Cleveland Comhrá: Top Ten of 2023

By Bob Carney

This is my fourth year of sharing my top ten books of the previous year, and believe it or not, it is becoming more difficult every year to pick them, mostly because so many of you are recommending such great books to me! I can’t thank you enough.

The guidelines are still the same  regarding politics, conservation and climate. Many of these books are important to me but rarely make me feel optimistic about our future, so I have decided not to include them.

I also tend to read quite a few fictional horror books throughout the year, probably more than any other genre. I’ll limit myself to sharing only one or two, but, I could easily comprise a “Top Twenty” in that category!

It is also important to note the recommendations from the members of CRAIC, Cleveland Reads About Ireland Club, our local Irish book club. I’m a horrible participant, I think I made one or two meetings, but, they are still kind enough to share with me. Their once a month meetings are held at Panera Bread 26086 Brookpark Rd. in North Olmsted on the second Wed. of the month  at 6:15 and last about an hour. Everyone is welcome.

The Colony
By Audrey Magee

This fantastic novel was recommended by one of the administrators of CRAIC. I believe it is being considered for one of their upcoming reads.

The story takes place in the summer of 1979 on a small island off the west coast of Ireland. A few pages in and I was reminded of the books that came from the Blasket Islands almost a century before, describing the harshness of island life.

We are introduced to an English painter, who is struggling with his art, a Frenchman, there to study the Irish language and who has his own strong thoughts on its preservation, and the island people themselves. They are faced with the  reality of a life that is quickly fading away, all while dealing with the daily news of the “Troubles” on the mainland.

There is a small amount of Irish language in the story, but by no means is it unaccessible to the average reader. I think it is almost crucial to the story line. If you only read one book this year, this is the one I would choose.

Say Nothing

By Patrick  Radden Keefe

I came close to eliminating this book after the November issue of iIrish came out. Lisa O’Rourke did an excellent review of Say Nothing in her Akron Irish column. I think the book is important to mention especially after this summers PBS special on the Troubles. You can read Lisa’s column on-line  at iIrish newsmagazine: You can read it HERE:

Through the Mist
By Morgan Daimler

This is a dual language collection of stories from Irish mythology, that are presented in the original old Irish and English. Morgan Daimler is an amatuer translator of old and middle Irish and here shares early tales of the Tuatha De Danann and the Aos Sidhe.

For someone like me that enjoys these old stories, to finally be able to “read” them as they were written is a real treat. In past Speak Irish columns, I’ve mentioned the difficulty in translating something from Irish to English, translating from Old Irish to English is beyond my reach, here it is done for us.

By Bono

I have to admit, I’m not a big U2 fan; I can recognize some of their songs, but that can’t be helped as they were the biggest rock band in the world for a time. It’s not that I dislike  them, that style of rock just wasn’t my thing.

Anyway, I picked up the book and was fascinated by  Bono’s story. One thing that he is quick to point out is how the people he is the closest to have been in his life since he was teen. He tells of growing up and the formation of these lifelong relationships.

He also talks about the band and the responsibilty they feel as human beings, that have worked and been financially rewarded for their efforts. I was aware that Bono and the Edge would get behind many of the causes that are important, but didn’t realize the depth of their philanthropy. Not your typical rock and roll biography.

Dracula’s Guest

Ed. by Michael Sims

Last year, I attended a lecture given by three professors from Illinois State University on “Why we love Horror.” One of them asked if horror was relevant in the day of the AK47. After all, reality is enough to scare the hell out of most of us, but an hour or so later we (at least I) were relieved to find that it still has a place.

This anthology of Victorian era vampire stories is a great collection. Some of the authors are familiar, others not so much.
One of the highlights was a story titled, “The Family of the Vourdalak,” written by Aleksei Tolstoy, a distant cousin of Leo Tolstoy. It  has been translated from Russian but sounds as it could have been written by one of the great writers in horror from Ireland or Britain.

The book ends with Bram Stoker’s “Dracula’s Guest.” I have quite a few of these “collections” of stories, but this is definitely a favorite.

My Father Left Me Ireland
By Michael Brendan Dougherty

This was a pick for CRAIC early in the year. It is a memoir of an American born to an American woman and an Irish man. He is raised by his mother in the States, but has almost no interaction with his father back in Ireland.

His mother immerses him in all aspects of Irish culture, including language, as he is growing up. This results in an identity conflict he struggles to come to terms with, as well as a strained relationship with his father.

By John Banville

Banville is a master storyteller, one of Ireland’s best. This book also  was a pick for Craic. It a murder mystery set in 1957 in aristocratic society in Wexford. Detective Inspector St. John Strafford is sent to investigate the murder of a parish priest in Ballyglass House, the home of the very rich and secretive Osborne family. A very quick and entertaining novel.

The Wager

By David Grann

This book was recommended to me after I wrote a column last year on Shackleton and the plight of the Endurance. The Wager is a true story of a shipwreck and the mutiny and murder that followed. Where Shackelton and his men show us the highs of human spirit, the story of the Wager and its officers and crew remind us of the lows.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes
By David Grann

Right after I finished the Wager, I came across this book by David Grann. This book is a collection of stories from the news that prove “truth is stranger than fiction.”

The Witches 
by Stacy Schiff

This National Bestseller is one of the most informative accounts of the Salem witch trials I’ have encountered. It reads almost like a novel and could be recieved as such if we were not aware of this bizzare part of American history.

I hope you find something you like, and please keep those recommendations coming. Be sure to check out CRAIC or perhaps start your own book club. Don’t forget to share your reading enthusiasm with our youngsters, there are worlds out there to explore!

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish language and history and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds, Rían, Aisling and Draoi and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at [email protected]

See more of Bob’s Cleveland Comhrá columns HERE

Bob Carney

Bob Carney

*Bob Carney is a student of Irish language and history and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday at PJ McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhound and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary, hounds Rían, Aisling and Draoi and terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be reached at [email protected]


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