I pack my holiday bags from the pile of proofs that come in the door, some just out, and some not out till the autumn, so I don’t know how much I will enjoy them but I have high hopes for: Smile by Roddy Doyle, The Red Parts by Maggie Nelson, Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney and The Doctor’s Wife Is Dead by Andrew Tierney. I met the amazing George Saunders at a recent festival and can’t wait to read Lincoln in the Bardo. My comfort book, the one I take to read again, is Lila by Marilynne Robinson.
For younger readers, Maz Evan’s Who Let the Gods Out is a very smart, joke-filled modern twist on the myths of the Greek gods. With a sequel on the way it’s also a good chance to discover (or rediscover) Philip Pullman’s classic His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy. For anyone looking for an alternative to the standard sports biography, David Squires’s The Illustrated History of Football is an absolute treat. Very funny and beautifully drawn comic panel walk us through the key moments in the game from its early days to Leicester’s miracle, with razor sharp satire.
Most arresting book of the year is After Europe by Ivan Krastev. A short work, it attributes our severest European challenges to the refugee crisis. Despite this I finished it with a sense of hope that we are rediscovering the EU as a source of freedoms. My summer reading will be a lot lighter. I cannot wait to begin the thriller The Force by Don Winslow. If you have not read his earlier book The Power of the Dog then you have a massive summer treat ahead. I am also thrilled at the prospect of a graphic novel by Philip Pullman, The Adventures of John Blake. Regardless of art form, Pullman is a purveyor of magic.
Readers who fancy a juxtaposition of summer heatwaves with otherworldly dread will get some kick from Nothing on Earth by Conor O’Callaghan, while those after profound and beautiful brevity will love Kathleen Collins’s posthumous story collection Whatever Happened to Interracial Love. Two that kept me sane on recent transatlantic flights: Eli Goldstone’s witty, fierce debut Strange Heart Beating, and David Keenan’s masterpiece post-punk novel This Is Memorial Device. And one I’m so looking forward to cracking: Mariana Enriquez’s collection Things We Lost in the Fire. I heard her read recently and was blown away by her humour, boldness and genius.
My favourite novel of the year so far is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a multi-generational story of Koreans living in Japan over the last century. Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible is also quite brilliant, a series of interconnected stories revealing the secrets and regrets of the inhabitants of a small town. I’ve been saving Benjamin Black’s Prague Nights for a trip there with my nephew and niece this summer. There’s a lot of buzz about Elizabeth Day’s The Party as well as Sarah Winman’s Tin Man, so both of these will be straight on to my reading list.
Summer reading tends to imply light reading but I feel we’re in such an important historical moment I can’t be satisfied with reading anything other than current political and cultural analysis for now. The best books I’ve read this summer so far have been Jane McAlevey’s No Short Cuts, a brilliant guide to trade unionism today and James Heartfield’s The Equal Opportunities Revolution. I’m also going to read Liza Featherstone’s Divining Desire, on the story of focus groups in corporate culture and the always controversial Camille Paglia’s Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender and Feminism.
One of my favorite books of 2017 was Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee, a sweeping Korean family saga which would be perfect to get lost in on holidays. In another strong year for Irish books I particularly loved When Light is like Water by Molly McCluskey. Meanwhile, among the many works of crime fiction I read this year, Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey and He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly stood out and in non ficton I really enjoyed Gone, by Min Kym.
For my own holidlays I’ll be bringing Adrian McKinty’s, Police at the Station And They Don’t Look Friendly on holiday and I’m also I’m dying to read Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. I’ll also be reading Keep you Safe by Melissa Hill, due out in September, and the Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor.
Lisa McInerney’s The Blood Miracles and Barry McKinley’s A Ton of Malice are two of the novels I’ve loved so far this year. Arja Kajermo’s The Iron Age is so moving and beautiful. I was privileged to see Colm Tóibín read from The House of Names in Cuba back in February. It’s a dark book, fiercely compelling. I’m spending the summer in New York and I’m reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad while I’m here, along with diving again into Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. My son James gave me a beautiful book for Father’s Day, Bob Dylan, All the Songs by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon. The level of detailed research is incredible. A hugely enjoyable read.
