“In a perfect world, intellectuals would be original, logical, funny and full of common sense. That is, they would be like John Carey.” Julie Burchill
Chairperson: Selina Guinness
Professor John Carey hasn’t left Oxford since he went up as an undergraduate in 1954, yet it would be hard to find a distinguished writer, academic and critic more passionately egalitarian. In his controversial study The Intellectuals and the Masses, he launched a devastating attack on the elitism of modernist writers, while in What Good Are the Arts? he argued that attempts to establish universal values for art are merely exercises in policing people’s taste. His passionate views extend to his journalism, where his rigorously honest book reviews for the Sunday Times have often proved controversial.
Carey comes to Dublin to talk about The Unexpected Professor, a memoir that explores the origins of his iconoclasm, looking back over his early experiences in a suburban London caught up in the Blitz, and the stifling atmosphere of Oxford in the 1950s. He recalls inspiring meetings with poets like Auden and Heaney, and traces the path of a stellar academic career that saw him elected, at the age of 40, to Oxford’s oldest English Literature professorship. Like all his works, it’s a book about the pleasures of reading and, written with his trademark fluency and verve, one that delivers the pleasure it describes.
I’ve always enjoyed teaching Kate O’Brien’s The Land of Spices to students who are often taken aback by the novel’s freshness and its daring.
It therefore gives me particular pleasure to be included among the readers this Saturday 22nd February at the Belltable Theatre (4.15 pm) for the Kate O’Brien Literary Weekend, Limerick. I’m looking forward to hearing Michael Frayn, Claire Tomalin, Frank McGuinness, and Anne Enright read from, and discuss, their own work.
I’m delighted to let you know that I’ll be reading The Crocodile by the Door each night next week on RTE Radio One’s, Book on One. It’s a programme for night owls as it goes out at 11.10 pm after The Late Debate. It will also be available by podcast for four weeks – you’ll find all the details here:
Back in May, I had the great good fortune to hear Jennifer Johnston interviewed at the Headread Festival in Tallinn. She was wise, frank and witty about writing, politics and families. On September 8th, I’ll be sharing a stage with her, instead of Julia O’Faolain, at the Mountains to the Sea Festival in Dun Laoghaire. So come and enjoy this rare opportunity to hear Jennifer read; she’s the real deal. http://www.mountainstosea.ie/2013-Events/julia-ofaolain-and-selina-guinness.html
The Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas: Pimms on the lawn, a landscape straight from Claude Lorrain, continental sunshine, neat white sheep grazing between the Penguin book covers that served as shelters while Martin Amis, Don McCullin, Michael Craig-Martin, PJ Harvey, David Gilmour, Anne Enright, John Lanchester, Dorothy Cross drifted in and out among the glamorous others, continuing those conversations they’d started in chapel or ballroom. It is some feat to make 2100 people feel as if they have each been individually invited to an intimate house party but this generous hospitality is what Vivienne Guinness, Hugo Jellett and the extended Kavanagh family achieved. If I were you, I’d start booking tickets for next year’s event now.
On Friday I’ll be speaking at a festival in a similar setting (down to the Penguin deck chairs in the publicity shots), but with a different hue: Althorp in Northamptonshire, home to Charles Spencer. I will be speaking on Friday morning with Dr. Huw Lewis Jones. His is about the conquest of Everest, mine is about the conquests of the lambing shed. Booking details are below.
I’ll be home again at the weekend and on Sunday I’m looking forward to talking to Madeleine Keane in the Dalkey Book Festival at the appropriately named venue, Country Bake. Again, booking details are below.
On Sunday I’ll be chairing a reading by these two fine novelists in Smock Alley Theatre as part of the Dublin Writer’s Festival. Time Present and Time Past is Deirdre Madden’s eighth novel and it recounts how a middle-class Dublin family gets blown down the lost avenues of their past, cued by an autochrome photograph. It’s a delicately written, lucid and compelling exploration of the feints and counter-feints of consciousness. Rebecca Miller’s second novel Jacob’s Folly is narrated by a demon, reincarnated as a housefly who has tumbled out of 18th Century Paris into 21st Century Long Island. It’s a great big read, full of history and ideas and pleasure. Chalk and cheese and both recommended.
I’ll be reading from The Crocodile by the Door this Thursday at 2 pm in Ballyroan Library. This reading was to have been held in Whitechurch but as roofing works there are well underway, the venue has switched to the shiny, bright, new library building behind gourmet row at Ballyroan. Free admission but the library say pre-booking is advised. Books will be on sale and there will be a signing afterwards.
I still remember my father taking me to Dundrum Bookshop on the Main Street to cash in the book vouchers I’d won for a school prize. I bought a collected Sylvia Plath, a collected T. S. Eliot, and two volumes of Mary Lavin’s short stories. Had I been left to my own devices, I think I might have blown the vouchers on the more ephemeral texts designed to attract the attention of a 16 year old girl. But I still have, and read, the books he recommended I buy.
I’m not sure if it was Liz Meldon who cashed up the vouchers on this occasion or whether her involvement in Dundrum Bookshop was a few years then in the future. But I’d like to think it was her, for I could feel then that next Wednesday I will come full circle when I read from The Crocodile at her current premises, the Rathgar Bookshop, where she also sells plants grown at Tibradden by Oliver and Liat Schurmann. So if you fancy a glass of wine and some entertainment, and a few perennials for your garden, come along for 7.30 pm start.
I’m greatly looking forward to reading in the Group Theatre at the Ulster Hall in Belfast next Tuesday as part of a series organized by the John Hewitt Society. It seems lunch hour up North kicks off early, 12.45 – 2pm. You can buy tickets here:
I’m delighted to be taking part in the Peregrine series of lunchtime readings at the Irish Writer’s Centre in Parnell Square on Friday 8th March. I’ll be reading from The Crocodile by the Door and taking questions afterwards. The event starts at 1.05 pm and is free admission, though seats do need to be reserved in advance through the Writer’s Centre. I’m looking forward to it.