Ask the Experts: Christmas books 2020

There’s a book here to suit just about everyone on your Christmas list

Novelist and poet Elaine Feeney loves Helen Cullen’s The Truth Must Dazzle.

Novelist and poet Elaine Feeney loves Helen Cullen’s The Truth Must Dazzle.

 

For the literary bookworm

Elaine Feeney, novelist and poet
Despite the crazy year, it was a brilliant year for Irish writing. I really loved the quirky Galway novel, Laura Cassidy’s Walk of Fame by Alan McMonagle. Helen Cullen’s The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually is a beautiful meditation on family life in Ireland and Anne Enright’s Actress is up there as one of my favourites this year. The Art of The Glimpse: 100 Irish Short Stories, edited by Sinéad Gleeson, with old favourites and new diverse voices makes it the perfect Christmas gift for all readers.
Elaine Feeney’s As You Were is published by Harvill Secker

For the crime thriller addict

Liz Nugent, novelist
Emerald Noir abú! Jane Casey’s The Cutting Place raises the bar yet again, for the intelligence and empathy of her writing. The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard is the most original plot I’ve read this year, putting the reader at the heart of the twist, and The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway looks at Northern Ireland’s dark history from the point of view of former operatives who like to think they have moved on.

Novelist Liz Nugent loves After the Silence by Louise O’Neill. Photograph: Tom Honan
Novelist Liz Nugent loves After the Silence by Louise O’Neill. Photograph: Tom Honan

I also loved The Body Falls by Andrea Carter, Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain, After the Silence by Louise O’Neill and Buried Angels by Patricia Gibney.
Liz Nugent’s Our Little Cruelties is published by Penguin

For the sports nut

Jacqui Hurley, sports broadcaster
I devoured Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan in about two days. Even though a lot of information was already in the public domain, seeing the whole timeline of events laid out was all the more shocking. It’s the must-read book of the year for me.

For sports broadcaster Jacqui Hurley, Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan is her must-read book of the year.
For sports broadcaster Jacqui Hurley, Champagne Football by Mark Tighe and Paul Rowan is her must-read book of the year.

My husband loves rugby autobiographies, so Sean O’Brien’s Fuel and Rob Kearney’s No Hiding are on his list. Both players have always been so incredibly open and honest when speaking in the media, so I expect their books will be very revealing.
Jacqui Hurley’s Girls Play Too is published by Merrion Press

For the history buff

Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern Irish history at UCD and Irish Times columnist
David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet contains an important and eloquent historical witness statement from the 93-year-old who is in no mood to go gently into the night, and why would he be, given what he outlines about the destruction of the planet in his 60-year career documenting the natural world.

For historian Diarmaid Ferriter, David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet contains an important and eloquent historical witness statement.
For historian Diarmaid Ferriter, David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet contains an important and eloquent historical witness statement.

Mark Honigsbaum’s The Pandemic Century: A History of Global Contagion from the Spanish Flu to Covid-19 is hardly festive fare either, but it provides an engaging wider context for what we are living through. It is a sobering reminder that new viruses will continue to cause havoc even as science becomes more refined and sophisticated.
Diarmaid Ferriter’s next book, on the Irish Civil war, will be published in 2021

For the kids

Elaina Ryan, chief executive of Children’s Books Ireland
My daughters will be getting Peter Donnelly’s stylish new title The Dead Zoo (age 2+) and Geansaí Otto by Sadhbh Devlin and Róisín Hahessy (age 3+), a story with humour and heart that’s as warm as the woolly jumpers Otto’s grandmother knits.

Elaina Ryan, chief executive of Children’s Books Ireland, will be giving Geansaí Otto to her daughters.
Elaina Ryan, chief executive of Children’s Books Ireland, will be giving Geansaí Otto to her daughters.

The One With the Waggly Tale: Favourite Rhymes from an Irish Childhood (age 3-8) by Sarah Webb and Steve McCarthy will be going to expat friends in the States who’ll be yearning for home. For my goddaughter (age 13) I’ll be buying Sinéad Burke’s Break the Mould: How to Take Your Place in the World – an inspiring celebration of difference.

