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In Search of St. Patrick
by Deborah Markus

e've run a number of "seasonal reading" book reviews and articles in The Spook. They're fun to write and (so we've been told) fun to read. This got me thinking that it might be nice to do one for March, even though St. Patrick's Day isn't exactly one of the big holidays. My editor greenlighted the idea with a reminder that it was a day before deadline. Oh yeah.

I hung up the phone and hit the road. On foot. The bookstore's only six blocks away, and I've found that it's quicker to hike it than to get into the car, back down the driveway making cursory efforts not to hit any joggers or strollers or cell phone/pod person combinations, think of appropriate epithets for my fellow drivers, find that the only available parking space is farther from the bookstore than my own driveway is, give up, go out, and get drunk. So mostly I just walk.

It's a sunny day with the barest hint of a breeze behind it, and though I brought a sweatshirt just in case, I see more than a few halter tops. I think of my editor across the continent in New York bitching about that ice storm last week and smile.

The bookstore is considerate enough to have a coffee shop and a display of holidaythemed books for my perusal, and I figure I'll hit the former when I tire of the latter. I'm surprised by the quantity of titles in honor of the season. A little alarmed, too, considering that I'm not going to be able to write about anything I haven't at least made a cursory attempt to read. It's way too late in the game to score review copies from publishers, and my husband has threatened to kick me out and marry some nice illiterate girl if I spend the grocery money on books one more time (he's catching on to that cheap-food-disguised-as-exotic scam -- "So, what's for dinner?" "Um, arroz con zero").   Maybe I should just go home and fake something. I saw How The Irish Saved Civilization on my neighbor's shelf once when I let the plumber in for him. Maybe he'd lend it to me, along with anything else vaguely green he's got. But I kind of hate to ask. We're friendly, but not what you'd call close. He might take a dim view of my presuming a favor like that. He might be reminded of the time I took in a package for him and then forgot to give it to him for three days. He might remember that the package had what was once a frozen ham in it. Worse, he might start asking if he can borrow books from me. What, am I running a lending library here?

And even if I did get something from him no strings attached, or sold myself to passing sailors to scare up the money to actually buy books (Husband: "How did you pay for these?" Me: "They were really really super extra discounted. Plus my aunt died and left me $37.60. I meant to tell you before but I forgot"), when would I have time to read them? Or even skim? I've got to finish this article tonight, not just start it. Screw it. I'll figure something out. A lot of books here for such a little table. And such a little subject. I mean, Saint Patrick's day, fer gosh sake. How much can you write about one guy?

Assuming anybody has written anything at all about him. What is all this stuff, exactly?

Here we have our obligatory coffeetable- size massively-marked-down remainders. Historic Ireland. Irish Legends. The Celts. Does anyone ever actually read these behemoths? People buy them occasionally, sure, but mostly just to give away to people they don't know well enough to give them a real present.

Ireland's Love Poems. Better. Another book nobody'll read, but it's smaller and prettier and easier to stow on a shelf or hide at the bottom of a trash can.

Penguin Book of Irish Fiction. I heft it and almost throw my back out. Over a thousand pages. Holy s***! $40.00. Holy again! I do enough of the math in my head to figure that it doesn't add up to too much per page, but it's not as if they let you buy only as much or little as you want, like those stationary-by-the-sheet places they have in some of the classier cafes.

My eyes drift wistfully over to Starbucks, and I drag them sternly back.

Ireland for Dummies. Figures. And it's a travel book. Don't tourists feel dumb enough without a book like that under their arm advertising their stupidity? (Tourist: "As you can see by my book, I'm so dumb that I decided to come here on vacation." Irish native: "Aaron! Fetch the shotgun!") Hanging Out in Ireland. Another travel book. Wouldn't that be kind of cool, though? Go thousands of miles and thousands of dollars out of your way, and then: "Hi, I just came to hang out."

Angela's Ashes. In hardcover. Full price. Cheeky bastards. I read some of that years ago, way back when they excerpted it in the New Yorker. I think I even have it on my shelf somewhere. I always meant to finish it. Maybe I will. Sometime.

Dubliners. Whoever put this table together is getting desperate, trying to fill up space with even vaguely Irish titles. Beowulf. Dracula. Dracula? What the hell? I reach back into my horror reader/writer brain and dimly remember that Bram Stoker was from Ireland. Someone at the bookstore is showing off here.

I've browsed through practically the entire table's worth of books and haven't found a thing about you-know-who.

The Micropedia of Irish History. "Micropedia"? Cute. A fat tiny book. Just what I need. I look at a few chapter titles at random. "The Cholera Epidemic." "Suppression and Transportation." "Gun-Running." Jesus wept. Aren't there any happy chapters in Irish history? No wonder my grandfather was always in such a lousy mood.

I look up Saint P. in the index. He isn't there. He isn't there? How the h*** can you write a book about Ireland and not mention the one Irish guy everybody's heard of? Here's his cathedral, at least. Doesn't exactly count, though, does it?

Ah, here's a nice new book. The Wearing of the Green: A History of Saint Patrick's Day. Well, good. Except that it's over 300 pages long, and even if a lot of that is index and footnotes, that's still 295 pages more than I have time for. I skim some chapter titles here. "Famine and Exodus." Jesus wept. Again.

I notice a clerk giving me the hairy eyeball. I squelch all guilt feelings about not intending to buy anything and remind myself that, hey, they put these out to be looked at. At least I'm not spilling coffee all over them. "Excuse me," I say to her. "Do you have any books that are just about, you know, the guy? Patrick? And maybe aren't too long?"

"Check upstairs," she says.


"Children's books."


I take the escalator up a level and sure enough, there's a tastefully arranged table here, too, and the titles look much shorter and a lot more fun to read. I tear myself away from a book on Saint Patrick's day crafts after committing to memory the recipe for a Shamrock Dog Pencil Holder (toilet paper tube, green paint, googly eyes) and find a board-book biography of Pat. Who allegedly got rid of all the snakes in Ireland. I knew that. I just never understood why. I mean, snakes are cool. I'd be kind of depressed living in a country with no snakes. Now, if you got rid of all the slugs, that would be something to brag about. It might take a while, though. (Irish person: "You drive out the slugs yet?" St. Patrick: "They're going, they're going!")   Another bio, this one on actual paper, big on pictures and small on text, more detailed. As well as making it necessary for future herpetologists to emigrate, the big P apparently did a cool ET-glowing thing with his hands one night to light his way home. Funky guy. Handy if you drop your car keys in the dark. And I still don't get what he had against snakes.

I give up and head downstairs again, straight for Starbucks. "Do you sell Irish coffee?" I ask the girl behind the counter.

"We have Irish Cream flavoring to put in your coffee," she answers brightly.

"Will that ruin my designated driver status?"

"Um, I don't think so."

"What's the point, then?"

She doesn't answer.

Screw this. I'm going to the pub.