So I turned 30 today! A bit of a milestone, further along in some aspects of my life than I ever thought I’d be and further behind in others, but that’s life, contentment is a difficult thing to discover.
To celebrate, I’m going to put together a list of 30 books I propose to read in my 30th year. Hopefully they will aid even further my growth as a human being! If you think there’s a book on this list that can be replaced by a better read please do let me know, I’m more than open to suggestions!
I’m not tackling this because of queen Bs little one, but because this poet is meant to have written some of the most moving works about the purest and most raw of human emotions: grief, love and belonging. A cornerstone of sufi mysticism and spirituality Rumis poetry from the 13th century is said to transcend time and place, and that’s what I’m hoping to take from this book, a sense of peace knowing that all of humanity no matter the era has had the same basic feelings, worries and fears.
I haven’t actually read any of Virginia Woolfs novels and I figured that one of her most acclaimed works wasn’t a bad place to start! I believe To The Lighthouse follows a family and their acquaintances before, during and after the war. I hope to grasp the underlying concepts of what Woolf thought of perception and how our own relationships and inner thought processes interpret and perceive events happening around us and to us.
Juno Dawsons book has been on my radar for the best part of a year, and I really want to get stuck into it in 2018. Looking at the gender spectrum and the damaging concepts of gendered work and play, this is a collection of writings from some of the most brilliant minds at work today in feminist writings, gender and trans activism and general all round bad-assery. I feel this is an important work, and an own-voice that needs to be heard in todays world.
Ellisons 1952 novel as a black man living an invisible life in white America, is a book that has been highly recommended to me on several occasions and one that I definitely need to read this year. I hope to try to grasp what he means by invisible, try to understand what it’s like to be perceived by others as a collection of stereotypes and not as an individual person. I know I will never know what it’s like to be a black person in this world, but I’d like to get a sense of the struggles that others face.
An aunt raising two sisters, a tale of growing into adulthood and dealing with loneliness, loss and sadness. I really want to read this novel due to the high praise it’s received everywhere! It sounds like the book I really enjoy, a slow burner with a powerful portrayal of emotions and told through beautiful prose. I hope that this book is one of those in which nothing really startling happens, but a lot is felt and the story stays with you long after it’s been read.
A collection of short stories that come together to create a novel, each episode a new insight into the growth of the female protagonist and her understanding of live, death, sex and love. I want this novel to capture my imagination, to force me to examine feminist ideas from the perspectives of the mature woman and the maturing child, their influences, and the similarities and differences between their experiences.
7. On the genealogy of morality
8. Girls to the front
9. God of small things
10. The year of magical thinking
11. Slaughterhouse 5
12. The world according to garp
13. The empathy exams
14. A manual for cleaning women
15. Redefining realness
16. Tiny Beautiful Things
17. The heart of a woman
19. Sex Object
20. I feel bad about my neck
21. One hundred years of solitude
22. The second sex
23. Mistakes I’ve made at work
24. The amazing adventures of kavalier and clay
25. Bad feminist
26. Adulthood is a myth
27. Whipping Girl
28. Handmaids tale
29. The reluctant fundamentalist
Forgive me for going all out patriotic but well…with the quality of writing that was released by Irish authors this year, they really needed their own posts. You can find my first gift guide that focused on some amazing cookbooks here!
I have read some of these books but the majority are going onto my wishlist and into the stockings of family and friends!
The Gospel According to Blindboy is a collection of surreal parody and thought-provoking short stories. One half of the Rubberbandits, through various interviews and social media posts Blindboy has shown himself to be a critical thinker and a voice for the youth of Ireland, targeting mental health, the patriarchy and the hypocrisy of the status quo. Trust Ireland to need a young man with a plastic bag over his head to make a point! This book has garnered amazing reviews from some of the best authors Ireland has to offer, claiming it to be a wonderful yet twisted reflection of the Ireland of today. I’m definitely picking this up for my boyfriend, although I think it’s suitable for anyone who loves that macabre surrealism that Blindboy does so well.
For fans of thrillers Cat Hogan has written There Was A Crooked Man is a wonderfully tense follow-up to her first novel They All Fall Down. It’s a wild ride into the mind of a psychopath running a vicious crime ring, who is hellbent on revenge, whatever the cost. Evocative writing brings you on a journey from the streets of Marrakesh to the winding alleys of Dublin, and keeps you reading until the very last page! My sister is going to love this duo of books, I think I’ll give to her on Christmas eve to keep her entertained until Santa comes!
Reminiscent of Maeve Binchy this is a really heart-wrenching book examining relationships, friendships and how we can create jails for ourselves that are difficult to escape from without help. A seemingly crazy neighbour might be the friend that the narrator needs to help rescue her from her apparently wonderful life…The Woman at 72 Derry Lane is a wonderful tale that you won’t forget in a hurry. My partners mom is a huge Binchy fan so I’m looking forward to gifting her this!
