Books in brief: From drone music to fig leaves for misogyny

Plus: Alice Ash’s brilliant debut story collection, and getting to the meat of Christianity

Stories We Tell Ourselves

By Richard Holloway

Canongate, £16.99

"Making meaning in a meaningless universe" is the subject here. How do we make sense of the world's horrors? Richard Holloway prefers the response of poets and artists, who "express" the human condition, to philosophers and theologians, who insist on "explaining" it. He finds Gramsci's advice about pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will good because it means we'll maintain the possibility that we're wrong but that won't paralyse us from acting, and this should apply above all to religious belief. Our inability to hear the other's story or to acknowledge there may be ways of responding to reality other than our own is "a deadly business", warns Holloway, who reads human history and its struggles with meaning in a generous and ecumenical way in this thought-provoking book. BRIAN MAYE


Food, Feast and Fast

By P Fintan Lyons OSB

Columba, €19.99

This book seeks to relate the role of food, feasting and fasting in the Christian life to "the looming environmental crisis". Most of it traces the history of feasting and fasting from biblical to modern times; it's a fascinating, insightful and informative journey, scholarly but readable. While meat-eating is a well-established tradition in Christianity, Fr Lyons, a theologian and historian, believes it must now be open to review in light of environmental and animal-welfare issues. Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' sees all things as "interconnected, interrelated and interdependent" and Fr Lyons believes "it may be now be opportune for the church to preach restraint in eating practices once more" as in the days when restrictions were imposed on Christians during Lent and on Fridays. BRIAN MAYE

Selfless: A Psychologist’s Journey through Identity and Social Class

By Geoffrey Beattie

Routledge, £18.99

Reading Dostoevsky and Turgenev in Russian on a small cards table for a desk, in a house with damp walls, as sounds of bombs and bullets fill the air nearby, could be an image conjured by film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. In fact it's Beattie's formative years in north Belfast as the Troubles ignited, and one of the memorable scenes on his journey from a working-class upbringing to a new milieu in education, through grammar school, Birmingham, Cambridge, and a professorship in psychology. Beattie's memoirs are lively, funny, with little sugar coating, and he proves a likeable yet self-assured voice outlining his pathway into his calling. He considers his background and family within his field of expertise, and in turn has the reader thinking of their own. NJ McGARRIGLE

Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion

By Harry Sword

White Rabbit Books, £20

"The drone has always been inextricably bound to the human needs of identity, spirituality and escapism," Harry Sword writes in the introduction to his addictive book on drone music. Drone recordings often "carry a sense of ritualistic power: you don't listen; you partake in sonic ceremony". Sword's is an impressively global ear. Monolithic Undertow takes in the archaeoacoustics of Neolithic temples; the sacred chant of Tibetan monks; Alice Coltrane's fusion of Indian classical music and jazz; Young and Zazella's Dream House in NYC; and, of course, Sunn O))), the avant-garde doom metal band more than anyone else responsible for mainstreaming drone. An inmate in HMP Brixton talks of how the drone of a vacuum cleaner allows him to "figure out things in my head". In a world saturated with noise, drone is a kind of musical silence. LIAM CAGNEY

Paradise Block

By Alice Ash

Serpent’s Tail

Paradise Block features 13 connected stories and is the author's debut collection. The stories are threaded together through common themes of loneliness, dependency and despondency. Paradise Block, where many of the book's characters reside, is anything but a paradise. The block and its residents are in decay. Even the caretaker corrodes in an attempt to hold it together. Many of the stories border on the surreal. Ash's imagery is visceral (her writing calls to mind Carmen Maria Machado); everything is bodily and everything has meaning. Characters eat "white finger" biscuits. A daughter obsessively cooks eggs and becomes the mother. A child in hospital for varicose veins is given a sewing kit. The images are lurid, the lives are petty and this reader cannot get enough. A brilliant read. BRIGID O'DEA

Chauvo-Feminism: On Sex, Power and #MeToo

By Sam Mills

The Indigo Press, £7.99

A performative espousal of feminist principles may be a fig leaf for plain old misogyny. Many of the abusers exposed by the #MeToo movement – including Harvey Weinstein himself – were men of a woke persuasion. Sam Mills calls them chauvo-feminists, among other things. She even dated one, which gave rise to a textbook case of gaslighting. This provides the armature for a coruscating disquisition on the mind games of Jekylls who Hyde in plain sight. Mills corrals a vast array of material, blending poignant memoir and meticulous research to great effect. Bristling with righteous indignation, yet commendably nuanced, her essay is never less than entertaining, as when she remarks that map-reading is not a task she has to "strain against her] vagina to accomplish'. ANDREW GALLIX