Emma Donoghue, Colum McCann, Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Anne Enright, Edna O’Brien, Colm Tóibín, Nuala O’Faolain – what do all these successful authors have in common, besides the fact that they are (or were, in the late O’Faolain’s case) Irish writers of the contemporary era? Having read them all at one point or another, I would argue that an empathetic compassion for their characters is a connecting link. But I am curious to hear an opinion from another such writer, the Dublin-born San Franciscan Ethel Rohan, author of the novel “The Weight of Him” and short story collections “Goodnight Nobody,” “Cut Through the Bone” and, most recently, 2021’s “In the Event of Contact.”
Subscribe to our weekly arts & culture newsletter
Rohan, who emigrated to the United States as a very young woman nearly three decades ago, is undertaking a project with her neighborhood bookstore, Bookshop West Portal, where she has occasionally served as a moderator of interviews with Irish authors. Beginning in November and over the course of the ensuing year, she is curating an Irish Book Subscription Service. Every two months, $150 subscribers will receive a book she has chosen, accompanied by a letter she writes describing what has thrilled her about the work and why she believes it worthy of their attention. Here’s what she is telling prospective subscribers about the project: “While I read widely and voraciously, nothing quite casts its spell on me like Irish literature can. In this role, I get to feast on forthcoming Irish books and pick those I believe will best appeal to a wide range of eager, savvy readers. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also going to be an enormous pleasure.”
We haven’t been told but are hazarding a guess that her first selection might be novelist Louise Kennedy’s “Trespasses” (Riverhead Books, $27, 304 pages), publishing Nov. 1. A debut novel from a writer in Sligo, Ireland, whose short-story collection bore the title “The End of the World Is a Cul de Sac,” “Trespasses” revolves around a young teacher at a Catholic school in Belfast whose involvement with an older, married man throws her life and her loyalties into dramatic conflict. Rohan will be hosting Kennedy at 1 p.m. Nov. 12 in a virtual interview on Crowdcast for the latest installment of Bookshop West Portal’s Irish Writers Series. Sign up for free at bookshopwestportal.com, where you’ll also be able to subscribe to the Irish book series. And if you’d like to learn more about Rohan’s own exceptional talent, check out an interview with her about “In the Event of Contact”: https://localnewsmatters.org/2021/05/27/making-contact-with-san-francisco-short-story-author-ethel-rohan/.
A man of few (choice) words: There are many, I believe, who share my opinion that Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate for two terms from 2001-03 and New York’s from 2004-06, is a national treasure. The author of 11 celebrated books of poetry, including “Aimless Love,” “Sailing Alone Around the Room, “Nine Horses” and “The Art of Drowning,” he is revered for his humor, his accessibility and a trademark style that takes an ordinary, even humdrum, subject and elevates it to the point where revelations, and even profundities, emerge. On Nov. 15, Random House is releasing his new work, “Musical Tables” ($26, 176 pages), a collection of more than 125 “small” poems, each a strong confirmation that brevity is indeed the soul of wit. Here is the poet’s own witty manifesto in defense of the new book: “Whenever I pick up a new book of poems, I flip through the pages looking for small ones. Just as I might have trust in an abstract painter more if I knew he or she could draw a credible chicken, I have faith in poets who can go short.” The press announcement of its publication includes one such shortie titled “3:00 a.m.” that provokes both a smile and a nod of the head:
Only my hand
but it’s a start
I dug a little deeper into the new collection and was both charmed and taken a trifle aback by this wry little meditation on mortality:
What do I care
that they’re tearing down
the nice old houses
and putting up brutal ones?
Before very long,
I’ll be just a breeze
Blowing around town,
trying to avoid all the wind chimes.
Fans of Collins will want to know that he will be in San Francisco on Nov. 12 for two events. He will be one of five authors featured in the 34th Annual Authors Luncheon fundraiser sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation. It will be held at the Palace Hotel, beginning with an 11 a.m. book signing in person, followed by the noon luncheon program (both in-person and virtual) and concluding with another book signing at 2:30 p.m. Host Michael Krasny will moderate, introducing Collins and the four other authors: Jennifer Egan (“The Candy House”), Michael Connelly (Desert Star”), Siddhartha Mukherjee (“The Song of the Cell”) and local Oakland novelist Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (“On the Rooftop”). Tickets are $75 or $150 for virtual attendance only (with one and two book copies included); in-person tickets range from $250 to $50,000. For more information, contact Christina Davis at (415) 543-3303, ext. 541 or email@example.com. Collins will then head north to Corte Madera for both an in-person and a virtual appearance at Book Passage at 6 p.m. The ticketed event costs $32 for live and online attendees and includes a copy of “Musical Chairs.” Sign up at bookpassage.com.
In the pipeline: Many filmgoing readers were both surprised and favorably impressed (and perhaps, surprised to be favorably impressed) when actor Tom Hanks established his credibility as an author with the release of his short story collection “Uncommon Type” back in 2017. We may have another unexpected pleasure in store. Coming in 2023 from the guy most likely to be voted “nicest in Hollywood” is his first novel, “The Making of a Major Motion Picture Masterpiece” (Knopf, $32.50, 448 pages). The story revolves around a returning World War II soldier and a comic book his gifted nephew eventually produces, starring his uncle as a superhero. It gets snapped up by a director and turned into the movie of the title. Hanks, a veteran collector of typewriters who featured one of them in each of his previous short stories, is apparently still adhering to the “write what you know” maxim, according to what he told People magazine: “Every character in the book does something I’ve experienced while making a movie . . . Even the foolish moments are some kind of stunt I’ve pulled or mistake I’ve survived.” The book will be released on May 9, 2023.
Hooked on Books is a monthly column by Sue Gilmore on current literary buzz and can’t-miss upcoming book events. Look for it here every last Thursday of the month.