John Boyne is well-known for his heartfelt stories but this may be the most beautiful yet. An adopted man tries to figure out his place in the world; from Ireland in the 1940s to present day it we follow Cyril as he lives his extraordinarily ordinary life and all the trials and tribulations that come from not quite knowing where you fit in. Funny, sad and everything in between this novel is just sheer perfection. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is sure to find a way into the heart of whomever you gift this to this year.
This next one is a bit of a chunkster…weighing in at 5kg it’s a tome of epic proportions! The Atlas of the Irish Revolution is a non-fiction book chronicling Irish history in beautiful detail. It boasts of over 300 detailed maps and over 120 scholars have submitted work from a range of disciplines to give a well-rounded look at the formation of the Irish republic, from home rule in 1912 to the end of the civil war in 1923. This is a genuine showstopper of a gift, and the price is really reasonable considering the breath, scope and ample size of this book!
If you’re after something quintessentially Irish then Oh My God What a Complete Aisling is the very thing. The tale of a culchie girl making her way through the big shmoke and all that being a sensible country girl in the city entails. Covering the essential long earrings and jersey combo (that can take you from work to a night out and inevitably coppers), and the worries about Daddy and the farm at home, it delves into the responses you get when you dare to change your life and challenge everyones expectations. There are some really poignant scenes in this book that really hits home, you’ll be a mess of tears (deffo stock up on the tissues), there’s more where you’ll be laughing yourself silly and in the end you’ll find the bit of Aisling that’s inside us all. Getting this for several friends this Crimbo and I know they won’t be disappointed!
Sara Baume is one of my favourite authors and her second book A Line Made By Walking totally lives up to the standard she set with Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Exploring the fragility of our existence and our grip on nature, art and the meaning of our lives through an unexpected medium: the photography of dead animals. Seeking internal peace means having to come face to face with our inner struggles and demons and in this story Frankie is no exception. If you have ever had feelings of depression, anxiety and just generally being overwhelmed in a world where you struggle to find a niche and a happy medium between everything that is expected of you…this is the book for you.
A memoir by an Irish man wrongfully convicted of an act of terrorism in 1970s London who spent 15 years behind bars in a horrific miscarriage of justice. Paddy Armstrongs Life after Life brings you into his world and the terrifying reality of having your freedom wrongfully denied to you and the hardships of living in the aftermath of such injustice. This is a traumatic but an utterly powerful read and I think many English and Irish people would get a lot out of this book.
A series of eleven short stories In White Ink centres around parenthood, marriage, sensuality, perversion and sexual violence. This book isn’t for everyone but for those that like dark and twisted tales this is the collection for you. There’s so many diverse characters and they all have a story to share that hits you hard and makes you really consider what matters in life. I’ll pick two that illustrate the mix of stories on offer; one tale centres around a wife coming to terms with the signs that were apparent during their honeymoon about her husbands paedophilia, while another story focuses on a bereaved father at the wedding of his late daughters friend. (I told you they were hard hitters!)
A fictional biography of Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame, He recreates Hollywood of old and the entirety of Laurels life. It’s totally engrossing, looking at the various loves, losses, comedy career and iconic partnership, all served up in short easy to read chapters (some more like flash fiction). John Connolly has done his research and really brings you on a journey to the dizzying heights of fame and the quick descent into obscurity, through the great joys and the hardship and pain that people experience throughout life. This book would make a wonderful gift for the person you don’t know what to get as it’s a wholly unexpected ride from beginning to end,
Let me know if you’re planning on picking any of these books up and if you’ve already enjoyed (or hated!) any on this list!
*cliffs of moher creative commons image courtesy of Malte Baumann
I love to cook, so it seemed just right to start off this book guide with some of my top picks to give as gifts! Now there is a slight bias, as I am a vegetarian of many years, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me once you see the absolutely beautiful recipes inside each of these books! I’m also going to include honorable mentions, as some books I had loaned to my mom and sister for christmas dinner ideas!
The World of the Happy Pear is the second vegetarian cookbook by the Flynn twins, they’re two of the most enthusiastic and cheerful people on the planet (I’m not joking, check out their youtube channel and instagram for proof!) and they share some of the most popular recipes from their award winning cafe! They cover hearty soups, chillis, beautiful desserts and lively salads, you really cannot go wrong giving this is a gift. Their first book simply titled The Happy Pear is a kitchen staple at my house, even the pickiest of eaters can find something they’ll enjoy!
Calling all soup lovers! This is such an interesting cookbook, it’s a real chunkster with 365 recipes for soup between the covers! It has a really interesting mix of traditional, exotic and experimental soups. A Soup For Every Day is a great investment for someone who really likes to make simple but hearty meals, and it has a great mix between meat and veggie based (and some surprisingly chocolate based!) soups.
If someone you know has a slow cooker/crock pot but they’re not quite sure what to cook with it, this is the book for them! I picked up The Slow Cooker Solution in a small local newsagents with a tiny rack of books, and online I could only find it second hand, but it’s very cheap and a wonderful stocking filler for someone who needs some slow cooker inspiration! It’s heavily meat based, (but as usual it’s easy to veggie up a meat recipe) and has a good few slow cooker desserts, which are really fun to try!
