I picked up a copy of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie after I saw it on the shortlist for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2014. I had been lacking cultural diversity in my literary diet, and thought after reading the premise of the novel that it might provide the perfect dose for my deficiency. The novel takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, and as the author herself is also Nigerian, the book holds a certain familiarity that is unmistakable when a writer is crafting a tale about their own place of origin. Before opening its pages, I had an embarrassing, chasmic lack of knowledge about anything Nigerian. After 477 pages however, the novel has given me 100x the information that I knew before regarding Nigeria and its people, as well as a keen interest in learning more. And now, onto the story itself. A quick summary...Americanah tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers from Lagos: they meet and fall in love in secondary school, but are torn apart by military, political, and economic troubles in their home country. Their time at university is interrupted by professor strikes and other woes due to the military dictatorship, and every other day it seems that another one of their acquaintances flees Nigeria in search of a fair wage and safety in another place. Eventually they are each forced to leave as well, but while Ifemelu heads to America, Obinze is unable to join her and ends up in London.Unlike the majority of literary lovers scorned by circumstance, they are given a second chance at a future together when they both end up back in Lagos years later. Unfortunately, a whole new set of obstacles has been placed in their way. I'm not a spoiler, so you'll have to pick up a copy of the novel yourself if you want to find out how things turn out for the couple.I have to say that I immensely enjoyed the book. It is a longer one, and does take a little while to get through. However, you won't ever be bored. The book flip flops between Obinze and Ifemelu's tales, so you can see both ends of the relationship. Ifemelu's portions are also intermittently punctuated by excerpts from her popular blog about race in America. As I'm from the United States myself, I found these blog posts to be quite interesting and eye-opening. They caused me to stop and pause repeatedly to re-examine my own thoughts and beliefs about the treatment of race in my home country.Whether you agree with Ifemelu's and Chimamanda's assessment of race and discrimination or not, you can't argue that she does make you stop and think. Although this is a novel about true love and family and hardship, I would say that it is primarily about cultural differences and race and the difficulties that arise because of these, even in these 'modern' and 'colour-blind' times. Chimamanda finds an ideal balance between the heavier issues of her novel and the romance. There's even a surprising dose of humour found within the pages as well, which keeps the novel from sinking into a sort of despair. The central characters are relatable and dynamic, and everything else that main characters should be. They have a heavy load to carry, but they bear it well. A strong cast of secondary figures supports them as well. In the end, I felt as if I could step off the plane in Nigeria and expect one of them to be waiting for me at the airport, ready to drive me through the chaotic streets of Lagos and back to their home where I could enjoy a hot meal of jollof rice and fried plantains. If nothing else, the novel provides an entertaining love story, and the tale of two migrants that have to struggle with leaving their homes, adapting to the new unfamiliar cultures, and then returning to their place of origin and reacclimating, because of course it has changed in the decade that they were away. However, if you're like me, it will do much more than that. It will make you turn inward, look twice at your own perspectives, and question everything you thought before about race and the treatment of it. No matter where you're from, this subject is relevant and important. I would most definitely recommend this novel. I promise that it will stick with you for long after you put it down. It may also give you a craving to try some Nigerian recipes and travel the world, forewarning. I plan on checking out some of the other novels by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as well, and if you want to do the same, they can be found in the library catalogue. If you've read Americanah, feel free to comment below about whether you agree or not with my review!
