Owner Dennis Wills said the event is always a good time, with 100 to 200 people attending each year. This year, the 34th anniversary of the event, should be no different.
“The event does not have to be quiet and polite,” Wills said. “There are people wandering around. If the weather is right, we’ve got the doors open, people are outside drinking and laughing and carousing. The audience does not have to sit here like it’s a church service.”
While guests don’t have to keep quiet or sit still, the event does have one rule.
“The thing about the event — and I warn people who’ve never been to it before — it’s not an open reading of their own sometimes boring and longwinded stuff,” Wills said. “It has to be a selection from one of the great Irish writers.”
The tradition began on St. Patrick’s Day in 1980 at the suggestion of local poet Joan Lindgren, less than one year after the bookstore had opened on La Jolla Boulevard.
“We were younger then and it was a smaller place, but it went on and it got wilder,” Wills said. “We cooked food, people would bring Irish beer and whiskey, and you never knew who was going to show up.”
In the past, guests have included an opera singer, literature professors, newspaper editors and a harpist with an “angelic voice.”
“Whether they were Irish or not, they had some interest in some aspect of Irish literature,” Wills said. “There was one guy who had a great interest in Edmund Burke, and he would recite Burke from memory for about seven or eight minutes. It was a little longwinded, but it was something to see.”
The event proceeds in three one-hour segments, for which guests can sign up to read. In the third segment, Wills said anyone brave enough can read from a collection of letters from James Joyce to his wife.
“There was a buddy of mine in the Marine Corps who read from that in segment No. 1 last year and it offended some people. They got up and walked out,” Wills said. “That was our mistake for reading those in segment No. 1, so we warn the audience if they want to hear those they have to stay until around 10 o’clock at night when anyone who might be offended is gone.”
While he has often wondered how long the tradition would continue as he got older, Wills said it’s important to a lot of people in the community and he plans to keep the St. Patrick’s Day reading going for as long as he can.
The celebration will begin at 7 p.m. on March 17. D.G. Wills Books is located at 7461 Girard Ave.