The Supreme Court by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic is the most absorbing book I’ve read this year. The author, a former Irish Times legal affairs correspondent, was gifted unprecedented access to the State’s most powerful institution. His sources, among them sitting and former judges on the court, provide the material which Mac Cormaic marshals with admirable authority. He writes well. A mixture of scholarship and anecdote, this book is a necessary antidote to the blather about the judiciary emanating from Leinster House recently.
Colm Tóibín’s latest novel, House of Names, is a variation on the Ancient Greek tragedy The Oresteia. A work originally written for theatre is here adapted quite brilliantly as a novel. Tóibín is a superb writer. An extraordinary work in its own right, House of Names resonates for all of us watching helplessly the contemporary tragedy aired nightly on our evening news bulletins. How can man be so cruel? Read the compelling book set in another age to find the answer.
The emergence of Donald Trump is alarming. His defeat of Hillary Clinton to claim leadership of the so-called free world is explained in Shattered, an insider’s account of Clinton’s doomed campaign. Shattered is top of my holiday reading list.
Rachel Cusk is doing astonishing things with narrative at the moment; Transit is probably the most remarkable book I’ve read so far this year. The genius of Mark O’Connell is on display in To Be a Machine, which, apart from its own merits, ought to be a beacon of possibility for that under-recognised creature, the Irish non-fiction writer.
This summer I hope to read Rivka Galchen’s Little Labours, Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things, Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, Brian Dillon’s Essayism, Elif Batuman’s The Idiot and, from long ago, A Train of Powder, Rebecca West’s collected reportage.
Surveying the few dozen titles I have read so far this year, I am struck by the number of original and resonant voices that have joined my inner vault of literary sustenance. Gwendoline Riley’s First Love is a novel that offers a beautifully sardonic, vital and moving account of the joys and the miseries of human relationships. Nell Stevens’s Bleaker House provides a wonderfully amusing and affecting consideration of archipelagic exile, and of the lies involved in struggling to make fiction and discover who we are.
Additional watery stimulation can be found in Philp Hoare’s exceptionally stimulating and inspiring history of the sea, Risingtidefallingstar. Or perhaps you would prefer to get airborne with Maja Lunde’s highly anticipated debut novel, The History of Bees (September), which promises to deliver a dystopian and multi-generational view of human society via the lives of three apiarists. Believe the buzz.
One of my guilty pleasures is a good science fiction novel. One of the world’s best authors in the field, Belfast native Ian McDonald, is two books into a new trilogy that has kept me entertained over the past year. McDonald usually writes about the developing world 50 or so years from now. With his Luna series – New Moon and Wolf Moon are the two titles released so far – he imagines the society that might develop around lunar mining. It’s a subject that became such an early science fiction cliche that no respectable author has touched it in decades, so having an award-winning novelist go “back to the moon” has been a real treat.
For the summer, I’m looking forward to reading 1177BC: The Year Civilisation Collapsed, by the American historian Eric H Cline. It’s a study of the Bronze Age catastrophe, linked to the mysterious “Sea Peoples”, that saw empires around the Mediterranean suddenly vanish. The book was published two years ago but is gaining wider attention due to what reviews term its “eerie relevance”. One to take to the very places it mentions, perhaps.
East West Street by Phillippe Sands is a moving and informative book about the aftermath of the Holocaust and the creation of the law governing genocide, combined with a compelling and brilliantly told family story. Adults in the Room’is Yanis Varoufakis’s passionate, indiscreet and forceful revenge on the smug elite of the European Union. After this blast of haunting history and then truth to power, I am looking forward to reading three novels this summer – Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, set in the south side of Dublin, whose intricate mores have always been a mystery to me; Between Dog and Wolf by Elske Rahill, a writer whose performance at Borris made me want to read her book; and The Iron Age by Arja Kajermo, whose dry wit and dark wisdom I have always admired.
The Reading List now on RTE Radio 1 developed from a more personal project ie to read nothing this year but Penguin Modern Classics. Some have been re-reads but mostly these are books I should have read a long time ago. A Clockwork Orange, Wide Sargasso Sea, Herzog, Another Country, Bonjour Tristesse, A Rage in Harlem, The Haunting of Hill House, Cat’s Cradle, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and such. I try to alternate the “easy reads” with the less so, and with that in mind I highly recommend The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth and The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz. My own plan for the summer is Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick and having recently re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four, It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.
The Reading List with John Kelly is on RTÉ Radio 1 Tuesdays at 10pm. Six episodes starting July 4th.
Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste by Philip Mirowski is an acerbic polemic against neoliberalism, the morally bankrupt and flagrantly hypocritical ethos that informs every aspect of our living and breathing lives and now pretty much runs the world. Mirowski centres the book around the 2008 crash aftermath, when bankers and hedge fund managers accrued record bonuses even as a progrramme of viciously punitive goverment austerity programmes were rolled out against ordinary citizens. Not only did neoliberalism survive the crisis, it was emboldened by it, and Mirowski painstakingly tracks its now seemingly total usurpation of reality. This book will help you understand the wretched ideology that has given us such gifts as the gig economy, the mass charlatanry of Silicon Valley, Ted Talks, Amazon, “compassionate capitalism” and the Irish Government collectively shitting itself at the prospect of Apple ever actually being required to pay tax to the State.
Capital Realism by Mark Fisher touches upon similar subject matter. Fisher was a brilliantly insightful and imaginative pop and cultural critic who died last year. Capital Realism is a short but wonderfully written and agile screed against neoliberalism in all its cultural and instituitonal guises. Anyone who has worked in an office and had to endure the endless slew of performance reviews, self-assessment meetings and feedback sessions, then the follow up feedback sessions to the feedback sessions – what Fisher calls the “self-surveillent” culture that now reigns in the corporate world – should check it out. It is available free online.
I read two terrific debut works of Irish fiction this year. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney is an assured and honest book about being young, and Room Little Darker by June Caldwell is a collection of gloriously vile, outrageously inventive stories that in a less insane world would read as exaggerated allegories. Books to read: Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle and The Earlie King and The Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton
In recent weeks I’ve enjoyed the fragmented, novelistic memoirs by JD Daniels (The Correspondence) and Howard Cunnell (Fathers & Sons), so I’m looking forward to Brian Blanchfield’s Proxies: A Memoir in Twenty-Four Attempts, which is out in July and looks very promising. Two of the summer’s most eye-catching fiction releases come from relatively new small presses: Nicholas Royle’s collection of eerily oddball short stories, Ornithology, is the first publication by a new Manchester-based imprint, Confingo; and Les Fugitives have just published the first English translation of Noemi Lefebvre’s Blue Self-Portrait, a psychologically complex, stream-of-consciousness meditation on culture and trauma.
I never really seem to know what’s coming out. You find yourself looking for books that get into your hands by happenstance, something glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. I was lucky to be sent Ed O’Loughlin’s Minds Of Winter, a great Irish novel, sometimes sublime. I’m looking forward to Molly McCloskey’s prose of high-altitude clarity in When Light Is Like Water. In the spirit of books that have eluded you all of your life I’ll be reading The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love you by Frank Stafford. Lastly Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends because there’s a star over Castlebar that didn’t seem to be there a year ago.
I loved Molly McCloskey’s When Light is Like Water. It’s the story of a woman in her forties looking back on the affair that destroyed her marriage, but it’s also a love letter to her mother who recently died. McCloskey’s writing is so vivid that I sometimes found myself smiling at the page. John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies is jauntily eccentric and terribly endearing, like The Royal Tenenbaums, only Irish. John Banville’s Time Pieces is also unexpectedly endearing, particularly the chapter about the unrequited love in his youth. I’ll be reading the second part of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quadrilogy on holiday. The prose is clunky but the plot is gripping. The Lost Daughter, her short novel set on a beach, is marvellous.
In recent months, I’ve been exceptionally engaged by Benjamin Moser’s Why This World, a biography of the enigmatic Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, and The Day That Went Missing, a memoir by the novelist Richard Beard which reassembles the brief life and sudden death of his younger brother. At this year’s West Cork Literary Festival, I’ll be interviewing the English writer and war reporter, Lara Pawson, about her peripatetic memoir This Is The Place To Be. Before summer’s end, I’m looking forward to Seeing Red by Lina Meruane, the first of the celebrated Chilean author’s novels to be published in English.
Among the books I’ve loved this year are Gwendoline Riley’s First Love. Her prose is like dry ice, her characters brutally flawed. Similarly Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton employed artful simplicity to disguise a complex and moving story. John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness was an absolute page turner, and Michèle Forbes’s Edith and Oliver was a beautifully crafted story of survival against a background of seedy music hall glamour.
