What are the books that have inspired you the most?

It’s hard to define the books that have inspired you the most. You read so much and there is no control for not having read something. Asked this question more than once over a period as short as a month, I’d probably have different answers. With that qualifier, here are the books I named for Cathy Galvin of the WordFactory when she asked me this question.

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More on why I picked these particular books, and what I’ve been reading lately, at the WordFactory website. There are also some excellent book recommendations from writers James Meek, Tania Hershman, Helen Simpson and Hassan Blasim. I notice Tania Hershman has, with admirable consistency, restricted her nominations to short story collections. Ah, and a book of poems.

7 thoughts on “What are the books that have inspired you the most?

  1. I haven’t read your choices – yet – will remedy that! Word Factory’s a great site – lost half an hour there when I only meant to read your post! Tania reads her work so well, and Kevin Barry’s interview was interesting. Have bookmarked a bunch of stuff. Beloved would be in my “most inspirational” list. In the Skin of a Lion, too. Can’t decide on others….


    • They’re a wee bit obscure Rachel – some I read in school, and are published in Irish. Perhaps I answered the Q too literally and was more easily influenced at school age! But Selvon’s book was reissued by Penguin and should be findable…


  2. My own “period of influence” was more university than school, I recall. The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby were side by side on the reading list one semester and I loved both, and recall them with an intense fondness. It really felt life-changing. Catch-22 was read for pleasure a year or two afterwards, but with similar effects.

    I blog about Irish writing but I found a lot of the Irish writing of the past so parochial. Elizabeth Bowen was an exception. More recently, Patrick McCabe and Roddy Doyle represented an Ireland I know. I say the same now about Donal Ryan.

    I’ve always been more moved by short stories than longer fiction, though – the best can be reread over and over and only feel like works of art. Michael McLaverty’s The Poitin Maker, which I first read in school, is incredibly moving. We have such an incredible tradition of short story writing. Just today I read John Banville’s “Summer Voices”, which I’m not sure makes any sense after one reading, but is just so beautifully done.

    Think I’ve gone off on a massive tangent here; sorry!


  3. Not at all, good to hear from you Shane. Yeah [abt short story writing] imho the stories part of ‘Exploring English’ was always a lot more fun than the hours [and hours and hours] of English class spent reading Shakespeare and translating it into something comprehensible. The Poteen Maker was in this book, I think? And maybe the fact that in Ireland we had short stories as a central part of the syllabus helped to create the next generation of short fiction writers and readers? Then again I don’t remember going over the stories in much depth in class, I sort of remember reading them at home and wondering when we’d get on to them…. Maybe that was a good thing…

    And yeah I heard about the reissue of Exploring English from Gill & Macmillan. Think my mum got rid of my copy so I should probably get one. It won’t be the same without the scribbles in the margins – the book was handed down to all the siblings.


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