Mandy Rennt

Yesterday started with a tour of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz and ended with a 10K in Berlin. That’s 350 miles by train, plus another 6.2 on foot.

 *Not the actual train I took to Mainz.

The Gutenberg Express. *Not the actual train I took to Mainz.

The Mainz trip was a spontaneous, last-minute, and costly affair, but I felt like I had to go because of the print culture angle on my thesis. When I got back to Berlin, I had to scramble to prepare for the 10k, and not much went as planned. I showed up to the event 30 minutes late, my iPhone near-dead because I got so lost on the way there. Also, I was wearing my pajama bottoms because my regular running clothes were not done drip-drying and the laundromat I found on Google maps closed at 5pm, an hour before I got there.

 The starting line at the We Own the Night 10K Berlin.

The starting line at the We Own the Night 10K Berlin. I was too late for confetti, but the bubble machine was still running!

The biggest disappointment was my music selection. I really really really wanted to run a 10k in Berlin whilst listening to the Run Lola Run soundtrack. For the uninitiated, the 1998 German film Lola Rennt (Lola Runs) features a protagonist who, you guessed it, runs all over Berlin. The soundtrack is 73 minutes of heart-thumping techno (with a 3-minute bonus track on the English-language market version), which perfectly syncs with my average 10k time.

 Translates as: Slowpokes to the back, y'all.

Translates as: “Slowpokes to the back, y’all.”

I’ve never been very good with the music downloading, but this soundtrack was freaking impossible to get. I am technologically capable of buying songs from iTunes, but they only had an incomplete version in the British store, which wouldn’t even allow me to make a purchase. All the FreeMusikDownloadz! sites with their foreign language instructions and €30 membership fees scare the hell out of me. I even went to an actual CD store in a moment of desperation, but they didn’t have it.


Public domain image courtesy Wikipedia.

I guess it really didn’t matter in the end, because my iPhone was practically dead before the race even started. I wound up listening to nothing but the music of the German language chatter of my fellow runners, plus one American study abroad girl telling her friend: “He said certain songs make him think of me, and he gets really emotional, but in a good way.” Oh, honey… Needless to say, overhearing that conversation inspired me to drop it in gear and sprint a good ways down the course. Ain’t no motivation like running from your own past, even if you don’t have the accompanying soundtrack.

 I'm terrified to post images of Run Lola Run because the soundtrack is so locked down, but this screen grab of the title sequence is just too cool to pass up.

I’m terrified to post images of Run Lola Run because the soundtrack is so locked down, but this screen grab of the title sequence is just too cool to pass up. I really hope I don’t get sued.

I went and saw Lola Rennt last weekend at the Institut für Film und Videokunst arthaus cinema, and it was even better than I remembered. I had written an essay about Run Lola Run for my German film class 11 years ago, really obsessed with how Lola is the strong one in the romantic relationship, but this viewing was all “Mein Gott, I recognize the background in this scene!” A friend had just taken me to visit the Oberbaumbrücke a few days earlier, and when Lola turns a corner to confront the two columns of nuns, the sign post behind her indicates she had been running down the street where the Komische opera house is located.

The Oberbaumbrücke as seen from the East Side Gallery. The exterior is not featured in the film, but the walkway's distinctive ceiling can clearly be seen early in Lola's run. I walked through it on my tour of Berlin, but did not take a picture, because I am a dumbass.

The Oberbaumbrücke as seen from the East Side Gallery. The exterior is not featured in the film, but the walkway’s distinctive ceiling can clearly be seen early in Lola’s run. I walked through it on my tour of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, but did not take a picture of the interior, because I am a dumbass.

It would be really easy to get sucked into “Lola’s tour of Berlin,” and in fact that has happened to me three times already today (online, that is; it’s too rainy and cold to go walking around outside). From what I have been reading, there are certain geographical incongruities in the film, something that had occurred to me as I watched, even with my limited knowledge of Berlin. I get the same sense watching Richard Linklater’s Slacker, occasionally wondering if continuity from one Austin location to the next was actually possible. I suppose it really doesn’t matter; you can get the feel for a city without having to literally retrace the characters’ footsteps.

