1950s). Not a favorite, but I’m glad I read it.

What are you reading lately?

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june reads books part 1The Shoemaker’s Wife, Adriana Trigiani
I love Trigiani’s work and enjoyed this sweeping novel about Enza and Ciro, who meet in Italy as teenagers and eventually find their way to America (and each other). Wonderful scenes of village life in Italy, Italian immigrant life in various parts of New York City (from Hoboken to the opera), and finally small-town Minnesota. I particularly enjoyed the bond between Ciro and his brother. Trigiani writes lushly, as always, of clothes and food and music. Sometimes she tells instead of showing, but I am always happily swept up in her stories. (For my book club’s June meeting.)

The Lark Shall Sing, Elizabeth Cadell
This was a truly serendipitous find: it was on the library shelf next to Meg Cabot’s books. So I picked it up and thoroughly enjoyed the story of the Waynes, six orphans who all rush home to prevent their eldest sister from selling the family house. They pick up some new friends along the way, and everything works out tidily. A bit predictable, but highly entertaining.

Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys
Bought this in an airport bookstore and was totally captured by the story of Lina Vilkas and her family, Lithuanian refugees during World War II. Taken from their home in the night by Soviets, they endure cold, hunger, hard labor and abuse while traveling thousands of miles to Siberia. Painful but beautifully written, and a powerful tribute to the courage of the human spirit. Sepetys writes especially well about the tiny blessings and kindnesses that keep people going when life is bleak. (Not to be confused with that other “shades of grey” book…)

Esperanza Rising, Pam Munoz Ryan
Another story of immigrants, hard work and perseverance. Esperanza and her mother go from being Mexican nobility to immigrant farm workers in California’s produce fields. Esperanza is spoiled and bratty at first, but gradually grows strong and brave, and I enjoyed watching her learn to cook, clean, care for young children and adjust to her new circumstances.

The Christmas Mouse, Miss Read
Another brief Christmas tale from Fairacre, involving a real mouse and a mouselike boy who both visit an elderly widow on Christmas Eve. Sweet, if a bit moralistic (not Miss Read’s usual method). I enjoyed this, but I like the full-length Fairacre novels better.

An Irish Country Courtship, Patrick Taylor
The fifth in the highly enjoyable Irish Country series (I love these books). Barry Laverty, the young doctor of Ballybucklebo, is struggling with some big decisions, and so is his boss, Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. They also find time to see to their patients, stop the local councilman from cheating at the horse races, and enjoy Mrs. Kinky Kincaid’s fine cooking. Possibly the best in the series so far – smart and comforting and often hilarious.

On the Outside Looking Indian, Rupinder Gill
Raised in Canada by strict Indian parents, Gill felt she missed out on a lot of “typical” North American childhood experiences: taking lessons (of any kind), learning to swim, going to Disney World. At 30, she set out on a quest to make those experiences happen. Along the way, she faced down quite a few fears, did some soul-searching and had her share of cringingly hilarious experiences. A “stunt” memoir, which at times veers into cliche, but overall fun and entertaining.

Gold, Chris Cleave
Kate and Zoe are the two fastest female cyclists in the world. They are also best friends (Kate is perhaps Zoe’s only friend), bound together by 13 years of racing and a complicated emotional history. Cleave brings a breathless, razor-sharp writing style to the world of competitive track cycling, as these women prepare for the 2012 Olympics (and as Kate’s daughter, Sophie, battles leukemia). Gripping, though the characters are always a bit detached from real life because of their devotion to cycling. (I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Six Impossible Things, Elizabeth Cadell
This is a sequel of sorts to The Lark Shall Sing (see above), set 10 years later. The Wayne siblings, notably eldest boy Nicholas and youngest sister Julia, are still trying to sort out their lives and loves. Weddings, foreign visitors, insightful friends and old-fashioned English village life combine to make this a fun and entertaining tale.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel
This was the first graphic narrative I’d ever read – and the subject matter (a lesbian writer’s complex relationship with her mother) is also way beyond my usual comfort zone. I found this book by turns provocative, fascinating, funny, offensive and sad. Bechdel explores her love life, her family life, Virginia Woolf, psychoanalysis and other subjects in a graphic format. (I read this for Lauren Winner’s memoir workshop at Glen East, of which more soon.)

This post contains IndieBound affiliate links. Graphic by Sarah.

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