Gifts for book lovers, recommended by book lovers

From novels to music memoirs to biographies and more, some of Ireland’s familiar faces recommend the books they’ve been enjoying this year

Illustration for Christmas books presents

Killian Sundermann, comedian

I developed a Marian Keyes addiction in 2020, which I continued into this year by reading Grown Ups, and I loved it. Marian will take what’s considered a “heavy” topic and write the funniest book you’ve ever read. I also read the World War II story All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. That made me so sad but was a very brilliant book. For non-fiction, I read the wonderful David Graeber, specifically his entertaining and thorough critique of work under capitalism, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. My lovely roommate Morgan got me Maeve Binchy’s classic, Circle of Friends, for my birthday and for a couple of weeks I escaped into the Dublin of the 1950s. What a lovely holiday.

Tolü Makay, singer

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi gathers journal accounts about a god living amongst us and how they go through the different trials of existing in a human body. I loved this book because I felt I could relate to so many of the stories. It explores how one’s light can attract good as well as bad; learning to cope; and believing in yourself over and over again despite all odds and expectations. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig was a book gifted to me and it was brilliant. I truly love books that can transport you into multiple dimensions or universes, or bring your imagination to a different realm. This book explores being at your wit’s end with life and being given another opportunity again and again – thousands, even. Despite the amount of potential lives you could’ve lived by choosing differently, the defining factor is you, because you have the capacity to be anything you want to be! The last book I would recommend, which I contributed my writing to, is called Ionbhá: The Empathy Book for Ireland, edited by Cillian Murphy. It’s an honour to be part of this, along with other incredible contributors. From studying psychology I learned that empathy isn’t something innate. It’s fundamental we teach it to children, so they grow to be compassionate beings towards all living things.

Sorcha Richardson, singer-songwriter

My best friend gave me a copy of Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine (guitarist for The Slits) for my birthday last year, remarking “I am obsessed with this book” as she watched me tear back the wrapping paper to reveal the bright orange paperback cover. It took me about three pages to share that obsession. I am a sucker for a music memoir but Viv Albertine’s account of her life in London’s punk scene in the 1970s (and beyond) is so frank and irreverent, I found myself wanting to read aloud every second line to anyone within earshot. Probably my favourite book I read this year.

Melanie Murphy, author and YouTuber

What a year it was for Irish female writers! I inhaled Idol by the juggernaut that is Louise O’Neill. It’s a dark, tense, completely unputdownable book about consent and cancel culture, memory and power. The Snag List by Sophie White is another novel that I enjoyed immensely! A fun, relatable option if you’re craving a laugh and some quality escapism, it follows three women who seemingly have it all, meanwhile their lives are anything but perfect. But ‘the must-read’ book of the year for me is Again, Rachel by the forever-brilliant Marian Keyes. Such a spectacular sequel to the modern classic, Rachel’s Holiday, and well worth the 25-year wait!


Gavan Reilly, broadcaster

I really enjoyed Escape by Marie Le Conte, a semi-memoir about being part of a “digital native” generation that still remembers the time before the internet, and how it’s changed all of our personalities – and how the internet has become a more sour place along the way. On the political front, don’t let yourself be distracted by the author, Shane Ross’s biography, Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle tells more of the story about the Sinn Fein leader’s background and beliefs than you’re ever likely to have known before. A not-so-guilty pleasure is Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. I used to buy the Sunday Tribune just to read him, and partly got into journalism because I was so taken with the rest of the paper’s writers. So I won’t lie, there was a nice giddy thrill to see myself making a cameo appearance in Once Upon A Time in Donnybrook...

Kit de Waal, author

I bought The Last Good Funeral of the Year by Ed O’Loughlin twice, once in audio. It’s beautifully narrated by the author and gives a month-by-month account of a difficult year of funerals, children growing up, writing and not-writing, coming to terms with mortality, and remembering. It’s funny – as tragic things often are – and wise, although O’Loughlin never gives himself a break, tearing into anything that smacks of self-aggrandisement or pomposity. Enviable prose, poetic and devastating – I loved it. I laughed all the way through The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters, though it’s not supposed to be funny. Professor Peters explains why we can’t diet, don’t want to exercise and barely control our impulses. Basically, we are controlled by our inner chimp who is always looking for an excuse to run riot. It’s a really clever book grounded in fascinating research and makes complete sense. I’d like to think that next time I nearly lose my shit over something trivial, I’ll be able to rein myself in by saying: “There has been a breakdown in chimp management”. Read it. You’ll never have road rage again.

Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin TD

Housing is almost always top of my reading list. Two stand-out titles for me this year are Housing in Ireland: Beyond the Markets edited by Lorcan Sirr and The Council House with text and photos by Jack Young. The Council House, published by Hoxton Mini Press and with a foreword by John Grindrod, takes the reader through 68 of London’s finest council housing developments, including Lubetkin’s elegant Bevin Court, Goldfinger’s brutalist Trellick and Balfron towers, Kate Macintosh’s humane Dawson Heights and Browne’s low-rise high-density Alexandra Road and Dunboyne Road estates. This is council housing at its finest, providing beautiful, considered and life-changing homes for working people. Young provides short historical texts and striking photographs of all 68 schemes, giving us a lot to learn about what is possible when the state takes the lead in providing people with high-quality homes.

Housing in Ireland, published by the Institute of Public Administration, is a powerful collection of twenty-two essays on our domestic housing crisis, setting out issues, challenges and solutions. Stand-out contributions include Suzanne Meade on housing and transport, Padraic Kenna on housing and human rights, and the editor’s examination of the issue of home ownership. The range and depth of the essays, including discussions of planning, health, vacancy, land and sustainability, to mention a few, make this collection a must-read for anyone serious about ending the housing crisis.

Niamh Donnelly

Niamh Donnelly, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and critic