Jamie Oliver is a household name, and with several tv shows, worldwide health initives and a multitude of cookbooks it’s not hard to understand! Everyday Superfood isn’t his most recent (that would be 5-ingredient meals) but it’s one of my favourites. It’s got some really delicious recipes for smoothies and some really interesting dinner ideas. I would suggest this as a good all rounder for someone who is interested in eating better but doesn’t want to take the plunge into a huge lifestyle change like vegetarianism or veganism.
Isa Chandre Moskowitz is a legend in the vegan cooking world, she is the brain behind ppk (post punk kitchen) and has released so many AMAZING vegan cookbooks. this one is the biggest and best investment for any vegan looking to expand their cooking repertoire. Veganomicon has the most amazing pie recipes, dessert recipes, cheese sauces, beautiful hearty curries and ways of spicing up the simple potato that will blow your tastebuds! Non-vegans will get just as much out of this book as vegans and vegetarians, as it’s just so chockablock with beautiful and tasty food ideas, they definitely won’t miss the meat!
A Modern Way To Eat is quite simply stunning. Simple but intriguing recipes with fruit and veg, it’s really surprising how much variety you can achieve with simple core ingredients! This was Anna Jones first cookbook and I honestly use this every week, the recipes are simple yet really tasty and she always has great substitution advice. If your giftee already has this cookbook her other books A Modern Way To Cook and The Modern Cooks Year are both equally as stunning!
My honorable mentions go to:
The Thug Kitchen isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, with a mouth like a sailor and a kick-ass attitude, they really want you to eat some f**king vegetables, and to make them delicious while you do it! Their dumpling and chickpea stew is absolutly DIVINE and I highly highly recommend it to one and all!
Sophie Whites Recipes for a Nervous Breakdown is part autobiography and part cookbook and it really explores how food and eating well helps put us back together. I haven’t cooked anything from this yet, but I can tell you that everything looks phenomenal!
I hope you were inspired by this group of exciting cookbooks, please let me know what your favourite cookbooks have been and help me explore some more of the world of food! 🙂
The longlist for the Dublin Literary Awards is littered with a number of books I’ve heard a lot about. The hype for some books was from nominations for various other prizes and awards, such as the manbooker while others have been gathering steam with reams of positive reviews!
I’ve siphoned off the books from the longlist that I’ve seen around the place and was excited to read, some I have read, most I own already and the rest are on various wishlists of mine!
Let me know if you’ve read any of these books, what you thought of them, and if you think any of these picks will be in the shortlist.
The Power has been shortlisted and won the Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction in 2017, and has been praised by Margaret Atwood amongst others so you know it’s got to be a good read! The novel explores a world where women become the dominant gender due to their ability to release jolts of electricity from their fingers! It’s already got a tv series in the works -by the same people who produce Broadchurch- excited doesn’t even cover the feelings generated by this book!
Moonglow is part memoir, part creative fiction of the authors grandfathers life. His grandfather was a soldier in the second world war, and goes on to become an engineer and to marry a French Jewish survivor, and this novel takes us through the challenges that they faced in postwar America. It’s supposed to be a bittersweet tale, moving from moments of great sadness to great beauty in a fascinating story.
The Mothers was a New York Time Bestseller, and is being hinted at a movie adaption with Warner Bros, not bad for Brit Bennetts debut novel! It centres around decisions made by 17 year olds one summer, and features the voices of the mothers acting as the “they” to whom we must all answer. It’s a wonderfully written book, a story with hard truths and bitter moments, delivered in utterly compelling prose.
The Museum of You is a tale of a bereaved father and daughter, both searching for ways to make sense of their grief. The daughter is determined to figure out what kind of woman her mother was, by piecing together what she can from the belongings left behind. This is a surprisingly funny and altogether touching account of grief, life and all that lies between.
The Wonder is a psychological thriller based off historical cases of “fasting girls”, young girls between the 16th and 20th centuries who seemingly survived on nothing but spiritual nourishment. It’s based in the Irish midlands in the 1850s, where the nurse investigating the case meets a journalist hungry for a scoop, are they unearthing a fraud, a spiritual being, or bearing witness to a sinister and horrifically slow child murder?
In What Belongs To You in Bulgaria an American teacher from the deep south, solicits sex from a young man, to whom he becomes entangled romantically. Having to deal with his past where being ‘different’ was to court pariahism and invite judgement. He soon discovers his journey closely mirrors that of his host country in this deeply intimate tale.
Homegoing is a magnificent narration of eight generations, following the diverging paths of two Ghanaian sisters, one who became a wife to a wealthy Englishman the other who becomes a slave. Their stories and those of their descendants span the plantations in Mississippi, the American Civil War, the Jazz Age and showcases how the shackles of slavery have affected generations upon generations of the American people.
This House Is Mine focuses on what family means to each one of us and how its absence and creation can make or break our spirits. The story alternates non-linearly between the aunt whose house it is, and the niece who suddenly shows up on her doorstep with a child. Two hard headed and stubborn women share the house and maybe they will find what they’ve always been searching for,
The Dry centres around the apparent murder suicide of a farmer and his family during one of the worst droughts in Australian history. It’s a small town, and rumours spread fast that all is not as it seems. His old school friend, a detective, returns home for the funerals and is pulled into the investigation, facing the community and the secrets he left behind over twenty years earlier.
