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Read Irish Women Challenge 2020

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As a guest contributor, here’s Karina Clifford of Dubray Books on the Read Irish Women Challenge 2020 initiative:

The Read Irish Women Challenge began in April 2019 as a way to highlight the work of brilliant, articulate Irish women writers. It’s a simple idea – there’s a list of prompts, one for every day of the month, that ask you to respond with a book title. Some prompts we’ve had so far this month are a book that’s great for reading aloud or a book you’d like to give your younger self – these kicked off great discussions and it’s one of the joys of the challenge to see people recommend and discover new writers.

I try to recommend at least two titles for each prompt – one fiction and one non-fiction perhaps, or one aimed at adults and one for young adults. There is such a richness of books to choose from I would find it nigh on impossible to choose only one per day, and I’m keen to tell readers about them all. It’s heartening to read tweets from readers who weren’t aware of Irish young adult authors but now love them.

One of the most fascinating parts for me is finding writers I haven’t read yet or genres I’ve read little of thus far. For instance, last year I finally read a book by Kate O’Brien; it was The Ante-Room and it is beautiful and powerful and the sort of book that enriches you for having read it. Another writer I discovered back then was Sheila Pim – I thought there was no classic crime by Irish women, but I was wrong! Sheila wrote a successful series of books in the 1950s and 60s which are gentle comedy of manners enlivened by a waspish wit; the mystery part is usually inspired by her own knowledge of botany, gardening and bees. If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie or Angela Thirkell you would love them; they are very entertaining and really illustrate how popular culture can give you a snapshot of a time and place in a way that more literary books don’t. Though these titles are now unfortunately out of print, the library service came up trumps and unearthed them from their vaults – I admit to a bit of a thrill holding a book with date stamps from 1966!

This year, without the support of the bookshop I work in (Dubray in Liffey Valley) or my local library, I’ve realised how few plays and poetry books by Irish women I have on my own shelves – I had to contact knowledgeable friends and booksellers for advice. I’ve now read brilliant plays by Marina Carr and Lisa Tierney-Keogh (thanks Martha Fitzgerald!) and wonderful poems by Sinead Moriarty and Paula Meehan (thanks John King!). The reading challenge gives a wonderful opportunity to expand the circle of what you usually read. Another benefit of working in a bookshop is knowing people who possess skills you don’t; so my thanks to Martin Shannon for the layout and design of the challenge and to Bríd Roantree for translating the list for me as Gaeilge. As I have little or no Irish and even less web design skills, I would have been lost without their help.

My physical bookshop is shut for the present, so I’m happy to recommend books online; you can find me @jabberwocky888 on Twitter and @thebookaneer808 on Instagram. Tell me what books you like and I’ll do my best to suggest other books you might enjoy based on them. You can take the bookseller out of the bookshop, but they’ll still booksell at any opportunity!

As libraries are closed and most bookshops are operating a web ordering service, it can be hard to discover books in the way you might normally. Especially for new publications – writers have spent years of their lives researching and writing these books and they will miss the usual support and exposure they would usually receive. There’s a growing list of ways to talk online about books and I think the reading challenge can be one of them. I would like to invite people to use the #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 to connect books with readers.

Let’s keep reading, keep supporting writers and bookshops and keep on taking care of each other, even if it’s from a distance.

(c) Karina Clifford

Karina has been a bookworm forever and her formative childhood reads were The Bookshop on the Quay by Patricia Lynch and Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, which may or may not explain a great deal…she has worked as a bookseller for over a decade and still gets excited when new books arrive.

She is passionate about the power of reading to delight, inform, entertain and offer solace and will recommend books to anyone given the opportunity.

Her natural habitat is a bookshop, happily enough; she may also be found writing about books on Dublog, the Dubray books blog, on Instagram @bookaneer808 and on Twitter @jabberwocky888.




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