Browser: Introspective poet considers death and we are grateful for her insight

Brief reviews of Winter Recipes from the Collective, Shackleton: A Biography and more

Winter Recipes from the Collective
By Louise Glück
Carcanet, £12.99

It's not Glück if it's not gloomy. In this first collection since her Nobel Prize, the intensely introspective poet considers death, the "burden" of the body and strained familial relationships. A bonsai takes her to the inescapable conclusion that "all things die eventually" and she mourns the loss of early childhood, when her mother loved her, "What a shame I became / verbal!" Early in the collection, we are guided by the wisdom of a prophetic "concierge" and reassured by the poet's claim that "the book contains / . . . recipes for winter, when life is hard". Glück's skill is Orpheus-like: to travel to hellish depths and find a way back again. As we journey through such dark territories, we are grateful for her insight. – Tanvi Roberts

Shackleton: A Biography
By Ranulph Fiennes
Michael Joseph, £16.99

Though this is yet another book on the great explorer, Ernest Shackleton, it comes with an important difference as the author is today considered the world's greatest living explorer. He is therefore ideally placed to comment on Shackleton's heroic Antarctic adventures. And to Fiennes's credit he never shies away from referring to Shackleton as "the Irishman". From an early age Shackleton craved attention and believed his sea voyages offered adventure, fame and fortune. Sadly, he was never financially astute. Though periodically in serious debt, what money he made from his world lecture tours he donated to local causes. A man of immense charm and personality, men admired him greatly and the ladies adored him. But his true greatness was as an inspiring leader to his crew. Though suffering from dysentery, starvation and exhaustion, his crew never doubted his decision making, especially when all hope seemed to have vanished. This is a Boy's Own story for adults. – Owen Dawson

The Science of Happiness
By Brendan Kelly
Gill Books, €19.99

In his introduction the author quotes a philosopher, Henry Thoreau: happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder. Thereafter Kelly elaborates on not only the pursuit of happiness but on how we can attain it. He considers sleep the most obvious and neglected ingredient of a happy life. He asks, why do we feel guilty about pleasure and why do we dread failure far more than we covet success? This too, he observes, seriously limits our happiness. And why are the Nordic countries consistently top of the happiness league, (Finland best) and African countries at the bottom (Afghanistan the unhappiest). Happiness, Kelly argues, is complex, though not as mysterious or unpredictable as we might think. We start life happy; we become sad; and then we become happier again. – Owen Dawson

Crossing the Line
By Willie Anderson, with Brendan Fanning
Reach Sport, £20

Most sports biographies are published too soon after the final whistle. Anderson's book is different. Written more than 30 years after his last Irish rugby cap, it is a raw, uncompromising, sometimes brutal and always passionate account of Anderson the player and the man. Early life on a Tyrone farm (his father was also in the B Specials) is followed by playing days – and in particular his Walls-of-Limerick challenge to the All Blacks' haka – and nights of drinking, including the infamous prank involving an Argentine flag that led to his incarceration in Buenos Aires. His subsequent coaching career was chequered; a reputation for overstepping the mark may explain why he never coached his beloved province, but he retains an atavistic loyalty to all things Ulster. – John O'Donnell

Far and Away: The Essential AA Gill
By AA Gill
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20

Readers, but especially admirers, of AA Gill will warmly welcome this latest posthumous collection of his journalism. For many years he was best known as a travel writer and the restaurant and TV critic for the Sunday Times. This book clearly illustrates why he was always in such demand. Gill only wrote first-person journalism, was highly opinionated, provocative, but never dull. He had a wonderful eye for getting to the heart of a story. His views were certainly original but beware anyone or anything he found disagreeable. The book (mainly about his travels) is divided into subsections on near (UK), further (Europe), furthest (Asia), and the world on a plate (anywhere). His piece on Haiti and its people is heart-wrenching. Another on British motorway service stations an absolute joy. A pleasure to marvel at a master at his best. – Owen Dawson

Mind Full
By Dermot Whelan
Gill Books, €16.99

"If you don't have time to meditate for 20 minutes a day, then you should meditate for 40 minutes a day," (Zen proverb). This is just one of the reasons the author exhorts us to practise meditation. Better known perhaps as a comedian, radio DJ and TV presenter, here Whelan tackles the serious subject of meditation and makes a persuasive argument as to its benefits. He writes from personal experience and, he claims, much research from the scribes of ancient India to modern Buddhist philosophies. Whelan is particularly strong on stress and its many negative implications. Meditation, he argues, will lower stress, reduce anxiety, help depression etc. He writes, inter alia, of how his mood and relationships improved and how his brain was set free. For such a serious subject Whelan offers us much to enjoy as the writing is lifted by humour, anecdotes and even puns. – Owen Dawson

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