The Dáil’s in recess. What have politicians chosen to catch up on their reading?
Joan Burton on Jane Austen, Micheál Martin on Robert Kennedy, Aengus Ó Snodaigh on Jo Nesbo, and Willie O’Dea on Thomas Piketty
Choice reading: Robert F Kennedy – author of Thirteen Days, chosen by Micheál Martin – in the Oval Office with his brother President John F Kennedy in 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Photograph: Art Rickerby/Life/Getty
Róisín Shortall’s choice: Julie Otsuka, author of The Buddha in the Attic. Photograph: Elisabetta A Villa/Getty
Frances Fitzgerald’s choice: Sunjeev Sahota, author of The Year of the Runaways. Photograph: Picador
In August 2008 David Cameron handed out a list of recommended reading to his fellow Conservative Party MPs before the House of Commons recesssed for its summer break. The Tory members set off on their holidays with a list of 38 books, and not a thriller or popular-fiction title among them.
There were, in fact, no novels. The list was made up of history, politics and foreign-policy books, compiled by the party’s foreign-affairs spokesman at the time, Keith Simpson, in an attempt to make a better and more “Cameroonian” party.
And yet, while his colleagues were urged to read Ahmed Rashid’s Descent into Chaos: How the War Against Islamic Extremism Is Being Lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia and Dylan Jones’s Cameron on Cameron, the prime minister was reportedly spotted on a beach in Cornwall with a copy of Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks’s James Bond novel.
With no such diktat in place for Irish politicians, what will they be reading this summer? In the fiction stakes, Anne Enright, Colin Barrett, Paul Murray, Colm Tóibín and Belinda McKeon all feature. As the centenary approaches, there are plenty of books related to the 1916 Rising. Sinéad McCoole obviously made an impact with her speech at the final Cabinet meeting, at Lissadell, in Sligo: her book Easter Widows has made a number of reading lists.
This year I’m packing novels and books by or about Irish women: Mary Costello’s Academy Street, Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster and Belinda McKeon’s Tender. I’ll also be reading Sinéad McCoole’s Easter Widows, about the widows of 1916. I like all of Sebastian Barry’s work, so I’ll have The Temporary Gentleman in my suitcase.
As a crime-fiction lover I’m a big fan of the Chicago writer Sara Paretsky; I’m taking her latest novel, Brush Back. I always need an annual Jane Austen fix, too, so this year it will be Persuasion, to give a romantic flavour to my summer before I go back to policy and Cabinet papers.
I’m taking two weeks off, and I’d like to read three books over this time. I rarely read fiction but love biographies, especially Eamon Dunphy’s recent tale of his extraordinary life, The Rocky Road. Top of the list this summer is Antony Beevor’s Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble. Alternatively, I’ll tackle Edward Stourton’s Cruel Crossing, about the people who escaped Hitler across the Pyrenees into Spain – a bit of local history, as I’ll be staying in that region. I’m also bringing Dervla Murphy’s The Island That Dared, about Cuba. Realistically, I’ll probably become distracted and only manage Ardennes in the end.
Jan O’SullivanMinister for Education, Labour
I’m taking two weeks off at the end of August and, hopefully, spending some weekends in Fanore, in Clare, so my ambition is five books this month. At the moment I’m reading The Green Road, by Anne Enright, and Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education, by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica. Topping my fiction list are The Lives of Women, by Christine Dwyer Hickey, and The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett. My nonfiction top choice is Ghost Signs of Dublin, by Antonia Hart and Lynn Nalty. It’s a beautifully produced book that captures those lingering leftovers of times past still present on our buildings and streets.
Leader, Fianna Fáil
My family and I holiday in west Cork, and each year I go through the same process of bringing more books than I get the chance to finish. This year I’ve brought about 10, and I plan to finish at least half of them. I’m already through most of Colin Barrett’s excellent collection Young Skins, and I’m determined to finish Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Donal Ryan’s The Thing About December is also a priority. On the nonfiction side I’m looking forward to rereading Robert Kennedy’s memoir of the Cuban missile crisis, Thirteen Days, and spending some time with an original copy of Benedict Kiely’s Yeats’ Ireland.
Minister for Transport, Fine Gael
Before I became a Minister I used to prefer nonfiction; now it’s fiction. I’m expecting to read about 15 books over the break. Books I’ve already read include the marvellous The Mark and the Void, by Paul Murray, and the new Belinda McKeon novel, Tender, which I also really enjoyed. I plan to finish reading the novels of William Boyd, after reading Any Human Heart last summer. Next up is Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, the new book by Channel 4 News’s economics editor, Paul Mason.