 The view of Berlin from the Oberbaumbrücke.

The view of Berlin from the Oberbaumbrücke.

One filming location I do think I am going to visit is The Bebelplatz, which serves as the exterior of the bank where Lola’s father works, but in reality was the site of the 1933 Nazi book burning ceremony. There is now an underground monument of empty bookcases commemorating the destroyed literature, as well as a plaque with a line from Heinrich Heine, which translates: “Where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.” Apparently, there is also a book sale held there every May 10 to commemorate the event, which is a little sad because I was here in Berlin but didn’t know about it at the time.

 After that screening Lola Rennt last weekend, I finally remembered why I am obsessed with watching airplanes fly through Der Himmel über Berlin.

After that screening of Lola Rennt last weekend, I finally remembered why I am obsessed with watching airplanes fly through Der Himmel über Berlin.

Finally, as a side note: while browsing the bookshop at the Literaturhaus the other day, I  learned that Lola herself, Franka Potente, has a book of short stories, Zehn, which does not seem to be available in English. I really need to learn to read German.

Perfect Irish Sunday

This is my fourth trip to Dublin in two months, and I’ve decided to embrace my inner tourist and walk all over town with a camera hanging around my neck.

My boyfriend and I had what we were calling “the perfect Irish Sunday” today:

We went to the Guinness Storehouse…


My favorite display was the artists’ interpretation of a pint of the black stuff…


I learned a few things about how and where Guinness hits the tongue…


Then we went to Ireland’s oldest pub, the Brazen Head, for lunch…


My boyfriend photo bombed this shot of the wall decor…


We both had stew: I had traditional Irish, he had Beef and Guinness (in a bread bowl)…


We finished the day with a visit to the Old Jameson Distillery…


We learned about the process that goes into making Jameson whiskey…


We sampled the goods, bought some swag, and were on our merry way…


eBook Incunabula

At the Dublin Book Festival this weekend, the debate over ebooks vs books raised some questions about how closely the ebook needs to remain tied to the printed book. A major point of discussion in my Book History class has been incunabula – that is, books printed within the first 50 years after the invention of the printing press (circa 1450). I think we are kind of in the era of digital incunabula right now. And just like the incunabula of the 15th century mimicked the manuscripts of an earlier era, the ebooks of today are mimicking the printed book. This mimickry is not always necessary, and, as we saw in the case of incunabula, many of the old formatting traditions fall by the wayside.

I think it’s important to pause here and distinguish between text and format. All books contain text, whether is is hand-copied by scribes, printed by Gutenberg, impressed in Braille, recorded on an audiobook, or uploaded to an ereading device. What is changing is the way those lines of text are treated and presented: sheets of vellum gave way to bound paper which gave way to ereaders. The earliest text was engraved in stone, then inscribed on papyrus scrolls, then written on wooden tablets. The classic codex – that is, the bound book with pages that we turn as we read – very much belongs to the physical world. I think what is so exciting about this ebook revolution is that ebooks can become anything, and may not always resemble the books that sit on our shelves.

The first and most obvious example of ebooks holding on to traditions of the printed book is the concept of pages. My Kindle (a very early model) features buttons that say PREV[IOUS] PAGE and NEXT PAGE, but why? There are no page numbers on a Kindle book, so that word “page” doesn’t really make sense in this context. Yes, it is how I have always experienced a book, and no doubt this early Kindle (or ebook incunabulum) needs to be rooted in the familiar so readers can easily adopt the ebook format, but if a Kindle book is demarcated by percentages and locations, the concept of the page is a bit out of place. Even the earliest codices didn’t have page numbers, perhaps because people were still adjusting to the very concept of pages. Turning a page is something we do in the physical world with a print book – ereaders of the future may drop this feature once we move out of this ebook incunabula era and into a more fluid ereading experience.