The first I heard of Dermot Healy was in June 2014. A friend of mine was asked to read through poems to be considered for selection in the Dermot Healy International Poetry Competition. The next day, it was reported on the national news that he had passed away. It had been remarked by another one of my of friends that his work never got the recognition and success it deserved, that he was a much more “interesting” writer than his peers. Interesting can sometimes mean, “you’re not going to understand this…. You thickie!”. I began reading Long Time, No See. Immediately, I got a jolt: the words on the page were formatted like poetry and none of the dialogue was in inverted commas. I was reluctant to continue as my eyes and brain were in for a different exercise regime. However, my desire to be a know-it-all won through and I’m so glad I persevered. This is one of the best books I have ever read. Set in an Irish coastal rural community,it starts slowly with a young man visiting his grand uncle. Nothing happens for about six pages but I was enjoying the unusual format and the peculiar habits of the locals. Then something small happens and the story has you gripped. His descriptions of the landscape are beautifully minute and familiar. The language of the characters is real and humorous. The main character is a young man dealing with a tragedy that is intermittently revealed. It is about life, death and relationships’, each is given its weight from the cosmic to the banal and leaves you not wanting to leave these people or the place they live. Ten out of ten for Dermot Healy. I’m really sorry he is gone. I would have liked to have written to him to tell him how much I enjoyed his book. His earlier books are out of print but Dublin City Public Libraries do have copies to lend.
Review by Pembroke Library Reading Group is set in Canada – the narrator has grown up in remote rural East Ontario, and has studied in Toronto, where she is now a lecturer.The story looks at how four children cope in the year after the sudden death of their parents. The oldest, Luke, 19, has given up teacher training to bring up his sisters, aged 7 and 1½. At the end of the year Matt, 18, has secured a scholarship, but has to take responsibility for the pregnancy of Marie Pye, the orphaned girl next door, and exchanges an academic career for fatherhood and running a farm.The narrator, Kate, is 7 at the time of their parents’ death and very attached to Matt. Members of their community step in to help and the boys work for Mr. Pye next door after school. The Pyes have a multi-generational dysfunctional history of fathers bullying their children. Tragic circumstances bring Matt and Marie Pye together.Kate looks back on her childhood at an important point in her life – she is in her mid-twenties, at the beginning of a promising academic career and in love. She understands that if she continues to keep her man away from her family she will lose him. Contact with her family is diminished after leaving. For years she didn’t have the funds to return home for holidays. But we learn there is a bigger divide – as the only child in academia, she feels a mixture of guilt and embarrassment. She believes that Matt has been robbed of the university career that was rightfully his, and feels embarrassed that she now knows more of the subject he introduced her to as a child. She fears that bringing her boyfriend (who is a professor) to her family home will widen the gap between her past rural family life and promising academic life further. There is a strong family belief in education as the road to leading a fulfilled life and has been the cornerstone of the family’s goals.At the end of the book Marie Pye, her sister in law, has helped Kate to open her eyes to the fact that Matt’s life is fulfilled too and Kate is able to revise her child’s eye version of her family’s history. After the trauma of the sudden loss of her parents, followed by what she sees as Matt’s betrayal of his prospects (and a bit of jealousy for having to share him), and living away from her family for so many years as a young adult, she had not yet been in a position to appreciate the love and commitment of her brothers, who kept the family together under very difficult circumstances. This was the other, equally important cornerstone of her family heritage, and had also been told as part of the family story around the education goal: their father’s older brothers had worked so he could study and once he was earning he supported them when their farms were in trouble.The story of the family and life in East Ontario is well told. The description of Kate as a young adult and her dilemma followed by her reviewing her belief system is a bit thin and not helped by the extreme contrast of her life compared to her boyfriend’s. Parallels to Kate’s family life are drawn in the research done by Kate, in which she reduces the surface tension of the water a pond skater inhabits, to examine to what level and for how long it can stay. A student giving up her course because she is afraid she is becoming too different from her rural family provides a contrast. Another contrast is provided by Kate’s boyfriend, who seems considerate and balanced despite having had a childhood with very little emotional input by his parents, in privileged circumstances which were the reverse of Kate’s.Pembroke Library Book ClubPembroke Library has two book clubs that each meet once a month.Are you interested in joining a Book Club? We have plenty of options for book lovers to get together and talk about books in Dublin City Public Libraries!Writers Mary Lawson (middle) and David Parks (right) in conversation with Vanessa O'Loughlin at Dublin Writers' Festival Event, Pearse Street Library on Tuesday 20 May 2014. See more photos of this event on flickr.
