No Country for Old Men: Yeats, Joyce and Hugh Lane

As William Butler Yeats turns 150, an exhibition at the Hugh Lane is a little like having the poet as a tour guide

William Butler Yeats, 1933
William Butler Yeats, 1933

You would hardly know it was three days to Bloomsday. The middle of June in Dublin is usually infused with Joycean events and readings and articles, but this year, the face in the arts pages, banners and posters is not James Joyce but W.B. Yeats. Fair enough, though. Tuesday might be the annual celebration of Joyce’s masterwork, but today would have been Yeats’ 150th birthday.

I admit I’m not hugely knowledgeable on either. I’ve read and reread Portrait of the Artist… and Dubliners, but dipped no more than a toe in the “snotgreen… scrotumtightening sea” of Ulysses. I’m fine with the fact that I’ll die without attempting Finnegan’s Wake. The Yeats poems I know best are still the ones we studied at school – Sailing to Byzantium, September 1913 and When You are Old – and even though I loved mythology as a kid, I sometimes find his mythological and spiritualist allusions a little too cerebral for my tastes. For me, Yeats dealt more with the grandiose – with idealism and politics and nationalism – whereas Joyce was more rooted in mundane and intimate humanity, and it might be for that reason that I feel more of an affinity with Joyce’s writings.

That said, an accidental encounter with Yeats this week was a disarmingly intimate and personal one.  Continue reading

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Endangered or evolving? Independent bookshops move with the times.

The departure of Books Upstairs from Dublin’s College Green is not at all as bad as I feared

Books Upstairs’ old premises on College Green, with Trinity college reflected in the window. Photo from twitter – @BooksUpstairs

Today is World Book Day and as I’ve mentioned before, I have something of an addiction for the things – although I’m far more successful at accumulating them than reading them. There are certain bookshops around Dublin I can’t pass without stepping into and too often, I can’t leave empty-handed. My guess is that I end up buying at least five books for every one I manage to read, but as Sydney Smith once put it, there’s “no furniture so charming as books.”

The New York Times recently quoted George Orwell as saying that a bookshop “is one of the few places where you can hang around for a long time without spending any money”, and it’s very true (I don’t always buy something). When I step into a good bookshop, I often get a giddy thrill, at once excited and daunted by the seemingly endless possibilities – excited by what I could read and daunted by what I’ll never manage to. Excited or daunted, whether I buy or don’t, a good bookshop is simply a wonderful place to be and to pass time. However, that Orwell quote appeared in an article entitled ‘Assessing the health of independent bookstores’ as an illustration of the enduring challenges of the independent bookshop to stay afloat. The article noted that over the past ten years more than one in three independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland have had to shut up shop, unable to compete with the large chains and online retailers.

Books Upstairs

So when I learned last month – via a writer friend ten thousand miles away – that Books Upstairs was leaving the bustle of College Green for the bleaker surrounds of D’Olier Street, I feared the worst. Continue reading

Picking sincerity over cynicism: Giving Maria Popova the Brain Pickings treatment

Curator of curiosity Maria Popova took an editorial turn last week to champion journalistic integrity and truth in the media

Maria Popova. Image from Forbes.

I have something of a soft spot for Maria Popova. For the past two years, her Brain Pickings blog has been a constant companion, like a ridiculously well-read friend whose smarts would put yours to shame if it weren’t for her wholehearted delight in sharing them.

That said, I have something of a tsundoku approach to her weekly Sunday newsletters, which tend to pile up in my inbox like the books on my shelf. I have been gradually clearing that backlog, and enjoying every minute of it. But I am baffled as to how, when I can’t get through all she posts in a week, she manages to find time enough not only to write it all but to read all she writes about.

Opening up Brain Pickings is to venture down the rabbit hole of curiosity. Once you’re in, you quickly discover it’s more than a hole – it’s a whole warren of wonderment you could easily get lost in and never emerge from – but at least you’d never get bored.

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A new year, a new look & a Liebster Award

Being nominated for a Liebster Award seems as good way as any to reboot this blog. If you don’t know (and I didn’t, myself), the Liebster Award is a nice little blogger-to-blogger boost, a way for bloggers to acknowledge and promote other little-known bloggers they like. Given how little I’ve posted over the last year it’s perhaps somewhat undeserved. Nevertheless,liebster-award thanks to Lauren Foley for nominating me. Lauren is a terrific writer, and if you do nothing else you should read her magnificently-titled and just plain fantastic story, Squiggly Arse-Crack. But do make sure check out her blog.

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Camus at 100: “Live to the point of tears”

The absurdist philosophy of Albert Camus held that life had inherent worth, even if it had no inherent meaning  – a notion that has important parallels in approaching depression and suicide.

Camus, 1957. Credit: Robert Edwards
Camus, 1957. Credit: Robert Edwards

But for the absurd existence of a tree, Albert Camus may or may not have celebrated his 100th birthday last week. That might seem a glib way to reference a man’s tragic death, but somehow, I think Camus would have approved. He may even have thought it particularly apt that, given his philosophy, he should have his existence so abruptly and randomly snuffed out.

A French-Algerian novelist, playwright, journalist, essayist, philosopher and revolutionary, Albert Camus is a hero to me. Without any hyperbole or exaggeration, his words – and the fervid thought behind them – changed my life for good. The ambiguity of that last word is deliberate. It may seem odd to say my life was changed for the good by someone who held that life was meaningless. But that is the point. For Camus, life is good precisely despite its meaninglessness.

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Travel standing still: Seeing Dublin with different eyes

Dublin, westward along the Liffey, from Seán O'Casey Bridge
Dublin, westward along the Liffey, from Seán O’Casey Bridge

I didn’t think I’d be here. A few months ago, sitting on the balcony of my ninth-storey flat, looking out over Brighton, past the flamboyant Pavilion to the open sea, I would never have guessed that I’d so soon be living back in Dublin, where I’ve spent almost all of my life.

I love Brighton. It is a vibrant, lively, interesting city – small enough to have a real sense of community, but not so small that you feel enclosed. Not that you could feel enclosed in a city whose thriving heart opens right out onto the seafront. I lived there just long enough for it to become familiar, but without yet having lost that sense of novelty.

I could feel bitter and disappointed. I could sit around moping about being stuck here when I’d rather be there. But if I did, it would undermine the positives gained from the reason why I stayed here in the first place. One of the great things that I’ve developed over the past three months of counselling is a sense of acceptance of where I am right now, instead of regret or longing for where I could be. For now, and for what it’s worth, I’m in Dublin.
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