A Tramp’s Abroad: Exhausted with a week to go



 “I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.”

– Dylan Thomas


















I’m black and blue all over from collisions with walls, doors, fences but most of all my luggage. Not one known for my grace, it’s not too surprising I’m dotted with vicious black bruises from top to bottom. And I’m being literal when I say bottom. I misjudged the distance between my posterior and some castle steps today. And I didn’t take it well at all. The place is probably still ringing with my shriek of pain.

I am a danger to myself. Probably a good thing I may be experiencing my last trip abroad. May be? Probably am.

In better news we made it across the Irish Sea yesterday. I’m so glad I’ll go back across before I fly home. Two more days will I spend wandering Dublin all by myself and there’s so much left on my to see list. I hardly saw any literary sites and only one bookshop, where I purchased a general book about Irish writers and another by Hugo Hamilton. He spoke at the writers festival and I was intrigued. So now I’m set to check out his work. I’m anxious to see places related to Joyce and Wilde and Beckett and all the others who’ve called Dublin home.

I’ll be staying right on the Liffey these last days. Hope I can manage to find my way and without too much pain. This journey leaves me so exhausted I can’t even tell you. I’ll see what I’m able, then spend the rest of the hours in quiet contemplation of the whole trip. I’ve been too tired to keep up my journal so I’ll do that as well. I’ll probably blog a bit, to justify the back-breaking decision to bring my laptop, too.

i’ll keep things as casual as possible and do what I can. Meantime, Wales is lovely and I’m enjoying it immensely. Bruises and all. Here are a couple photos, to end with. Whoops, sorry. Seems I can’t control photos  on my phone.

Enjoy anyway.




Dublin Writers Festival – May 23, 2014

Dublin Writers Festival - May 23, 2014

Didn’t mention our foray to the DWF yesterday. Dragged my poor daughter to hear Sebastian Barry, Anne Enright and Hugo Hamilton talk about Irish writers in translation. When my daughter couldn’t stay awake I took pity in her and we left…

Interesting topic, though. To me at least. The same goes for all writers, not just Irish. Not to mention contemporary readers translating literature from times past. In the same language, even. We don’t see, say, Victorian writing the way Dickens did. We think we do but we don’t get the full extent of it because we didn’t live it.

There’s no understanding what anyone thinks, really. Our personal experiences and prejudices inform all we do. You may believe you know a person and not. You know what that person wants you to see. We all compartmentalize. And misunderstandings? Don’t get me started. Especially with the advent of the Internet. We can’t see facial expression or hear inflection. But we surely can be offended by what seems cutting and unkind.

How much of life is lost in translation? An awful, awful lot. How much could so easily be rectified? Most, I’d venture to guess, with just one small gesture of kindness.

No wonder literature in translation is so difficult. All of life is.


Dublin is…

Beautiful, full of kind and wonderful people and bone-chillingly cold. It’s not just the temperature, which is crazy for late May – in the low 50s – but the high humidity. It just seeps in and makes my bones ache. Really difficult to do anything in that kind of pain. Meds can only manage it so much and everything feels so cold and clammy. Don’t know if it’s the island weather or what but I was up with terrible muscle cramps last night so painful I could have cried. And I don’t cry.

My favorite part so far would have to be the Old Library at Trinity College, and the Book of Kells. All the colors and lush flowers are probably next, the pubs and homes and such. The city’s jam packed and from that standpoint miserable. Looking forward to getting out into other areas tomorrow.

If only the sun would come out or the temperature rise. I’ll take either, for my cold bones.

Sending from my phone, sorry for any wonky  formatting. My kingdom for wifi, etc. When I get it I can post something more substantive, one can hope. In the meantime, It’s cold and expensive as all hell but hearts are warm and there are loads of brilliant colors.

And look, a library!






Will be back with indispensable wisdom, talk of books and more photos soon.

Be well.


A Tramp’s Abroad: Bookshops in Dublin



Haven’t finished packing but I have begun researching must-see bookshops in Dublin. Check these out:


Winding Stair Bookshop

40 Ormond Quay Lower

Dublin 1


New and used books plus a little restaurant. Oh yes.


The Gutter Bookshop

Cow’s Lane

Temple Bar, Dublin


Books, gifts, stationery…


Chapters Book Shop

Ivy Exchange
Parnell St, Dublin
Looks a bit too new but it sells used books as well. Very modern. 😦

Dubray Books

24 Grafton St
Dublin 2
An indie bookshop selling new books. Lot of author events, though of course none while I’m in Dublin.

Alan Hanna’s Bookshop

270 Rathmines Road Lower
Rathmines, Dublin 6
New books. Cute exterior.
Looks like that’s it. I believe the big winner will be The Winding Stair. Books – new and used, plus a little restaurant/cafe. A nice stroll beside the Liffey after.
Yes. Indeed.

