Oh, Angela: Reading On The Couch.

posted in: Art, Sicky, Word Nerd 21
Pre-1940s farmer's market, Ireland. Image: Wikipedia.
Irish farmer’s market, c. 1938. Image: Wikipedia.


It’s not like I’ve been flat on my back. Well, okay. Today I was flat on my back.

My day consisted of 2.5 naps and 2.3 bowls of miso soup with udon noodles. The naps happened because I am spooky tired and can’t seem to keep my eyes open. The udon happened because my weak hemogoblins are demanding quick carbohydrates. Normally I stay away from the demon noodle, but these are desperate times. As a result of all this drowsy noodle eating, I feel sort of worse than I did when I woke up. I’ve got that sick-in-bed noodle daze thing going on, you know?

Not every day in the past week has been like this, but there have been long hours on the couch or in bed. It’s very hard for me to allow myself to spend hours this way, but what can I do?

Well, I can read. So I’ve been reading. Most notably, I read Angela’s Ashes in about three days.

If you were even dimly aware of pop culture in 1996, you know the book I’m talking about. Angela’s Ashes was everywhere, a memoir of author Frank McCourt’s boyhood in Limerick, Ireland in the 1930s and ’40s. McCourt wrote it when he was 69 after a lifetime teaching high school English in New York City. The book won the Pulitzer Prize. It won the National Book Award. Angela’s Ashes won everything there was to win. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for three years. Six million copies have been sold to date. Hollywood made it into a movie. There are a zillion translations. It’s canonical.*

As for me, I was in high school in 1996 and too busy blasting PJ Harvey records in my Honda CR-X to care much about a tale of a hardscrabble Irish boyhood, so I skipped it. And I never did get around to reading it because, you know, life and a zillion other books to read. And if I’m honest, I do get a little resistant to anything that popular. I’m not a joiner and honestly, could it really be that great?

It’s better.

Angela’s Ashes is a masterpiece. It is perfect. A perfect book. Angela’s Ashes is a work of art that became a part of me, page by page. I moaned out loud as I read, anguished to the point of pain at the crushing poverty, the death, the cruelty of circumstances endured by this family. My eyes stung as catastrophe after catastrophe befell them; my eyes sting now to think back to the characters I grew to love.

And I laughed out loud, of course, because Angela’s Ashes is funny. It’s so funny you can’t believe it. I was shaking my head at what I read, wiping tears from my eyes from the laughter (or was it the sorrow?) marveling at this man, Frank McCourt. Not only did he survive his childhood, he found the humor and joy in it, too — and then he wrote it down so well we can survive with him and spew our tea all over our pajamas because he’s so entertaining while we’re with him. (Ask me how I know about that pajama/tea thing.)

My experience reading this book is universal to the point of being uninteresting, I suppose. It’s safe to say that everyone who reads Angela’s Ashes is deeply moved. Oh, I’m sure there’s someone somewhere who tried to start an Angela’s Ashes backlash, someone who “didn’t think it was as great as everyone said it was.” We’re all entitled to an opinion, but I would have a hard time understanding how anyone could encounter that rich pageant of humanity and beauty and misery and reject it in any way. Frank McCourt made the world a gift in the form of a book. And the copy I read I checked out at the library, which means it was free.

All of that, for free. ‘Tis a great world, indeed, Mr. McCourt. Thank you.

*Read the book if you haven’t; read it again if you have.

21 Responses

    | Reply

    Read it many years ago, but it deserves a second go around.

  2. Ursula O'Sullivan
    | Reply

    Hi Mary, glad you loved the book so much. I agree, its great. I read it years ago.
    I’m a quilter and from Limerick.
    Thankfully, things are much better now in my hometown!
    Our local University of Limerich has a chair and department in Frank’s honour.
    I love your blog.

  3. Kathleen Kurke
    | Reply

    Ditto. Wish I could write that in Irish.

  4. Colleen
    | Reply

    I have a temporary illness (food poisoning or virus or bug) that is keeping me home and not eating a “normal” diet (such as yourself but different) I am on applesauce and banana and some chicken noodle soup when my husband mentions different foods I ask please don’t .
    Why when well some foods just sound so yummy not so much when unwell
    And why can’t chocolate or sweets or fruits be good for ones tummy or easy to digest
    Noodles soups are good and fine but really why not an ice cream after?
    Oh well I think I can move on to the next step in food tomorrow a soft cooked egg and chicken and rice
    I hope to never return to clear broth and water sips

  5. Marie Murphree
    | Reply

    I concur wholeheartedly with your assessment of this book. I met Frank McCourt when he came to Missouri State University for a lecture. He was wonderfully warm and funny. His passion for education was evident. I could have spent a week picking his brain and listening to his stories. I hope you feel better very soon. Anemia sucks.