Another concept that is definitely going to change is the book cover. I have never even looked at the cover of most of my ebooks, and I have trouble recognizing a book in the shop if I have only read it on my Kindle. I don’t browse for Kindle books in the Kindle store – I just buy titles I already know I want to read – so the concept of judging an ebook by it’s cover is completely lost on me. Half of the public domain books in the ibookstore are simply book icons with the title written in some boring font – no photo, no design. One of the speakers at the Dublin Book Festival, the CEO of StoryToys, actually said his app icon was his book cover. There is a overlap here between apps and ebooks/ibooks, but the fact that we have to make a distinction means that the tiny little square on your smart phone functions more like a book cover than the generic Moby Dick that is sitting on my iBookshelf.

Finally, my own personal Kindle pet peeve, which is definitely going to have to change (if it hasn’t already been updated on the fancier Kindles or other ereaders): bookmarks. This is my least favorite feature on the Kindle and, unfortunately, the one I have to use most often. Adding a bookmark requires two clicks and the presence of an obstructive screen on top of the text. Recovering a location I have bookmarked requires another two clicks and an entirely new screen, and clearing those bookmarks when I’m done requires three clicks and a reset of the bookmark menu to see the next bookmark. It definitely detracts from the reading experience. This is all a matter of how the reader uses bookmarks, and clearly I am not compatible with my Kindle 2.5.2. I much prefer my printed book technique, in which I use a post-it to mark the exact line of text I need, or, at the very least, rip up the book receipt and shove little shreds of paper way up close to the spine and hope the physical appearance of the text will jog my memory. Either way, the real-world bookmarks are easy to see, easy to navigate, and easy to remove when I am done with the book. If the newer Kindles and other ereaders have a one-click add/remove bookmark function or some sort of touch-and-highlight feature, then hurrah – ebooks are evolving.

I am not even going to touch on hyperlinking text or ebook interactivity because 1) that is certainly not my area of expertise and 2) it gets into the question of “Is it really a book if it makes sound / plays video / offers a gaming experience?” Those are debates better left for another day. I also don’t want to hypothesize too much by way of digital innovation or improvement, because if I knew the way ebooks were going to develop, I would make some investments right now and be a very rich woman in a few years. The whole point is that people more talented and innovative than me are going to make some very cool advances in ebook technology in the next few years, and they are going to astonish us all. It is a very exciting time to be learning about the publishing business.

We are still in the early years of the Information Age, and sometimes I think we forget how lucky we are to be living through this. The parallel between the print revolution and the digital revolution is just a tiny part of this significant time in history, but it’s enough to keep my imagination occupied for years to come.

Internet Research and Author Services

I have been writing a paper for the last five hours, so my brain is mush and this probably won’t be a very good post.

I’m writing about Kirkus Reviews for my Contemporary Publishing class. This is the first paper I’ve written as a graduate student, and I’m a little nervous.

The essay is supposed to be between 2,000 and 2,500 words, and at last count, I had amassed just over 3,000. Now I just have to edit it down into a coherent argument…

Blush and Bashful


I’ve been feeling kind of bad for taking a photo of an actress during a theatre performance… and posting it on my blog… and Facebook.

I was raised better than that. It’s just, the way things worked out…

  • there were no assigned seats so we had to sit in the very front row even though we got there 20 minutes early and I bought these tickets weeks ago.
  • the actress’s teenage fan club in front row center (we were front row, stage right) were taking photos with their phones the entire time.
  • I double-checked that the flash was off on my iPhone, and the sound had been off since I entered the theatre.
  • she was right in front of me and not involved in any action at the time.
  • the friend who was sitting right beside me did not realize I had taken a photo until I showed it to her at intermission.
  • I’m pretty sure famous actresses are used to that sort of thing.

We’ve had a little discussion of paparazzi photography in my Publishing Law class (what with the Royals and all), and I’m pretty sure my essay topic will somehow involve photo rights, so this is something I’m kind of curious about. Did I break any laws (copyright), or violate any rights (privacy), or was it simply bad theatre etiquette?

In my mind, I’m publicizing someone doing her job (well, I might add) in my immediate vicinity. I was certainly no more disruptive to the play than the members of the audience who kept chatting after the new scene had begun.

