Martin McDonagh

Books I Read in 2015

I’ve been a bit all over the place with my reading the last two years. In 2013, I set a goal of reading 40 books and beat it, and in 2014, I seriously surpassed my goal of reading 52 books by reading 91 (my numbers have been greatly bolstered by reading plays, in case you were wondering).

Since I’m in an English Literature graduate program, I obviously do plenty of reading, but I think I went back to my goal of 50 books in 2015. Though this number might be a bit low based on 2014’s results, I stay plenty busy with my school reading and don’t always have lots of time for recreational reading. I ended up exceeding that goal by reading 69 books in 2015, an achievement I’m pretty proud of. Here’s my full list of reading from 2015–for reference, the titles listed in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. Live From New York, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
  3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan
  4. Looking for Alaska, John Green
  5. Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  6. It’s Only A Play, Terrence McNally
  7. Brother to Dragons, Robert Penn Warren
  8. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
  9. Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman
  10. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, William Inge
  11. Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge
  12. Bus Stop, William Inge
  13. The Basic Eight, Daniel Handler
  14. Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
  15. My Ideal Bookshelf, Jane Mount and Thessaly la Force
  16. Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines
  17. Wait for You, J. Lynn
  18. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  19. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris
  20. In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  21. Child of God, Cormac McCarthy
  22. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  23. Love, Rosie, Cecelia Ahern
  24. Airships, Barry Hannah
  25. Crimes of the Heart, Beth Henley
  26. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  27. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  28. Joe, Larry Brown
  29. Wolf Whistle, Lewis Nordan
  30. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  31. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  32. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
  33. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
  34. Angels in America Part One: Millennium ApproachesTony Kushner
  35. Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, Tony Kushner
  36. The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
  37. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling
  38. Quidditch Through the Ages, J.K. Rowling
  39. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  40. Paper Towns, John Green
  41. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  42. Shame, Salman Rushdie
  43. Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  44. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  45. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
  46. Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri
  47. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  48. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  49. Dragonfly in AmberDiana Gabaldon
  50. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  51. Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih
  52. Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Césaire
  53. Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  54. After the Fall, Arthur Miller
  55. Murder in Retrospect, Agatha Christie
  56. Divine Comedy Vol. II: Purgatorio, Dante Alighieri
  57. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner
  58. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington
  59. Divine Comedy Vol. III: Paradiso, Dante Alighieri
  60. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn
  61. Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
  62. The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone
  63. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  64. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  65. Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
  66. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  67. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  68. The Cripple of Inishmaan, Martin McDonagh
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Book #68: The Cripple of Inishmaan, by Martin McDonagh

My first encounter with The Cripple of Inishmaan was in 2014, when I saw the play on Broadway starring Daniel Radcliffe. It doesn’t take much more than his name for me to become interested in something, so when my mom and I saw the production in May, we didn’t know much about what we were getting into.

Turns out, the play was more than a pleasant surprise–it was a delight, or at least a delight of the truly dark comedic kind.

The Cripple of Inishmaan takes place in 1934 on the Irish isle of Inishmaan and stars a quirky ensemble of characters in this small town. The lead character, Cripple Billy, is a seventeen-year-old orphan (aka the type of character Daniel Radcliffe knows well) being raised by two pseudo-aunts. Billy is the butt of most jokes on the island, especially from Helen, the girl he naturally has a crush on.

The biggest plot element in the play is that the characters have heard a Hollywood film is being made in neighboring Inishmore about a crippled boy, so Billy and a few others go to audition. We also learn early in the play that Billy has apparently been given a terminal diagnosis from his doctor, so to keep from upsetting his aunts, he hopes to travel to America to die.

The play is hilarious and terribly sad at the same time. If the British are famous for black comedy, this is a perfect example of what that means–snarky, rude, sweet, and depressing all at once. The Cripple of Inishmaan was the first of the books I received for Christmas that I’ve delved into, and it was a perfect (if not bleak) way to end 2015.

