Friday, January 9, 2015

Ireland by Frank Delaney

I found this book in a $0.50 bin. I bought it because I thought it was one I'd already read that I wanted to pass along to my wife. A few pages in, however, I realized that it was a completely different book. And picking it up was a blessing, not an accident.


“Tonight, I'm certainly going to tell you a story, but 'tis a story with a difference because, unlike virtually every other tale I tell-in this case, I was there. And yet I know that although I was there, and I saw people who were real, they have since become somewhat imagined-because I now view them through my memory. That's something every human being does-but storytellers live by it.”

The book is part Irish history, part a narrative about a boy named Ronan. Beginning when he is just a boy, the narrative takes the reader through his life, and his pursuit of one of the last Irish storytellers.

“The one joy that has kept me going through life has been the fact that stories unite us. To see you as you listen to me now, as you have always listened to me, is to know this: what I can believe, you can believe. And the way we all see our story-not just as Irish people but as flesh and blood individuals and not the way people tell us to see it-that's what we own, no matter who we are and where we come from.” 

Delaney, frequently called the most eloquent man in the world, is philosophical, fascinating and captivating. I'll be adding all of his other books to my already-oversized to-read list.

“I never met a librarian worth his or her salt who didn't perceive my passion for books. And without exception, each one would lend me a book on a subject we had been discussing. No paperwork, no formalities of any kind, no rules or regulations.

My unspoken side of the bargain was to protect them, in two ways; first by keeping the book unharmed - not that easy, especially in bad weather, but when it rained, I carried the book next to my skin. I can tell you now that carrying Gulliver's Travels or Lays of Ancient Rome or Mr. Oscar Wilde's stories or Mr. William Yeat's poems next to my heart gave me a kind of sweet pleasure.

The second half of the bargain often nearly broke my heart, but I always kept it - and that was to return the book safe and sound to the library that had lent it. To part company with Mr. Charles Dickens or Mr. William Makepeace Thackeray and his lovely name! - that was harder than saying good-bye to a dear flesh-and-blood companion. But I always did it - and I sent the book by registered post, no small consideration of cost given the peculiar economics of an itinerant storyteller.” 

I finished this book with both tears and goosebumps. Beautiful, poignant and, for me, life-changing. It is one of the best books I've read in years.

“Beneath its broad surface, storytelling should always work hard to say more than it seems to.” 

 What I'm reading next:

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures

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