I also feel kind of creepy because I now follow the actress on Twitter, and her posts lately have been links to Instagram photos of places I recognize. It’s like delayed stalking – “Look! Mischa Barton was at the Claddagh on Friday! Oh, she visited the Cliffs of Moher today!”

I hope I’m not weirdly violating someone’s right to privacy. I rarely watched The OC, and someone had to tell me that she was in The Sixth Sense. (However, I swear I saw her on the cover of a Saddle Club book when I was working at Half Price Books, and that’s kind of an obsessive thing to notice – it was just so startling!)

I just think it’s cool she did a play here because I love theatre in Galway and it’s nice to see TV/film stars stretching their acting muscles on stage. And yes, I wanted my Facebook friends to see how I spent my Friday night, but “Mischa Barton in the Julia Roberts role” was only one part of that… it’s a pretty big deal to see one of the biggest movies of your childhood – set in the next state over, no less – brought back to life almost 30 years later in another country.

Still, I might have been feeling a little remorse when I walked into a church this morning. Unbeknownst to me, it was the day of a very special performance. So special, in fact, that there was a man holding a camera/videocamera hybrid who shot footage of the entire hour-and-half long service.

He photographed/filmed the congregation too. He took several up-close flash photos of me, and also captured my (stubbornly stoic) reactions on video. As a first-time visitor to that church, I am now going to play a supporting role in the home movies of several families, and I am no doubt featuring on someone’s Facebook feed at this very moment.

When the service was over, the man sitting behind me said: “Hope you’re prepared to have your photo shown all over the world.”

Karma, Ms. Barton.

Galway Theatre Festival


Tonight, I went to the culmination – at least for me – of the Galway Theatre Festival, which has been running this past week at venues all over town. I went to three plays over the course of the week, and for someone who claims to not like theatre, I had an overall pleasant experience.

I bought tickets for the Wednesday night opening of An Taibhdhearc, the Irish-language theatre in Middle Street, to see if I couldn’t challenge my Beginner’s Irish. The very first show in the theatre was to be Pinocchio, so I thought it might be an easy story to follow. This wasn’t Disney’s Pinocchio, but rather Pinocchio: A Nightmare, in which our little wooden boy is now a hardheaded Irish teenager (played by an actress with an accent I’m told is Corkian). The creativity employed in the bilingual production provided a great example for how I – or anyone, really – should approach learning Ireland’s native language. Bilingual conversations where one character’s Irish question could be deduced by the other’s English answers, humorous descriptive placards before scenes, detailed sound effects produced on stage by an actor visible to the audience, and simply great acting made it easy to see the complementary interaction between Gaeilge and English in modern Ireland.

The next morning, I caught the 11am showing of Sanctuary at the Blue Teapot Theatre. This was a play about the love lives of people with intellectual disabilities, and it was very sweet and funny. One of the supporting actresses, who becomes involved in a secondary love story, had some of the best comedic timing and deadpan delivery I’ve ever seen. It didn’t hurt that the group’s cool-but-sensitive-and-understanding carer, Tom, was played by a very attractive actor that had several girls in the audience giggling. An inspired set design and a few loose parallels to another Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast, brought it all together around the question we all sometimes ask ourselves: How could anybody love me?

I finally got to see the inside of the Druid Theatre when I turned up (and I seriously considered not going) for the 5-euro event “24 Hour Theatre” tonight. The participants (many of whom I recognized from campus) had 24 hours to write, rehearse, and perform 15-20 minute plays. There were three groups, with three plays, which grew increasingly more meta over the course of the evening. We started with a small-town Ireland take on Hansel and Gretel, moved to a hilarious group therapy session, and were spoken to directly about the nature of drama by the characters that manifested on stage as the actors themselves. The first play had the best writing, the second had the best acting, and the third had the best personalities. All in all, it was very inspiring and I’m glad I went.

Throughout the week, I’ve been hearing about all the plays I should have seen. Home has been praised frequently, and there was some Beckett I didn’t know about when I bought my tickets. I also heard good things about The Butcher Molloy, which is apparently set during the last time Galway won the hurling final and thus could have been a lot more poignant if the Tribesmen had gotten the win last Sunday.