NYC 2014: The Magic Continues

If you’ve read many of my personal blogs or follow me at all on social media, you probably you I like celebrities. A lot. It’s kind of an issue. But (as of about two weeks ago) I have a degree in Pop Culture Studies, so who can really blame me for this fascination? It’s really just an academic pursuit. Or that’s what I tell myself, anyway. Last week, my mom and I ventured on another whirlwind trip to New York City, a jaunt we planned as a celebration of my college graduation, as well as an excuse for us to shamelessly stalk the stars. We booked our trip about a month ago and purchased tickets to see two plays: Of Mice and Men, the stage adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, and The Cripple of Inishmaan, a revival of Martin McDonagh’s 1996 dark comedy. Our first day got off to a rather unexpected start: when boarding our very small Delta plane leaving Nashville, I did a bit of a double-take upon realizing that, sitting in the front row of first class, was Kesha. I have a knack for celebrity-spotting, I just didn’t expect to exert my talent before landing in NYC. By an odd twist of fate, my mom and I happened to be seated in the very last row on the plane, and our seats were literally the furthest possible from Kesha. Figures. She did come back to the bathroom near the end of the flight and brushed against my arm, so I guess I’m practically famous. Now, onto the real stuff. After a death-defying cab ride to our hotel (Hotel Mela in Times Square, which I would totally recommend), we decided to wander around a bit and get our bearings before attending a show that night. On our walk we passed John Tartaglia, an original leading cast member from Avenue Q, so that was fun. But the real magic happened later.

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Tuesday night, we headed to the Longacre Theatre to see Of Mice and Men, a play that has stuck with me since that night. I find it a bit astounding to know that this show only received two Tony nominations — Best Actor in a Play and Best Lighting Design — because I thought it was a truly spectacular show. Chris O’Dowd gave a haunting and beautiful performance as Lennie Small, a mentally-challenged gentle giant. James Franco also gave a great performance as stalwart George Miller, Lennie’s companion who attempts to keep him out of trouble. I’m in the (very slow, for some reason) process of reading Steinbeck’s book, and the chapters I’ve read were basically recreated word-for-word on stage. The show also featured great supporting performances by Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl) in the play’s only female role, and Jim Parrick (True Blood, James Franco’s As I Lay Dying) as Slim, one of the other men working on the ranch with George and Lennie. Without spoiling anything, the play’s final scene is packs the necessary power and sorrow, and will almost certainly leave audiences thinking. Though I realize I’m biased, I would really love to see O’Dowd walk away with a Tony award next week.

Now, onto happier things. I was very pleased to see that, despite the tragic contents of the play, the actors all seemed happy and content during the curtain call, and James Franco, in true James Franco fashion, was very excited to be selling a signed handkerchief he used during the show for charity. We left the theatre to join the crowds outside the stage door, which were much calmer than I’d anticipated. We heard more than one person saying Chevy Chase had also been in the audience, but I never got visual confirmation. Chris O’Dowd came out first, all smiles and niceties. He was totally gracious about signing autographs and taking pictures with fans before casually walking away to the Subway or wherever with his backpack. I loved it.

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There was more mayhem when James Franco exited. An assistant or someone came by and said that everyone should turn around and take selfies with James when he came by, because he’s James Franco and obviously he would want everyone to take selfies. He was also so nice about signing for people — he even grabbed by program out of my hand and signed it before I could ask — but he seemed to be in a bit of an off mood because there were paparazzi. He continually said, “if that guy keeps taking pictures, I’m leaving, and it will be his fault that I didn’t sign stuff for everyone.” Leighton Meester snuck out the front door and into an SUV as Franco came out the stage door, but she rolled the window down and smiled and waved at everyone as she rode away. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic night.

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The following day, I really had only one thing on my mind: I would be seeing Daniel Radcliffe again. In my world, this is really big, you guys. We decided to walk around a bit and sort of unexpectedly stumbled into the line for rush tickets at The Cripple of Inishmaan, so I decided to pay to get better seats for the performance. We then walked to 30 Rock and met with a high school friend of my mom’s for lunch before returning to the Cort Theatre for our matinee performance.

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Again, in a moment of sheer luck, we were standing outside the theatre for all of two minutes when a black SUV pulled up, a body guard got out of the passenger seat, opened the door to the backseat, and Daniel Radcliffe got out (at which moment I slapped my mom’s arms and uttered a few profanities. Whoops.). Daniel rushed in the stage door, but not before kindly smiling and waving at those of us standing around, mostly super old people who probably had no idea who he was. Perfect.

The show itself was absolutely wonderful. I was a bit disheartened to see that it was a rather empty audience; apparently Daniel isn’t enough to draw huge audiences, but I promise, you’ll love it if you see it! The play is a very dark comedy set on the island of Inishmaan off the coast of Ireland in the 1930s. Daniel plays the titular character, Cripple Billy, a young man who becomes determined to make it as a Hollywood actor when he learns that a film crew in working in a nearby town. Daniel Radcliffe was again looked over for a Tony nomination, but the show itself is the most nominated play overall. Sarah Greene is very deservedly nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and I’d love to see her win. The ensemble is made up of a fantastic team of British actors (I believe Daniel is the only Englishman of the bunch), and I totally recommend people to this show before it closes in July.

