Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Shamrock Shakes of Irish Literature

Last week, my brother-in-law, who moved to Boston last summer, asked me if the McDonalds on the East Coast served up Shamrock shakes for Saint Patrick's Day, like they did back in the Midwest. A Boston resident for over three years and a fan of--if not the fast food chain--that creamy mint green shake myself, I was ashamed to say I did not know. But I was able to tell him about Dunkin Donuts' seasonal Irish Creme donut, a sugar coated bun filled with a creme not-quite-green but a shade less yellow than your traditional Boston creme. It's nothing compared to their autumnal pumpkin donut, but as a novelty item, it's not a bad way to get yourself primed for St. Patrick's Day.

Of course, to get a true taste of Ireland, no one goes for the food. This month, we've got a range of Irish literature on display, writers who will give you a more accurate glimpse into Irish culture, landscape and cuisine--without the foul aftertaste of American fast food. We've got the classics: Yeats and Beckett and Joyce, and Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds. These guys are the Shamrock Shakes of Irish literature. You'll want to pick them up again, year after year.

You've read Dubliners, but have you read Dublinesque, a new novel by Enrique Vila-Matas set in Dublin as the world of publishers, readers, and writers is losing its hold on Irish culture. The protagonist is a retired literary publisher, but the strong presence of Joyce and Beckett in this novel almost make them characters as well.

And if you're looking for non-fiction set in Ireland, pick up Robert Kanigel's On an Irish Island. Kanigel introduces the reader to the lost world of the Great Blasket, an island off the west coast of Ireland, renowned for its former communal life and preservation of the Irish language. Kanigel weaves together the island's history with the colorful life of its local residents and visiting scholars.

Any of these books would go nicely with a pint of Guinness or, if you can find one out here, a Shamrock shake. Whether you're looking for a guidebook, map, or simply some good armchair travel, we've got them, no artificial flavors added.

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