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Review of Books

Pound For Pound by F.X. Toole

FICTION

F.X. Toole found literary success at the age of 70, and his first collection of stories Rope Burns was the basis for Clint Eastwood’s Oscar winning film Million Dollar Baby. Sadly, Toole (whose dad was an Irish immigrant) died before the film hit the screen. But we do have one more work from this late-blooming artist, a boxing novel called Pound for Pound. As Toole was, Dan Cooney is an aging, Irish-American cut man. He guides a young, hungry boxer through adversity to a shot at the big time. With an introduction by James Ellroy, Toole’s final work is rich and rewarding. ($25.95 / 384 pages / Ecco)

Anita Notaro’s latest novel of ladies in Dublin is called The WWW Club, though it’s got nothing to do with the Internet. Sick of faddish diets, four women in search of the bodies they had in their 20s form the Women Watching Weight Club. Generally, however, the club meetings revolve around wine, beer and food, followed by promises to really begin losing weight next week. But The WWW Club is also about all the stresses of middle age, from weight gains to career and romantic stress. Notaro’s fans know what to expect – outrageous comedy, melodrama, and more than a few vivid insights into the difficulties of life. ($24.95 / 368 pages / William Morrow)

Irish-born novelist Gerard Donovan opened a lot of eyes with his acclaimed novel Schopenhauer’s Telescope, which was nominated for the Booker Prize. Donovan (who teaches English at Suffolk Community College) has returned with another dazzling, though quiet, novel called Julius Winsome. The title character lives alone with his dog in a remote cabin in the woods, having lost family members to death and other mysterious circumstances. So, when his dog is killed by hunters, Winsome’s fragile mental state breaks, setting up a confrontation that has deep philosophical implications, and also makes for a fine read. ($23.95 / 224 pages / Overlook)

Actress Emer McCourt (seen in films such as Ken Loach’s Riff Raff) has switched gears and become a novelist. Her first effort, Elvis, Jesus and Me mingles serious themes with a light tone which nabbed numerous prizes, including the Pendleton May First Book Award. The novel follows young Ger, a girl who loves Elvis and asks Jesus for a miracle: she wants to be turned into a boy. Amidst this kind of fun, McCourt creates a poignant story of confused youth, giving Ger an unforgettable voice. ($12.50 / 212 pages / Trafalgar Square)

The young students at St. Edna’s (where a lad named Padraic Pearse is headmaster) have become inspired to fight for Ireland’s freedom. But the two boys at the center of Morgan Llywelyn’s new historical novel The Young Rebels are too young to take part in the Easter Rising. This doesn’t stop them and soon enough they are swept up in the tumultuous events of 1916. This is another compelling mix of history and fiction from Llywelyn, perhaps best known for The Lion of Ireland. ($12.95 / 224 pages / Irish Books and Media)

Also out by the same author is The Greener Shore: A Novel of the Druids of Hibernia ($24.95 / 320 pages / Del Rey)

Fact and fiction also mingle in Thomas Keneally’s new novel A Commonwealth of Thieves: The Improbable Birth of Australia. The author of Schindler’s List, the Irish-Australian Keneally has also written several Irish books, including The Great Shame: The Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World. At the center of Keneally’s latest novel is Arthur Phillip, the ambitious captain in the Royal Navy, who is charged with establishing a penal colony in Australia in the 1780s. Brilliantly using personal journals and documents, Keneally brings the deadly journey across the sea back to life. Aside from illuminating the brutal lives of these convicts and military men, Keneally also fulfills the promise of his subtitle, allowing the reader to grasp how Australia came to exist. ($26.95 / 384 pages / Nan A. Talese)

SPORTS

Ireland and the Ryder Cup by Paul Kelly comes out just as the 36th Ryder Cup takes place at the K Club, Co. Kildare, this September 2006. This lavishly illustrated book looks at the nearly 20 Irishmen who have competed in this event, from Fred Daly in 1947 up to today’s greats such as Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley. ($35 / 256 pages / Irish Books and Media)

Jerrold Casway, a professor of history at Maryland’s Howard Community College, puts his two areas of interest – Irish history and nineteenth-century baseball – to good use in his new book Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball. Delahanty “personified the flamboyant, exciting spectator-favorite, the Casey-at-the-bat, Irish slugger,” writes Casway. At the turn of the 20th century, Delahanty was one of baseball’s best hitters, on his way to compiling the fourth best batting average in history. But a serious gambling problem led to an even more serious drinking problem. Delahanty was eventually found dead at the bottom of Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls. Perhaps most interesting in Casway’s book is his look at how the Irish dominated baseball during this era. He says Irish-American players made up 30–50 percent of all players, managers, and team captains. For these children and grandchildren of the Famine, baseball in America was a ticket out of poverty. ($15 / 400 pages / Notre Dame)

A final fascinating sports book out recently is Paddy on the Hardwood: A Journey in Irish Hoops by Rus Bradburd. A former NCAA coach, Bradburd went to Ireland to write and play music, but ended up turning around the struggling Tralee Tigers. ($24.95 / 200 pages / University of New Mexico)

NON-FICTION

Irish America contributor Joseph McBride offers up yet another excellent biography of a cinematic legend with his latest book What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? As he has in past biographies (most notably his authoritative Searching for John Ford, about the acclaimed Irish-American director of The Quiet Man), McBride takes what is thought to be a well-known subject and offers up fascinating new insights. ($29.95 / 384 pages / University of Kentucky Press)

Two more books worth checking out about the birth of modern Ireland are Myths and Memories of the Easter Rising ($30 / 238 pages / Irish Academic Press) and Easter 1916 by Charles Townshend. ($28.95 / 480 pages / Ivan R. Dee)

To mark their 50th anniversary, Conor Murray has written The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem & Robbie O’Connell: The Men Behind the Sweaters. This is the first full-length biography on the famed Irish folkies. They formed in March of 1956 and hit the big time in 1961 following an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. There have, of course, been lineup changes and other ups and down, all chronicled here by Murray, who says he was brought up on the music of the Clancy Brothers from the time he was an infant. That wasn’t all that long ago. Murray, a writer, actor, musician, librarian and full-time college student from Massachusetts, is just 21. This book includes 300 photographs. ($29.95 / 256 pages / Irish Books and Media)

POETRY

Lón Anama, edited by Ciarán Mac Murchaidh, is described as “Poems for Prayer from the Irish Tradition.” Most interesting in this book are the brief but fascinating backgrounds Murchaidh offers for all 77 sacred poems, some of which are over 10 centuries old. Themes such as penance, life, and faith (as well as doubt) seem to dominate this highly original anthology, whether the poem is 1,000 or 10 years old. ($29.95 / 374 pages / Irish Books and Media)

Two more poetry books worth a look are Donegal Suite: Poems of Ireland by Father John McNamee, a priest from inner city Philadelphia ($13.95 / 62 pages / Dufour) and The Midnight Court by Ciaran Carson. The latter is a translation of Brian Merriman’s 18th century Irish language classic Cuirt an Mhean Oiche. ($12.95 / 63 pages / Wake Forest) ♦

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