This year's less conventional one, from 'Tis by Frank McCourt, which I'm rereading while awaiting the arrival via ILL of his Teacher Man:
I walk through Woodside to the library to borrow a book I looked at the last time I was there, Sean O'Casey's I Knock at the Door. It's a book about growing up poor in Dublin and I never knew you could write about things like that. It was all right for Charles Dickens to write about poor people in London but his books always end with characters discovering they're the long-lost sons of the Duke of Somerset and everyone lives happily ever after.
There is no happily ever after in Sean O'Casey. His eyes are worse than mine, so ad he can barely go to school. Still he manages to read, teaches himself to write, teaches himself Irish, writes plays for the Abbey Theatre, meets Lady Gregory and the poet Yeats, but has to leave Ireland when everyone turns against him. He would never sit in a class and let someone mock him over Jonathan Swift. He'd fight back and then walk out even if he walked into the wall with his bad eyes. He's the first Irish writer I ever read who writes about rags, dirt, hunger, babies dying. The other writers go on about farms and fairies and the mist that do be on the bog and it's a relief to discover one with bad eyes and a suffering mother.
What I'm discovering now is that one thing leads to another. When Sean O'Casey writes about Lady Gregory or Yeats I have to look them up in the Encyclopedia Britannica and that keeps me busy till the librarian starts turning the light on and off. I don't know how I could have reached the age of nineteen in Limerick ignorant of all that went on in Dublin before my time. I have to go to the Encyclopedia Britannica to learn how famous the Irish writers were, Yeats, Lady Gregory, AE and John Millington Synge who wrote plays where the people talk in a way I never heard in Limerick or anywhere else.
Here I am in a library in Queens discovering Irish literature, wondering why the schoolmaster never told us about these writers till I discover they were all Protestants, even Sean O'Casey whose father came from Limerick. No one in Limerick would want to give Protestants credit for being great Irish writers.