Tag Archives: Billy O'Callaghan

Good Books for Long Winter Nights

January seemed especially grey and depressing this year. Maybe not depressing, that may be too strong a word, but I experienced more of a post-holiday let-down than usual. Most years I sort of revel in January, enjoy the dramatic image of myself slumped on the sofa, bored, bored, bored like some minor relation of the Downton Crawleys come to visit.

This year, I don’t know. It’s hard to enjoy a good pout and wallow when you’ve spent almost the entire past year having done just that, so I had no where to go with my ennui and discontent. I reverted to childhood—age eight—and spent the month under the covers reading with my Girl Scout flashlight. And way past my bedtime, too.


The modern equivalent of the flashlight under a blanket is the Kindle, and if you read with one, you might want to check out Bookbub. Every day an email arrives with seven or eight books for you to consider, curated from your reading list. They are deeply discounted, most can be downloaded to your Kindle for $1.99, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.

Here are a couple of books I have enjoyed when I should have been reading the ones assigned in my book group.


The first is “A Woman of No Importance,” written by Sonia Purnell. With impressive research, Purnell brings us the unknown story of an American woman, Virginia Hall, who worked early on to help establish units of espionage during World War II that would become, eventually, the more wide-spread French Resistance. She was remarkable, an adventurer before the war, and though she lost a leg in Turkey in a hunting accident, she was bothered by this only a little, when she was escaping the Gestapo by crossing the Pyrenees on foot and in winter, say, or when her slight limp threatened to give her away to the Nazis in occupied Lyon. I am only half-way through Virginia’s exploits, and I can’t imagine what happens next, but I am inspired by her story.


Bookbub sent me a ninety-nine cent offer to purchase Pearl S. Buck’s novel, “A Pavilion of Women: A Novel of Life in the Women’s Quarters.”

I have long admired Buck’s award-winning novel, “The Good Earth,” but I admire this book more. Set in 1930s China, the novel centers on the wealthy and influential Wu family. More accurately, it centers on Mrs. Wu, the matriarch of this old and traditional family, and the ways in which she assures her family’s happiness and continuity.


She has great responsibility for her family but little actual power. She sets about sorting things by engaging in a great game of chess playing with her family’s relationships. Reading this book now, in the overly woke age we find ourselves, I wondered how Mrs. Wu might be taken by a younger reading audience. Would this book offend their precious, more delicate sensibilities? I don’t care.

Read this book in context of the culture and the time, it is beautifully written and wise, and I came to admire Mrs. Wu and her good heart and the hard truths she never looked away from.


The writing is so gorgeous, in fact, I underlined this book as much as any I have read. I would send sentences and whole passages to friends in the middle of the night so they might admire them with me, right then.

My pal, Alice, has a new boyfriend, but being a generous type, she has shared him with me, at least a little. How she does it I don’t know, but she finds the most interesting writers, long before the rest of us do, and her new fella is one.


She is, if not in love with, at least crushing on the Irish writer, Billy O’Callaghan. Not long ago she read his novel, “My Coney Island Baby,” and went on and on and on about it. I feared for her other boyfriends, sensed a long season of neglect coming up for them. And I was right. She is currently reading everything of his she can get her hands on.


Lucky for Alice, and us, there are several collections of short stories to choose from, and at least two novels. His story about how he came to writing is compelling, too, or at least Alice says it is. She won’t share much about that. Those early days of infatuation, you remember how it is. Secretive. Exclusive.