I always have some kind of resolution each year, never really having much success with any of them. Last year I was supposed to somehow become more organized, weight loss is also a perennial favorite, this year I’m going with reading more. I’ve been wasting too much time on my smartphone, so I’m going to combine two goals and say that I’ll stop using the smartphone after dinner, using that time to read instead. The goal is to read 25 books this year. Ms. J is joining in with a much more ambitious goal of 50 books. We have too many books in the house too, so another benefit of the plan is to maybe reduce the piles of unread books that are stashed everywhere. Reading 25 books might seem like a modest goal, but I’m trying to reduce the smartphone use gradually, so my progress might be slow at first. I suppose blogging about this combines yet another goal of posting more often, I’ve probably been averaging one post per month lately! I’ve never been very good at keeping resolutions, but maybe posting the progress will add an incentive. If I could only somehow exercise or organize things and read at the same time, I would have all resolutions covered.
My first book is ‘Home Before Night’ by Hugh Leonard. A memoir of Mr. Leonard’s life in Dublin, from the late 1920’s through the late 1960’s. I had never heard of Hugh Leonard before, I’ll admit that I picked this entirely based on the cover illustration, which was done by Michael O’ Shaughnessy. My copy was published by Penguin in 1979, it seems as though more recent editions have a different cover, a photo of a toddler in a pedal car. It’s a cute photo, I’m assuming it’s of the author at a young age, but it doesn’t really give the potential reader the added impression of the setting that this cover does.
What little I’ve read that has been set in Ireland has been in rural settings, this one though is entirely based in Dublin, just as the cover illustration leads you to believe. Dublin is important in the book, but the main focus here is the characters that Leonard describes; family, neighbors, school teachers, workmates, friends. Here’s how the book begins, with a description of his grandmother:
‘My grandmother made dying her life’s work. I remember her as a vast malevolent old woman, so obese that she was unable to wander beyond the paved yard outside her front door. In those days people confused old age with valor, they called her a great old warrior. This had the effect of inspiring her to gasp even more distressingly by way of proving them right and herself indomitable.’
‘My great-aunt Julia lived in a ramshackle drunkard of a house. Hardly a year passed without part of the ceiling falling down in one room or another, and when the damage became severe enough, she simply locked the door and never set foot in that room again.’
The memoir is filled with mostly humorous stories, nothing really traumatic happens, he gets along well with his parents, he has a large extended family, which is the source of a great deal of the stories and vivid descriptions. The one somewhat tragic incident involves his pet dog, (of course it does, when a dog appears in a memoir you just know something sad is going to happen), but even then the story turns out OK in the end. The vast majority of the book focuses on his grade school days and then his time in college. However, later in the book, a civil service job he held for fourteen years only manages to get a few pages. This job seems to be the one source of any regret in his life. He managed to spend fourteen years doing a job he hated, leaving that job to become a full time writer. He won a Tony award for his play ‘Da’ in 1979. I’m sure he used the time in that job to accumulate characters he would use later in his plays. His detailed description of his boss, a Mr. Drumm, is one of the best written I’ve read in a long time.
From the two examples of his writing above, it might seem as though he is a bit mean-spirited, but I never got the impression that he didn’t love every one of the family members and friends he describes, even the ones who received the most cutting of remarks in his descriptions.
This memoir covers the part of his life up to when he quit his civil service job, a second memoir covers his later life ‘Out After Dark’. This is a very funny memoir, If you can find a copy, highly recommended, probably the best book I’ve read in a long time.
I read that Hugh Leonard also wrote a weekly humorous column for the Irish Sunday Independent, in which a frequent subject was his abhorrence of a broadcaster named Gay Byrne. When Leonard retired from writing the column, Gay Byrne took it over. When asked if it bothered him if his old nemesis was writing the column, his reply was, “It would gall me more if he was any good at it”.
Here’s what Ms. J has read so far, with her very brief reviews She’s already ahead of me, having read three books so far.
Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff – ‘More of the same, if you like ’84 Charring Cross Road’ you’ll like this.’
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart – “Already forgotten most of it”
The Clothes they Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van by Allan Bennett – The first is supposed to be funny but it’s just dated and not at all funny, the second is strangely exploitative of the person in the title.
I’ll add in what Mr. C has read too!
A Tintin story, ‘The Cigars of the Pharoah’
How did you like it Mr. C?
“Oh you know, the usual, Tintin looks for the bad guys, he gets bonked on the head, he finds the bad guys, it’s good.”