The perils of over-explaining your innocence

fancyline7 dublinwritersfestival2014


I can swear I didn’t plan it but my breath would be wasted. Just so happens the weekend I arrive in Dublin coincides with the last few days of the Dublin Writers Festival. On the first evening I’m there, an event featuring Booker Prize-winning novelist Anne Enright, some chap named Hugo Hamilton and Mr. Sebastian Barry is scheduled at Dublin Castle. The topic:  “Translating Ireland.”

You wouldn’t think that would be a problem. Rather the opposite. However, I feel myself forced to swear I’m not following Mr. Barry around the world, as I’ll have seen him May 12 in the Chicago area, roughly two weeks before the Dublin event. None of that would have even rung a bell had I not felt the need to blather on about what a wonderful writer he is all over my blog. I have done myself no favors. Rather, I have damned myself.

I don’t know for certain he’s irritated but I am almost annoyed by the coincidence, as it puts me in a “situation.”  That I should have to feel discomfort about something I clearly could never have known is just the sort of situation I’m forever finding myself in because I will not SHUT UP. Verbally, yes. In writing? I don’t feel I should have to, not when the world is so awful and words of heartfelt kindness so rare. Why censor that?  I just find it odd the one thing which causes me discomfort is having overly praised a writer. Not ripped to shreds but praised. Meeting up halfway around the world with an author I’ve panned would be nothing on this. I’d simply curl my lip and move along. Isn’t it ironic the opposite case has me ripping out my hair?

I’ve not traveled abroad in more than twenty years. With my daughter in Wales over the past semester, I decided to take the opportunity to not just visit her but tour Ireland, as well. Neither of us has been there before. Right now she’s in Italy with her father. A little over a week after, she’s planning to visit a friend in Paris (another American student studying abroad). A couple days after she arrives back in Swansea, I skid into Dublin. From there on it’s LUXURY TRAVEL, baby! Accommodations in the heart of Dublin, tours to far-flung beautiful and historic sites around Ireland. Then a ferry to the UK, where we’re staying on the old village wall in Chester (in a hotel, naturally), England and across from Tintern Abbey in Wales. Then we loop around, stop by Swansea a few days, and back ’round to Ireland I go, meandering back home in a circuitous manner.

Green with envy yet? Wait ’til you see the pictures…

But back to my original topic, feeling like a misbehaving uber-fan, what have I learned? Will this experience turn me into a self-censoring, conventional person? Hell, no! I wish more people would be so nice to me, had confidence in my dreams and pride in my accomplishments. Will I cease and desist? I thought it over and, again, no. Nothing will stop my praise or even over-praise, just as nothing will censor my wrath. So take that, writers and artists, people of note and those who are under-appreciated. Everyone should have such problems and the world would be better for it.

By the way? In the middle of this screed I paused to buy tickets for the Enright/Hamilton/Barry event. Chew on that, world. And, I may buy even more tickets for more events! It’s insane, isn’t it?

Best not answer that.








Authors Who Love Libraries

A Tight Buns and Sensible Shoes (my library advocacy blog) post:





1).  Were you a public library user as a kid? Any special memories of the library, its collection or librarians?

We had a tiny public library in my village (in Scotland in the 1960s). I haunted that place – there was no bookshop in the village. It was a big thrill for me when, aged 12, I was told I could now borrow from the adult section and need not confine myself to children’s stories.


2).  How do you think libraries can compete in this technologically-based era? What would make you more likely to hang out there and use our services?

How can libraries stay relevant? Well, that’s up to the users. Parents of small children need to know that their local library is a valuable asset. Once inside, if they find the environment welcoming and relaxing, they’ll come back – and their kids will grow to think of the library as a second home. Those kids will grow into the adult readers of the future.


3). Could you recommend a couple books and/or authors you love, which all libraries should own?

Authors/books all libraries should have – don’t underestimate the comic book/graphic novel as art form and gateway drug! Teenagers often give up on books because they feel school is telling them what to read. Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Frank Millar, etc – these are great writers. And versions of literary classics can also be found in graphic novel form.



A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade by Kevin Brockmeier



  • Print Length: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (April 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC


I had the pleasure of meeting author Kevin Brockmeier a couple summers ago, in the most idyllic setting imaginable for another literature loving native southerner. It was a literary cocktail party, nay a soirée, held in the shadow of William Faulkner’s home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, MS. Sweaty fellow book fiends sipped mint juleps from clear plastic cups, nibbling snacks from little paper plates sagging in the humidity. It was hotter than hell; hot as June in Mississippi, which it was.

Author Tom Franklin was there, Jesmyn Ward wasn’t (she was a no-show; she called in sick). Also present was Susan Gregg Gilmore, a very sweet, pretty and feisty southern woman who writes sweet, feisty southern novels a la Fannie Flagg. Not my genre  but the woman was an awful lot of fun at the book exchange held later. Her determination to snag the cookbook she wanted was downright vicious. I can respect that.

