A Few Memorable Reads from 2021

If I were to settle on the one book that I found most satisfying to read this past year, it would be Circe by Madeline Miller. When I finished it, I wanted instantly to call Lindsey so we could talk about it. And then I scrabbled around in my head, thinking, who should I give it to next? Circe now is in my other daughter’s queue. For those looking for a fresh (subversive) take on a peripheral character of Homer’s The Odyssey, I give this book my highest endorsement. (And this is coming from someone who has never even dabbled in greek mythology.) As I’m sure others have done when they finish a book that leaves them thirsting for more, I launched eagerly into another of Miller’s greek myths, The Song of Achilles (which was published in 2012, and, of course, endorsed on the cover of Circe). Loved that one, too!

It only seems fitting that I include a link to the indie bookstore where I bought Circe: https://www.waterstreetbooks.com/book/9780316556323

Here are just a couple other good reads, neither of which are new releases, but well worth your trip to the library:

Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe, 2019. The granular details of the 30-year struggle for peace in Northern Ireland (ending as recently as 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday accord) impress upon the reader the complexities and fraught realities of life in the region, particularly Belfast. As fascinating as this account is of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, not to be overlooked is the story behind the story, the controversial interviews that took place with key members of the IRA. Boston College’s Belfast Project became the focal point of an international court case as the two sides fought over control of the cache of interview tapes, the secrecy of which was promised by BC. I assure you, as soon as you finish the book, you’ll be online in a flash, trying to find out all you can about the “rest of the story.” Start by googling “Boston Tapes”.

The Immortal Irishman, the Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, by Timothy Egan, 2016. When my brother-in-law Tom recommended this book to me, I knew it would be captivating because there are few books that can grab and hold his interest for the duration. My other motivation had to do with a discovery I had made about one of my Uncle Jimmy’s Irish relatives; Se´an MacDiarmada, a possible second cousin of his father, was one of the seven signatories of the Easter Rising of 1916, all of whom were executed for their role in the insurrection.

The Immortal Irishman follows the inspiring life of Thomas Francis Meagher from his privileged beginnings in Waterford City to his participation in the Rebellion of 1848 to his life sentence on Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), Australia, and his escape from there to the United States. You’ll follow with rapt interest his exploits as the gritty leader of the Irish Brigade during the Civil War, at every turn asking yourself, “How did he survive that?” His is a remarkable story, and Egan does him full justice in his methodically researched and even-paced narrative.

As you can see, my interest cleaves to 19th and 20th century Irish history, and that’s no accident. On nearly every branch of my family tree, my ancestors immigrated from counties all over Ireland — Donegal, Galway, Waterford, Clare, Monaghan, Cork, Kilkenny — to this country either during the Great Famine or a generation later. It’s natural to want to understand the lifestyle of our forebears and their reasons for leaving home. . . for good.

I’m curious to know what books have captured your interest in 2021. Any common elements or particular motifs?