Minister for Health, Fine Gael
I’m given a lot of books during the year but don’t have much time to read them when the Dáil is in session. In the summer I go through the pile and pick out the most interesting ones. This year I’m going for history and biography. I’m going to read A Candle in the Window: A History of the Barony of Castleknock, by Jim Lacey, A Nation and Not a Rabble: The Irish Revolution 1913-23, by Diarmaid Ferriter, and Judging WT Cosgrave, by Michael Laffan.
I hope to read 12 books this summer, which I think is achievable. I generally prefer nonfiction to fiction, as the truth is often more interesting. On my list are The Mark and the Void, by Paul Murray, Thomas Piketty’s The Economics of Inequality, The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens, edited by Jenny Hartley, The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Fall of Enron, by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang, In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, by Dan Davies, Anabel Hernandez’s Narcoland, and The Bone Tree, by Greg Iles. The book I’m probably most looking forward to is the one about the Enron scandal, because it indicates the type of financial manipulation that led to the world financial crash.
Aengus Ó Snodaigh
I hope to read four books this summer, but given the level of constituency work, and that it’s an election year, I’ll be hard pushed to finish them. I want to read Las Fallon’s Dublin Fire Brigade and the Irish Revolution and Shane Kenna’s Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa: Unrepentant Fenian. For fiction I’ll try one of several thrillers by the Norwegian author Jo Nesbo which have been sitting on the bedside locker at home for the last few months and, hopefully, a sneak preview of the debut novel from Jo Spain – Sinn Féin’s economic adviser – With Our Blessing, due out this September.
This summer I’m afraid I only have time to read one book, the former Fianna Fáil minister John O’Leary’s On the Doorsteps: Memoirs of a Long-Serving TD. I’m reading it at the moment, and I’m enjoying it, as I know a lot of people in it.
This year I’m really looking forward to Kate Atkinson’s latest, A God in Ruins, because I loved her earlier book Life After Life. I’ve been given a copy of Gavin McCrea’s debut, Mrs Engels – set in the circles of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – which sounds intriguing. And I’m also going to reread Henrietta McKervey’s great book What Becomes of Us, which is particularly topical heading into 2016, as it deals with the 50th anniversary of 1916.
I recently read Boris Johnson’s biography of Churchill, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, which was very good. It gave as much insight into Johnson as it did into his subject. I also enjoyed George Mitchell’s The Negotiator. For fiction, I came to Terry Hayes’s I Am Pilgrim in the last few weeks: a brilliant summer read. I’ve just started Anne Enright’s The Green Road and also have Colin Barrett’s Young Skins on my list for August.
I’d love to read seven or eight books this summer, but it’s probably unrealistic. I generally prefer fiction, so that I can completely switch off, though I do intend rereading Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level. On my list this year are The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka, which I’m halfway through, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nora Webster, by Colm Tóibín, and George Orwell’s Burmese Days. After visiting my daughter, who lives in Myanmar, I’ve a fascination with the country.
Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Fine Gael
I’m in the fortunate position of being given books regularly, and I already have a pile waiting. The majority of them relate to 1916, particularly the women of 1916. This year it’s mainly nonfiction, but I do love a good novel – Philippa Gregory is one of my favourite fiction authors from the last few years. Top of my list this year is Easter Widows, by Sinéad McCoole. I’ll also be reading Wild Irish Women, by Marian Broderick, and Roy Foster’s Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923.
I’ve just finished The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, a really lovely novel about a man’s life, narrated by his best friend, a labrador called Enzo. I usually read about 10 books over the summer. Next on my list are Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, and The Great Divide, by Joseph Stieglitz. I’m also looking forward to the release in September of The Blue Guitar, by John Banville, and The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz, a continuation of the story of Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Minister for Justice, Fine Gael
These days I read more for work than pleasure, but I still enjoy making my trip into the bookshop at the beginning of summer, to stockpile. I’m involved in the Béal na mBlath commemorations, so I’ve just finished Michael Laffan’s very interesting Judging WT Cosgrave. I like fiction and biography. Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor is next on my list. For fiction I’m reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah at the moment, and it’s wonderful. In an ideal world I’d also get to Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Anne Enright’s The Green Road and Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways. Friends from my old book club keep telling me to read The Collini Case, by Ferdinand von Schirach. It’s literary crime fiction, which they think is appropriate.