The Nix explores how a woman can be seen in many different lights, depending on who’s observing her. Her son remembers the woman who walked out on their family as an ordinary woman, who married her high school sweetheart, and now has suddenly reappeared in his life…but the international media portrays her as a radical hippie after committing a politically divisive crime. What is the truth? Do we ever know someone else, or even ourselves?
Human Acts is based in the brutally suppressed South Korean Gwangju uprising of 1980. A boy searches for his friends corpse, a soul searches for its corporal form and mirrored in those searches is that of the country seeking its own voice. The traumatic events are wholly heartbreaking in their quiet narrative, characteristic of Kangs writing (she won the Man Booker in 2016 for The Vegetarian).
The Good People is based in rural Ireland, a grandmother left to look after her grandson, who in modern days would be described as disabled, but when this novel is set, he is seen as a bad omen, a changeling, a forsaken creature destined to bring misfortune upon the house and all those there. The grandmother, her servant girl and the local healer set out to help the young boy, in the only ways they know how. Exploring historical attitudes to disability and the cures that were carried out through love, this is an incredibly moving novel examining love and grief for what cannot be saved.
Dear Mr M follows a narrator who has a keen interest in Mr M, a famous writer. He seems to know a lot about every aspect of Mr M’s life, a bit too much perhaps. Mr M’s most popular novel might have been a bit too close to the bone for someones liking…
Shtum brings us into the world of Jonah, a ten year old who has never spoken, yet he communicates better than the adults in his life. Throughout this novel three generations of a family learn how to live together and how to function as a unit, especially when strict daily routines help Jonah exist in this strange scary world. At times funny, but also breathtakingly sad, this is about familial struggles and muddling your way through life together.
Miss Jane was a woman in rural Mississippi in the early twentieth century, a birth defect renders her “useless” as a wife, but her life is anything but barren. Exploring the duality of nature, the beauty and cruelty of the natural world her great-nephew writes about Jane and the trials and tribulations of an highly spirited and gregarious lady.
The Gentleman in Moscow is the story of an aristocrat in Moscow, condemned indefinitely to house arrest in an attic room of Russias finest hotel with a window the size of a chess board. His life has shrunk considerably, but his understanding of joy and purpose will bloom with the help of a glamorous actress, a cranky chef and a very serious child… as the rest of Stalinist Russia collapses, unseen, around them. This promises to be an endearing, charming, and imaginative read.
The Gustav Sonata charts the intensity of childhood friendship, and the devastation it’s loss can wreak. Gustav, Swiss and Anton, Jewish strike up a friendship during the horrors of the second world war, their friendship is quickly pulled apart, only to be rekindled years later. Both their lives are changed through their friendships existence and we trace this through the careers and lives of both men.
The Underground Railroad re-imagines the escape routes for black slaves from the brutal Southern regime as a physical train snaking its way across America. Cora, a young girl escapes her slavery and joins the locomotive as it puffs its way through pre-civil war America, chased by the indomitable slavecatcher sent after her. A harrowing flight across American history, starting with the brutal ripping of Africans from their homes to the unfulfilled promises and racial divides of the present day, this is a powerful reflection on the history of slavery and those who endured it.
Moonstone the Boy Who Never Was takes place in Iceland in 1918, In his dreams a boy called Mani mixes his life with movies and exists on the edges of both society and reality. A volcano is erupting, causing a shortage of fuel and the rest of the world is in the midst of a great and terrifying war, when the Spanish flu strikes killing hundreds and leaving thousands incredibly ill. Reality and imagination jostle for control in a world increasing falling out of control around Mani. Written by the author of The Blue Fox, his characteristic sparse style, that somehow manages to convey more than it seems possible, is evident in this masterful novel.
A Death in Sunset Grove retirement home sparks the interest of two best friends, Irma and Siiri. They start their own private detective agency the Lavender Ladies and begin the investigation into the mysterious death. A retirement home may seem calm but there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye and pretty soon Siiri and Irma find out they’ve gotten more than they bargained for…
Solar Bones won the Goldsmith Prize and the Bord Gais Irish Book Award. It’s an ambitious novel, written in the form of one long stream of consciousness, as you are a spirit come back on All Souls Day to check on your family and ruminate on life and the struggles of love and loss. Bringing new dimensions to minor decisions, and forcing us to see how decisions we make cause ripples throughout not only our lives but those of our loved ones too. A Really beautiful and haunting book, it’s almost an elegy for not only the dead but the living too.
The Lesser Bohemians brings together a young Irish girl, studying drama in London and an older actor, haunted by his demons. Their relationship is intense, and fully engulfs them, but will it ultimately lead to both of their undoings? Exploring how sex, love and violence can be so closely interlaced in passionate and untamed relationships, the characteristic broken sentences of McBride really bring you into the immediate intimacy of this turmulent pairing.