Review by Bookends Reading Group, Cabra LibraryGerry, the Librarian who (very ably) looks after our Reading Group, suggested we read Memento Mori for this Bealtaine Books review submission on the basis that we might enjoy it as it is a funny book. We almost all did find it funny to varying degrees although, interestingly, Gerry himself didn’t enjoy it. In summary the book is about a group of interconnected old people who start to receive phone calls reminding them that they must die from an unidentified caller who sounds different to each hearer.Patricia loved the title and cover, but due to other commitments didn’t get time to read it as well as the other two books we read that month. Grace was not mad about it but Noreen described it as a little gem. Marian found it very funny and particularly loved the geriatrician character. Ada said she got a great laugh from the book and loved all the characters. Sheila enjoyed all the characters as they were well-drawn and had great back stories but considered the ending did not do justice to the book and not because there was no unveiling of the phone caller but more because it just petered out. Ada also did not like the ending. Noreen made the point that although the book deals with serious issues like getting old and the quality of health services and could have been morbid, it certainly wasn’t. We were all of the view that it was a book that would appeal more to an older readership and wondered about Muriel Spark’s connection with the elderly as it was published in her very early 40s. It comes across as a book by someone who sees the elderly and infirm as retaining all the characteristics, concerns and relevance that applied to them as young adults. Marian was struck by the lack of intergenerational contact within the book – even the former police inspector they consult and the carer hired for Charmian are elderly. It is noteworthy that the one young character who accompanied them on the visit to the retired inspector is remonstrated with by his wife for failing to assist them in making their way from car to house.Grace considered that Charmian had a very pleasant form of dementia that was removed from reality and we concluded that it was probably not real dementia but more of a coping mechanism that she had developed for dealing with her husband. Sheila though it interesting that even though Charmian still viewed Taylor’s thwarted relationship with Alec Warner as a tragedy, for the woman herself it was no longer a source of any regret whatsoever, thus pointing up how the importance of events changes with the passage of time.Although the level of enjoyment of Memento Mori varied, we all agreed that we would definitely like to read more by Muriel Spark.Bookends Book ClubBookends Book Club meet once a month in Cabra Library. Are you interested in joining a book club? We have plenty of options for book lovers to get together and talk about books in Dublin City Public Libraries!
Lou Reed passed away on the 27th of October 2013.He was one of the most influential figures in rock music. His first band The Velvet Underground is probably solely responsible for any "Indie Music" we hear today. However he is most famous for two songs, "Walk on the Wild Side" and Perfect Day". The former was a hit in 1972. A most unusual chart song with sparse arrangement of an infectious backing vocal, two note bass line and spoken styled melody of lyrics about transsexuals and prostitution inspired by characters of the pop artist Andy Warhol's hangout, The Factory. The song surfaced again in 1990 as it's memorable bass line was sampled by A Tribe Called Quest as the backbone of their song "Can I kick it?". The latter was "Perfect Day" (the b side to Walk on the Wild side) which had a resurgence in the film Trainspotting and was released by an all star cast as a charity single in 1997. Both songs were featured on the album Transformer.The Velvet Underground were formed in 1964 and played as the house band in Andy Warhol's Factory. Reed and John Cale were the main composers. Their first Album The Velvet Underground and Nico is so unusual, some tracks sound like Bo Diddley duelling with a violin and other tracks are so achingly beautiful and simple the album is hard to forget. There is no point in me trying to explain it, just listen! It is still one of the most unusual records I have ever heard. When you look back to what was happening in the charts at the time, Nancy and Frank Sinatra, The Doors, the world was not ready for The Velvet Underground.The album only sold 30,000 copies, but as musician Brian Eno said "each one of those people who bought the record started a band".Lou Reed went on to record twenty solo albums after The Velvet Underground disbanded. He died of complications following a liver transplant.His life partner is artist Laurie Anderson.
