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.