Five Rivers Met On A Wooded Plain examines the collision of five lives, in a serious car crash. Five seemingly unconnected people all facing their own personal battles have their stories shared as we find out that one of these lives hangs in the balance. As we ultimately find out through love, tragedy and webs of deceit how interwoven all our lives truly are with those around us.
Commonwealth is a family drama set across five decades. Six sibling, four parents and the dogged loyalty and vicious competition that springs up between family members creating strange dynamics and power plays throughout their lives are examined from various points of view. The sudden realisation as adults of situations that were misunderstood as children and the separation between adult and child are examined and brought from the mundane to the intriguing by Patchetts deft hand.
The Essex Serpent is a mythical creature said to roam the marshes of Essex, stealing people away. A newcomer to the coastal village of Aldwinter, Cora a freshly widowed mother is a keen naturalist and suspects the mythical beast to be an as yet undiscovered species. The local vicar Will believes the serpent is a distraction from devotion and faith and tries to calm the villagers. Cora and Will disagree on absolutely everything and argue strongly with one another, creating an intensity of feeling that’s electrifying.
The Museum of Modern Love follows a man, Arky, seperated from his wife who fulfills his promise to attend The Artist is Present. An art project where sitter after sitter gazes across a table at an artist. The performace piece lasts seventy five days and as it unfolds, so too does Arky. He slowly begins to comprehend what is missing from his life, while exploring the nature of art, life and love.
Fish Have No Feet takes place in a stark and brutal landscape of Keflavik in Iceland, a village surrounded by black lava fields and a sea that may not be fished. Three generations of the same family come and go yet are always drawn homewards to their particular style of isolation, surrounded by the depths of the sea and the utter separation from the rest of the world.
The Muse starts with a Trinidadian woman finding her place in London, under the tutelage of a London Gallery buyer. A lost masterpiece is delivered to the gallery and the past suddenly rears its head in the present; the ambitious daughter of a Spanish art dealer, a revolutionary artist and his enigmatic half sister and their designs upon the art dealers family have far reaching consequences. Suspenseful, stimulating and exciting this story will rope you in from the beginning.
It’s Mothering Sunday 1924, how will Jane, an orphan and housemaid occupy her day with no mother to visit? A clandestine meeting of lovers changes lives forever, as the narrative moves back and forth in time you go on a journey of self discovery with Jane all centering around the events of this fateful day.
My Name is Lucy Barton begins with the reintroduction of an estranged mother. Lucy finds herself talking to her mother, they share memories and stories and through this visit begin to explore how we share love, how it can only be a reflection of ourselves as imperfect beings. A story of what it means to love and find love once more.
All We Shall Know follows a woman, Melody, trapped in an unhappy marriage, until she falls pregnant to the 17 year old itinerant she’s been tutoring, a boy half her age. Ostracised by the community she becomes unconventional friends with an itinerant woman who seems to know more about Melody than she knows about herself. We follow Melodys internal thoughts, where she seems to seek forgiveness for some past actions and comes to terms with the life growing inside her.
Swing Time is the story of two mixed race childhood friends, one with talent, one with life skills, and the varioius paths their lives follow. Dance and fame intersects with race, class, gender and culture in this captivating story with larger than life characters throughout.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing is a look at recent Chinese history, with a Canadian mother and daughter taking in a girl fleeing the Tienanmen Square protests. A musician persecuted for the music she loved, she brings tales of the cultural revolution, of chairman Mao and the silencing of dissenters. A haunting look at recent history, through several generations and broader questions of the price of freedom, cultural identity and art.
The Girls is a coming of age tale with a difference. Evie is desperate to become accepted by the group of girls she is obsessed with, they live with a soon-to-be infamous leader in an exciting commune where she begins to spend more and more of her time… Little does she know what desperately violent acts her life is spiraling towards.
All That Man Is, one hotel, nine men, all in various stages of life; young, old, healthy, vital, pitiful and dying. This novel looks at the contemporary man in nine versions of himself, striving at all times to understand what it means to be alive in present day Europe.
Lilac Girls sees three women brought together in the most unthinkable of circumstances. One a young German doctor, sent to a Nazi concentration camp for women. Another a young Polish girl acting as a courier for the underground resistance movement, and the third a newly appointed French consulate and New York socialite. This is a novel based on actual true events and real people, which brings this book to a whole other level of war time story telling.
Creative commons photo credit: Verena Yunita Yapi
I’m really excited about the release of the longlist for the Dublin Literary Award today! This years list is 150 books long, from almost 40 countries and encompasses 18 languages*! It’s diverse and far reaching and looks incredible.
The Dublin City Council in conjunction with the Dublin Public Library has been giving this international award (worth €100,000) for 23 years now, and the list is curated by taking nominations from over 400 libraries in capital cities and major cities worldwide! I love that the list is created from libraries and nominations are based on novels with high literary merit. The diversity of the nominations makes this awards long and short list releases some of the most enjoyable to look forward to each year, and always broadens my reading horizons. Suffice to say I am a huge #dublitaward fan!