Culture Night with The Dead

***I’ve been out of commission all weekend – nothing fun, just the tail end of sickness and lack of internet in my apartment – and unfortunately did not blog on Friday or Saturday. So I’ll try to get in three entries today.***

Friday, September 21, was Culture Night all across Ireland. Several incredible events took place in Galway, including a performance of one-man show The Dubliners Dilemma at NUIG and a live broadcast of Vinny Browne’s Arts Show from Charlie Bryne’s Bookshop.

I attended a presentation by the James Hardiman Library Archives and Special Collections at the Huston School of Film and Digital Media on campus. We discussed the playwright Thomas Kilroy and the Joyce/Barnacle family’s connection to Galway, and concluded with a screening of John Huston’s final film, The Dead, which is an adaption of the last story in James Joyce’s Dubliners.

One new piece of information I took away from the evening was that Michael “Sonny” Bodkin, one of Nora Barnacle’s childhood sweethearts and at least a portion of the amalgamation that becomes the Michael Furey character in The Dead, is buried in a tomb in “the old part” of Rahoon Cemetery. He was a student at Queen’s College Galway (later NUIG) and died in February of 1900, aged 19 or 20. James Joyce’s poem “She weeps over Rahoon” was inspired by Nora’s grief over Sonny Bodkin.

It was also reiterated that Brenda Maddox’s Nora is the seminal biography on James Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, something I’ve heard from other revered sources. As for The Dead, both the story and the film, the book to read is The Dead by Kevin Barry because, as Huston School director Rod Stoneman put it, “he’s a Joycean.”

Professor Stoneman also noted that of John Huston’s 37 films, 34 are adaptations of plays or novels. He was a very literary director, and there was also some mention of a Fellini film (Time’s Shadow) that uses the same themes as The Dead and names its lead characters Mr. and Mrs. Joyce – I will need to explore that further.

The Huston School was much more cozy and inviting than I had imagined. I am very glad to have that resource on campus, and hope to be able to attend many more events there over the next year. As for Culture Night 2012, I don’t know how it was for the rest of the island, but in Galway, it was like a dream.

“… what’s the website for that?”

In preparation for my big move to Ireland, I have been dismantling the house I have lived in for the past five years. Books were the first order of business.

I’ve sold 50 to Half Price Books, packed 250 away in storage, and have another odd 25 laying around until I decide which are coming with me. This is on top of the 200 or so I sold during a spell of unemployment a few years ago.

There was also another batch of 50 books I had forgotten about: the ones listed on Amazon. Of those listings, I had sold about 20, but the other 30 remained active online. Still, I hadn’t moved any in well over a year, so it was easy to forget.

As I started packing books for the move, Cosmopolis hovered around the “to be sold” pile. Then I thought I might read it before the movie came out, and placed it in the “take to Ireland” pile. The next day, I decided there wasn’t a chance of that happening, so I packed it in storage. Two days later, it sold on Amazon.

This served as a helpful reminder to close my seller account before I leave the country and no longer have access to my books. It was kind of a pain to dig through cardboard boxes – in a storage unit, in Texas, in August – to find the book, and I didn’t quite get around to it within the three-day window I had promised as an Amazon seller.

In the end, I canceled the order, issued a refund, and sent an email to the buyer telling her I was shipping the book anyway at no cost to her. Then I closed all my Amazon listings and started reading Cosmopolis.

Honestly, the thing about Don DeLillo that most sticks out in my mind is that Sandra Bullock mentions him in that terrible movie, The Proposal. (I only saw this movie because of the publishing angle, I swear.)

Sandra Bullock’s character’s reason for violating the terms of her Canandian-in-America visa in order to attend an international book event – thus setting up the immigration impetus for faking a proposal to her American-born assistant so she’s not exiled to the Toronto office – is  practically delivered with a yawn:

“I had to go. We were going to lose DeLillo to Viking.”

I didn’t expect to like this book. I’ve owned it for a while, because I knew it was something I was supposed to read. But I drug my feet and never got around to it. I barely paid attention to the trailer the first time I saw it. Upon a second viewing, however, something caught my eye. A familiar face.
Her name is Sarah Gadon. Highbrow filmgoers may recognize her as Carl Jung’s wife in another Cronenberg movie, A Dangerous Method, but I know her best as Katie from Being Erica.

