Bookshelf: Amongst Women - John McGAHERN


Title: Amongst Women

Author: John McGahern

Publisher: Faber and Faber, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-571-22564-4

Paperback. Pre-owned

My rating: 4*

The back flap sets the scene: "Moran is an old republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of glory as a guerrilla fighter in the War of Independence. Now, in his old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - with his family, his friends, even himself - in a poignant struggle to come to terms with the past."

This is a relatively short book at less than 200 pages and it soon becomes clear that the title Amongst Women not only refers to the farmhouse home at Great Meadow in which the action largely takes place but also to the phrase in the Hail Mary prayer recited in the family Rosary that recurs often in the story.

The writing is lovely and captures the mood as the story goes through various and sometimes repetitive phases. This seems to me intentional. There are no chapters but the text is broken into distinct phases - 10 of them - perhaps reflecting the repeating structure of the Rosary with its decades recounting scenes of various mysteries - joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous. I may be stretching a point but it's a thought.

Some of the situations and social conventions were familiar to me - redolent of growing up in the 50s. At times I felt these were uncomfortably familiar - the scenes in which Moran's new wife, Rose, stretches to keep the domestic peace would I think be recognised by many readers.  The patriarchal, old guard, regime has had its day, but its impulses live on. Right from the opening sentence we are set up for tension: "As he weakened, Moran became afraid of his daughters" but "this once powerful man was so implanted in their lives that they had never really left Great Meadow..."

I thought a wedding scene at the marriage of Moran's daughter, Sheila and her husband Sean was poignantly drawn.  Growing up, Sean's mother had saved him from the tough life of the farm; she had doted on him and he was the "special one" whom she had imagined becoming a priest who in time would say mass for her soul.  Sean had not followed the plan and here he was getting married.  That religious connection again - that Wedding at Cana decade?


I would suggest this book to anyone interested in the social milieu of 1950s Irish society - things have come a long way but the author pulls at the roots.  It would also appeal to those interested in literature with a sense of place and people in that place; those who, like me, are fascinated by family and social interactions and dysfunction will find plenty to absorb them.

I liked this book a lot. It certainly made me reflect.


Check out information suppled by the publisher at this link.

Men in the Middle by Kori Reed

Title: Men-in-the-Middle
Conversations to Gain Momentum with Gender Equity's Silent Majority

Author: Kori REED

Publisher: Pure Ink Press, 2023

Ebook ISBN: 979-8-9875866-5-5

My rating: 5*

The media soundscape reverberates with discussions on gender issues often emphasising equity issues in the workplace. For some reason male voices seem to be silent on the conversations that need to be had.  This was one of the key observations put forward in this challenging yet engaging book by Kori Reed.

The book's structure is built around conversations with men discussing various workplace practices and situations, which being familiar to me as a male rang true.  The premise was inviting and moments into the introduction I was hooked.  I think I realised right from the outset that this should not be a quick read - the ideas and challenges shared would need time for reflection and action.  So I took a chapter at a sitting.  You can read each of the eleven chapters in 20 minutes or so but since each ends with a summary of key points and questions to consider it’s possible to spend a similar amount of time or longer in the reflective process.

And that was what happened.

In fact days after finishing the book that reflection continues, brought back to mind by a news item or reported instance of inequitable treatment.  Of course reflection is one thing but the challenge is not to remain silent and to take action.  Is writing a blog post joining the conversation?

The author is at pains to explain why men need to be part of these equity conversations.  In the United States, for example, men represent just under half of the population but occupy the majority of leadership roles in organisations; the author contends that men therefore are already in positions to make a positive difference.  She revisits this point in different chapters.  We are hooked alright and in the nicest possible way she is not letting us off that hook!  In a compelling argument and reinforcing her point about people already in positions of influence being able to help, she cites a strategy adopted by Martin Luther King.  As part of his civil rights campaign, in the background, Dr King built key relationships with people in the white “middle” who could influence change. 

The style of the book is user-friendly and the tone encouraging especially when she explores with her interlocutors male reticence in taking part in equity conversations.  I appreciated the subtle shifts in mindset; these guys really had something to say.  The author has been able to show us that there is a lot going on below the surface; in the "bummock" as she puts it, that large part of the iceberg hidden from view. 

In its later chapters the book takes aspects of an existing model for change and applies that discipline to the gender equity equation. I felt that was useful and I liked how that equation was couched in terms of mutual benefit - a win-win for organisations.

I read the book in e-format and looking back over it a moment ago I can see that I have highlighted significant portions to consider further; to memorise and to follow up.  As mentioned above an extensive reference section is provided with sources detailed for each chapter.  This is very well organised - meticulous.  I clicked on several of the links suggested and following up on her references for the Martin Luther King strategy I spent quite a while reading articles on that from the Washington Post.  All pertinent stuff.  I have also signed up for newsletters and further information from some of the sites concerned. The momentum is underway.

In conclusion, I would say that this book is a call to action.  A shout-out to men to break their silence.  It would be a powerful resource for leaders in all types of organisations seeking to have a workplace characterised and enabled by gender equity.  I imagine those with interests in personal and organisational effectiveness will gain useful insights and strategies for further development and I readily commend the book to their attention. 

It has thoroughly engaged mine. 


Author's website:

I was grateful to receive an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Men in the Middle from NetGalley, where it is now archived. Here is a link for further information.

Routes and Roots: Caminos de Sefarad

One of the things that has left a lasting impression from our recent trip to Seville was learning how for centuries Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in peace.  The Jewish legacy can be discovered in the Caminos de Sefarad / Paths of the Sefarad - the term used by the Jewish community to refer to Spain. 

We spent an afternoon in Seville walking the old quarter of the city tracing its multi-cultural past and there in a courtyard saw the physical expression of that living together - an orange tree and a palm tree growing from the same plot of ground. 

Routes and roots. 

Songs of a Sourdough


This is a much-loved book. My dad's.
The pen was his too. 
C.Tracey etched in cursive script.
Same details as mine.

Public Reading - Donal Ryan


Back at a public library again! 

This time for a reading by author Donal Ryan.  We almost missed the event as when we applied for seats registration was already full.  A helpful staff member put us on a waiting list and sure enough some spaces became available.  We jumped at the chance to attend.

I love his writing and with the addition of his latest, the queen of dirt island, have all his books. The one he is reading from in the picture above gave him, and then his listeners, some amusement.  It was an early publication version and the cover had been presented upside down.  The sections he read though were powerful and his literary talents are assuredly the right way up.

At the library event he talked about the process of writing and the critical inputs of editors and family members. He invited questions and responded to these at length revealing in the process further insights into his literary journey.

We were delighted to hear that this current title invites a follow-up.

Thank you LibrariesNI.


Check out more on the book at this link.

Pen and Ink


The new King Charles III, is signing all sorts of documents these days and recently had some trouble with a fountain pen.  It may have been an official or a borrowed pen but in any case on this occasion it oozed ink and he complained this happens "every stinking time!"

I love writing with my pen. I'm left-handed and over time the nib has adapted to the way I write. Fountain pens are personal to the user.  The ink in mine flows brilliantly but might not if loaned to another, say right-handed user.

Ink residues are inevitable when filling and I keep a well-blotted napkin to wipe the barrel and remove excess.  

Love the ritual of filling the pen - every inking time!