Genuinely tempted to read through the whole list during the next few months, I would be SO down for some read-alongs if anyone wanted to join me? Let me know in the comments or on twitter! 🙂
I’m going to list the books I either want to read or find the most intriguing from the long-list in another post after I have a chance to read the blurbs for all the books that hadn’t been on my radar before today! Let me know what you think of the longlist and your personal recommendations, I’d absolutely love to hear them!
*every book has translated into English to be eligible for this prize!
Creative commons photo credit to Clay Banks
Midnight October 31st the bell tolls to signify both the end of Halloween and the beginning of the festive period! I am a winter fanatic and a massive fan of giving gifts to friends and family. Honestly, giving someone a gift that I have chosen and seeing if they actually like it is one of my favourite things to do, it’s so satisfying to know that you’ve absolutely nailed a present!
I’ve decided that this year I’ll try to merge my two favourite pastimes together and make some blog posts about books I think would be fantastic presents.
Stay tuned for a the next few blogs to be a series of bookish gift guides (for others…and yourself!), and if that’s not your bag, tune in next week when I’ve more reviews of books I’ve read recently, and gearing up to restart my small (facebook based) online bookclub in the holidays and 2018. 🙂
Til then; stay reading and stay happy,
As I’ve gotten older I find myself reaching for more and more non fiction and non fiction narrative/memoirs. While younger me wanted to escape the world and used books to do so, currently I want to feel more like a part of society. and to understand the social, political and religious systems that have created the world and how it came to be in it’s current (scary and sorry) state.
I came across Boy Erased quite by accident and purchased it on a whim, not knowing what to expect. It’s a memoir by Garrard Conley, a ministers son, who upon being viciously outed by his rapist went to a Christian fundamentalist run “straight camp”. The year was 2004 and he was just 19 years old. He went willingly to the notorious “Love In Action” (LIA) group and his family supported him, with his mom travelling and staying with him during his “treatment”. The LIA really heinously group homosexuality together with pedophilia and bestiality and consider homosexuality to be a disease. He doesn’t go into detailed descriptions of the conversion therapy itself but he goes into enough detail for it to become apparent that it’s a strange bastardisation of the 12 step AA programme and how insidiously awful the LIA are.
I don’t think Garrard gets angry enough at how disgusting the ex-gay group are, he highlights the abuse, the mental torture and bullying that occurred but he falls short of entering full outrage mode; but not to worry the readers of the book do it for him! The searingly honest and simple way he’s written this book really brings out your protective instincts. You’ll be like an angry bear while reading certain parts, you’ll want to smash everything (not only the patriarchy)!
Garrard has written beautifully about love and sexuality and his prose is accessible and compelling. His take on familial love, acceptance and spirituality is interesting as it’s informed by his upbringing in a rural Southern Baptist town and a set of beliefs about an all seeing, all knowing God.He has captured his journey of self acceptance and how it interacts with personal faith and the wider faith community that surrounds him. It’s an interesting and deeply intimate self determining experience that he has chosen to share with us and it should not go unnoticed.
This memoir was undoubtedly upsetting and yet I felt it was very tender and full of hope. The poisonous conversion therapy is so distressing to read about, I don’t like imagining going through it. However in contrast the relationship Garrard has with his family is so beautiful and pure, it really gives the book such a powerful and uplifting sentiment. His mother and father have very different ways of connecting with their son, but you see that behind everything is a deep well of love. It really proves that cliché that love trumps everything.
It gives me hope that despite the fact that intolerance and hateful rhetoric still exists that somehow in the years ahead there may be a more equal future for us all.
PS It was just leaked that there is a film being made! Joel Edgerton will be directing it, and Garrard Conley himself is being included in the process. I am going to make a wish that the film captures the hopeful feeling that the book leaves you with!
This book quickly worked its way into my best reads of 2017, it’s got everything I love; twisted dark family dynamics, a compelling story, well paced and beautiful writing.
My Absolute Darling follows Turtle a young teenage girl living with her daddy, the man whom she both adores and hates (with good reason). She understands that she’s the thing he loves most in the world. She is petrified by his presence yet she craves his attention, perhaps because it’s all she has. He’s taught her how to use all the guns in their sparse and ‘rough and ready’ home, all the better to face the impending doom facing society. Change is coming however, Turtle is about to connect with people outside the family and make friends…
I really love how Tallent has written this novel, the coarseness of the language used by Turtle and her father was the ideal contrast to the beautiful lyrical descriptions of the environment in which they live. It is such a powerful way of dragging you into the story, you really get a feel for the harshness of the world that surrounds Turtle. The world she inhabits with her daddy is dilapidated and sparse, militaristic, strict and distinctly lacking in home comforts, while the area in which she lives is filled with luscious plant life and beautiful land and seascapes, both rugged and beautiful.
It’s little wonder that Turtle is fascinated by the flowery language that her friends wax lyrical, they care about things like literature and movies, things that Turtle hadn’t even considered to matter before making their acquaintance. She likes to look after objects, but the moment her daddy feels she likes something more than he thinks she should, he sets about to destroy it, and her, wholly.