The new and not so new in the title refers to the fact that two of the four authors I include in this post are new to me, in fact first time authors, but not so the other two. The not so new are Denmark's Jussi Adler-Olsen and Norway's big gun, Jo Nesbo. To them in a moment. But first the debutants, France's Bernard Minier and Norway's Thomas Enger.'The Frozen Dead' , a first novel from French thriller writer Bernard Minier, is a tale of murder and revenge set amidst the harshness of a Pyrenees winter. The wilderness, the snow, the bleakness of the landscape, all in fact contribute as much to the book's atmosphere as the events taking place. The decapitated body of a horse found hanging from a frozen cliff triggers the involvement of Toulouse police Commandant Martin Servaz, but it isn't long before human bodies start turning up. The killings are taking place in close proximity to a secure institution for the criminally insane where a Swiss psychologist taking up her new post is immediately faced with suspicious happenings. A link between the killings and the asylum soon becomes apparent when one inmate’s DNA shows up at a crime scene. Throw in the involvement of one of France’s wealthiest men and the suicide of several teenagers some years before and you have here a nicely formed and intricate plotline, to which can be added some interesting and complex characters who I think will attract your interest every bit as much as the storyline.I have to venture, mind you, that the antics of the young psychologist in satisfying her curiosity, and in so doing putting herself in harms-way, do beggar belief a little. The author does however make a good fist of building the suspense and creating an atmospheric novel. Without giving too much away, it is fitting that the harsh environment has a role to play right to the end. As to the ending, some good thrillers I find struggle to deliver an ending to match the rest of the book, and while the ending here is not a let-down, it is not the books strongest point.This book was published in France in 2011 (English translation 2013) where it proved to be a bestseller. Minier has since written a second novel featuring the same police commandant (not yet in translation), and based on this debut thriller I look forward to that in time.'Burned' is the debut novel of Norwegian Thomas Enger and the first in a series starring Oslo-based investigative journalist Henning Juul. Juul returns to work for an online newspaper two years after a fire took his young son's life, destroyed his apartment and left Henning himself physically and emotionally scarred. Upon his return he is immediately involved in the reporting of the murder of a young female film student who met her gruesome death in a tent in an Oslo park. It has all the hallmarks of a radical Islamic sharia-type killing, and the young woman's Muslim boyfriend quickly becomes the main police suspect, a development that Juul seems quite sceptical about. He proceeds to dig into the dead student's life and the lives of her Muslim boyfriend and her college friends in an effort to get to the truth.There are a number of different aspects to this book: Juul's personal life, the immigrant Muslim community in Oslo, the characters of certain police officers, and the crime itself. Juul has acquired some obsessive behaviours as a result of the fire that claimed his son's life: he constantly changes the batteries in the smoke detectors in his home and he is extra cautious as to where he sits in public places. His mother is a drunk and his ex-wife is now, awkwardly enough, the partner of a colleague he has to work closely with. Enger can be well applauded for giving the main character a background that makes him all the more interesting as a person. Regarding the Muslim angle, you never quite know one way or the other as to its purpose - is it integral to the crime, a sub-plot or a red herring? Is the Muslim angle merely there to portray a certain element of the Muslim community and how the community is perceived in Norway?This is a story with twists and turns and something of a surprise ending, which by and large works. Yet one or two aspects seem a little convoluted and call for a slight stretch of the imagination, case in point being the student film-making angle. The storyline around Juul's police contact and his infatuation with a female colleague seems underdeveloped to the point where you wonder about its inclusion at all. Of course the fact that 'Burned' is the first in a series does leave open the