For the muso

Ailbhe Reddy, musician
I will be giving three music books as gifts this year. First, the classic Nick Hornby novel High Fidelity. Twenty-five years on, it still feels like one of a kind. I have always been obsessed with the song Wichita Lineman so when I was given The Wichita Lineman: Searching in the Sun for the World’s Greatest Unfinished Song for my birthday last year I was really intrigued. Dylan Jones’s exploration of this song and Jimmy Webb is truly fascinating.

Musician Ailbhe Reddy received The Wichita Lineman: Searching in the Sun for the World’s Greatest Unfinished Song for her birthday last year and she was really intrigued.
Musician Ailbhe Reddy received The Wichita Lineman: Searching in the Sun for the World’s Greatest Unfinished Song for her birthday last year and she was really intrigued.

For those who prefer a straight-up rock and roll autobiography, I really enjoyed Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis. It serves up a good balance of self-reflection, celebrity name drops and crazy party stories!
Ailbhe Reddy’s debut album, Personal History, is out now

For the budding chef

Rory O’Connell, co-founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School
A new book from Yotam Ottolenghi is always a moment in the food world and his latest vegetable-focused book, Flavour, will be on my list. Ottolenghi has joined forces with Ixta Belfrage to create vegetable dishes that positively leap off the pages with vibrancy and creativity.

Rory O’Connell, co-founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School, says Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book, Flavour, will be on his list. Photograph: Clare Keogh
Rory O’Connell, co-founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School, says Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book, Flavour, will be on his list. Photograph: Clare Keogh

The Towpath Cafe is a much-loved canal side-spot in London and in Towpath: Recipes and Stories, Lori De Mori and Laura Jackson have written down the delicious recipes that their devoted customers flock to enjoy. Charming. And the Wild Food Plants of Ireland, by Tom Curtis and Paul Whelan, is a terrific guide to the recognition, foraging, history and conservation of those plants.
Rory O’Connell’s The Joy of Food: A Celebration of Good Things to Eat is published by Gill Books

For the politics aficionado

Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin
John Hume’s A New Ireland: Politics, Peace and Reconciliation is a book I read years ago and admired greatly. Hume’s sad passing in August brought it back into my consciousness and it will be on my list this year.

Lord Mayor of Dublin	 Hazel Chu greatly admires John Hume’s A New Ireland: Politics, Peace and Reconciliation. Photograph: Conor McCabe Pohtography
Lord Mayor of Dublin Hazel Chu greatly admires John Hume’s A New Ireland: Politics, Peace and Reconciliation. Photograph: Conor McCabe Pohtography

Michael Heney’s The Arms Crisis of 1970: The Plot that Never Was, is one I’ll be giving to my politically and historically engaged friends. It debunks the sacking of Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney by then-taoiseach, Jack Lynch. For more on the arms trial there is Deception and Lies: The Hidden History of the Arms Crisis by David Burke. As for politically minded fiction, I’m still pressing Milkman by Anna Burns into people’s hands, while Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham comes recommended this year.

For the environmentalist

Éanna Ní Lamhna, naturalist and broadcaster
This year particularly, I’ll be making sure even greater pleasure is got from the birds in our gardens by giving Oran O’Sullivan and Jim Wilson’s wonderfully clear book, Ireland’s Garden Birds. Everything you want to know about them is in there.

Naturalist and broadcaster Éanna Ní Lamhna will be giving Ireland’s Garden Birds.
Naturalist and broadcaster Éanna Ní Lamhna will be giving Ireland’s Garden Birds.

Our environment has always been an important factor in Irish people’s lives, so I’ll be giving Manchán Magan’s Thirty-Two Words for Field to those who constantly moan that they were never taught Irish properly at school. This’ll learn them! And to persuade us that what we do as individuals can make a difference, Richard Nairn’s Wild Woods is a must.

Secret Santa (the book for just about anyone)

Tomás Kenny, bookseller, Kenny’s Bookshop
A book I would give to just about anyone is A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa.

Tomás Kenny, bookseller, Kenny’s Bookshop, would give A Ghost in the Throat to just about anyone.
Tomás Kenny, bookseller, Kenny’s Bookshop, would give A Ghost in the Throat to just about anyone.

It’s a non-fiction title but in it there are elements of fiction, poetry, history, biography. Ní Ghríofa is a very, very gifted writer. It’s exquisite. It’s my favourite book of the year by a long way. Regardless of what someone is interested in, they’ll be able to find something in this book.