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Kevin Barry on reading during ‘wild and wintry’ nights

Kevin Barry is the author of two collections of short stories and three novels.
Kevin Barry is the author of two collections of short stories and three novels.Louise Manifold (Custom credit)

Irish writer Kevin Barry follows up his much acclaimed novel “Night Boat to Tangier” with a new collection of stories set in western Ireland, “That Old Country Music,” which is out this week. Barry, who has won multiple awards, is also a playwright and screenwriter. The Limerick native moved more than 17 times, including one stint in Boston, before settling down in County Sligo in Ireland.

BOOKS: How would you describe your reading?

BARRY: I keep 12 to 15 books stacked by the bed, and I go in and out of them. If one really starts to take me, I’ll drop everything but most often I flit from book to book. In the stack now I have Brian Eno’s 1995 memoir, “A Year With Swollen Appendices,” his diary of a year working as a record producer and artist. It’s really consoling because he’s doing all this amazing work but every day he’s thinking it’s no good.

BOOKS: What else do you have in the stack?


BARRY: Don DeLillo’s “The Silence,” which is about a dystopia where technology fails and the world shuts down. Since boyhood I’ve been a huge, drooling DeLillo fan. He’s in his ’80s but his work still reads as prophetically as writers 50 years younger.

BOOKS: Do you have any guilty pleasures?

BARRY: Not exactly. I read lots of crime fiction, especially the kind that edge into literary fiction. I’m thinking about James Ellroy, Roberto Bolaño’s “Antwerp” and “2666,” and Patricia Highsmith’s “Ripley” novels.

BOOKS: Are you a memoir reader?

BARRY: I love books that are a kind of how-to manual to life, like Patti Smith’s books. I love “M Train.” It’s her perambulations about her life as an artist. There’s a kind of generosity that comes off of her like an aura.


BOOKS: Do you read any other type of nonfiction?

BARRY: I have a kind of old-fashioned taste for books of letters. There was a doozy this year, “The Dolphin Letters,” which is about the poets Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell. The central question is if there are limits to mining your personal life for your art. Lowell decided there were none. To read about them going at each other in letters, there’s a guilty pleasure to that.

BOOKS: Are there Irish writers you wish were better known in the US.?

BARRY: There are many. One is Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who was a mid-century writer who should be as well-known as Beckett or Flann O’Brien. He isn’t because he wrote in the Irish language. The contemporary Irish writer Anakana Schofield is hard to categorize, but is damn funny. Her most recent novel is “Bina.”

BOOKS: Which book have you reread the most?

BARRY: Probably the first book that threw me to the wall, Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” which I read when I was 10. I will pick it up on a wild and wintry night in the west of Ireland and go into the glorious gothic atmosphere of it. I’m also a nightly reader of poetry, even if only 5 minutes. I take down the collected poems of Philip Larkin a great deal. He’s always more miserable than you can ever be, so he’s great company.

BOOKS: Do you own a lot of books?


BARRY: We do. My wife and I bought our home in 2007, which is the first property we ever owned, because moving the books became too much of a hassle. The last move was 60 odd boxes. We needed a place to put them. So we bought a former old police station in a swamp in County Sligo. It’s pretty much wall-to-wall books.

BOOKS: Of all the places you have lived, was one especially good for reading?

BARRY: My wife and I did a winter in Montreal that was kind of glorious. We lived about five minutes from the Grande Bibliotheque. Even when it was minus 20 degrees, I could stumble down there in my parka. I would cozy up in an armchair with a book and look out over the snowy city. That was a memorable way to get through a Montreal winter. Books were invented for the winter.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane” and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.