For holidays I’m looking forward to the boho madness of Paul Howard’s I Read the News Today, Oh Boy, and Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends will also get thrown into the case, along with Alison Jameson’s This Family of Things, two wonderful new Irish novels from a fantastic year for Irish literature.
I loved Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton, this beautiful novella about daring, stylish 17th-century writer Margaret Cavendish. The prose is luminous and odd, the heroine eccentric and unforgettable. I plan to read Mary O’Donnell’s acclaimed, reissued first novel The Light Makers. Set in 1980s Dublin, it’s the story of photojournalist Hanna who tries to make sense of her troubled life.
I drifted away from contemporary writing a bit; reading encyclopedias, atlases, dictionaries and things. Someone at Fitzcarraldo Editions must be telepathic and sent me Flights by Olga Tokarczuk out of the blue and saved me from myself. It’s an extraordinary book that roams in space and time, and is lucid and full of curiosity. I wish I could write like her.
A book I come back to often is Song of the Sky (1954) by Guy Murchie. I fly quite a lot and have an awe/terror-struck relationship with it. Murchie was a flight navigator and, like Saint-Exupéry, it’s aviation as a kind of new religion, recounted from the cockpit. His illustrations alone are wonderful. One of the great lost books.
I’ve been carefully working my way through my huge “to read” pile. I can do this! Some favourites: Mhairi McFarlane’s It’s Not Me It’s You, a fun and fresh take on a break-up; the memoir of renowned gay activist Cleve Jones, When We Rise; and David Sedaris’s hilarious 2013 collection of essays, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. I also really enjoyed The One by John Marrs, a compelling thriller that looks at the darker side of dating – definitely a good poolside page-turner. I’m also making my way through classic Irish gay novel At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill. My favourite read of the summer is actually not out until October, however, which is a bit of a cheat, I know. Sorry. Francesca Hornak’s Seven Days of Us, set at Christmas and thus the perfect antidote to the brief June heatwave we had in London as I read it, is a brilliantly written novel packed with relatable and believable characters. I adored it and am convinced it’s going to be huge. Look out for it as your summer tan fades.
He went back to “novels that spoke of love in such beautiful words that they sometimes made him forget the barbarity of man”: the last line of An Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepulveda is my leitmotif for holiday reading. There is none better than Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians, a searing dissection of sex into love; Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, an epic Nigerian love unmasking a relief map of American and British attitudes to race; Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy, a powerful version of Othello as pre-teens; Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, a Beagle voyage around a female evolutionary biologist seeking a reason for human altruism. And love.
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. A brilliant, heart-breaking novel of marriage, children and the state of the world that will make you laugh so much you will be forced to read pieces out loud to somebody. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, a quiet, beautifully written, meticulously observed story of two divorced families and their children, full of characters who linger in the mind. Tender, wry and life affirming. Waiting to be read: The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig and The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics by David Goodhart, because each in its own different way may help illuminate what the hell is going in in England. And then, there is Jane Smiley’s Golden Age (The Last Hundred Years Trilogy: A Family Saga), her magisterial trilogy, sitting there accusingly since last summer, never finished because I made the epic mistake of downloading it to my Kindle so I can’t keep track of the characters or the story line. I’m back to actual books now, and the glorious pleasure of feeling them, the ease of flicking back and forth, and remembering the cover - and the author.
Dr Maureen Gaffney is the author of Flourishing
Well, what I have really enjoyed reading is Hisham Matar’s The Journey [then it won in immediate succession the Jean Stein prize and the Folio and the Pulizer.] Hisham is a soul of such gentleness and this search for his father in post-Gaddafi Libya was full of the double life of those of us who remember a different world of “home” so many years ago remembered and the rediscovery when we ourselves have become different lands. This book lingers.
I am now reading Leonora Carrington, a life of the long nearly forgotten surrealist painter who ran to Mexico, leaving her lover Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim and an oppressive father, only to be found almost at the end of her life by her cousin Joanna Moorhead, who writes this biography with a sense of awe and admiration at her wild and totally lived life, lived on instinct not good sense. It also makes you want to paint .. and I did earlier today until the rain came and wet me!
This is an interesting holiday read as it jumps from Paris to Lisbon to the Mexico of painters and writers and the blessed values of art and love over commerce. And the characters all staggering through the ’40s. appearing like what became the 1960s mode. Bohemia isn’t what it used to be!
