Feature

Gabriel Byrne's 6 favorite books with memorable characters

The screen and stage actor recommends works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Howard Zinn, and more

Gabriel Byrne, the celebrated Irish-born screen and stage actor, will be appearing on Broadway this month in Walking With Ghosts, an acclaimed one-man show based on his recent memoir of the same name.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

A classic that depicts an ordered universe — despite the threat of the weasels in the Wild Wood. Love, home, and community are what matter most, and Mr. Toad, one of the book's numerous nonhuman characters, learns that the pursuit of material things is a hollow ambition. Buy it here.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)

A young man begins a life of adventure in the world of adults on the sea, and is befriended by one of the most charismatic characters in all literature, the pirate Long John Silver — a villain drawn with humor and humanity by Robert Louis Stevenson. Jim Hawkins is the hero in all of us. Buy it here.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1615)

My introduction to Spanish literature at university. Don Quixote is full of pathos, wit, and comedy, and anticipates the language of cinema: the road journey, the mismatched duo, flashbacks, and a sympathetic hero overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a dream. Buy it here.

Strumpet City by James Plunkett (1969)

Set in Dublin in 1913, when the city's trade unionist workers demanded better working conditions and were locked out by its biggest employers, Plunkett's sweeping historical novel is written with compassion and a restrained rage, bringing together a broad cast of characters while illuminating a deeply unjust economic system. Buy it here

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1980)

What passes for history is often mythology, in which complexities are reduced to a simplistic narrative of heroes and villains. A truthful rendering of the past is essential for an understanding of the present, and this volume tells the story of America from the point of view of its people. Buy it here.

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien (1939)

This metafictional novel, widely considered O'Brien's masterpiece, brilliantly mixes philosophy and surrealism, delighting in the subversion of language into hilarious narrative. With James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, O'Brien forms the holy trinity of great Irish writers. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here

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