Being Erica is one of my top-three favorite TV shows of all time. It’s Canadian. Erica is a 30-something Jewish girl from Toronto who participates in time-travel therapy sessions. In her working life, she cobbles together a publishing career out of sheer willpower and a love of books (and a Master’s degree). I plan to blog extensively about Being Erica in the future.

Katie, or Sarah Gadon, is Erica’s very best frenemy from high school, a columnist in Boston who ends up writing a book that Erica believes will be a surefire bestseller.

Just from watching the Cosmopolis trailer, it was clear that Sarah Gadon played Robert Pattinson’s love interest. After reading the book, I can confirm that the character of Elise Shifrin is the most consistent female presence in the protagonist’s life, a foreign-born poetess who manifests at various times to share meals with the RPattz character and is worth something like $735 million (I can’t look it up; the book is already in the mail).

I don’t feel bad for focusing on the Hitchcock Blonde in this book/film. It’s such a man’s tale that I get the sense that I have intentionally been left out. No girls allowed. DeLillo is even kind enough to have one of the characters – a woman – explain it slowly so my silly lady brain can understand:

“Never mind what women think.
We’re too small and real to matter here.”

I fell asleep reading the final pages of Cosmopolis on Saturday night. You know you’ve really connected to a book when you doze off during the climax. To be fair, I had been up late at a screening of that opus of “tragically Canadian sensibilities,” Scott Pilgrim vs the World. I woke on Sunday to find the book still open on the pillow next to me.

I promptly finished, with little-to-no fanfare, then spent the day packing things to move into my storage unit. I chose to focus on clothes, athletic equipment, and home decor.

The final items to go into the home decor tub were the frames from my picture wall. As I took down each frame, I tore pages out of an old issue of Vogue to wrap around the delicate glass. The faces of the Olsen twins, Charlize Theron, and various starving models glared out at me as I ripped.

Then there she was again.

Sarah Gadon, Toronto-born actress, making good with two Cronenberg films at the ripe old age of 24 and profiled in the December 2011 issue of Vogue. I had either skipped over that page the first time I flipped through the magazine or had completely forgotten about the article. In the accompanying photo, she’s wearing Valentino and a fantastic pair of blue Mary Janes. The lede evokes Grace Kelly, there’s mention of ballet lessons, and the interviewer managed to get a quote from Cronenberg that includes the phrase “upper-class elegance.”

Still, I will always remember Sarah Gadon for the scene in Being Erica when Katie and Erica are so absorbed in their bickering at a Toronto movie theatre that they deny their pregnant friend Judith an escape route to the bathroom. When the inevitable finally happens and Judith’s water breaks, Katie stares at the ground, wrinkles her nose, and observes:

“That ain’t pee.”

Vogue, Sarah Gadon, and what’s left of the picture wall.

Stay classy, Mo Chuisle

I used to really care about becoming a classy broad. I honestly think that was my goal in life when I was 16, and while it helped me avoid some rituals of teenage stupidity, it also stunted my development of skills such as forming an opinion or sticking up for myself. I tried to be like Grace Kelly, the superficial image on a movie screen, not a flesh-and-blood human being.


Right around the time I graduated high school, my mom gave me a newspaper clipping that defined class. And that was it. That was my plan. I thought I had my glamorous life all mapped out, and went off to college with what was, in reality, nothing more than a vague expectation that I would get get my MRS.

Then college actually happened. I got an education, saw some of the world, and I came to certain conclusions about the concept of class. You’ll have to excuse my language here, but there really is no more honest way of saying this: I came out of college believing that the phrase “She’s such a classy lady” was really just code for “Shut the f#ck up, b*tch.”

Basically, trying to impress men with your classiness means keeping those pesky opinions to yourself. In aspiring to behave with class, we really just bow to an oppressive patriarchal system with the hopes that someone might buy us some nice jewelry. Ron Burgandy values classiness so much that he cautions an entire city to stay that way in his nightly news sign-off. That’s who wants you to be classy. Men like Ron Burgandy.