On quite another tack, Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag is well worth a read, short and really good for Irish reading as the family rises and changes character with new wealth.
And what shall I read for the summer? Everyone says I should read Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts so I am bracing myself. And my friend Sweetpea Slight is just about to publish Fetch Me the Urgent Biscuits, which is a memoir of her time working for the theatre legend Thelma Holt who produced a British tour of Electra that I performed in the early ’90s.
Meanwhile, I read and reread the score for Medea by Cherubini – that’s not reading, just study!
It’s lovely to read immersive fiction on holidays, when you have the time and silence to properly appreciate it, like Jennifer Johnston’s Naming the Stars, Alison Jameson’s This Family of Things, and Tanya Farrelly’s Kate O’Brien award-winning collection When Black Dogs Sing. Also pack The Longbourn Letters by Rose Servitova, Carmel Harrington’s The Woman at 72 Derry Lane and Paddy Armstrong’s memoir, Life After Life, ghosted by Mary-Elaine Tynan. Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s A Very Good Chance will keep your young (and old!) adults enthralled, and keep an eye out for Paul Lynch’s forthcoming masterpiece, Grace.
Reading pleasures of the year to date include Min Jin Lee’s evocative immigrant story Pachinko; Tana French’s tense and salty The Trespasser; and A History of Running Away, Paula McGrath’s pugilistic follow-up to Generation. I’m currently munching through Elizabeth Strout’s Anything is Possible, which is next up at my book club. Other eagerly anticipated titles include Between Them, Richard Ford’s slender memoir of his parents; and Colm Tóibín’s new novel House of Names. I was lucky enough to hear both writers read at Listowel Writers’ Week this year, and bring their words brilliantly to life.
Having been riveted by Phillippe Sands’s East West Street, charting his family’s fortunes in Eastern Europe through terrible times from 1914 to 1945, I am taking Stefan Zweig’s essays written during the same period, Messages from a Lost World: Europe on the Brink. To cheer me up, Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill, a picaresque saga of early New York (his Red Plenty, about a science-research community in Khruschev’s Russia, is one of the best historical novels I have ever read). Plus Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, one of those American novelists (like Anne Tyler, Jane Smiley, Elizabeth Strout) who still knows what fiction is for. And I have ordered the Vintage collection of journalism by the great American ironist HL Mencken, because he forecast the age of Trump with uncanny accuracy nearly a century ago.
My stand-out read this last year was Patrick Geogeghan’s two-volume biography of Daniel O’Connell. He captures all of O’Connell’s colour and passion, as well as his vanity. Other than that it was a year for slim volumes: A Meal In Winter by the French novelist, Hubert Mingarelli, was a delicately told story of a day in the life of three German soldiers during the second World War. Reunion by Fred Uhlman describes a friendship between two German boys in the thirties. Margaret Mazzantini’s Don’t Move describes a surprising but profound love affair. My holiday read will be Colm Tóibín’s House of Names.
Two books I’ll be taking with me this summer will be Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language and Joseph Kanon’s Defectors. I loved Binet’s first novel HHhH and this one is meant to be equally clever, erudite and readable.
Kanon has been writing cold war, fast-paced novels for some time and Defectors, about family loyalty under pressure when one brother, a CIA agent, defects to the Soviet Union, promises to be just the work to while away airport delays
I’m looking forward to reading Mark O’Brien’s work, Fourth Estate: Journalism in Twentieth-century Ireland. O’Brien’s work is about journalists, rather than media institutions, an area of scholarship that has been somewhat neglected.
I have just finished reading Jason Burke’s The New Threat from Islamic Militancy. It gives a clear account of the philosophy behind the current wave of terrorism and the impact of events such as the wars in Iraq: A good example of scholarly rigour and journalistic engagement.
Barry McKinley’s debut, A Ton of Malice: The Half-Life of an Irish Punk in London is a vividly written, very funny, and extremely dark debut. I loved it.
My favourite American book from last year has just come out here: Rivka Galchen’s Little Labours. She writes about her new baby as a puma; a plucked chicken; a force of nature that blows her apart and then puts her back together, different. A micro-masterpiece written in short, sharp, hallucinatory fragments.
Calm by Tim Parks contains the kernel of his longer book, Teach Us To Sit Still (also great). In 96 hilariously honest, oddly beautiful pages, a grumpy writer learns to meditate.
