Summer Reading

Here in the country: No TV, no radio...The Obamas on You Tube (both were great), but that's as far as I've gone with the conventions. Fire flies gone. What's left? Summer reading.

Am slogging through Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert (reading group assignment for September). Rereading and loving again The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark (other reading group). But read for pleasure: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Stout (interesting, but elusive).

BUT REALLY Great: The Irish: A Character Study by Sean O'Faolain. Thank you, Joseph S. O'Leary.    O'Leary didn't like my favorite, Heinrich Boll, "touristy," he thought, and proposed instead: "I recommend an oldie, Sean O Faolain's "The Irish" (1940).") It took me a long time to find it--not in Ireland where I looked, but on alibris. It came just a week ago (U.S. pub date, 1949, pp. 180, New York: Devin-Adair, who be they? )***UPDATE: the question is answered below @7/29, 10:39 by an old friend.

First, O'Faolain can write (and not just short stories). Second, he has well-considered and temperate views, which he weighs against others

--academic, literary, and popular. Third, he describes Ireland's many layered settlements, populations, and character types with an eye for the difference between myth and what might be history or exaggerated history, and the effects of these on the "Irish character."  In my browsing Irish book stores, I saw many, too many books on the Celts (and their genuis). I bought one and found it plausible. About the reputed Celtic foundations of Ireland, O'Faolain has this to say, "It is...proper and historical to accept the existence of a well-developed Celtic character, autonomous, subject only to itself, fully responsible for its own behaviour, and fit to plead at the bar of history to the charge of having lost a great chance."

He credits the Normans with organizing civil society and the Church, the Danes (Vikings) with establishing Ireland's first urban enclaves (Dublin, for example), and does not abuse the Anglo-Irish. O'Faolain found, at least in the 1940s, variations among Ireland's cities, which he attributes to their founding invaders and a sharp contrast between these and rural Ireland, still populated by the original invaders. Of course, he was writing 65 years ago. What remains?

P.S. My second-hand copy has the name Laurie Loud on the fly leaf and a tiny book plate: "Hale House Book Shop, 39 Hale Street, Beverly, Mass." on the inside front cover. Thank you for saving The Irish!

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages.

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