All that glitters is not gold...
While St. Patrick's Day inevitably inspires a lot of people to check out some of the literature that comes from Ireland, the country has long had a rich culture of storytelling and poetry, having produced several talented (and well known) writers over the years, many of whom could pack years' worth of reading lists with their own works — not to mention all the other countless writers who've been inspired by Ireland's history, as well as its mythic folklore.
But with so many authors, poets, and playwrights to choose from, it can be quite overwhelming for someone simply looking to for a taste of what Ireland's literature scene has to offer. So in the spirit of helping readers wet their whistles with some classic Irish (literary) fare, here's a list of some of the country's most iconic writers, any of whom can help you get started with a deep dive:
Though foremost a poet and a playwright, Wilde was actually a prolific writer in other mediums, having been interested in a myriad of subjects including art, philosophy and even interior decorating. He directed this interest into working as a journalist for a few years, reviewing art and literature and penning essays on both subjects. Eventually, he turned his attention to other forms of writing, releasing both a book of poems and a novel that has since become one of his most popular works, The Picture of Dorian Gray. But during his lifetime Wilde saw much success in the form of the positive reception to his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, much of which endures to this day thanks to his brilliant wit and skillful use of satire. It's even spawned a few different film adaptations, making it the perfect jumping off point for new readers.
WHERE TO GET STARTED: The Importance of Being Earnest
Despites it's Romanian roots and the inspiration taken from Vlad Dracula (a very real man), the character of Dracula itself is an Irish creation, and it's one that continues to endure all these years later. Stoker, who had studied science and mathematics — among other subjects — at Trinity College in Dublin was largely influenced by his father's interest in theatre and his mother's stories about growing up during the cholera epidemic of 1832. In fact Stoker's love of drama and the theatre was so strong that despite being a published author with a few horror novels under his belt and a job as the member of the literary staff of The Daily Telegraph, he still chose to work as an actor's assistant and as a manager for the Lyceum Theatre in London. These days, Stoker's other works are hard to come by, still it's never too late to dive into a classic, especially one that's had a hand in popularising vampires as a whole, with several vampiric characters having since risen to prominence.
WHERE TO GET STARTED: Dracula
Thanks to his time as a scholar, first at Oxford University where he was a Fellow and Tutor of English Literature, and later at Cambridge University where he served as Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Lewis was able to produce quite the bibliography, consisting of scholarly articles, essays on philosophical and religious themes, as well as a few fiction series. Of course, the most popular of these has proven to be The Chronicles of Narnia, a book series that has already inspired two movie adaptations and served as the basis for Lev Grossman's own take in his own popular trilogy, The Magicians. While The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is often brought up as a jumping point for this beloved series of books, it's The Magician's Nephew that allows for a deeper immersion into Lewis' world, with the benefit of not being a too-familiar, sometimes memed story.
WHERE TO GET STARTED: The Magician's Nephew
Much like many other authors on this list, Binchy's ability to write shown in many mediums, as she penned novels, plays, short stories and even a column for The Irish Times over the span of her long and successful writing career that even saw her appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show at one point. Considered one of Ireland's most beloved writers, Binchy's 16 novels have been translated into 37 languages and sold more than 40 million copies worldwide. But with such a prolific bibliography under her belt, it can be hard to pinpoint just which book to start with, with Binchy regularly bringing back characters in her later books, weaving even their brief appearances into a rich (and often hilarious) tapestry of Irish small-town life. For that reason, it might be best to dip your toe into her writing with a collection of all her journalistic writing over the years, as you get to know the woman whose writing captured the heart of many a reader.
WHERE TO GET STARTED: Maeve's Times: In Her Own Words
Another familiar household name and a regular on bestseller lists, Keyes' work is filled with humour and heart even as she frequently tackles complex and sensitive issues such as addiction, abuse, and eating disorders. So it's no surprise she's racked up the awards over the years, including two Irish Book Awards, for both Popular Fiction Book and Popular Non-Fiction Book of the Year. However, while her fans would insist that any of her books makes for a good entry into her body of work — each of which guarantees a happy ending — it's her one and only cookbook, Saved By Cake, that really showcases her particular gift, as she shares recipes alongside stories of how baking helped her get through a particularly tough bout of depression. It's a funny yet moving display of Keyes at her best, and it's clear why her writing is often sought as a comfort.
WHERE TO GET STARTED: Saved By Cake
If you spend a lot of time with children under the age of 10, there's a good chance you've encountered some of Jeffers work already. A gifted artist, designer, and writer, Jeffers has channelled his gifts into a diverse selection of picture books, that while aimed at kids, carry the kind of lessons adults often need reminding of. Be it how to deal with the passing of a loved one or learning how to embrace our differences (and what makes us so special), Jeffers' gorgeous artwork and tender storytelling has a tendency to resonate with every reader. And while each of his books is worth a gander, it might be best to start with arguably his most popular one, Here We Are: Notes For Living on Planet Earth. Written as a guide for his young son, Jeffers' signature sense of fun and humour is very much on display, as is his ability to weave in a lot of key messages that make this ideal for multiple rereads.
WHERE TO GET STARTED: Here We Are: Notes For Living on Planet Earth
Rooney specialises in depicting human relationships in all their nuanced and messy glory, while still touching on the intersections of gender, politics, and so much more, deftly capturing all the ways these subjects tend to impact people and the bonds they form with each other. And while her novel writing career has only kicked off quite recently in 2017, her short stories and essays have been achieving publication since 2015, with her writing having appeared everywhere from The New Yorker and The New York Times to Granta and The London Review of Books. Of her two novels currently out, Normal People would probably be the best to pick up and not just because it's a massive bestseller that has since been adapted into an award-nominated television series. It's a full-on showcase of why Rooney herself is one of the most exciting authors writing today and what's so effective about her particular writing style and the compelling way she renders the transformative power of people's relationships with each other.
WHERE TO START: Normal People
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