possibility of any unanswered questions or underdeveloped storylines that you might feel exist being addressed in the follow-up books.Overall, a promising enough first novel that I can well recommend, and I will certainly be reading the second in the series, 'Pierced', in due course.Having read and enjoyed two previous books by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Mercy, Disgrace) I looked forward to 'Redemption' with equal glee. This is the third novel in the Department Q series featuring cold case detective Carl Mørck. While Adler-Olsen's books tend to be on the long side (this one runs to 632 pages), I never felt this to be excessively long and I pretty much enjoyed it from start to finish. In fact it is one of those books that builds nicely, culminating in a tense race-against-time-type finish. He is a quality writer and a good storyteller who can comfortably mix suspense, mystery and humour, pleasing the reader on several fronts all at once. The plot here is well thought out and developed, and centres on the disappearance of a number of children over time, the investigation of which is triggered by a message in a bottle washed up on foreign shores. And while you the reader know that the killer is still active, the investigating team do not and for some time are not even sure if a crime has in fact taken place. Being privy to the present day activities of the killer, you wonder when and if the investigating team will ever make the necessary breakthrough and if they will in time to stop the killer adding to the number of his victims. You, meanwhile, will spend a lot of time in the company of the killer, and your fascination with him will grow accordingly, rest assured. Add to the story mix a troubled childhood and religious sects mindful of their privacy and you begin to see how a serial killer is born and can thrive while remaining largely anonymous. Some scenes border on harrowing, the subject matter of harm to children never being an easy one to digest, but the book is, thankfully, not overly graphic. As the story develops and builds, so does the action and the pace, and I felt it harder and harder to put the book down the further I progressed.The humour meanwhile, and indeed much of the mystery in the book, concerns the members of the Department Q investigating team, two of whom are civilians but who themselves are quite mysterious, quirky and colourful characters. Enough said, I can well recommend, so get reading!Having bagged my signed copy of 'Police' , Jo Nesbo’s latest in the Harry Hole series, back in mid-September when the author visited Dublin, I had to curb my eagerness to start it for a few days while I finished reading Adler-Olsen's 'Redemption'. But once into it, it was the old familiar Nesbo, if not quite the old familiar Hole. The old familiar Nesbo in that the story was as gripping as ever, the plot well-formed, the tension ever present and the outcome ever uncertain. But the Harry Hole of this story was less familiar, when he eventually appeared that is! This is the follow up to 'Phantom', and if you’ve read it you will be all the more interested in knowing what happened to Harry in the 'Phantom' and how is it he is still with us. As regards to what happened and the less familiar Harry, I can say no more, it begs your reading of it.The primary plot is based around the murders of police officers associated in one way or another with unsolved crimes they were investigating. Some familiar names from previous stories make a return here, forming as they do part of the investigating team. Also too there are sub-plots involving some less savoury members of the force, some of whom we first met in 'Phantom'. Nesbo is not adverse to throwing the odd red herring, or developing a storyline the purpose of which you are not at all certain. All to keep your attention no doubt, and rest assured your attention will not flag here. Aside from the question as to whether or not you will like the Harry of this story as much as the previous (my jury is still out), the one cause for trepidation you may have with this book I suspect will be the extent of the violence involved in some of the murders. Now Nesbo is not known for shirking the topic, as you will know if having read any one of his previous, but I am reminded of the views expressed by British crime writer Ann Cleeves that Nordic crime writers seem to want to outdo one another in graphically depicting violence. Be warned, but be certain you have to read this latest from Jo Nesbo!Enjoy your reading!