There are scenes of base depravity and horrific abuse in this book, but it doesn’t reduce Turtle to a one note victim, she is a complex character with conflicting and confusing emotions. She only knows this life, but is smart enough to know it’s not a regular upbringing, she doesn’t know how to feel about it and she struggles to hide it from those around her. She’s fiercely loyal to her daddy and her grandfather, and you see how dysfunctional families can still function somewhat normally. You really feel like you’re there with her, struggling to know yourself and your feelings; bouncing between self hatred and internalised sexism, between being the bully and being the hero. Simultaneously you’ll be absolutely disgusted and angered by the events that unfold and root with all your heart for Turtle.
I felt like this book looked at how misogyny can corrupt and twist a person into a hateful husk of a human. Within the first few chapters you see how much hostility there is towards not only women but any outsider and how this has shrunk the world around Turtle. This atmosphere of distrust puts you constantly on edge, there’s a permeating feeling of unease and you can feel an unspoken threat hanging over you throughout your reading.
The uneasy feeling only helps to heighten the tension that the constant presence of guns and weapons creates. It feels to me that the gun culture in America fetishises not only the guns themselves, but the power that wielding a gun gives you. The fact that guns are so freely and readily obtained by someone who readily admits to being a survivalist with a strong distrust for society should have sent alarms bells ringing in some quarters, but not so in this novel. This approach appears to be par for the course in some parts of the states, and maybe this book in its own way is saying we should question why this is so.
There are of course some small criticisms, in places Tallent can be overly descriptive to the detraction of the story itself, and some of the support characters are very two dimensional. The friends she makes are too perfect, their prose too polished and their personalities very vaguely fleshed out. The teacher is the worst character in my opinion, she’s just simply good, sporty and concerned, I couldn’t connect to her at all because there wasn’t much to connect to. The only other criticism I can level is that the final scenes were highly dramatic but a bit drawn out, I felt like in places it was written more for cinematographic effect than to further the story.
However I loved the actual ending, you leave on an unresolved and unsettled note. wanting to know more, which isn’t a bad way to leave a book at all!
Growing up as a culchie child in 90’s Ireland meant only having two television channels, one family tv, and no friends living nearby; I mean books became the obvious pastime! I used to stay up late hiding under my duvet with a mini torch (that for some reason 90’s kids magazines often gave away as freebies? Anyone else remember that? My favourite was my green Scooby Doo one.) reading my book until my mom would catch me around 1am…
I have a hell of a lot of nostalgia for the books I read as a child, and I can really remember vividly the plots and characters from many of them! I reckon everyone has similar powerful memories about childhood books that have stuck with them, so I figured why not try to start a book tag! #CBNT
I’m going to share some of my favourite childhood books (and the covers of the versions that I read) that bring me wonderful nostalgia, hopefully some of you have read the same books and this too brings back some marvellous memories!
I haven’t read any of these books since I was a child so these are just what I remember, and my impressions may have been incorrect, but these are the thoughts I associate with these titles. I’m going to focus on books I read before the age of 13, and maybe write another series about books that teenage me read and loved!
A book that I adored but that scared me was Z for Zachariah. It’s a story about a 16-year-old girl who is the sole survivor of a nuclear war, or so she thinks. It was the first book that I read that was based in a post-apocalyptic world and it definitely made an impression on my young mind! The threat from the outsider, not only because he was an outsider but also because he was a man is something that sticks out in my memory. I remember feeling worried for her at the ending of the book too! (And it features a dog!)
Sisters…no way! Was one of my favourite books to read when I was 10 or so because it was double-sided! One side was a punky girls diary, she had lost her mother and she was coming to terms with that huge loss (I have a very clear memory of reading a line about her dad weeping in the garden while leaning against his spade, and the character thinking of going out to weep and hug him and thinking about how dramatic and poetic the image would be). Her dad starts to date again, and the woman he goes out with has two daughters, one who is the same age as the punky girl, however she’s her polar opposite. The other girl is into ballet and cares about her younger sister and has a boyfriend who she broke up with (magnums remind her of him), she’s a gentle soul and she likes eating digestives that crumble at the top of the packet!
The flip side of the book is this ballet girls diary, and you see that she too had problems adjusting to her mother dating etc. I think this book drove home to me that there’s always at least two sides to every argument…and that books are cooler when they’re double-sided.
The Chocolate War was one of those mind-blowing books that I read when I was 11 or 12, and it made me think about challenging society and whats expected of me. As far as I can remember the book centres around a new boy in a school who refuses to sell chocolates for a fund-raiser and the religious brother and the school bully (in charge of a gang that runs things in the school as far as I remember!) who is his right hand man start an intimidation campaign that ends up in an incredibly violent organised fight.
Stargirl was another book that had a message of staying true to yourself, no matter the consequences. The book was from the point of view of a shy boy who collected porcupine neckties, and how he fell in love with a most unusual girl. He convinces her to try and fit in, and she does for a while as far as I remember, but she hated being “normal” so went back to her hippie ways, and he talks about the lasting impression she made on the school – where they always cheer for the other teams first score in a match etc. My main memory is the description of the yellow gown and sunflowered bike that stargirl attends prom alone in! I do remember that for a while after reading this book I wanted to bring a little flowerpot to school with me, but thankfully my mother talked me out of that one! (I was an already clumsy 11 year old, adding glass to the mixture was an unecessary hazard!)
