Thursday, May 30 2024 10:26

Travel to the Emerald Isle …

Written by Shelley Laurence, Main Point Books

Without leaving your couch

It’s an old axiom that travel “broadens the mind.” And while you’ll definitely learn amazing things by hitting the road, you don’t necessarily have to use a plane, train or automobile to do it.

Why not take your mind to new places by opening a book? It won’t break the bank, you don’t have to go through all that hassle at the airport, and you can go anywhere in the world. How about joining me on a trip across the pond?

Let’s go. Ireland awaits!

Let’s start with an overview of the Emerald Isle itself in We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole. This acclaimed Irish writer details the wrenching events that forced his homeland into today’s world. He calls it “a personal history of modern Ireland.” Main Point Books’ owner Cathy Fiebach agrees and can’t recommend it enough, saying, “This book was phenomenal. Fintan O’Toole manages to tell the story of the transformation of Ireland from a conservative Catholic bastion to a modern global nation, all from the perspective of his own growing-up years.” Want to know how Ireland became Ireland? This is your book.

Now that we’ve got the lay of the land, so to speak, let’s get into the Irish psyche. Award-winning author Claire Kilroy offers up an exquisite and provocative novel, Soldier Sailor, that reads like a thriller but is filled with astute and witty observations of life with a young child. It may be set in Ireland, but the story is universal. Old God’s Time author Sebastian Barry said, “Every woman on earth will identify with this book. Every man will learn something urgent to his betterment. It sings with great authority about the wretched entrapment and molecular joy of motherhood.”

There are plenty of stories and atmosphere in Ireland’s countryside, and who better to uncover them than the first lady of Irish crime fiction? Tana French takes us inside a small, secretive village for a story of revenge, sacrifice and family. I’m in. So is my colleague, Nick Wardigo: “The Hunter is an atmospheric suspense novel where a town in rural Ireland is a character itself, laying out the social rules for Cal, a retired American detective. Cal’s ambition never extends beyond carpentry and teaching his trade to Trey, a teenaged girl who desperately needs to rise above the sins of her family. They both have a real chance, too, until Trey’s deadbeat father returns to town, promising easy money for the struggling community. Is it a long con, and if so, what’s the play? To suss out the truth and save his ward from ruin, Cal must navigate Ardnakelty, a town whose quaintness is a thin veneer for a history of violence, and whose denizens can switch from quirky to sinister in the blink of an eye.”

Don’t let this next title fool you. Colm Tóibín’s Long Island is indeed an Irish novel. If you loved Brooklyn, this is one you won’t want to miss. (And if you didn’t read that book, what are you waiting for? It’s one of my all-time favorites!) Don’t believe me? Here’s what the editors at Kirkus Reviews had to say: “An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work … Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton … the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s. A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.”

Maybe after all this reading, you’ll actually want to plan a trip for yourself! Look no further than Rick Steves Ireland. Steves has decades of travel experience behind him, and he’ll help you navigate your way to top attractions and hidden gems. Want to connect with the locals? You’ll learn where to hoist a pint, find fabulous fiddles and jump into conversations buzzing with brogue. Steves also offers advice on how to make the most of your time and money by ranking his must-see favorite things.

How about adding golf to your Irish itinerary? Grab a copy of A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, a Pint, and the Next Tee. St. Joseph’s University’s own Tom Coyne describes his epic journey in search of ancestors, nostalgia and the world’s greatest round of golf. Coyne even leads golf trips and will gladly sign your book. The New York Times called this one “equal parts touching, wry and hilarious.” We here at Main Point Books are big fans of this local author as well.

How about a bit of blarney to interest your children in Ireland’s traditions? We recommend Irish Fairy Tales and Folklore by Nobel Prize-winning author and poet W. B. Yeats. This volume contains 70+ classic Irish yarns, including “The Trooping Fairies,” “Changelings,” “The Leprechaun” and more. There’s a reason why these timeless tales have been passed down for generations!

These recommendations only scratched the surface of Ireland’s rich culture. If I’ve piqued your interest, head over to your local independent bookstore for more great reading.

Shelley Laurence is a bookseller at Main Point Books, an independent bookstore with a handpicked selection for every member of the family. Check out their events, book groups and children’s activities at or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Order online for delivery or pickup. 484-580-6978; 116 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne.