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I’d like these books for Christmas (if I didn’t have them already)

04/12/2010 5 comments

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.

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Best Book Club Reads: a half-dozen selection

20/09/2010 1 comment

To pick our Best Book Club Reads out of fifty books and five years of reading from an opinionated group can be daunting. We stuck to the task, made lists, noted votes, talked, changed our minds, remembered a great read that we’d omitted, voted again and came to our decision, exhausted and only slightly happy because of the great, great reads that we had to leave out. So here it is then, the Kyleglass Book Worms’ list of Best Book Club Reads:

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Clean, elegant writing from a German law professor; deals with the Holocaust for subsequent German generations and immediately reminded me of Uwe Timm’s moving memoir, In My Brother’s Shadow. As for the narrator’s motivation in writing the book,  ‘Maybe I did write the story to be free of it.’

The Sea by John Banville. He won the Man Booker Prize in 2005 with it and The Sea is one of Banville’s most accessible books. Max Morden, mourning the death of his wife, returns to the seaside scene of his childhood summers and the sea becomes memory, its surges ‘another of the great world’s shrugs of indifference’.

Englby by Sebastian Faulks. Mike Engleby, a fresher at Cambridge in the 1970s, is an odd, unpleasant, possibly evil, but engaging and funny character who uses his diary to chart his unravelling life. Story turns into a black mystery.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. An off-beat read by an ex-librarian and bookseller who died months before publication of a book that she finished off with the help of her niece Ann Barrows. A quirky epistolary novel about the war years in Guernsey under Nazi occupation and imbued with a powerful love of books and reading.

Everyman by Philip Roth. A slim read about a Jewish-American confronting old age and death with Roth’s usual strong autobiographical influences. The page-long, one sentence description of a boy riding the ocean waves and running home ‘remembering the mightiness of that immense sea boiling in his own two ears’ is mesmerizing.

A Fine Balance by Rohinson Mistry. A sweeping story of contemporary India from Independence in 1947 to the Emergency of 1977 with a character cast of innocents and outcasts who show the power of the human spirit in adversity.

Hours of shared reading and great chat, not all of it about books. Looking forward to the next fifty reads. (See Joe Duffy and Fiona Looney top reads shared at Ennis Book Festival here.)

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