Father’s Day book suggestions

Eileen Battersby’s recommendations for well-read Dads


Now that the antics of the idiotic US president have brought golf into disrepute, it might be better to avoid presenting Dad with membership to the local club. He may not even be able to gaze at a putter now without feeling ill should his swing be as shoddy as that of the world’s most moronic loudmouth. It is okay, we all share any despondent now former golfer’s pain; even chocolate cake has lost its appeal. But enough of this, Sunday morning sees Father’s Day dawn and you could give your beloved male parent a DVD of Kenneth Lonergan’s wonderful Manchester by the Sea as it is available. He may well have already seen it, in which case of course he will want to watch it again as it is that good… Or if you are thinking of a book, we just so happen to have a few, note the “few”, random suggestions….

One Man and a Mule: Across England with a Pack Mule by Hugh Thomson (Preface)
Surprised? Good, this is terrific fun. The intrepid Thomson has ventured across Peru and the Himalaya, as well as Mount Kilimanjaro. Why not take on the UK and follow in the 19th-century footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson? The mule is named Jethro and has his own website and does Facebook… just thought I’d mention that.

Shark Drunk – the Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a big ocean by Morten Stroksnes, translated by Tina Nunnally (Cape)
Don’t let the subtitle put you off – this book about obsession, men in boats, the sea and adventure by a clever Norwegian could elevate you to favourite child in your father’s eyes….

Passchendaele – Requiem for Doomed Youth by Paul Ham (Doubleday)
As the centenary of this desperate battle, decided for many fatalities by the mud not a shell, Ham explores the culpability of the governments and military leaders who orchestrated the catastrophe that nearly cost the Allies the first World War.

Blood Horses by John Jeremiah Sullivan (Yellow Jersey Press)
A son asks his dying sportswriter father what was his best memory from 30 years of reporting and the reply is swift in coming: “I was at Secretariat’s Derby, in ’73. That was…just beauty, you know?” Here is a book to beguile and is certain to secure your position as Dad’s favourite for ever. Sullivan the younger is a great writer and his research into the story which inspired his father’s finest moment as a sportswriter, the magnificent American Triple Crown victory of Secretariat, possibly the greatest race horse of all time ( it is only an opinion but a strong one) is writing at its most brilliant. It is also about a son’s love for his father.

Between Them – Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford (Bloomsbury)
The great American writer, revered for novels such as The Sportswriter, Wildlife and Canada – all of which would make wonderful Father’s Day presents – has written two memoirs here, each celebrating his father and his mother. Both are touching and tender, but the one recalling his father who died, aged 55 when Ford was only 16, is particularly affecting.

Red Love – the story of an East German Family by Maxim Leo, translated by Shaun Whiteside (Pushkin Press)
Family memoir don’t come wittier than this little marvel which describes life in the GDR with all the confusion, dashed hopes and conflicting versions of history that the historians have recorded and the people who lived through it recall.

Spike Milligan: Man of Letters edited by Norman Farnes (Penguin)
No one could write a letter quite like Milligan and he gleefully despatched some, others he didn’t, to a cast of hapless individuals. Whether they were ever mailed or not is irrelevant; the fact is they were written; glory in the age before e-mail. Better still, just enjoy the humour.

How Trump Thinks by Peter Oborne and Tom Roberts (Head of Zeus)
The entire point of this clever volume is of course that the idiot president does not think. This book is a risk: your Dad may love it, or then again, he may be shocked. Remind him that it is the thought that counts… Keep the receipt, just in case or you could always exchange the book for Spike Milligan: Man of Letters…on second thoughts, just buy the Milligan letters….

Those Tremendous Mountains by David Freeman Hawke (Norton)
In 1804 Captain Merriweather Lewis and Captain William Clarke set off from St Louis with a company of about 40 men to explore the new lands of the Louisiana Purchase en route to the Pacific Ocean. It is a great story and although the word “tremendous” has sadly become tainted by association, it is good to read something good about America to counter all the garbage touted by you-know-who and his spineless cohorts.

The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig, Memoirs of a European, translated by Anthea Bell
This is Mrs May’s autobiography…no it’s not, I was only kidding. First published in 1942 by the Austrian writer, who was a great witness to all that happened as Hitler tore old cultures asunder, this is a wonderful book of a lifetime. Lucky the father who receives this on Sunday.

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed (Penguin)
No, this has nothing to do with the demented outpourings of the current US administration, it is inspired by earlier madness. First published in 1972, it is part vision, part satire and part farce, and wholly original. Reed sets the scene by describing a plague spreading across 1920s America; you may think you have read it, probably because you are living it. Worth a read. Dad will thank you.

