Kirwan’s language is dense, rich and frenzied, mirroring Sean’s naïveté and stubborn inability to cope with the hard facts of Bainbridge Avenue, where the promise of a drink is a temporary escape from the outside world. The characters surrounding Sean are necessarily hardened by Bronx life, full of secrets and indiscretion, yet their complexities grow as Sean matures, revealing fragile personalities and murky pasts. While Sean’s love for Mary endlessly transforms in its definition, his devotion to his friends becomes fiercely strong. Stringing it all together is music, which propels Sean to work out his troubles through songwriting and gives the language of the novel an ever-changing rhythm, recording the cacophony of the city in an explosion of sound and feeling.
– Aliah O’Neill (276 pages / Brandon Books / $19.95)
James P. Cantrell takes on the task of dissecting the tradition of Southern American literature and examining its Celtic roots. His How Celtic Culture Invented Southern Literature brings readers into a literary examination of Scottish, Welsh and Irish culture as it pertains to the South and its presence in the prose of that region. A native of Warren County, Tennessee, Cantrell puts his Ph.D. in American literature to good use in his work of literary criticism which proves to be a concise and useful tool for any student or enthusiast of Southern literature.
Exploring the Tennessee mountain cultures, the Civil War era and all the great Southern authors and those you might not have thought of, Cantrell’s work argues exactly what its title suggests in an insightful and complete way. Picking away at what has become the dominant idea of Southern culture as an offshoot from a strictly English milieu, Cantrell looks deeply into the influence of Celtic cultures on the South and the surfacing of that culture in the most famed contributions to Southern literature. From Gone with the Wind through to more contemporary works, Cantrell dedicates entire chapters to exploring the religious influences of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh as well as familial constructs and language. The book reads not as a list of writers or as yet another attempt to reinvent Faulkner, but as a careful look into a cultural movement underscoring this genre of fiction.
– Tara Dougherty (288 pages / Pelican Publishing Co. / $29.95 )
Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking is an ode to traditional recipes and cooking skills that have been lost in recent generations with the onslaught of modern-day conveniences and mass production in the food industry. Growing up in County Tipperary, Allen learned how to forage for food, cook seasonally, and raise animals for the table, all skills that she explains thoroughly in this well-organized cookbook. The book is divided into sections such as fish, eggs, dairy, bread, vegetables and preserving, each with beautiful color photographs picturing the delectable dishes.
Allen’s instructions are clear and simple to match the spirit of her mission: to inspire the younger generations to reconnect with the food traditions of their grandparents. We often think of cooking from scratch as time-consuming, but Allen sees it as a labor of love—the joy in knowing that you preserved your own fruit for jam or gathered greens from your own garden for a salad is worth the work. With cakes and breads that are often named after loved ones from Allen’s childhood, the cookbook has a warm and personal feel as though it is being handed down to the reader like another family recipe. Forgotten Skills of Cooking is not only a recipe book but a guide to being more connected to your food, a tradition that is surprisingly modern in the era of “green living.”
– Aliah O’Neill (600 pages / Kyle Books / $40.00)