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  • The 37th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Open Reading of Irish Poetry and Prose at D. G. Wills Books, La Jolla, California, 17 March 2016
  • William Swank

Gore Vidal described D. G. Wills Books in La Jolla, California, as “the center of the universe.” This venerable bookstore has also hosted authors Maureen Dowd, Christopher Hitchens, Norman Mailer, beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the United States poet laureate Billy Collins, and the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko among others. D. G. Wills has La Jolla’s largest collection of new and used scholarly books, and it is home to the La Jolla Cultural Society.

To the casual customer, D. G. Wills is a fine repository for hard-to-locate books. To those who know Wills better, it is a living, breathing, drinking, belching, farting revelation on upper Girard Avenue, a thoroughfare better known in the village for elegance and high style.

For the past thirty-seven years, Dennis Wills has hosted an annual St. Patrick’s Day Open Reading of Irish Poetry and Prose, an event that has been defined by grandiloquence. The public is invited to read their favorite selections of James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, Sean O’Casey, and more. Baked potatoes, adult Irish libations, and blarney are served at the celebration. The audience includes serious scholars, dreamers, fakers, and hams.

Wills, the congenial ringmaster of this Gaelic circus, learned through experience that breaks were desirable between the readings. They provide a window for refills, conversation, and exits. Thus, this night was divided into rounds. Round One is suitable for small children. Round Two is less suitable for minors and grandmothers and more suitable for miners and grandfathers. Round Three is X-rated and unsuitable for pacemakers, prisses, and puritans.

Once upon a time, on a St. Patrick’s Day many years ago, a Marine known as Jay read excerpts from the naughty love letters of James Joyce to his future wife, Nora. Wills remembers the moment with twinkle in his eye. “A family got up and left. I apologized and realized the letters should not be read until all who might be offended were safely home.” Usually, only seven or eight people stay for the Joyce letters. Women who remain are encouraged to read, but they tend to demur.

This year, however, the party was slow to break up. Wills laughed, “I waited for a sweet, little grandmother to leave and finally suggested she might not wish to hear the highly personal letters from [End Page 565] Joyce to his beloved Nora.” Several women remained in the audience that numbered twenty or more. Two were determined to read a letter; a third was not so sure. The first woman asked for, “The fart letter . . . a subject I hold near and dear.” She read with humor, conviction, and measured innuendo.

The second woman took a few nips from her male companion’s hip flask, carefully arranged her shawl over her shoulder, and delivered a boffo presentation. The third woman had to be coaxed, almost seduced to participate.

There was a pause and a coy smile. Without a word, she stood, removed her Levi jacket, her eyeglasses, her shyness. With a shake of her head, she tossed her long locks and approached the microphone in a colorful print dress. She also wore cowboy boots. Wills handed her the book. She held it with long, sinewy fingers. Her voice was honey. A rhythm grew. Coarse words became intimate. When finished, her steamy rendering of Joyce’s love letter would have made Nora blush.

Thus, a glorious evening reached its climax.

Exhausted, Dennis Wills announced, “These women clearly gave the best round three Joyce letters readings ever.” [End Page 566]



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