I was happy to see my favorite book of 2010, Emma Donoghue’s Room, included in the New York Times 10 Best Books of 2010 listed below.
William Trevor’s Selected Stories is there too.
Here is the New York Times list:
By Jonathan Franzen.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.
The author of “The Corrections” is back, not quite a decade later, with an even richer and deeper work — a vividly realized narrative set during the Bush years, when the creedal legacy of “personal liberties” assumed new and sometimes ominous proportions. Franzen captures this through the tribulations of a Midwestern family, the Berglunds, whose successes, failures and appetite for self-invention reflect the larger story of millennial America.
THE NEW YORKER STORIES
By Ann Beattie.
As these 48 stories published in The New Yorker from 1974 through 2006 demonstrate, Beattie, even as she chronicled and satirized her post-1960s generation, also became its defining voice. She punctures her characters’ pretensions and jadedness with an economy and effortless dialogue that writers have been trying to emulate for three decades, though few, if any, have matched her seamless combination of biting wit and mordant humor, precise irony and consummate cool.
By Emma Donoghue.
Little, Brown & Company, $24.99.
Donoghue has created one of the pure triumphs of recent fiction: an ebullient child narrator, held captive with his mother in an 11-by-11-foot room, through whom we encounter the blurry, often complicated space between closeness and autonomy. In a narrative at once delicate and vigorous — rich in psychological, sociological and political meaning — Donoghue reveals how joy and terror often dwell side by side.
By William Trevor.
Gathering work from Trevor’s previous four collections, this volume shows why his deceptively spare fiction has haunted and moved readers for generations. Set mainly in Ireland and England, Trevor’s tales are eloquent even in their silences, documenting the way the present is consumed by the past, the way ancient patterns shape the future. Neither modernist nor antique, his stories are timeless.
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD
By Jennifer Egan.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.95.
Time is the “goon squad” in this virtuosic rock ’n’ roll novel about a cynical record producer and the people who intersect his world. Ranging across some 40 years and inhabiting 13 different characters, each with his own story and perspective, Egan makes these disparate parts cohere into an artful whole, irradiated by a Proustian feel for loss, regret and the ravages of love.
APOLLO’S ANGELS: A History of Ballet
By Jennifer Homans.
Random House, $35.
Here is the only truly definitive history of classical ballet. Spanning more than four centuries, from the French Renaissance to American and Soviet stages during the cold war, Homans shows how the art has been central to the social and cultural identity of nations. She meticulously reconstructs entire eras, describing the evolution of ballet technique while coaxing long-lost dances back to life. And she raises a crucial question: In the 21st century, can ballet survive?
CLEOPATRA: A Life
By Stacy Schiff.
Little, Brown & Company, $29.99.
With her signature blend of wit, intelligence and superb prose, Schiff strips away 2,000 years of prejudices and propaganda in her elegant reimagining of the Egyptian queen who, even in her own day, was mythologized and misrepresented.
THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer
By Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Mukherjee’s magisterial “biography” of the most dreaded of modern afflictions. He excavates the deep history of the “war” on cancer, weaving haunting tales of his own clinical experience with sharp sketches of the sometimes heroic, sometimes misguided scientists who have preceded him in the fight.
FINISHING THE HAT: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) With Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes
By Stephen Sondheim.
Alfred A. Knopf, $39.95.
The theater’s pre-eminent living songwriter offers a master class in how to write a musical, covering some of the greatest shows, from “West Side Story” to “Sweeney Todd.” Sondheim’s analysis of his and others’ lyrics is insightful and candid, and his anecdotes are telling and often very funny.
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
By Isabel Wilkerson.
Random House, $30.
Wilkerson, a former national correspondent for The Times, has written a masterly and engrossing account of the Great Migration, in which six million African-Americans abandoned the South between 1915 and 1970. The book centers on the journeys of three black migrants, each representing a different decade and a different destination.
This is my half-dozen list of books from Ireland or by Irish writers that I think would make great Christmas gifts. And not a whiff of misery writing about the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger or the sorry IMF/ECB bailout.
Emma Donoghue’s Room was my book of the year before it won the Hughes & Hughes Irish Novel of the Year prize. Asked at the awards ceremony why she thought the book had such an impact Emma said, ‘I think it touches on the universal theme of a young person discovering there’s more to life their own little world.’ That little world of Jack and Ma incarcerated in a room is richly imagined and conveyed with humour and freshness through the voice of the child narrator.
