The Irish in America


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Summer Irish American Book Club: August, already???

Indeed, it is. Another summer nearly over. But, nearly is the operative word. There is still time to knock a couple more titles off your summer reading list. Regan (my sis) and I started reading Pete Hamill’s Snow in August and I am really enjoying it so far. Order it up and join us…click here, less than $7 on Amazon.

Snow in August takes us to Brooklyn (we’ve been there a lot this summer!) For a change of pace, this novel gives us a male perspective on 20th century Irish American life. The novel opens in December 1946 with eleven-year-old Michael Devlin waking up in the apartment he shares with his mother. That’s all I am going to say. I don’t like when people give things away about books. Isn’t that why we read them? To find out what happens? Click here to read the proper New York Times review.

Regan and I are reading Snow in August at the same time so it will be nice to talk about it as we go. I missed that with the last couple of books which we read alternately.  That doesn’t make for much of a book club, now does it?

Here’s a list of the books I’ve read so far this summer. You will notice a couple of non-Irish-America-related titles. I took a bit of a detour last month. This list begins with the most recently read book.

 

SUMMER 2017 BOOKS, SO FAR

 

Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe.

What I liked most about this book was that Donohoe’s characters felt real. Sometimes they bugged me and I sighed and rolled my eyes at their decisions. Other times I was surprised by their bravery, commitment, and compassion. It’s just how I feel about my family and friends. I also appreciated the way she structured the book and was very consistent in weaving the elements and generations together.  We were given a backstage pass into the world of the F.D.N.Y. and it was fascinating and heartbreaking. Really enjoyed this book.


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I loved Holden Caulfield when I read this for the first time at age fifteen, and I love him today (many years later). If you haven’t read this for a while, do it. Holden mentions that his last name is Irish and his dad used to be Catholic when he talks about how “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re a Catholic.” (p.125)  So many good quotes and insightful observations from Holden. Holden is definitely near the top of my “all-time favorite characters” list.

 

At Weddings and Wakes by Alice McDermott.

When I finished this book and noticed it was published in 1992, I could not understand what took me so long to read it! I fell in love with this book on the first page. McDermott’s writing is beautifully subtle, but she doesn’t try to be mysterious. Bits and pieces of each character reminded me of some old relative in my own Irish American family (those I knew as well as those I’d only heard stories about.) So much felt familiar…like how Lucy never left her aunties without a bag of stuff.


Three Days in Damascus by Kim Schultz.

This memoir has nothing to do with Irish America, but Kim is an old friend of mine. She should be proud of herself for this book. I know I am proud of her! As I read it, I felt like it was 1994 and I was sitting at a crowded table at Chang O’Hara’s, drinking beers and listening to Kim tell us a story. Those were good times. The origin of this memoir is a one-woman play Kim produced following her experience meeting and interviewing Iraqi refugees. Kim met a special refugee and brings us along on the bumpy and confusing road of loving through language and cultural barriers. Well done, Kim. I wish Chang’s was still here…I’d buy you a beer!


Don’t Tell the Girls by Patricia Reilly Giff.

This was a delightful family memoir in which Patricia Reilly Giff explores her Irish heritage. She took the stories she had heard throughout her life and set out to learn details of the real events in her family history. I know the feeling of pouring over census records and passenger lists, looking for something – anything – familiar. What Reilly Giff learned, I will leave it for you to read. There is usually more to the story that Grandma tells…we just have to figure it out! This is currently a real bargain at Amazon…cute hardcover volume for less than $5 would make a great gift…click here.

 

 Saints for all Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan.

Please click here to see my earlier post for more on this book.

 

 

 

 

ON DECK

I just got a copy of Will Murray’s King Kong vs. Tarzan and I think that’s going to be an awesome way to close out the Summer of Irish American Reads! I’ll update you on what we thought of Snow in August

 

Let me know what you are reading and if you have any suggestions for great Irish American book. Leave a comment or send an email to TheIrishInAmerica!