With the prospect of some added free time coming my way over the next couple of weeks, a chance to catch up on my reading beckons. So no better time than the present to have some good luck, with two recently (18 July) published crime novels landing on my desk just today! The two are: 'Redemption' (US title: A Conspiracy of Faith) by Denmark's Jussi Adler-Olsen and 'Light in a Dark House' by German-born but Finnish-based Jan Costin Wagner. Having read and enjoyed both authors before, I can now look forward to reading these two new titles in the near future.I have recently been reading a number of other Nordic crime fiction titles, the latest being 'The Healer' by Finland's Antti Tuomainen. This is a crime book with a difference: it is set in the not-too-distant future where climate change is wreaking havoc and society is breaking down, indeed already largely has. It is also set in a city not often featured in (crime) books I come across, namely Helsinki, a city I have visited, so my curiosity was raised somewhat. But if I had hoped for some sense of place, some sense of familiarity, then that hope was certain to be quashed a little, as by the very nature of the story the city and the society have been greatly altered by the climatic catastrophe (in Helsinki’s case, mostly in the form of torrential rain) that has engulfed the world. As much as I gleamed from it was familiarity with some place-names and locations I recognised as struggling poet Tapani travelled the city in search of his journalist wife Johanna who had gone missing. But that is where the familiarity largely ended. In his attempts to find Johanna, Tapani has to contend with vigilante-type local security groups who operate largely in the absence of law and order, and some shady and dangerous characters, none more so than the serial killer known as ‘The Healer’ with whom Johanna’s disappearance, while investigating a series of murders, seems to be inextricably tied up. In his search Tapani discovers things about Johanna, about her past life, that he was never aware of.Though the constant downpour ensures that the setting is gloomy, this book is far from so. The plot is conventional enough, but well constructed. This is not a fast-paced book, but it does build to a nice climactic ending. As another reviewer said, “nothing happens very fast”. It is well written (and translated), Antti Tuomainen’s largely simple prose style is a plus and adds much to the atmosphere. Indeed the atmosphere, and the vision of the future are probably its strongest aspects; a world ravaged by major climatic change, a city and society in decline, lawlessness, hunger, distrust, a constant gloom, a dystopia. It does tickle your imagination this. It has been well received since it was first published, winning the Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2011, and is the first of Tuomainen's novels to be translated into English. I think we can look forward to his next. Staying with the Nordic theme, previous to The Healer I had read 'I Remember You' by Iceland's Yrsa Sigurdardottir. In this story, three friends are renovating a derelict house in an isolated village in Iceland’s Westfjords, but their’s does not seem to be the only presence, a scary and seemingly sinister one lurks in the shadows, its ill-intent becoming clearer as the story develops. But maybe that is not the only source of the growing tension between the three? Meanwhile elsewhere a young doctor is ever troubled by the disappearance of his young son. That the two stories should converge and truths be revealed when they do seems inevitable, and converge they finally do amidst the harsh landscape that is the Westfjords.What I didn’t realise and was not quite prepared for in starting to read this book was that it is in essence a ghost story, and that aspect of it never appealed to me. It has plenty of those things that characterise a ghost story – the human figure that appears and then disappears just as quickly, unexplained occurrences and accidents, the horrible deathly smell, the eerie presence of someone or something unknown, and the inevitable loss of any means of communicating with the outside world. Best described as a supernatural thriller, not as a crime novel. I am also not overly fond of the author’s style and pre-occupation with details which add nothing to the story.'Another Time, Another Life: The Story of a Crime' was the second book by Sweden's Leif G. W. Persson that I read, and to my mind a big improvement on the first ('Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End'). This book takes us from the (factually real) bombing of the West German embassy in Stockholm in 1975 to a (fictional) murder investigation in 1989, and finally to a revisiting of that murder in 1999 when a link to the 1975 event suggests itself. The book, in making use of a real life event from 1975, and later documenting the establishment of the Swedish secret security service in order to contextualise to some degree the fictional story, blends the real with the fictional in a way that serves to emphasise (as I see it) Persson's desire to have his works act as a form of commentary on aspects of Swedish society. Therefore there is much more to his books than just the fictional storyline, and the reader needs to be aware of this in order to fully understand what is going on and what the author is attempting. It ought to be said too that the author's expertise as a criminologist, his advisory role to the Swedish Justice ministry and his standing in that respect, lends some weight and authenticity to the book. The book offers plenty of insight into police behaviour and into the various police characters involved in the different events and time