Paperbacks

 

Of Mutability, Jo Shapcott, Faber, £9.99Jo Shapcott’s Costa Book of the Year is one of the most rewarding collections from an English poet in recent years. Remarkable for its linguistic wealth, it is a collection that brims with a celebratory renewal of self, and, taking into account the stimulus for Of Mutability, the poet’s experience of coping with cancer, it is a defiant achievement.

Gerard Smyth

Lady Gregory: An Irish Life

Judith Hill

Collins Press, €14.99

By temperament and upbringing, Augusta Gregory was skilled in the art of “dutiful self-suppression”, as one of her biographers, James Pethica, observed. She deliberately placed herself behind the shadow of Yeats, and the fading of her reputation partly resulted from her devotion to his sometimes overbearing presence. Hill skilfully delves behind the self-imposed masks, asserting that “the Victorian ideal of womanhood” that sustained Gregory while her elderly husband was alive proved no longer adequate when she became a widow at 40. “In the end,” Hill writes, “she would be saved by her intellectual curiosity and an ability to take an opportunity swiftly,” becoming a key figure in the Celtic Revival. She wrote some 30 plays for the Abbey, many of which proved popular and kept the theatre solvent. Hill’s book situates the plays in the life and presents Gregory as a “cutting-edge folklorist” who conveyed the voices of her interviewees, ably translating them into plays. Brian Maye

The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Read, Think and Remember

Nicholas Carr

Atlantic, £9.99

Carr describes the way humans learn through the medium of communication as a natural progression and believes that the internet is changing us like nothing before. He made his case in a 2008 article in the Atlantic magazine with the headline “Is Google making us stupid?”, and expands on his argument at greater length in this interesting book. Technological advances have historically marked turning points, from farming methods to medical practices. Carr takes a look back through different advances and concludes that as communication tools have developed, from scratched drawings to papyrus scrolls to the typewriter, our brains have evolved as well, becoming more efficient and attentive. To Carr, the rise of the internet is a step backwards, a step away from “deep thinking” to a cacophony of information. The Shallows is definitely something to ponder as you perform your daily online rituals. David Carter

Dordán

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

Cois Life, €10

Éilís Ní Dhuibhne’s Dordán(meaning Buzz) is, technically, a novel for teenagers about a brother, Craobh, and his sister, Natasha, as they prepare for the Junior and Leaving Certs respectively. However, it is a book that anyone interested in a good read could happily take up and enjoy. Ní Dhuibhne’s many qualities as a writer are evident throughout: the story moves well, the characters are clear and credible, and the language is perfectly distilled, atmospheric and contemporary. Reading Dordán is akin to watching well-trained dancers perform The Fruits of May: everyone is in the right place, at the right time, dancing to the right beat – and that excellence gives us more than people going through the motions: it gives us something more elemental and more, well, fruitful. As well as the angst over exams and debs, Ní Dhuibhne confronts the darker side of teenage life and the life-and-death choices that it sometimes, sadly, involves. Pól Ó Muiri

Wish You Were Here: England on Sea

Travis Elborough

Sceptre, £8.99

Now that the English seaside is back in fashion, with politicians boasting of their staycations and big-city exiles taking advantage of lower property prices on the coast, the timing would seem to be auspicious for this slice of social history from Worthing-born Travis Elborough, a man who has previously written books about the Routemaster bus and the vinyl LP. A thorough researcher, he has rounded up some promising material, from dodgy 18th-century spa treatments to aristocratic excesses in Regency Brighton, from grandiose architectural follies to postwar holiday camps, from mods and rockers to drug lords and ruined piers. Unfortunately, though, despite some amusing stories and characters (among them the junkie Satanist Aleister Crowley in his dotage in a Hastings BB), this is a book that feels casual and is marred by some annoyingly repetitive stylistic tics. Such as sentences that start in the middle. And don’t always make sense. Though it’s quite entertaining. It just could have been better. Giles Newington