My twenties were spent making up for lost time. I worried less about make-up and more about politics; I engaged in behavior that my snotty little teenage self would have considered crass. I grew up, and I thawed out most of the frozen aspects of my former ice princess personality. I am most definitely a better person for it.

One of the annoying things about lifestyle changes is that, inevitably, you leave a vacuum in the social solar system. It honestly felt like there were girls sweeping in behind me, picking up my discarded identity and trying it on. This is a completely egotistic and paranoid way of looking at the world – I realize this. Still, when I hear Kate Middleton’s style praised as classy, I think wistfully back to my old fashion sense.


Then again, Kate Middleton never held a full-time job. Her biggest accomplishment is who she married. That wardrobe for which I am so nostalgic? Bought it with Daddy’s money.

It’s times like this that I struggle to find a foothold. I want to be sophisticated and elegant, but on my own terms, and certainly not at any cost to my independence. I think that the word class is a lot like the word irony – it’s a complicated concept that has been dumbed down so much that we’ve gotten the meaning completely wrong.

I was in full-on hater mode Tuesday night, lurking on Facebook and sneering at comments made by friends of friends. I started out angry about “these morons’ politics,” but by the time I went to bed, I might have been more upset by the fact that they look better in pictures than I do. There’s an entire beauty industry that exploits such insecurities; but sometimes, I just want to be pretty. So this concept of class came floating back to me as I tried to sleep.

It is somewhat ironic – maybe? – that I get very judgmental when I think about the concept of class, because judgmental is the direct opposite of classy. Like right now, I really want to lift a Facebook photo of trashy behavior and post it here, but that would be very unclassy. So instead, let’s watch Sarah Jessica Parker and Maggie Smith conversing about classiness… in Italian.


Yesterday morning, something brilliant happened. I got to work and, thanks to time zones and tape delays and this whole Twitter-versus-NBC Olympics coverage debacle, I wound up listening to a women’s boxing match by streaming Irish radio over the internet. (Boxing on the radio – how very 1920s of me.)

If you don’t know who Katie Taylor is, you will in a few hours. She’s a 26-year-old Irish boxing phenom; she’s the reason we have women’s boxing in the Olympics now. She was fighting in a semi-final bout when I tuned in Wednesday morning. The sound of it was nothing short of glorious; a roaring seaImage of Irish fans chanting and cheering over the commentators who were trying to tell me about the fight I couldn’t see.

Taylor’s opponent, Mavzuna Chorieva of Tajikistan, apparently began using some dodgy tactics in attempt to draw out Taylor. The expression “throwing shapes” isn’t uniquely Irish – we certainly use it here in the states – but I laughed out loud when I heard it on Wednesday because I had just read that phrase in the work of another Irish wordsmith. In Eoin Colfer’s seventh Artemis Fowl book, The Atlantis Complex, the luchador opponents of Butler and Juliet, aka Crazy Bear and The Jade Princess, “were busy throwing shapes in the far corner of the ring” in a situation not unlike the one I was imagining for Katie Taylor.

Then the commentator dropped another word that we use here in America but seems to take on a more magical meaning when evoked by an Irish person: class. As in “Katie’s all class.” To this listener, the word immediately conveyed the certainty that, amid the screaming crowd and crushing expectations and shape-throwing nonsense, Katie Taylor remained calm, composed, and in control. Then it all came rushing back to me.

The Irish love the word class. They express approval by saying “that’s class” or “pure class” or “it was class.” I knew this. I must have forgotten sometime in the last eight years, but the boxing commentary reminded me.

When I worked at Charlie Byrne’s, I was really into Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor mysteries because the stories are set in Galway, with many a recognizable locale, including Charlie Bryne’s bookshop. Ken Bruen himself would often come into the shop. The manager, Vinny, is a character in the novels, and his speaking parts become more and more frequent as the series goes on.

