One City, One Book

A UNESCO City of Literature, Dublin’s bookish roots continue to flourish. An important aspect of this is April’s annual ‘One City, One Book’, an initiative from the city council and led by the public libraries, that encourages all of the city’s inhabitants to read the same book.

Each year, the chosen book has a connection to Dublin, either through the writer or the content, and appeals across the spectrum of citizens, as well as lending itself to a variety of events.

Running since 2006, featured books include classics like Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and Dracula by Bram Stoker. Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy (The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van) made a recent appearance. A complete list of previous titles is here. This year’s choice, The Long Gaze Back, is a volume of 30 stories by Irish women, edited by Sineád Gleeson.

Anthologies can be easily underestimated, but it is very often the case that they are the only way most of us experience the art of the short story or poetry, and they introduce us to writers we may never otherwise allow cross our paths.

No one needs to look very far to realize that anthologies, while doing the vital work of introducing people to writers and poets and their work, have for the most part left out women writers. We would be forgiven for thinking that there just weren’t any women writing, but sadly that is not the case: their work was just not important enough or manly enough to be considered equal enough for inclusion. Two within easy reach of me are testosterone-heavy: one with four women poets thrown in toward the end of 31 Michaels, Johns and Seamuses, the other with six women (three of them from the previous book) out of a total of 54, again all Richards and Padraics, or some form thereof.

The Long Gaze Back is helping to swing Irish literature back into balance. Eight of the writers are deceased, bringing our collective gaze back to the rich, female literary past of this nation. The others are all contemporary writers, some well known, others emerging, who each wrote a new story for this book.

With 30 stories by 30 writers, there is enough to fill out the entire month, if you go by Mavis Gallant’s advice of reading just one short story a day: “Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.”

Concerts, interviews, films, workshops, panel discussions, visual arts exhibits: there are events for every taste, continuing right up until the 30th. Last week I attended a live recording of an Irish Times Bookclub podcast, a conversation between Gleeson and books editor Martin Doyle, which will be online from 30 April.

If your city does not have one book, mark World Book Day by choosing one of your own.

And don’t forget your daily short story. Today, mine will be “Multitudes”, by Lucy Caldwell.


Find out more about One City, One Book or World Book Day.


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