Irish Americans have richly contributed to the world of literature, counting among their ranks several national poet laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.
In honor of Irish American Heritage Month (March), here are ten books by Irish American authors to check out.
(Side note: this book list can also help you select March’s book for the 2022 Thoughtful Reading Challenge.)
In no particular order:
1. Snow in August by Pete Hamill
From Amazon: “Brooklyn, 1947. The war veterans have come home. Jackie Robinson is about to become a Dodger. And in one close-knit working-class neighborhood, an eleven-year-old Irish Catholic boy named Michael Devlin has just made friends with a lonely rabbi from Prague.” Sounds like a great choice for historical fiction fans. Count me in!
2. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Amazon summary: “In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.” I don’t read many books set in the ’70s. This one is definitely going on my library list.
3. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
From Amazon: “When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened – something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.” Most of the novel takes place 25 years later when one of the character’s daughters is murdered, another is a police detective assigned to the case, and the third is a suspect. BTW – the movie based on this novel is very good.
4. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Angela’s Ashes is Frank McCourt’s memoir of growing up in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. He opens the book with, “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” I’ve heard the book is excellent but his story is difficult to read about. Any thoughts from my blog readers?
5. Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara
From Amazon: “One of the great novels of small-town American life, Appointment in Samarra is John O’Hara’s crowning achievement.” and “Brimming with wealth and privilege, jealousy and infidelity, O’Hara’s iconic first novel is an unflinching look at the dark side of the American dream—and a lasting testament to the keen social intelligence of a major American writer.” Sounds juicy!
6. Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe
Amazon summary: “In Ashes of Fiery Weather, debut novelist Kathleen Donohoe takes us from famine-era Ireland to New York City a decade after 9/11, illuminating the passionate loves and tragic losses of six generations of women in a firefighting family.” A novel about an Irish American firefighting family written by an author from an Irish American firefighting family – sounds good!
7. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods is Bill Bryson’s highly entertaining account of his weeks-long hike on the Appalachian Trail. Bryson uses his wit and storytelling skills to describe the history and beauty of the trail and paint amusing pictures of hikers he encounters along the way. I read A Walk in the Woods several years ago when I was just getting back into reading, and it made me a Bill Bryson fan.
8. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road is Cormac McCarthy’s feel-good father-son novel. Just kidding. The Road is an intense post-apocalyptic story about a father and son’s fight to survive. “The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love.” (Source: Amazon) It’s a modern classic and Pulitzer Prize winner, but I’ve been too intimidated to read it. I think I need to just get over my hang ups and read it already!
9. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
My list of books by Irish American authors wouldn’t be complete without Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor frequently wrote in the Southern Gothic style, and she explored themes of her Catholic faith in her works. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories is a collection of her short stories.
10. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Confederacy of Dunces, an “American comic masterpiece,” won the 1981 Pulitzer. (See? I told you Irish American authors had won a bunch of Pulitzers!) From Amazon: “His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures.” A Confederacy of Dunces has been on my library list for quite a while. Will this be the year I finally read it?
What books by Irish American authors would you recommend? And if you’ve read any of the books on this list, please let us know your thoughts.
Shout out to Michaela for helping me with the research!