How many times has a bad movie led you to buy the book? Until now, I can’t remember a single instance – and my eyeballs have absorbed a lot of films and books through the years. I truly appreciate the task of turning a 400-500 page book into a 100-page screenplay, even if I don’t always agree with the writer’s decisions or judgement. All right, Vita and Virginia wasn’t totally bad. In my view it was a lushly-produced version of a weak script. But since I went in to it knowing next to nothing about Virginia Woolf, I learned a bit. And because Kahns in Kilkenny had a newly-printed copy of Orlando on display for only €3 I couldn’t resist the chance to learn more.
I scanned the two introductory essays over dinner, filling in a lot of the blanks that the film didn’t need to cover. I started the book itself in my room that night, but was intrigued by the sounds of both conversation and music from the pub below my hotel window. High enough to avoid the smoke, but close enough to enjoy the sounds, I decided to save the book for some evenings in the next few weeks when I can give it some quality time. What did jump out at me was the book’s packaging. Whoever is doing cover design for Vintage is doing a nice job with their classics, those books that many of us either pass by or buy then never read. I’m wondering if putting new skins/covers on old classics is really bringing in new audiences. Can we really tell a book by its cover? Having said that, my thoughts wandered to the case of Starbucks and Seattle’s Best. There are a fair number of people [myself included] who refuse to drink at Charbucks because of the flavour of their coffee as well as some of their business and merchandising practices. Many of those people ease their consciences by drinking at Seattle’s Best, ignorant of the fact that it’s fully owned by Starbucks.
And so it goes.
The next day saw me up the road in Carlow, a nice town that I otherwise would have passed by except that the Irish Times mentioned a charity shop’s book section organized by the Dewey Decimal System. The Sue Ryder Shop’s display windows gave me a lot of respect for Carlow’s readers. In less than a minute I stopped counting the books I owned or have read. Upstairs looked more like a library than a typical charity shop. In fact it was more welcoming that quite a few for-profit bookstores I’ve spent time in. Another Ian McEwan book made its way to my collection.
But if you think two towns only gave me two books, you’re right. But they also gave me some wonderful stories that I’ll leave you to look up for yourself –
In 1324, long before the wave of witchcraft persecutions swept continental Europe, Ireland’s first conviction for the crime of witchcraft occurred in Kilkenny, where Alice Kyteler was convicted after four of her wealthy husbands died of mysterious causes. She escaped to England, where she disappeared from history.
Carlow’s the site of Ireland’s last hanging of a woman. It seems that Catholic Lucinda Sky and her Protestant boyfriend decided to get rid of her husband. Since the church frowns on divorce, they found another way to dispose of the poor man. While it was too late for Lucinda and her boyfriend – they spent their last moments hanging together – thirty years later Carlow native Rev. Samuel Haughton invented a more humane way of helping people meet their maker. His noose helped the guilty die instantly, rather than swinging, gagging and choking for a while before they left these earthly realms.
And we can’t forget what goes beyond the usual ABC story [Another Bloody Castle]. Carlow Castle has the usual history of 800 years of changing political and military fortunes, including stints with the Plantagenets and Oliver Cromwell. In a noble attempt to recycle the old building into a lunatic asylum in 1814, Dr. Philip Middleton miscalculated the amount of explosive he needed for part of his remodeling. The explosion destroyed the three-story thickly-walled fortress, leaving only a single wall for tourists to gaze at.
So, not a bad few days: some nice bookstores and even better real life stories.
This piece is just one of a number I’ve written about my long-term love affair with books. If you’d like to see more simply click on the “Books” category below. You can also subscribe, so that you’ll see these blogs as they’re written, as opposed to social media’s algorithms.