The Wish List was one of my absolutely favourite books, I really adored it! The main character, Meg dies in the first chapter during a botched burglary of an old man. The problem of where to send her soul arises from her balanced books, she’s done as many good as bad things in her life. She gets back to earth (with the help of a little imp who cleans the walls of the pathway to heaven and hell) and helps the pensioner she was going to rob to achieve some of his life goals, or his wish list. She also gets revenge on her abusive stepfather and ultimately carries out an act of forgiveness. (There was also a fused spirit of a pit bull and a guy who was trying to control Meg that satan sends back to earth to try to get her spirit to go to hell…) It was such a fast faced and wonderful read, I really must go back and give it a reread!
I love foxes, and this is probably in no small part due to Tom McCaughren. I adored his fox series, I had the whole collection and I have strong memories of crying bitterly about the deaths that occurred. It’s a strong possibility that these books starting with Run with the Wind and the animals of farthing wood helped to convince me, at least subconsciously, to become a vegetarian! Sage Bush a blind fox is helping a group of foxes find safety from fur hunters and the secret to survival. I read this series before I read watership down and I think they had very similar themes for certain, but I loved both as I was (and still am!) a huge animal lover.
Probably my first exposure to Native Americans and Native American culture was this book, The Long March. A young native boy is being convinced by the elder (his grandmother if I remember correctly!) of his village to donate what they can to help the starving people of Ireland. He is confused because 20 years earlier it was white people who forced his tribe to undergo the long march, and to leave their lands in Mississippi. I remember the story mentioning that the ground was frozen too hard to bury the many who died on the long march, so they put the corpses up trees. It also mentioned the dying Irish who had their mouths stained green from attempts to eat grass. It’s based on a real event that happened during the Irish potato famine, where the native Chocktaws donated a huge amount to help the people of Ireland. I think I felt very humbled by reading this book- I had up to that point always seen Irish people as the saviours and the more advanced, and this had given me a very new perspective. I remember too feeling so enraged and angry at the forced migration of the Choctaw people, it has definitely lead to an interest in native American history and culture that persists to this day.
Marita Conlon-McKenna wrote most of my childhood I’m pretty sure! I loved all of her books, but this book, The Blue Horse has a special place in my heart. It’s about the racism experienced by a young girl from the travelling community when she is forced into a settled person house. The outrage I felt for this little girl (I think she must have been the same age as me at the time), when a hairdresser refuses to cut her hair, claiming that all travellers have lice, it actually broke my heart to think that people were treated so badly for no good reason. I think it was my first glimpse into racism and injustices in Irish society and man did it affect me!
The Machine Gunners was surprisingly enough about a machine gun… A young English boy who collects shrapnel finds a downed German plane with a working machine gun, himself and his friends decide to take this and build a fort which to defend their homes from the Germans. The kids shoot down a German plane and capture the rear gunner, who repairs their machine gun in exchange for a rowboat if I remember correctly! One of the boys family home is bombed and only he survives, and he lives in the fort from then on, the German soldier returns because he hasn’t the strength to row to Norway (I think! This is one of those details I’ve probably remembered incorrectly!) and eventually the fort is found by soldiers and after a gun battle the children and German are captured, two of the children go to a childrens home and the soldier is held as a POW. I remember having nightmares about my family home being detroyed by bombs after reading this book. (Although why anyone would bomb a fairly remote house in rural Ireland never occured to me…) I also harboured worries about my dad being forced to become a soldier until I asked my mom and learned that Ireland is neutral!
Nuala & her Secret Wolf was my first foray into the Drumshee series, a series of books that are all based in the same place but in different time periods. This book was based in the Iron Age I think, and the girl hides the fact that she is mothering an abandoned wolf cub, who goes on to save her life. I loved this series as a kid, there was a viking based book, a famine book and many many more besides. I don’t think I finished the series as I “outgrew” it at some point but I’d love to go back and enjoy getting lost in Drumshee again!
I have at least twenty other books I could mention but I think I’ll finish up my first CBNT post with possibly the first book that I remember making a huge impression on me.
Under The Hawthorn Tree is the first of a trilogy written by Marita Conlon-McKenna, that I read when I was nine years old, and they are partly responsible for my love of Irish history. The youngest of four children dies at the start of the potato famine and is buried under the hawthorn tree in their garden.The parents then die and the eldest girl decides to take her two younger siblings and go find their grandaunts who live in a city far away instead of going to the workhouse where they would be separated. They encounter horrors of death in various forms upon their journey and they have several close calls with death themselves. Ultimately the siblings have each other to fight for and the strength of familial bonds is a big part of this story. It’s a very moving book and one that has stuck with me all these years!
What books have stuck with you? Any reasons why?
Keep an eye out for the next CBNT coming soon! 🙂