Fat City by Leonard Gardner (Pushkin)
Follow ex-boxer Billy Tully and his young charge through the bars and cheap hotels of Stockton California. John Huston directed Gardner’s screenplay in 1972, but this is the original novel is all its seedy glory just waiting for Dad to receive it from you.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen (Harper)
Published in 1983, it inspired Andrew Domink’s superb screen version in 2007 featuring Casey Affleck’s stupendous portrayal of Ford as well as Brad Pitt’s finest hour by a long shot. The supreme Father’s Day tribute would be the novel and the movie lovingly wrapped together. I’m only making a suggestion but it could be the best piece of advice you will get as you race through the shopping precincts, in search of something special…

Istanbul by Bettany Hughes (Weidenfeld)
A magisterial history of this great city written as an epic biography, this will be remembered as one of the defining achievements of narrative history – a lavish, beautiful book about one of the world’s most alluring places. It beats Orhan Pamuk’s smaller, more intimate and oppressively self-regarding Istanbul to a pulp….yet Pamuk’s book is shorter.

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw (Maclehose)
The great Norwegian storyteller is at his finest in this perfect novel. It looks at the lives of a family living on an island, ever at the mercy of the sea and the weather. Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction, it is as beautiful as it is compelling and there are also flashes of wry humour.

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen (Cape)
A stand-up comic takes the stage more on his mind than entertaining the expectant audience in a night club. Winner of this year’s Man Booker International, this is yet another masterwork from the wonderful Israeli novelist whose work resonates with emotional intelligence, humanity and truth.

Kruso by Lutz Seiler, translated by Tess Lewis (Scribe)
Forgive me, I have so often praised this wonderful German novel about a young German student’s experiences on the island of Hiddensee that people may be avoiding me, even so, trust is paramount here; it is an unforgettable novel - your father will thank me.

Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer, translated by Katy Derbyshire (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Another masterful novel, this time about the German sex industry and centred around the rise and fall of a flawed Everyman. It is a novel of voices and was longlisted for the Man Booker International – talk about the one that got away….but you can buy it at your nearest good book store….

Nevada Days by Bernardo Atxaga, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (Maclehose)
The outstanding Basque writer Atxaga, author of The Accordionist’s Son and The Lone Man, in this fictionalised autobiographical account of the nine months he spent as writer-in-residence at the Centre for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, recalls the experiences he shared with his wife and two daughters. They also ventured into bordering California, across the Sierra Nevada, enjoying the glories of Lake Tahoe. He observes and records, yet also dreams and remembers, it is a seductive, warm narrative.

The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories, edited by Joost Zwagerman (Penguin)
Here be wonders gathered between two covers; from Nescio to WF Hermans to Harry Mulisch and on to Cess Nooteboom and Margriet De Moor. Even if Zwagerman commits the anthologist’s no no, that of including himself, this is to summon the cliche a treasure trove and a partial explanation at to why fiction from the Netherlands is so very fine.

The Evenings by Gerard Reve, translated by Sam Garrett (Pushkin)
Speaking of Dutch great books this is a classic written in 1947 which finally appeared in English translation late in 2016. The central character, Frits, a young office worker living with his parents leaves Holden Caulfield and Salinger in his wake. As a study of aimlessness in postwar Europe it is difficult, perhaps impossible to surpass. Should you purchase it for Dad, you may want to borrow it, or maybe just buy two copies…

Farewell to the Horse by Ulrich Raulff, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Allen Lane)
Although I am biased, this is a great book – a celebration of the horse through history which explores not only our changing relationship with horses but also our enormous debt to their courage, grace and toleration of humans. Within pages it becomes clear that Raulff is clear-eyed and unsentimental and that this is a book that only have been written by a European intellectual (Mrs May please note) – any fathers with an interest in horses, history and culture will love this analysis from the Roman Empire to the Western Front; in myth and reality, from pony club to the race track.

The Vanishing Man by Laura Cumming (Vintage)
This art history thriller concerning the re-discovery of a lost painting by Velazquez is guaranteed to grip, preoccupy, perhaps even obsess all depending on the reader’s personality…. the lawn will remain uncut, the garden shed unpainted – does it matter?

Sand by Wolfgang Herrndorf, translated by Tim Mohr (Pushkin)
A man regains consciousness in the North African desert, his memory is gone. Even in the absence of his own name, he figures out he is in danger and what about the four Western hippies who got murdered in the commune? Hugely popular (we might even say “bigly” popular, but we won’t) among Irish Times readers when it was reviewed earlier this year – think William Gaddis and Thomas Pynchon with a little help from the Coen Brothers and you’ve got a thriller destined to please with lots of shocks and a tinge of pathos.

The Collected Stories of William Trevor (Penguin)
His quiet genius, insight and subtle menace mined the potential of the form, guiding it towards perfection. No one could ask for a better present. The art of William Trevor helps to define what is unique about Irish literature.
Eileen Battersby is Literary Correspondent

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