It occurred to me it would be fun if all the book lovers attending our extended family reunion this summer read the same book. Similar to what we do here in Rochester, NY once a year: “If all of Rochester read the same book,” a great project started by librarian Nancy Pearl in Seattle.
At the reunion, we could have an optional, one-time-only gathering to talk about the book.
Wouldn’t it would be interesting, I thought, to read a book that explored my husband’s family’s Irish heritage?
Easier said than done, because we all know what great storytellers the Irish are. When I asked for book suggestions on the family reunion Facebook page, the list got longer and longer. I hoped no one would suggest James Joyce.
Fortunately, no one did. (Librarian and former book editor that I am, I haven’t read a single book by James Joyce. Like every other avid reader in the universe, I intend to. Someday.)
Angela’s Ashes was on the list, of course. But with all due respect to Frank McCourt, his ship sailed some time ago, and we have to make way for younger authors.
I’m no good at conducting family polls and other administrative tasks, so I made an executive decision. I chose Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, because it’s hot off the presses, getting lots of attention, and Irish through and through.
I hope my husband’s family doesn’t mind I made this unilateral call, especially since I don’t have one ounce of Irish blood.
One of the things I most admire about my husband is his unshakeable sense of justice and fairness. I’ve seen this in my in-laws, too. In fact, I’ve seen it in many members of the family I was so fortunate to marry into. This is not just something they give lip service to. In many different ways, they live their beliefs.
Maybe being Irish has something to do with it.
I work directly across the street from Mount Hope Cemetery where former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a prominent figure in the history of Rochester and our nation, is buried. There is a riveting scene in TransAtlantic that captures the essence of Douglass’s trip to Ireland in 1845. I hadn’t realized Douglass had traveled to Ireland. That made TransAtlantic, for me, all the more relevant.
Members of our extended family have married or plan to marry into families from Nicaragua, Thailand, Saint Lucia, and other countries I can’t name simply because there are too many relatives to keep track of. (They are, after all, Irish.) If you’ve read my blog, you know I’m fascinated with the idea we may inherit from our ancestors a unique sensibility and way of looking at the world. I’m also intrigued by the wonderful new possibilities that may arise with the union of different cultures, possibilities inherent in the children who will be coming to our reunion.
Upcoming post on Transatlantic
In my next post, thoughts about Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic, as well as his Let the Great World Spin. which won the National Book Award.
Here is a link to an interview with Colum McCann on Charlie Rose.
If you’ve read either of these books, tell us what you think in the comments. Are there books that speak to your own family’s ancestry? Let us know!
IRISH FAMILY REUNION READING
The Sea, by John Banville
Circle of Friends, by Maeve Binchy (and other titles)
My Left Foot, by Christy Brown
Ireland, by Frank Delaney (and other titles)
The Gathering, by Anne Enright
The Wild Colonial Boy, by James Hynes
Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt
‘Tis, by Frank McCourt
Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott
The Mammy; The Granny; The Chisellers, all by Brendan O’Carroll
Trinity, by Leon Uris