End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites and the Path of Political Disintegration by Peter Turchin
By some estimates, 49% of the world’s adult population is due to vote in elections in 2024 and what better way to begin the year than with Turchin’s brilliant book about how much trouble some of these same societies are in.
“ Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me”
So begins this dark, suspenseful novel. From the beginning we are drawn through the iron gates of Manderley and down the drive towards this great house. We accompany the young heroine who is never given a name other than the second Mrs De Winter. Through her eyes we see the world of the first Mrs De Winter, the beautiful and accomplished Rebecca.
Welcome to the thirteenth entry of our blog series 'Lost in the Stacks' - with recommendations by Dublin City Libraries staff. This one was submitted by Brian from the Relief Panel/Home Delivery Service for Cocooners. In his introduction to Donald Barthelme’s ˈSixty Storiesˈ, David Gates reports that Barthelme once described the typical short story as being ‘constructed mousetrap-like to supply, at the finish, a tiny insight typically having to do with innocence violated’.I feel my gobsmackedness at the twist in many stories I have so enjoyed being mocked by this comment but maybe having written the most audaciously brilliant and hilarious short story ever - ˈSome Of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colbyˈ (from ˈForty Storiesˈ) – Barthelme could feel entitled to have a pot-shot at whatever and whoever he likes.This gets me thinking about what (along with an insightful twist ?!!) makes for a good short story and as soon as I do this I’m sorry I started. On re-reading ˈThe Penthouse Apartmentˈ, my favourite story by William Trevor, I note a twist of sorts triumphally heralded by the line ‘“You had trouble with the pipes,” said Mr Morgan’. The said Morgan is a hammy storyteller when compared to the deft and subtle Trevor. We realise, in retrospect, that a throw-away early comment – ‘…animals, within reason, were permitted’ – contains such portent. Truth eludes Miss Winton’s ‘…great mound of words…’. Her reasonableness, with the rally cry ‘“I am trying to promote understanding”’ is dashed on the twin rocks of Morgan’s resentment and the Runcas’ philosophy ‘…that efficiency and a stern outlook were good weapons in the business of accumulating wealth’. This little ˈslice of lifeˈ contains a microcosm of societal strata and stresses but perhaps more striking and Trevoresque is the start-to-finish, slow-burn ˈsinister of the ordinaryˈ (also funny, in the drollest and darkest senses of course). A special ingredient of this is Trevor’s purveyance of drunken conversation, entwining and descending into nonsense but perhaps more scary for its retention of some sense. For me with William Trevor to adore the writing is to adore the man.On re-reading ˈThe Love Of A Good Womanˈ, my favourite story by Alice Munro, let’s agree for starters to forget about twists. This story is about strange goings-on in a town called Walley (ok, I’m out of my depth here). It is perhaps more ˈslices of lifeˈ than ˈslice of lifeˈ and yet the slices are linked and more to the point it has that element of encapsulation essential to a short story, albeit a long one. We begin with an elegiac depiction of a vanishing world where each role is precisely, unambiguously and unsparingly delineated, typified by the following:- ‘Most members of that company were between nine and twelve years old, too old to be bound by yards and neighborhoods but too young to have jobs – even jobs sweeping the sidewalk in front of stores or delivering groceries by bicycle’. How from here do we descend (down we go again) incrementally into a miasma of ambivalence? Go figure why Enid gives up her nurse’s training and still ends up nursing. Then consider the likes of the following:- ‘Lies…could be waiting around in the corners of a person’s mind, hanging like bats in the corners, waiting to take advantage of any kind of darkness. You can never say, Nobody could make that up. Look how elaborate dreams are, layer over layer in them, so that the part you can remember and put into words is just the bit you can scratch off the top’. And as Munroesque as ambivalence, behold that most intangible and terrifying of feminine qualities – emotional intelligence. This story is divided into four sections, each one sub-titled for the readers’ convenience. The first is my favourite, where Munro uncannily inhabits the hearts and minds of a trio of boys in the aforementioned 9 to 12-yr-old bracket, but in truth this whole story is a miracle of the uncanny. In the extremely unlikely event that, at this late stage of my efforts, I attain adulthood, perhaps I might even earn the right to bathe fully in the balming (if roiling) waters of Alice Munro’s stories.
Liz Buckley here reviews If Walls Could Talk; An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley, available as an eBook from Borrowbox. If on loan, you can reserve a copy.I read this book at the start of the Corona virus pandemic in Ireland. I was really fascinated to learn of the dire consequences that ignorance, myth and misinformation had on world health down through the ages. Poor sanitation in the home and at local level was behind several pandemics throughout history and the spread of germs from person to person or animal to person is an ongoing battle and often misunderstood.If Walls Could Talk; An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley reflects how the basic practices of hygiene good or bad have always meant life or death for the individual. The saddest place and most rife of germs and disease was at local level and the author’s portrayal of the birthing bed proves the risky business of childbirth and accounts for the outrageous death rate of mother and child over time.The author demonstrates the dark subject of infection and disease very well throughout her book. Worsley is an outstanding historian with an eye for detail and a gifted storyteller who can draw the reader in. The book is colourful with many excellent illustrations and her wry sense of humour make what is essentially a history lesson, uniquely entertaining.Some may think the subject matter “heavy duty” but the book is successful in that it manages to prevail as a light-hearted and humorous look at the history of the home, comparing Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, and homes of the present day. She captivates life from both ends of the spectrum describing the homes of the rich and the lives of the people who worked in them. She explores societal changes in behaviour through the prism view of a functioning household and she often chooses the Big House to begin with, and then introduces the reader to the lives of the servants.The history of the bedroom and bathroom or privy is explored with hilarious revelations as lots of people pass through for all kind of reasons other than sleep, sex or simply to do one’s business and compares public forwardness to today’s great and urgent call for privacy. Toilets and toilet roll, nickers and drawers, house fashions and utensils are examined to give the reader a real feel of the era and you can share some of the bygone practices with younger members of your family who will be astounded and unbelieving. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and if you have seen the BBC series of the same title you will hear the quirky voice of the author as you read and appreciate her wry yet factual account of how we lived in times gone by.
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.
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.
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.
If you enjoy film and want to stay in touch with the coolest flicks of all time then your local library is the place to go.Last years Sight and Sound top ten films of all times featured Hitchcock's Vertigo as number one.This was the first time that Orson Welles's Citizen Kane was knocked from top notch where it reigned from 1962 to 2002 to second place .This list is compiled every decade by top film critics from around the world. We are proud to say that Dublin City Public Libraries have six of the best top ten in stock with the other four on order.We take our promise of bringing you the best in culture and entertainment very seriously!If you want to explore the list further into the Best 100 Films Of All Time you will find we stock at least 60% of that list.If you like Citizen Kane then I suggest you watch The Magnificent Ambersons, in my opinion it gives Kane a run for its money however Welles was upset as the studio took control of the final edit, cut out an hours worth of footage and gave it a happy ending. The film is based on a 1918 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Booth Tarkington.Two Stanley Kubrick films made it into the top 100, "2001: a Space Odyssey" at number 6 and "Barry Lyndon" at number 55.I would recommend "Barry Lyndon". It was based on a Thackeray novel ("The Luck of Barry Lyndon") which follows the exploits of an eighteenth century Irish adventurer. A significant amount of footage was shot here in Ireland and looks very beautiful. It's also worth a look for Ryan O'Neil's attempt at an Irish accent! Order a copy of the book via BorrowBooks.ie. So during this hibernation type weather work your way through the best films ever in Dublin City Public Libraries.
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.