Sunday, November 9, 2014

Listening to Colm Toibin

A few days ago I had the good fortune to hear the wonderful Irish writer Colm Toibin speak and read from his new novel, “Nora Webster,” at my favorite local independent bookstore, Book Passage in Corte Madera. I have read, admired, and enjoyed several of his novels and short story collections over the years, including “The Master,” “Mothers and Sons: Stories,” “Brooklyn” (which I posted about on 1/28/10), “The Empty Family: Stories" (my post: 1/28/11), and “Testament of Mary” (1/20/13). I was already planning to read “Nora Webster,” and hearing Toibin read passages from it made me even more eager to do so. His reading voice is beautiful and expressive but not over-the-top. Even better were his introductory and between-passages comments, and his answers to questions after the reading. His comments were thoughtful, humorous in a low-key way, gently self-deprecating in a wry, confiding way, and conversational. He shared stories about his childhood and youth, as well as his more recent life. He spoke about Ireland, especially the small towns, about Catholicism, about his family, and about why he wrote about Henry James (in “The Master”), among other topics. He treated each question with thought and respect. In other words, his persona was engaging and impressive. His audience was rapt and responsive. As people were leaving the event area of the bookstore, I heard one woman say “I just wanted him to go on and on!” and I agreed with her. It was a privilege and a pleasure to hear this great author speak. And if I sound like a bedazzled fan, I’m OK with that!

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