Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Colm Toibin

I attended a reading at Stanford this week by Irish author Colm Toibin, whom I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of until our workshop instructor recommended him to us. I am now writing to recommend him to you.

The man who introduced him recommended Heather Blazing of Toibin’s published works. It’s going on my list as of now. Toibin himself is an engaging, pleasant speaker, who began his talk by saying, “My father died when I was twelve.” In true Irish fashion, this story leads through a few other stories about Irish funeral customs, how people would just come over to his house to pay their respects for months afterwards, to the story that leads into the work he’s going to read from. A woman he didn’t know well was over to pay her respects to his mother, and told his mother a story of her own, about her daughter who she found dead in her bed (two dead people already–you can tell this is an Irish story). The death prompted her other daughter to return from Brooklyn (not just “America,” but Brooklyn specifically). For a time, she stayed with the mother, the mother thinking she’d returned for good, until one day the daughter said, “Mum…I’m married in America.” And then it became clear that she would have to go back.

That one small story became the basis of his upcoming novel, “Brooklyn,” which he read two passages from. It’s funny (no dead people in either of the passages) and very lyrical, and despite the fact that I hadn’t slept well the night before, my eyes didn’t droop once. The first passage he read concerned his heroine’s passage in third class on a boat from Liverpool to New York, much of which is spent vomiting; the second passage takes place in Brooklyn on Christmas Day, 1951.

I’m adding his books to my stack and will certainly pick up “Brooklyn” when it comes out. Though I wouldn’t have discovered him without the workshop, ironically, I won’t have time to read any of his books until the workshop is over.

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