frames, with the sexism and bigotry present to some degree in the previous book even more obvious in this. That said, there is a mix of sympathetic police characters and some less than so.This book is a mix of police procedural, political satire and psychological study, and of added interest maybe to the reader with an interest in the murkier side of politics and the establishment. It should be said too that the pace is slow, but that is Persson's style. The one place where I started to lose interest was towards the middle of the book when, after the 1989 murder investigation, the author goes about describing events around the fall of the Berlin wall, the rush to get hands on former East German intelligence and the establishment of the Swedish secret police. A second reading and I would be better prepared for this venture into documentary and away from the core storyline for an albeit brief time.My final mention is 'Silenced' by another Swede, Kristina Ohlsson. In this, the second translated novel from Ohlsson involving a team of Stockholm detectives ably assisted by civilian researcher Fredrika Bergman, a number of different (yet somehow related?) cases occupy the team. The death of a vicar and his wife shortly after a daughter is reported dead, the whereabouts of another daughter, plus the death of an unidentified man, all prove challenging for the team. Then too there is the horrific attack on a young girl years before which the book opens with and which the police are not aware of, but of course the reader is. The book also sheds considerable light on the lives of three of the main characters, their trials and tribulations. The story involves immigration and people smuggling, persons having their identity taken from them, and of course the age-old crime motivators of jealousy and revenge. In regards to the plot, I think it is more than just complex, it is I think overly elaborate. Without giving the ending away, it does beg the question as to how likely such an outcome.While in the first book (Unwanted) I thought the male-female divide overplayed, it's fair to say that it's not an issue here, largely because Fredrika has now been more or less accepted as part of the team. But wait, there was still something to irritate me here! I have never met so many instances in a book where so many characters have tears well up in their eyes, one more than the next! Otherwise the book is an ok read, but nothing to shout out loud about.But no matter what I think, good, bad or indifferent, enjoy your crime reads! I do mine, regardless!
April is the month for Dublin City Council’s One City, One Book initiative – this year it’s Joseph Plunkett’s Strumpet City. This campaign drums up a huge amount of interest in its chosen book each year, and by extension in Irish literature generally; so if you enjoy each year’s nomination, keep the momentum going, and try other Irish authors: there are hundreds to choose from, so here’s a small selection of both classic and modern to whet your appetite. Oscar Wilde (2010's 1C1B choice) has a huge range of works to choose from – poetry, plays, stories, fables, essays - and you can find them all in the Collins complete works of Oscar Wilde. This also includes lots of photos and background information, including contributions from Wilde’s grandson. J. M. Synge’s plays are widely regarded as classics of Irish literature. Synge’s detached and realistic portrayals of the Irish peasantry jarred with the romantic attitudes of his time, to the point where the Abbey’s production of The playboy of the western world provoked riots and had to be acted with police protecting the cast. Check out Playboy and his other works in Synge: the complete plays. Roddy Doyle is well on his way to becoming a living legend among Irish authors. His best known work is probably The Barrytown trilogy – The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van – all really well-written and with Doyle’s trademark humour and empathy. My own favourite, though, is Paddy Clarke ha ha ha, not least for its descriptions of Dubliners settling into the brand-new suburbs of the sixties.Brinsley MacNamara’s The valley of the squinting windows evokes the stifling, suffocating atmosphere of rural Ireland of the early 20th century. Like Synge’s Playboy, this too provoked a furious reaction on publication, as people from MacNamara’s hometown recognised themselves, and sued for libel: copies of the book were rounded up and burnt. Without this reaction, the book may well have been forgotten by now, which goes to show there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Edna O’Brien’s The country girls is the story of Cait and Baba’s coming of age in the sixties, and moving from rural Ireland to the big smoke of Dublin. This is another book that didn’t go down well on publication, because of its themes of sexuality and repression, and was in fact received so badly that O’Brien was effectively hounded out of the country. Like many Irish writers, O’Brien was instrumental in changing people’s awareness of their repressive culture and customs. For short stories, try The ballroom of romance and other stories by William Trevor, internationally-acclaimed and the recipient of many awards. His ability to bring to life a multitude of different personalities is incredible. His writing’s not easy to describe without resorting to clichés, so I’ll just say he’s a wonderful writer: try him out! Relative newcomer Paul Murray is already proving himself with the magnificent Skippy dies – proof, if you needed any, that nobody in their right mind would want to be a teenager again. This is a pretty long read, but it’s so well-written and thought-provoking that you won’t want to put it down.