Vinny is certainly the face of the bookshop; I’ve even heard some people call him Charlie, just assuming that it’s his name on the sign. Charlie himself only appears once in stories, and it’s an accurate portrayal of the dynamic he and Vinny have in the shop. For his part, Ken Bruen was paying attention to Charlie’s behind-the-scenes persona, and I remember gushing about this passage to one of my co-workers:

[Tommy Kennedy is the narrator’s bookish mentor, a librarian who romanticizes the original Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris.]

Charlie Byrne’s comes close to Tommy’s ideal. Some years before, I’d been lurking in the crime section. A student had a beautiful American edition of Walt Whitman. He was peering at the price. Charlie, passing, said,

“Take it with you.”

“I haven’t enough.”

“Ary, settle it some other time.”


Handed him The Collected Robert Frost, adding,

“You’ll want this, too.”


– Ken Bruen, The Killing of the Tinkers, page 33

To me, it seems like the Irish use class mostly as a noun. A lot of the slang dictionaries I’m looking at are saying it’s an adjective, as in “that movie was class” or “top class performance,” but I hear it more as the answer to an unasked question: You want to know how to define class? There. That’s class.

How does Katie Taylor react to someone throwing shapes in the ring? She’s all class. Pure class.

What are you observing about the human condition when you watch a bookstore owner bestowing books on someone seeking knowledge? Class.

When curiosity got the best of me, I googled “advice columnist define class” and immediately came across Ann Landers’s What is Class? Oddly enough, the first link I clicked on was a woman asking the same question that had sent me to the Google machine in the first place: My mother once gave me a clipping about class; where can I find it again?

I guess the question of class is a common factor for many mother-daughter relationships. A major theme in the book Gone with the Wind – much more so than the movie – is how Scarlett O’Hara wants to be classy like her mother, but the high spirit she inherited from her Irish father prevents her from becoming the lady she wishes she could be.

And to be honest, it was the mothers on Facebook who prompted my little hateration spree Tuesday night. I’m 30 years old, and many mothers of the girls I went to high school with are on Facebook. I read their posts (and their politics), and I remember a time when these were the people I wanted to impress. These were the arbiters of taste who passed judgment on me, the ones I wanted to find me classy.

Now they seemed so small and petty, their opinions outdated and their whole lives representative of a time when women had fewer options. I guess I got angry at myself for ever giving them power over me, but I quickly projected that anger on to them.

I passed judgment. I judged them for judging me. I wasn’t being classy in the true sense of the word, and because my opponents were little more than profile pictures on a social media site, they appeared classy in the superficial sense of the word. I was out-classed. So I decided to attack the word class, with jazzy footwork and ineffectual jabs, until Katie Taylor stepped into the ring to defend it.

Scarlett O’Hara’s Irishness might have kept her from becoming a “classy lady,” but I don’t think it stopped her from having class. She delivered babies and cared for the sick – just like her mother – but she also stood up to yankees and carpetbaggers and people who thought a woman couldn’t run a business. If anything, her Irish blood made her a stronger contender in an emerging new society; she faced challenges her mother never had to.

The Ann Landers column deserves another read-through, because we tend to simplify the word class into inaccurate little sound bites or Pinterest photos of classy-looking ladies. In reality, it’s a much more complex idea:

Class never runs scared. It is sure-footed and confident in the knowledge that you can meet life head on and handle whatever comes along.

Jacob had it. Esau didn’t. Symbolically, we can look to Jacob’s wrestling match with the angel. Those who have class have wrestled with their own personal angel and won a victory that marks them thereafter.

Class never makes excuses. It takes its lumps and learns from past mistakes.

Class is considerate of others. It knows that good manners are nothing more than a series of small sacrifices.

Class bespeaks an aristocracy that has nothing to do with ancestors or money. The most affluent blueblood can be totally without class while the descendant of a Welsh miner may ooze class from every pore.

Class never tries to build itself up by tearing others down. Class is already up and need not strive to look better by making others look worse.

Class can “walk with kings and keep its virtue and talk with crowds and keep the common touch.” Everyone is comfortable with the person who has class because he is comfortable with himself.

If you have class you don’t need much of anything else. If you don’t have it, no matter what else you have, it doesn’t make much difference.

-Ann Landers Encyclopedia