Tracy K Smith was just made America’s Poet Laureate. Great excuse to read her astounding collection Life on Mars; big-hearted, wide-screen poems influenced by David Bowie, Stanley Kubrick, and her dad, who helped design the Hubble Space Telescope. “My God, it’s full of stars…”
If you haven’t read Geoff Dyer… read anything by Geoff Dyer. (Maybe start with Out of Sheer Rage.) Right now I’m rereading my third copy of Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It.
My last and least literary recommendation might enrich your life the most. (And it's ideal for rainy, indoor, Irish summer days.) If you've ever wanted to learn to program, but felt intimidated, I hugely recommend Processing: a simple, powerful, computer programming language, created specifically for visual artists with no technical background. You can download it free online from processing.org. Then get the perfect beginner's book, Make: Getting Started with Processing (Maker Media), by Casey Reas & Ben Fry, who created the language. It is simple, fun, and you almost instantly get great results. Learn it with your kids, as equals; just mess around with the code, chop up the language, play with it, create; you'll have a ball.
David Brown’s new biography of F Scott Fitzgerald, Paradise Lost, is a fine and fascinating, and highly entertaining, re-evaluation of this largely misunderstood, or at least misinterpreted, writer, one of the last Romantics. Brown is a historian, and emphasises Fitzgerald’s role as a chronicler of his time, when modern America was being born. I have just re-read Men at Arms, the first volume of Evelyn Waugh’s superb Sword of Honour war trilogy. The novel is evocative, elegiac and wonderfully funny – and there are two more volumes still to savour. In the meantime, I am keenly looking forward to reading Colm Tóibín’s House of Names, his daring re-telling of the Oresteia.
Sara Baume’s A Line Made by Walking is beautiful. Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer is entertaining and offers lots of useful tips on writing fiction. I am currently reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the classic text on understanding the concept of the “flow state”. I look forward to reading the debuts of innovative Irish writers June Caldwell (Room Little Darker) and Alan McMonagle (Ithaca) soon and will also be checking out All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the 2015 Pulitzer prize-winning book that is often recommended to me by my writing workshop students.
I’m enjoying the University of Notre Dame summer seminar, this year in Rome. A busman’s holiday but far more enjoyable than that implies – the city is as magical as ever. A really funny guide to the mores of Romans (beautifiul clothes; unsightly TV aerials; fast coffees and long, luscious dinners) is Alan Epstein’s As The Romans Do, which, in recording his American family’s odyssey, tells us lots about Americans (always on time, living to work) and even more about Romans (never hurried but knowing how to live well). A student gave me John Varriano’s A Literary Companion to Rome – especially useful as I could find no formal literary tour (an opening there, surely, for a smart postgraduate in need of a few euros?).
I brought with me the Penguin Classic of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire , which I’ve been meaning to read for years and which I am loving for the style – I had got to about page 250 when the previous two lighter reads deliciously interrupted my progress. But I hope to go back to Gibbon while the sights, sounds and smells are still evident all around me. Another good guide is Bob Dylan: “O the streets of Rome/ Are paved with rubble./ Ancient footsteps are everywhere/ You could almost think you were seeing double/On a cold dark night on the Spanish Stairs”.
Declan Kiberd’s After Ireland will be published in October
This summer I can wholeheartedly recommend Lisa McInerney’s novel The Blood Miracles, the devastatingly brilliant follow-up to her prize-winning debut The Glorious Heresies. In my inexpert opinion, McInerney’s hero Ryan Cusack is quickly becoming one of Irish fiction’s iconic protagonists. Elsewhere, I delighted in every sentence of Elif Batuman’s The Idiot – an unconventional campus novel which is not only searingly intelligent, but also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. I had planned to devote my own summer reading to George Eliot’s 800-page tome Daniel Deronda. Unfortunately it is a novel so carefully constructed and ingeniously observed that I haven’t put it down since I started it – I’m likely to finish it some time this evening. After that I suppose I’ll have to read something else.
The best summer reads carry you off to another world – and preferably a different geographical location. For a a blissfully easy read (with some great, grumpy one-liners) try Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land, which begins when a warring couple rent out their London house and move to Devon for a year to raise enough cash to divorce. Tender and tough, Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World travels from 1960s Cambridge to Western Australia. It’s an exquisite meditation on motherhood, and the emotional see-saw that is emigration. I’ve just bought the new John Connolly, A Game of Ghosts, and plan to spend the humid evenings of August with Charlie Parker and his cohorts in sinister, snowy Maine. I can’t wait.