  6. Ray Janikowski
    | Reply

    I am so glad for the update. I’ve been worried about your health!

    I loved Angela’s Ashes. I read it long ago. Maybe it is time for a redo. I remember that I really liked it but don’t remember the details.

  7. Naomi
    | Reply

    I read it too but not Tis. I found it desperately sad in the same way as E.T. and I’m not sure I can go back. I love that you are enjoying some fine irish literature. I brought a copy of Under The Hawthorn Tree by Marita Conlon Mckenna to the high school in Emmetsburg about 15 years ago. I wonder who is reading it?
    P.S. huzzah for not wanting to go with the popular stuff but I similarly deprived myself of Pulp Fiction because “Everyone” had seen it. #birthdaytwin

  8. Liz Flaherty
    | Reply

    I listened to the Audiobook version on my way to work and back. It made it hard to get out of the car whenever I arrived somewhere.

  9. Pattie Bajuszik
    | Reply

    One of the most incredible books that I have ever read. So glad that you had the time; sorry for the reason.

  10. Sara Hochhauser
    | Reply

    I read it then a few years later listened to the author read it . That’s even better.

  11. Barbara
    | Reply

    I worked in a library, and even then didn’t read it when if first came out. When I did, I was so filled with emotions reading Angela’s Ashes. Laughed, cried, couldn’t put it down till the end. As I’m sure you recall, Frank McCourt died some years ago.
    Feel better, Mary.

  12. Louise
    | Reply

    I have a copy and have been reluctant to read it because I can be overly sensitive to suffering. However, I’ll read it now. Have you read Teacher Man? It is McCourt’s memoir about teaching in New York. Out is also a great read.
    Best wishes for good health.

  13. Kathryn DarnellAVV2
    | Reply

    Reading a good book, a great book becomes a piece of the fabric of our soul. A book that latched itself to my heart is ‘The Boys in the Boat’ It’s the true story of University of Washington men of dock workers, loggers and fishermen who strive for a different life in the Depression of 1936. These boys fight, crawl and sweat their way to become the best crew team in America beating every Ivy League school along the way. A humble but master craftsman gives inspirational notes at the beginning of each chapter. I looked forward to that the same way I look forward to your blog. He talks about creating remarkable from the wood as we talk about the fabrics of our quilts. This story has buried it’s story in my heart and inspires me to try harder when obstacles cross my path. Take your naps and grow hemoglobin.

  14. Carmen
    | Reply

    YES! to everything you said. Yes!

  15. Brandy McClain Hallock
    | Reply

    Wow, I am an avid reader. A bookworm actually and I have never read it. Now I must race to my library to check it out! Thank you for the lovely suggestion and please do feel better soon! Xoxo

  16. Jen Rosin
    | Reply

    This is the second reference to this book I have seen today, actually in the last hour in totally unrelated circumstances. I am guessing I should stop at the library on the way home, the universe is telling me something.

  17. Sue S
    | Reply

    I read Angela’s Ashes, and ‘Tis and Teacher Man. I saw Mr. McCourt speak on CSPAN2 when Book TV was a great thing to watch because you could learn something while being entertained and before it was so political. He was great reading excerpt from his work and answering audience questions. Genius. The awards were well deserved. Feel better soon!

  18. Linda
    | Reply

    A great read. A book like Angela’s Ashes can take one away from sickness, loss and emotional lows because it takes you to another world. And sometimes that is just where we need to be for awhile. It helps us to return to ours with renewed thoughts and that is healing too. Great reads keeps our world from getting too narrow.
    Take some time and get well.

  19. Kathryn DarnellAVV2
    | Reply

    Good books, a truly great read becomes part of our soul. With a lifetime of reading great books I am now pieces of every author who has come to live in my heart. I see that with you. Want to invite you to try another good read. The Boys in the Boat. True Story of University of Washington young men in 1930s. They are sons of loggers, farmers and fishermen who are looking for a new life. They are members of a crew team and the boat builder George Pocock gives inspiration to them. Mr Pocock speaks about the love of crafting the boat the way we talk about making a quilt and touching fabric. I smiled all the way through their ups and downs to the 1936 Olympics. Grab a smile and give it a read.

  20. Neame
    | Reply

    I read it back when. It had the same forceful effect on me. Maybe moreso because there were many ways in which my own childhood was similar. What struck me more than anything, more than the humor, more than the poetry of the language, was the grace and forgiveness and understanding obvious toward the adults in his young life (well, except for the priests). I took a lesson from that largeness of character and began to view my own history differently. It is the kind of writing that alters people. It did me. Thank you for reminding me.

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