Friday, January 6, 2012

Rattling the Imagination

During my last visit to Dublin, I bought so many books I had to mail them home. That wasn’t bad enough, but I wasn’t sure if I already owned some of the titles. I thought I should make a list of what I already have and bring it with me next time. And so, a major undertaking looms before me: cataloging all my books.

Fiction and poetry, legends and history, Books for Dummies, where to begin? Submarines and helicopters vie for space with portal tombs and ancient Celts, cookbooks crowd the writing how-to’s, mysteries share space with travel guides, Native Americans with Banshees.

I think I’ll take time out to tell you about one of my recent Dublin acquisitions, An Old Woman’s Reflections, an account of the life of Blasket Island storyteller Peig Sayers (1873-1958), the "Queen of the Gaelic Storytellers." I like to think I’m a pretty good storyteller, but this lady leaves me in the dust. Her son documented these recollections of her life and times on the now uninhabited Great Blasket Island in County Kerry. Reading the turns of phrases translated from Gaelic to English is wonderful exercise for anyone’s imagination.

Peig talked a lot about ears. She would say "I was old-wise enough to give a listening ear to the tailor." Or if she thought she had misheard a phrase, "I don’t know did my ears take it with them correctly."

She didn’t neglect the eyes, mouths, or hands, either. "You wouldn’t lay an eye on anyone who had his own natural color," she said of a group of frightened people. "Take the string off your mouth and let’s have them," the command to a reticent speaker. Her account of the man who gave her and her friend directions on the mainland: "While you’d be clapping your two hands together, he had swept us on the road north."

The language kept me shaking my head in delight. A stingy man "hadn’t the heart of a mouse." And one of my favorites, "You’d think nobody ever died, there were so many people there."

Peig’s book is all too short, probably why I opted to read it first. Yet I was reminded that good things come in small packages—and they come in big ones too. Right now I’m plowing my way through a mighty one, The Rattle Bag, a wonderful collection of poems from all over the world, first published in 1982 and put together by poets Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.

Poetry baffles me. I read it to find new ways of describing things, but I don’t understand a lot of it. This anthology, however, offers plenty to entertain, from poets I’ve never read before (Norman MacCaig - Aunt Julia) to beloved poems I recall well (Birches by Robert Frost).

Despite my good intentions, I doubt I’ll ever succeed in finishing (or even starting) my inventory of books. I stop too much to read the darn things.


  1. The joy of spending the day surrounded by books. Priceless.

    I tried to catalog my collection once and didn't get beyond the first shelf. :)

    Thanks for sharing a couple of your recent finds, Pat!

  2. My pleasure, Cynthia. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Dawn, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's a hopeless librarian :-) And yes, spending a day surrounded by books - I wouldn't get a darn thing done! There's a reason my bookshelves have doors on them, though enough books have spilled out to constitute a fire hazard. But hey. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Good Luck with cataloguing your books, hahaha. If you want to keep writing you'll need a secretary to catalogue your books and read them for you. But where's the fun in that. Oh the delicious dilemma. :)
    I loved those Gaelic expressions.
    Pat if you have time to spare haha could you list about 7-10 together for a quick quiz for CC. The expressions for one month and the interpretations for the next. I'd give you the credit, natch.

  5. Geez, Wendy, were you one of my high school nuns in a past life? (You know I'm just funnin'.) Not quite sure what you want. I'll email you.

  6. Pat, your last paragraph says it all. I was ready to predict that you would never finish, and that we'd find you ten years from now, frozen in place under a layer of cat fur with a book in your hands! But of course the darling boys would dig you out when they wanted to be fed, right? That's how it works here.

  7. LOL, Miriam. There'd be worse ways to go, though you're right - the guys would be after me with their daily "Let's stare at her and cry pitifully until she feeds us" thing. Maybe I should teach them the Dewey Decimal system and get them to help :-)

  8. Pat, I can't think of a better way to while away a few years of my time than to attempt to catalogue my books. The best I can say is that I keep my fiction books on separate shelves from my "research" books. Only then I have to decide which fiction books are also considered research books...

    Ah, well, maybe someday...

  9. Cynthia, I like to think I keep my books fairly well organized, if not exactly in alphabetical order. The idea was to have a list so I won't buy duplicates, but even that would be a nearly impossible task, because I'd start reading about medieval burial customs or pirates or proverbs and forget about everything else. Still, it would be fun to try. Maybe some day when a blizzard has me housebound. One shelf at a time. It could take years! :-)