Mark Patrick Hederman
The most powerful book I read this year was Donal Ryan’s All We Shall Know. His Melody Shee, introduces remorselessly the archetypal tsunami which has hit our century. David Tacey’s Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief is a provocative read, telling many truths I needed to hear. Jennifer Johnston’s Naming the Stars was a gem. Disgraceful that it came crammed into a duo paperback with her 1998 novel Two Moons. We need a separate hardback edition, please, to join her 18 other masterpieces on our shelves. Later this summer I will read Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice.
Mark Patrick Hederman is a monk of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick
If I had to bring one book to the beach this summer, it’d probably be Jen George’s The Babysitter At Rest. It consists of five hilarious pieces of surrealist social observation, detailing the weirdness of contemporary America from the inside. Having recently read Emmanuel Carrère’s Lives Other Than My Own, a stunning nonfiction character study, I’m looking forward to reading the Frenchman’s latest, The Kingdom. I only read Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son after the author’s death a few weeks ago, but it’s a real jolt of a book. For something to remind me that winter is coming, I’ll be picking up Josefine Klougart’s One Of Us Is Sleeping, a slow meditation on a mother/daughter relationship and the first of the Danish novelist’s works to appear in English.
Peter Berresford Ellis (aka Peter Tremayne)
Off for the summer vacation to Greece? My reading choice presented no problem. For non-fiction it was obvious that it would be Yanis Varoufakis’s Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment. This, from the little I read of the former Greek finance minister’s dealings, tells us just how we have all screwed up on the EU including the UK’s Brexiteers.
For a novel, but not for relaxation, I needed to catch up on Louis de Bernièrs’ Birds Without Wings set in Anatolia (now Turkey) in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, in a village where Turks, Greeks and Armenians once, at least, tolerated one another and inter-married before modern Turkey emerged.
Finally, what better to relax and have fun with than Kate Corkery’s Cork Folk Tales. That will take me back to some childhood enjoyment. Kate is a great-niece of Daniel and her storytelling performances are something to be seen.
My idea of a “summer read” doesn’t necessarily meet the general criteria. You have been warned. I’d suggest John Boyne’s wonderful The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Theft By Finding, the David Sedaris diaries, Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends or Min Jin Lee’s Korean family saga Pachinko. If you’re travelling after late July then one of the best books of the year is the upcoming Tin Man by Sarah Winman. The one I’m saving for when I go away is a gorgeous reprint I was given recently of Catch-22. I haven’t read it since I was a teenager.
So far this year I have been snatching short reads, in gaps between work, finding riches in short story collections, Jan Carson’s Children’s Children and Danielle McLaughlin’s Dinosaurs on Other Planets. Both books find darkness in the domestic. Both writers have a more than credible eye for character.
I put down A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman with a sense of almost remembering having been there.
I have set aside George Saunders’s Lincoln In The Bardo – his short stories have left me gasping – and The Watch House by Bernie McGill, another great short story writer.
Earlier this year I read Agota Kristof’s Notebook trilogy (The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie) on a long flight from San Francisco to Moscow. Reading intensely in a space that limited physical movement, with a condensed version of 20th century history, while traveling to Russia that’s celebrating the centennial of 1917 Revolutionary – all these left a strong effect on me, nightmarish in the most cherished way. Around the same time, I also reread Arja Kjermo’s The Iron Age, which I have been recommending to people in America even though it hasn’t been published here yet. A couple of books I’m reading slowly and will finish this summer: Letters: Summer 1926 by Marina Tsvetayeva, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, and 1920 Diary by Isaac Babel.
My most enjoyable recent reads have included Richard Ford’s Between Them, an engaging portrait of his parents; Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo – a novel that is tender, humorous and determined to reset our idea of the novel’s form. Closer to home I also enjoyed Sophia Hillan’s The Way we Danced and Peter Hollywood’s Drowning the Gowns as well as two novels for young adults – Sheena Wilkinson’s Name upon Name and A Good Hiding by Shirley-Anne McMillan. I am looking forward to reading Bernie McGill’s new novel The Watch House while Michael Longley’s Angel Hill and Sinéad Morrissey’s On Balance promise a surfeit of pleasure.