Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Short Story Week 2011

It's Irish Short Story Week at The Reading Life and I am so glad that it is St. Patrick's Day, as I wanted to use this day to talk about Ireland and dig in to some good Irish short story reading.
About Ireland:
          I've only been to Ireland twice. The first time was in 1998 when I was studying abroad. Upon arrival, we were given a lovely tour of the town by two boys who had to have been about 12 or 13. We weren't used to their accents, but I think they told us a little lore, a little history and all about where to find food like McDonald's and their friendly humor was indicitive of the rest of the people we'd meet. We stayed with a lovely elderly lady who made sure that we didn't put our money in our back pockets, got us up for breakfast (large Irish breakfast with eggs, and toast, and bangers and mash, and tomatoes and some sort of porridge, coffee and tea), knew what time we got home at night (didn't she Julie?), pronounced film like phil-um, and made sure we weren't in the house when she wanted to go to mass (which was at least 3 times a day--I swear). We visited with a man that could quote Seamus Heaney, took a hop on hop off tour, visited the Guiness Brewery, the City Centre and many cathedrals. And, we took a train outside of Dublin and climbed the hills by the ocean. To this day, however, and after all of that I still consider this woman and those boys the idea of what it means to be Irish and to be in Ireland...warm, friendly, inviting, but stern, strict and highly religious.

          I have tried to pick stories that I think capture the essence of Ireland to me, while still finding stories that in some way appeal to me. Happy Reading and Happy St. Patrick's Day!!! Click on the title of the story to access the link to the story.

The Short Stories
"The Quiet Man"...Maurice Walsh
4 Stars
"Shawn Kelvin, a blithe young lad of 20, went to the States to seek his fortune. And 15 years thereafter he returned to his native Kerry, his blitheness sobered and his youth dried to the core, and whether he had made his fortune or whether he had not no one could be knowing for certain. For he was a quiet man, not given to talking about himself and the things he had done. A quiet man, under middle size, with strong shoulders and deep-set blue eyes below brows darker than his dark hair - that was Shawn Kelvin."
Themes: manly pride, feminine pride, Irish pride, roots, being true to ones sense of self
About: A guy, who having grown up in The States, comes back to his home in Ireland to assimilate into Irish life, find a wife and live quietly. He, however, finds more than he bargains for in Mary-Kate and a tragic event that even an ocean cannot help him forget.    
Why you should read it?
Well, I will have to say that it is the definitive Irish story. There's boxing and beer and a beautiful red-headed woman and if you're like me, you won't be able to help yourself and you'll imagine John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.

"The Dead"...James Joyce
5 Stars
"LILY, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet. Hardly had she brought one gentleman into the little pantry behind the office on the ground floor and helped him off with his overcoat than the wheezy hall-door bell clanged again and she had to scamper along the bare hallway to let in another guest. It was well for her she had not to attend to the ladies also."
Themes: what it means to be alive, what lessons do we learn from those around us, things are not always what they seem
About: A man and his wife go to a party and nothing much seems to happen. He is oridnary and comical and she is passive. After one brief moment on the stairs he realizes that both of their lives mean so much more than he could have possibly thought.    
Why you should read it?
I love this story because I read through all of the beginning (which is really quite a lot) thinking what is the point and then the ending (Joyce's epiphany) is so beautiful and profound that it changed my way of thinking about life and about what it means to live.

"Dracula's Guest"...Bram Stroker
4 Stars
"When we started for our drive the sun was shining brightly on Munich, and the air was full of the joyousness of early summer."
Themes: terror,
About: An English gentleman goes against the wishes of his carriage driver and takes a walk down a path to a village inhabited by the dead. Dracula comes to his aide, but how and why?    
Why you should read it?
Who doesn't enjoy reading a story that has suicide zombies, wolves that are more than wolves, Dracula and a daring rescue. Save it for Halloween, read it to your friends.

"A Modest Proposal"...Jonathan Swift
5 Stars
"It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms."
Themes: the plight of the Irish, British Rule
About: A gentleman decides that there is a better way to rid the British of their problems with the Irish. This 'proposal' will even help the Irish with their 'starvation problem'.    
Why you should read it?
 If you like satirical stories about social commentary, you'll love this. I think I might be ruining some of the surprise by telling you this is satire...the people who read it when it first came out didn't know, many now don't understand to this day what Swift was getting at.

"First Confession"...Frank O'Connor
5 Stars
"All the trouble began when my grandfather died and my grand-mother - my father's mother - came to live with us. Relations in the one house are a strain at the best of times, but, to make matters worse, my grandmother was a real old countrywoman and quite unsuited to the life in town. She had a fat, wrinkled old face, and, to Mother's great indignation, went round the house in bare feet-the boots had her crippled, she said."
Themes: family relationships, the relationships of brothers and sisters, faithfulness, self-righteousness
About: A little boy, who has committed sin upon sin, skips out on his first confession, only to find out that me must go it alone on a Saturday escorted by his perfect sister, no less.
Why you should read it?
If you were ever that kid who worried about what the Lord was going to do to you after you died, you will love this touching story of true confession.

Natalie...Anne Enright
4 Stars
"So Natalie put me straight. Who knows what Natalie wants or what she likes, but we know what she doesn’t like, that’s for sure. At least we do now."
Themes: family, friendship, high school, girl friendships, boyfriends
About:  A girl and her 'friendship' with a girl named Natalie, a boy named Billy and her boyfriend. On one night this girl realizes what life is truly about and she realizes what it means to be a friend and what it means to love people.   
Why you should read it?
I was a melancholy teenage girl...always thinking. When I read this story I am reminded of that fact and I am reminded that being melancholy isn't really all negative.

Wasting Time with People...Mauve Binchy
2 Stars
*sidenote: the link for this is from Mauve Binchy's website and it says that she changes stories periodically, so you may be getting a different story than I read.
"Beth tried to be friendly when John and Kitty came to live next door at Number 29. She made them a lamb stew as a supper for their first night there. They were polite and thanked her for her kind gesture but they sent out a very strong message."
Themes: friendship, envy, being neighborly
About: A woman who learns what she has (time, friendships and love) only after new neighbors move in and an accident changes their lives.    
Why you should read it?
Read this story if you like short feel-good pieces about community and, well, friendship.


  1. Great post!
    I love the sound of First Confession and I would really like to be able to read it today. Hope I can find it at the library, or if not the bookstore. Thanks!

  2. TheBookGirl, I'm sooo sorry. There's a link to each story if you scroll over the title. I should have put that in the post and have now done so! :) Thanks for drawing that to my attention! HAppy Reading!

  3. Great selection of short stories-I thought your inclusion of the piece by Swift was really brilliant-thanks so much for your great list of reading ideas-I enjoyed your account of your vists to Ireland-I love the banner you created for Irish Short Story week!

  4. Stephanie-Irish Short Story Week Year Two Starts on March 12-I am just stopping by to say I am very happy you plan to join in for the second year-if you are interested I have posted a long list of women writers from Ireland on the resource page-I love your bold and brilliant inclusion of the Swift's "A Modest Proposal" last year


    Mel u

  5. Hi Stephanie-It is time once again-Irish Short Story Month will be from March 1 to March 31-I just wanted to personally invite you to participate.

    1. ok, so i'm going to your page right now and i'm going to do some awesome irish story reading!!! :D



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