After the performance, we exited to join the stage door crowds. A few of the lesser-known cast members exited quickly, though Sarah Greene and Conor MacNeill did take time to sign autographs and take pictures. I got an autograph from Sarah Greene, who couldn’t have been and nicer or more adorable. Here are a few shots I managed to get of them from my somewhat smooshed location amongst the crowds.

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As you’d probably expect, the real insanity ensued when Daniel came out to sign. Unlike when I met him three years ago, this time he made his way through the crowd at a very leisurely pace, stopping to take pictures with anyone who asked. He was totally great the last time I met him, but I think it’s safe to say I appreciated this too. Though I didn’t get my moment with him (yet), I did get a few photos of him as he made his way around.

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We left the stage door crowd to meet up with a friend for dinner, but returned to the Cort Theatre fairly promptly so we could stake out prime spots for evening performance stage door situation. Though we were rather frustrated with the stage door man’s rather inadequate abilities and I was fairly certain I was going to have a throw-down fight with the old woman in front of me, all was well. The first signature I got belonged to Pádriac Delaney, who seemed genuinely surprised and appreciative when I told him I enjoyed watching him on The Tudors. We also got an autographs from Conor MacNeill and Sarah Greene for my mom’s Playbill, and Sarah Greene took a selfie of the three of us because she’s adorable and lovely and was happy to do such things. Here’s the photo for reference:

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Perhaps the most entertaining moment of the evening came when the show’s three older female cast members — June Watson, Ingrid Craigie, and Gillian Hanna — exited. They all gave stellar performances in the show, and I’m currently working on figuring out how to adopt any or all of them as my grandmothers. The funny part: when June Watson signed my Playbill, she signed directly on top of Pádriac Delaney’s signature, and she did this not just on my Playbill, but on every person’s around me. Not really sure what that was about, but I enjoy it. Old people are great.

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And finally, we come to the true joy of the trip. Daniel Radcliffe again exited to stage door and graciously made his way around the crowds, chatting, signing, and taking pictures. When he was near us, the woman in front of me left, and I said, “Dan, could we take a picture?” Looking into his giant blue eyes is a very odd experience, and one that I’ve been fortunate enough to have three separate times. He responded, “Of course! Would you like to pass me your cell phone?” because he’s Daniel Radcliffe and he’s genuinely the nicest and most polite person in the world.

On a side note: let me tell you how completely and strangely cathartic and surreal it is to hand Daniel Radcliffe your iPhone that is protected by a phone case with a Deathly Hallows on it after having spent over a year writing an honors thesis project about the Harry Potter series. There were far too many feelings wrapped up into that one tiny exchange for to even really understand myself, let alone verbalize to anyone who might care to read this or ask me about it.

 Okay, back to real time. I handed Dan my phone (because I totally called him Dan because we’re besties FOREVER AND ALWAYS NOW), which was already on selfie mode, though he didn’t realize this and did some unnecessary switching around. This was totally fine though because it gave us some extra time to get settled and it also gave my phone more time to process the magic of being held by such a wonderful human. Then he asked who we needed to get in the photo, so I made sure he knew it was both my mom and me, and he took not one, but three pictures of us, because again, he’s wonderful and perfect and all that.

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Before taking the pictures, my mom said to him, “You’re so nice! You’re so good!” to which he seemed so humbly and sweetly said, “oh, thank you!” In case you can’t tell, I think he’s perfect. For a second I tried to get him to sign my Playbill since he hadn’t yet, but I’d made a promise to those around me that I’d leave once we’d had our moment, and I felt like keeping my word was more important, so I forced my way through the crowd to meet my mom.

And then I burst into tears for a second.

I’ve never, ever cried after meeting a celebrity, including the first time I met Daniel. But like I said before, it was a cathartic release to have this experience after just finishing my undergraduate career and a Harry Potter thesis on top of that. Meeting the person who brought Harry Potter to life after dedicating myself to that project for so long was the perfect way to finally let it go.

We took in a few final glances of him as we walked away, and then were lucky enough to be right next to his car as it drove him home. We waved and such, and though I have no idea if he was paying us any attention, I’m glad we could express another tiny piece of gratitude.

So, another wonderful, perfect trip came to a close the next day, which was fairly uneventful (though I did meet someone whose family is from my hometown and graduated from WKU, so that was weird). All I can hope is that I might be able to experience this all again in the near future.

I couldn’t be more thankful to live such a magical life.