Some books and a recipe.

It’s March — “the mad March days” and certainly the craziest time of the year for us. As well as seasonal concerts we’ll also be teaching again at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. The Music of Ireland, MU 395 with Dr. Victoria Lindsay Levine. Lots of hands-on learning of tunes and student creative endeavours.  

I’ll be teaching  lot of the history and background on this course so, I’ve not been doing a lot of purely recreational reading of late. It’s mostly been fairly academic stuff pertaining either to traditional Irish music — for obvious reasons — or to James Joyce, of whose work I’m a huge fan. On this front, I’ve been intrigued by The Books at the Wake — A Study of Literary Allusions in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake by James S. Atherton. I had recently read Dotter of her Father’s Eyes, a graphic memoir/biography by Mary M. Talbot and illustrated by her husband Bryan Talbot.


It’s partly a brief biography of Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, and partly a memoir of growing up as the daughter of James Atherton. Both women — Lucia and Mary — sought their fathers’ approval and love and neither of them received it. The book is smart and observant and, ultimately sad. I was intrigued to read Atherton’s book a) to learn more about Finnegans Wake and b) to get a bead on Atherton the man. I found out all sorts of interesting things — for instance, the huge influence of Lewis Carrol on Joyce — and I also found Atherton an engaging writer in a subject that could be very dry. He seemed to me to be a fairly affable personality but that doessn’t always make for being a good parent. Both books were good reads and if you’re a Joyce fan, you’ll enjoy them. 

On the traditional Irish music front I’ve been reading Donal O’Sullivan’s biography of the harper Turlough O’Carolan which has many insights about the state of Ireland during the 17th century. I’m finding it a good companion to Daniel Corkery’s Hidden Ireland, a history of that same period. I’ve also been looking into Traditional Music and Irish Society: Historical Perspectives by Martin Dowling. I’m only part way through this but it’s a comprehensive study of the social place of Irish traditional music from the 18th century through the late 20th century. It’s a little too comprehensive for my current explorations but a fascinating read and a book that I expect to come back to many times.  

On the more recreational side, I’ve been enjoying Mostly Short, Mostly True Stories from Ireland by Jim Remington (Pineglenn Press). It’s a book of thirty-one short stories about Jim’s travels in Ireland and have that delightful, slightly quirky charm that tends to abound when one is footloose on the byways of Ireland. It’s a slim volume and I’ve been rationing myself to a story here and there. It’s good stuff.  

I’ve also read a couple of mysteries to relax. The Crossing by Michael Connelly and Priests of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin. I gave the first to Jean for Christmas and she gave me the Rankin. Oddly enough, the books are very similar. If you’re familiar with these writers you’ll know that they’re friends and that both their main protagonists, Harry Bosch in the case of Connelly and John Rebus in the case of Rankin, are very similar characters. Both are past middle age and retired from regular police work at police, They’re rebels and lone-wolves, who were constantly in trouble with their superiors for insubordination and unorthodox methods. In these two latest book there’s also a similarity in plot. In The Crossing, Bosch agrees (reluctantly) to work as an investigator for his half-brother, Micky Haller, a defense attorney. This is regarded as some kind of treason by his old colleagues. Rebus, on the other hand, agrees to co-operate with the Complaints department of his police force, who are investigating possible wrong-doing in a squad that Rebus was a member of many years before. Again, this is regarded as a kind of betrayal and it forces Rebus to make hard decisions about loyalty and affection for his old comrades.  

I enjoyed both books. The Connelly moved faster and was easier to follow. The Rankin was a more complicated story but felt a little over-written. Rebus’ wry wit seemed a bit contrived and I found it a bit slow-going in places. Connelly is a storyteller and seems to make a point of keeping that central to his work. Rankin is a fine writer but he strikes me, in this book, as being a little fond of his own voice. Still, I enjoyed both books as a relief from more taxing reads.  

For this month’s recipe I’d like to recommend a recipe that I found on the New York Times Cooking page. I’m a fan of their cooking section and I find things there that help me expand my horizons. This farro salad by Charlie Bird is excellent. Very satisfying as either a Summer or Winter salad. It would also make a fine side salad with fish — grilled trout, for instance. As with all NYT recipes, you probably won’t need to change too much to make it to your liking as most of the NYT recipes that I’ve ever tried, seemed to be perfect as they were.  


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