Two reps from Random House, Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman (their podcasts are hot stuff!), were the event facilitators. It was a mixer, a get-acquainted occasion setting the tone for a literary weekend in Oxford: a weekend of talks and book signings, book chats, eating far too much great food and shopping at the legendary Square Books. And again, shopping at the legendary Square Books. Good lord, did I shop at Square Books.

The next afternoon, Brockmeier was part of a panel of southern writers talking about what characterizes the fiction of the U.S. South, moderated by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness.  It’s a setting he knows well, having grown up in Arkansas and Mississippi,  raised by his divorced parents: with his mother in Arkansas during the school year, in Mississippi with his father in the summer. This autobiography, while it is set in the South, does not rely on that. Rather, it’s the author’s own story of a boy’s life on the cusp of adolescence. It could have been set anywhere and been just as effective.

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip starts with Kevin arriving back in Arkansas, reconnecting with his friends before school starts. They do the sorts of things boys do: hang out, throwing rocks at glass bottles; sleeping over at each other’s houses; eating junk food and watching TV. Despite the fun they had together, the time they’d spent apart over the summer had created a rift. The experiences his friends shared created new behaviors and “in” jokes, while Kevin stayed in the place they’d been over the previous school year. For him, time had stopped, freezing his friendships where he’d left them. Picking up again proved more difficult than he’d anticipated. Seventh grade was going to be very different.

When school starts, the rift widens. It starts with his friends giving him a hard time for making all the same old, tired jokes, then progresses to hostilities. Kevin goes about his life, pretty much a normal seventh grade kid able to dress out for gym faster than anyone else in the school, his sense of himself and his self esteem relatively high for a child shuttled back and forth between divorced parents. Not that he isn’t self aware, even occasionally fatalistic. He is at that pivotal age: 13. The time of life when things fluctuate quickly and often without warning. He can see early childhood behind him and high school in front. But for the most part, he manages to hang on to being a kid just a bit longer.


“Something washes through Kevin’s face. He would be willing to bet he is blushing, even if no one can tell. He sees his life as an endless series of but whys. Thad says you’re a liar. Kenneth isn’t speaking to you. Sarah will never kiss you again – it was only an accident of circumstance that she kissed you in the first place. It’s too late for you to become a different person. You’ll never be tall, and you’ll never be strong. You’ll always run fastest when no one is watching… Nothing you love is going to last. It’s impossible to rewind grades on their spool, impossible to pause them, impossible to replay the good parts.”


The man I met and observed in Oxford appeared reserved and quiet, not that a rambunctious, spirited kid in seventh grade can’t mature into a more serious man. If that were the case, the world would be full of overgrown adolescents. The book surprised me in that way. I was expecting to read the serious story of a quiet, introverted kid but while he was gangly and awkward, he was also social to the extent of any average kid his age. Maybe a bit more so, considering he had the gumption to write and act in a play he’d written, something a quiet child would never do (I, personally, would have rather died). What differentiates his childhood from the average is his imagination, the fact he was a kid who loved telling stories and read a lot. He’s resilient, funny and popular with a certain geeky group, plus girls and adults. The crumbling of the relationships with friends he’d had all his life hurt him but this kid wouldn’t allow defeat. Kevin Brockmeier had an awful lot of fortitude.

Putting further literary digging aside, the book is fun and funny, with a great depth. If you’ve read Brockmeier’s other books you’ll know he is a very serious, literary writer. His reputation is so strong, I was surprised he wrote an autobiographical book at all. Surprised and thrilled he’d let his guard down this much. How fun is it for a book nerd to get a glimpse into the youth of a favorite writer? I’ll tell you: outrageously fun. Crazy fun.

I enjoyed this book so much, appreciating what Brockmeier shared, even when the stories weren’t all that flattering or seemly, coming from a man with his credentials (SEE: Dressing as the only black kid in school, complete with makeup, in an ill-advised attempt to gain positive attention). While it could be read by someone looking for funny stories about a kid growing up in the South, its complexity and occasional forays into deeply introspective writing give it heft. Yes, there are some cringe-worthy moments most of us can identify with – to our shame – but overall it’s highly philosophical about the passage of childhood, not an “entertainment,” as such.


“Honestly, I just don’t want anything to change.”

“Me either,” says Thad.

“I’m sick of things being different all the time.”

“Me too.”

He turns onto his left side, his sleeping side, and lies there listening to the whoosh of the air conditioner. The day keeps coming to light again in bits and pieces … and the tingle of his sweat cooling in a humming rectangle of air, and who liked him and how much and why? One by one his thoughts flow from their outlines like a cloud, and then the cloud rolls over him and he is asleep.”


I wasn’t sure what to expect when I requested A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip from Amazon Vine for review but I knew it would be good. Turns out, it’s better than that: it’s great.