Monday 5 December 2016

The most literary cities on earth . . . ?

Published 04/12/2010 | 05:00

Earlier this year, Dublin was named the fourth UNESCO City of Literature, and ever since various worthies -- from culture minister Mary Hanafin to RTE arts presenters -- have been banging on about the honour bestowed on us through this international recognition of our literary heritage.

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Conveniently, though, these enthusiasts have chosen not to dwell on the three other cities on the UNESCO list. London, you might imagine, would be one of them, as well as a couple of other capitals you'd immediately associate with a great literary tradition -- New York, say, or Paris or St Petersburg. But no, none of these is included.

Instead, UNESCO has deemed Dublin's literary greatness to be comparable with that of Edinburgh, Melbourne and Iowa City -- the last of these picked because it has "pioneered the teaching of creative writing", as if that's a cause for celebration rather than deep concern. We're also informed that, "for its size", Iowa "may be the most literary city on earth". Yes, and by the same token, Mitchelstown, home to both Elizabeth Bowen and William Trevor, most be the most literary place in Ireland.

Anyway, Iowa City and Dublin -- somehow the prize seems that little bit less glittering.

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But at least we're top at embarrassing writing, Irish author Rowan Somerville having just won this year's coveted Bad Sex Award for passages in his second novel, The Shape of Her. Now in its 18th year, this prize, organised by the Literary Review, has already honoured such masters as Norman Mailer, John Updike and Melvyn Bragg, and Somerville has confessed himself thrilled to be in such exalted company.

The sentence that particularly took the judges' fancy runs: "Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too-blunt pin, he screwed himself into her." Attaboy, Rowan.

The award was presented to the author at a ceremony in London by Michael Winner, most of whose movies would instantly qualify him for the Bad Director award.

Irish Independent

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