A very important and fascinating book was published this year, "Where Were You? Dublin Youth Culture & Street Style 1950-2000" by Garry O'Neil and Niall McCormack.The book is a compilation of photographs documenting social and fashion scenes in Dublin. What sets this book apart is that there are no staged fashion shoots or celebrities, just amazing photographs of everyday people wearing what was in style and ordinary people with extraordinary style.It's a very intimate account of street culture in Dublin. This feeling of intimacy is directly linked to the way in which the material was sourced. Posters were hung up in cafes, bars and shops around the city asking people to send in photos, rather then all the material being collected in newspaper archives.O'Neil travelled around Dublin meeting people to look through their albums and hear about the scenes that were happening at the time. He also received material from different parts of the globe offered by people who had emigrated. The chapters are organised by decades starting with the 50s and 60s.Each chapter has a very readable preface setting the scene for that era by mentioning clubs,dances, streets and shops that were frequented by young people. They also include quotes from people who were interviewed, here is a very good one from the 50s and 60s "You dressed like your folks or you look like you were dressed by your folks". The pages of photographs also have ticket stubs from gigs, posters and flyers for clubs and really cute adverts from the time.It also documents the violence that sometimes surrounded street culture for example the Boot Boys and Skinheads in the seventies. So from suave suits in the sixties to break dancing, skateboarding and raving in the nineties I would highly recommend buying this book. If you've been stuck out in the suburbs for a while borrow or buy this book and you will remember just how colourful Dublin can be.Another interesting layer to this book is O'Neil's collaborator Niall McCormick who is a great graphic artist based in Dublin. Has designed book covers for O'Brien and Lilliput press. After you have enjoyed "Where Were You?" feast your eyes on Niall's website.
I grew up in a household where half of us were left-handed, one was ambidextrous (my dad) and the last two were right-handed, even given this my left-handed little brother came home from school frustrated and nearly in tears, he couldn't do his letters, it was so hard. When my mum (left-handed) saw that his teacher hadn't considered getting him to use his left hand she saw red. He was shown how to use his pencil in his left hand and everything went fine for him after that (there was a phone call to the teacher as well). This was in the 80s by the way.Recently I read a book called The Puzzle of Left-handedness by Rik Smits which talks about the anomaly that is left-handedness, something that about 10% of the world's population is, something that has been (and is still in some cultures) suppressed and discouraged, in fact some countries deny the existence of left-handedness in their population, and social mores link left-handedness with uncleanliness. Rik is left-handed himself and offers little solutions but he writes this noting the differences. It's an interesting book with interesting insights into how this minor marker can set people apart.I also recommend a Left-hand turn around the world and A Left-handed history of the world.I'm mostly left-handed, I write left-handed, though I started doing calligraphy right-handed because I couldn't get the nibs, and my teacher never knew there was a book on left-handed calligraphy; she had told my class that left-handed people couldn't do calligraphy, I went on to do it for the Leaving Certificate, she strongly suggested it to me.You develop coping skills for the right-handed world, but sometimes they aren't enough. Some modern machinery are developed for the majority, with emergency buttons placed to the right, and are designed so left-handers will put themselves in harm's way trying to use the tool or machine in a way that works for them.We bought a few books on crafting left-handed last year during the year of crafts, using the website Anything Left-Handed as a starting point. I knit right-handed but I crochet left-handed. Many books on crochet dismiss or disregard left-handed crochet, the clearest I've found is Crochet unravelled, which has some of the clearest diagrams I have ever seen on an instruction book. We also got in the left-handed Embroiderers Companion.It only takes a few adaptations to make life easier, ensuring that children have elbow room to their left is one of the minor ways their lives can be made easier, ensuring that the teacher does this without a fuss being made is crucial. We have a number of titles to help left-handed children and parents, such as Your Left-handed child and Left Hand Writing Skills which may help and may be worth trying out from the library to see if they're a good fit for your left-handed child.Left-handedness isn't an awkwardness it's a variation. Always remember that Barak Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton are all left-handed (among others), and many commentators say that it was because of an attempt to change George VI of The King's Speech fame, from left-handed may have contributed to his speech issues!