“If you have time, stop by and help us give out some books on Friday,” suggested Nik Quaife, the Irish Arts Center’s Director of Communications and External Affairs. The Third Annual Book Day was held on March 15th.
I envisioned myself popping over to their table at Washington Heights, saying hello to Nik and District 7 Council Member Robert Jackson, and meeting author, Colum McCann, who gave out and signed books there. I did not picture myself traveling to Parkchester in the Bronx at 7am. But I am so glad I did.
When I arrived, I saw a tall redheaded man in a green top standing outside the station, but since I didn’t know what my Team Captain, Shawn Farrell, looked like, I called his cell. Sure enough, the man in green reached into his pocket to answer.
As soon as Shawn started opening the boxes of books, commuters approached the table to find out what we were doing. My Unification Church training came in very handy in approaching strangers with a smile. And I believe in literature at least as much as I once believed in the Divine Principle.
Participating in Book Day reminded me of how delightful it is to connect with strangers on a positive topic. The guide told volunteers, “New Yorkers are not used to receiving quality items that also happen to be FREE.” Most people were delighted to receive their free books, although some questioned my selections. One man swapped Alice Walker poetry for “A Drop of the Hard Stuff” by Lawrence Block. “This is me,” he said.
“Black Irish” by Stephan Talty was a popular choice. This is not surprising considering the hundreds of years of shared history between Irish Americans and African Americans. As I learned at another Irish Arts Center event, Black and White And Green, 37% of Black Americans have at least one Irish ancestor.
When people saw James Joyce’s, “Dubliners,” they smiled in recognition. I tried to give Joyce to a child whose mother said he needed a chapter book. Shawn, gently pointed out, “Actually, that might be a little hard to read.”
I was surprised to see a copy of Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin. I found no evidence of her Irishness online, but I discovered that she had an Irish Setter.
One reader insisted James Joyce was Italian.
“You need to do some studying,” he said, holding “Dubliners” in my face.
I found no references to Joyce’s alleged Italian roots, but I learned that he could speak Italian.
Great literature is universal and—as Nik Quaife said—the Irish have “punched well above our rate for literary giants.”
The Irish Arts Center’s Book Day is a great way to celebrate Irish culture for St. Patrick’s Day. Some people said they loved the book they received last year and would be coming back every year. With so many people using ereaders now, there was something special about handing out print books. Those who received them clearly enjoyed the gift.
Most photographs by the Irish Arts Center