I was at the launch of Seamus Heaney’s Human Chain at the Abbey Theatre in September where the poet roamed over and back between old poems and new. This is his twelfth collection. John Banville said: ‘Human Chain marks many deaths but all the markings are a celebration of what was lived.’
The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story is edited by Anne Enright. How on earth did she make her selection from a century of Irish short story writing? ‘I wanted to put together a book that was varied and good to read, with a strong eye to the contemporary,’ she said. It is a delight to have O Faolain and O’Connor, Mary Lavin and Maeve Brennan, Kevin Barry, Claire Keegan and many others in one volume.
A legendary Irish text-book has been reprinted. Soundings, a poetry anthology edited by Gus Martin will evoke mixed emotions if you sat your Leaving Cert between 1969 and 2000. Joseph O’Connor describes it well: ‘Amid the ink-stains of our adolescence, the shocking sweetness of first kisses, the pimples and growth-spurts and uncertainties and aches, it saw to it that poetry would find a way of seeding itself.’
The Thank You Book is edited by Roisin Ingle and is a fund-raising initiative of the Irish Hospice Foundation. The book will be largely written by you as you fill the pages with your gratitude lists in these dismal times.
There’s a personal bias in my last selection, Michael Viney’s Wild Mayo. It is my native county but the places are familiar to many through Michael’s weekly column in the Irish Times. Described as ‘a poem to a place’, it captures a county’s natural history and evokes a wild landscape of peatlands and islands and rocky shores illustrated with sumptuous photos.
(If you are looking for other Irish book ideas, Publishing Ireland have a list of 25 to choose from here.)
Any suggestions? Of Irish books as Christmas gifts? Would love to hear.
I first travelled north by Ben Bulben to Letterkenny, past mile after mile of election hoardings for that day’s by-election; my destination a North West Words event at Cafe Blend, Letterkenny, that has to be one of the most welcoming poetry reading venues in the country.
Sinn Fein coasted to an easy electoral win. I made it through Omagh and Monaghan to Inishkeen with snow threatening and visitors mingling in the frosty air. We did the tour of Kavanagh places, taking in Rocksavage Fort, Cassidy’s Hanging Hill, Billy Brennan’s Barn and Shancoduff: ‘I looked and three whin bushes rode across / the horizon …’
In Carrickmacross they have their own trail of Kavanagh haunts when ‘moments big as years were mine to squander’; and frisky mares could ‘kick the stars out of the sky’.
By Sunday morning I was headed south, making my way as best I could through motorway slush listening to Emma Donoghue and her father Dennis being interviewed by Miriam O’Callaghan and he talking of his daughter’s writing that impresses ‘sentence on sentence’.
I was distracted by a dangerously filthy windscreen due to the cleaning water freezing. I vaguely heard Dennis Donoghue talk of his memoir Warrenpoint that I read almost twenty years ago, visualising the photograph of a stern RUC father on the cover.
It was time to concentrate on getting home through the snow and bracing myself for announcements from the IMF and ECB of Ireland’s austerity programme. Patrick Kavanagh would have something sharp to say about it all.
This Irish Citizen found hope from an unexpected source in a week when four children died violently in rooms at their homes and the IMF and ECB arrived in Ireland. My source of hope came from Emma Donoghue’s novel Room. In a 12-ft square room where a sky-light gives the only glimpse of the outside world, a young woman nurtures her child and preserves her own sanity through the power of language, storytelling and imagination.
I could not have believed that I would turn to such a book in a week when we were shocked and numbed by public and private tragedy. How could a novel that evoked the horror of a family’s incarceration by Joseph Fritzl bring hope? But it did just that for me in a memorable and multi-layered read.
Five year old Jack finds richness and wonder in the confined room that he shares with Ma – he knows no other world. It is a place where he has ‘thousands of things’ to do like following a spider’s movements, watching a new leaf emerge from a potted plant and listening to Ma‘s advice: ‘It’s called mind over matter. If we don’t mind it doesn’t matter.’
This trailer for Room catches some of its magic, I think.
This is my book of the year.
Maybe you found hope this week gone in story?