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Monica Wood: Irish American from Mexico (Maine)

WWWTK

From the moment she began reading When We Were the Kennedys, my sister, Regan, could not stop talking about the book. Regan reads a lot, but we don’t usually share what we read. I think it’s because our literary tastes differ quite a bit. But that all changed when Regan read, When We Were the Kennedys.  As she finished the book and handed it off to me, she said, “Hurry up now and finish it so we can talk all about it!” (Please keep reading to learn about your chance to win a copy for yourself!)

The Kennedy name surely caught Regan’s eye initially – the iconic Irish American family has always intrigued her – but the blurb on the back sold her. The story begins in 1963 with the close-knit Wood family living in Mexico, Maine. Mexico is a town physically, psychologically, and fiscally dominated by the Oxford Paper Company. The author’s father dies suddenly on his way to work at the Mill one day and life for the Wood family changes forever. We see how the family mourns (at one point with the entire country) and how they begin to make their way back.

Poignant, but never sappy, it is a truly a beautiful memoir. One reviewer said he had never pulled as hard for a family. That is exactly how I felt, and I wanted to learn more about its author, Monica Wood. She mentioned in an interview that both her parents’ families came from an Irish enclave on Prince Edward Island, Canada and that her father was a natural storyteller with a gift for language, but I wondered how else she felt her heritage as an Irish American.

Monica Wood - click photo to learn more about the author!

Monica Wood

Monica was gracious enough to chat a bit and answer a few questions. I began by asking Monica if growing up she was aware of her Irish roots. Monica said very much so and went on to describe the lilting accents of her grandparents and the “many, many Irish expressions that were built into our family lexicon. Lots of colorful expressions.”

I asked if she remembered any and Monica came up with: “Arriving with one arm as long as the other.” Meaning? “You brought nothing to the table.” That’s one I can definitely hear my Irish American relatives saying!

Monica also remembered songs such as “Whiskey You’re the Devil” and “Danny Boy” filling the air of her childhood.

I was interested if Monica ever felt she was treated differently as an American of Irish descent. Mexico, Maine was a town of immigrants and the children of immigrants, so she never felt out-of-place because of her heritage. Monica was proud of it: “…I remember as a child in my town, we still identified by our families’ roots. When a kid asked, ‘What are you?’, my answer was ‘Irish.'”

Monica recently visited Ireland for the first time, spending part of her visit on a houseboat on the Shannon. She was amazed at how, although many generations removed from Ireland, she felt at home in Ireland. The Irish embrace their history and their folklore in such a way that a common ground emerges when descendants of those who left, return. This is why it can feel like coming home for many Irish Americans.

I’d like to share what Monica told me about her visit to Ireland:

My sister Cathe had been there just last year and told me it would feel like coming home. I didn’t think that would be true. But it was. For one thing, so many people reminded me of aunts and uncles and cousins! And they are so very warm, and they LOVE to talk, and sing, and lift a glass to almost anything. The night before we left (I was there with my husband) we ended up singing for 100 people in a pub in Ennis. By the time I got to the final chorus, everyone had learned the song (“Hard Times” by Stephen Foster) and was singing with me. I got the chills, literally, and realized: This is my tribe.

I can imagine that Monica was a big hit with the people of Ennis that night – they do love when you bring a song!

I am so happy to have read When We Were the Kennedys, and if you don’t win the Author-Signed Copy in our little competition here at The Irish in America, you will just have to go out and buy one for yourself, but it probably won’t be signed. Monica even agreed to personalize the inscription (actually it was her idea!)

So, how do you win? It’s easy! Just “like” this post – either click the button below on the blog or like it on Facebook (click here) – and your name will be entered in a drawing to win. Only one entry per person, please. You only have until 11:59pm (EST) Sunday, January 26th. We will announce the winner here on the blog early next week. For more information on the contest, please visit our CONTEST page.

Good luck!

Take a look at this short video and hear Monica talk about When We Were the Kennedys:

Click here to read reviews of When We Were the Kennedys by Monica Wood.