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.
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.
'Rocks in the Belly' by Jon Bauer came to my attention when it was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012. As I read this book, I found its subject matter dark, deep and somewhat disturbing. But the plot is free flowing and gripping and the characters are interesting, intense and realistic. Though the character of "Auntie Deadly" does not feature prominently in the story, the author cleverly uses imagery to help create a lasting impression of this person in the readers mind. The author also has the ability to draw the reader into commonplace situations which helped me get to know the characters very well. Jon Bauer cleverly creates a sense of foreboding throughout the book. The plot in Rocks in the Belly moves from the life of the narrator as an eight year old boy and his life as an adult. I can sometimes find it hard to read books that move from the past to the present and I can sometimes lose my way in the plot. But the author does this superbly and clearly and it gives an added dimension to the plot and contributes greatly to the storyline. Jon Bauer cleverly uses words and images to show the narrator as being "a funny child". As a young boy, he tells people that he is fostered, he puts his hand in the fire and was constantly checking his barometer in his bedroom to measure the amount of rain that has fallen. The narrator was jealous of his parents fostering children, especially the last child Robert. In fact, I was left wondering if the narrator had been involved in the accident that had such tragic consequences for Robert or if it had only been an accident.As a child, the narrator had a difficult relationship with his mother. As a young man of twenty-eight the narrator has to face and take care of his dying mother. Sadly he abuses the power he has over her. At the end of the book, I was left wondering if his final actions contributed to her death. This book deals with family, a mother who fails to deal with her son's insecurities and demons, a father who appears slightly inept and bumbles his way through life. As an adult the narrator is full of hate and anger against his mother and life in general. The way in which the narrator deals with his dying mother is harsh. But this harshness is also found in the life of the young boy. As I read this book, I was left wondering if the mother put her young son in the freezer to teach him a lesson or if it was the imagination of the young boy.To me, this book works very well as it is about family. It could be about any family found in any place in the world. The eight year old narrator could be anyone's child. The author successfully uses everyday characters and situations and places which works and helped draw me into the book.Did I find this book hard to read? Yes, I did. It was very disturbing and it left a deep impression in my mind which I will carry for a while. Despite this, I am glad that I finished this book and its ending did not let me down in any way. This book is not for the beach, neither is it a light read, but it is definitely worth the read.This was Jon Bauer's first novel and I hope he writes more as I would find myself compelled to read them.
Part 3 of my three part comments on my own reading during 2011. Non-Fiction was the first in the series with Adult Fiction second. This is my Children's and Young Adult or Teen reads. Some great fantasy is being published in the Teen section and I do enjoy the reads.I read a lot of books over the last year, approximately 290 of which I noted from the library.Of all the books I read from the library some stood out, I couldn't pick a small number but I'm going to put them into themes and pick the best of that theme. Sometimes it's hard to pick just one, the first listed is my favourite, the rest are in no particular order. This isn't a definitive list, it's a list of books that are readable alone or are the start of a series, that I read during 2011, that stood out above the others and that I would recommend to others.ChildrensThere are no cats in this book - Viviane Schwarz - a charming picture book about cats trying to escape the book.Young Adult - a variation on Cinderella that surprised me and that I did really like. Ash is a well-rounded character and her choices aren't obvious.Ingo - Helen Dunmore - what if your family was descended from the merfolk and what if you got a chance to go visit the sea, which world would you stay with? Excellent readImpossible - Nancy Werlin - complicated re-telling of a fairy story that requires the heroes to research the stories to save themselvesBeing - Kevin Brooks - a boy discovers what he thinks he knows about himself isn't the truth, an interesting exploration about life and living.Foundling - D M Cornish - half of the book is taken up with an encyclopedia about the world, the rest is an interesting start to a series with an orphan boy trying to find out his role. The Real Rebecca - Anna Carey - a girl tries to define herself when faced with a badly drawn version in her mother's fiction.If I stay - Gayle Forman - a girl lies close to death and has to make the choice between life and death. Touching and very readable.Dragonfly Pool - Eva Ibbotson - a lovely story about an eccentric boarding school and war in Europe.Re-ReadsOrdinary Princess - M M Kaye - this was a childhood favourite and illustrated by the author. A look at what would happen if a princess was gifted with being ordinary. A lovely story.
I was intending to post this earlier this week, and then I got laryngitis and my doctor determined that I needed rest, so here's part 2 of my 2011 favourites. Fiction, of a more adult nature, post 1 was Non-Fiction and post 3 will be Young Adult and Children'sI read a lot of books over the last year, approximately 290 of which I noted from the library.Of all the books I read from the library some stood out, I couldn't pick a small number but I'm going to put them into themes and pick the best of that theme. Sometimes it's hard to pick just one, the first listed is my favourite, the rest are in no particular order. This isn't a definitive list, it's a list of books that are readable alone or are the start of a series, that I read during 2011, that stood out above the others and that I would recommend to others.Adult FictionSpirit Thief - Rachael Aaron - Eli Monpress is a charmer and this fantasy novel sucked me in. Surprisingly deep.What happens in London - Julia Quinn - light but enjoyable romantic fluff, my first Julia Quinn and not my lastGone-Away World - Nick Harkaway - messed up SF, near future novel.Chasing Fire - Nora Roberts - during the fire season a female firefighting captain has to deal with a firebug and romance. Nora Roberts remains a favourite writer, nothing too deep but I find her consistently readable.Black Swan Rising - Lee Carroll - interesting Urban fantasy taking a different twist on some of the tropes. Graphic NovelsWhile some of the graphic novels I read were more young adult or childrens, these two are pretty graphic but worthwhile reads. - the story of Crecy by one of the footsoldiers. Nasty, brutish and graphic, but true to life.Charley's War : Great Mutiny - Pat Mills et al., this is an iconic series, brutal and realistic, a good one to start discussion on World War I, this one is part of a series, but it does stand alone. You'll want to read the others after it.Re-ReadsGame of Thrones by George R R Martin - inspired by the series, I found it less of a slog the second time through. Stark, brutal fantasy series.Marsha Mellow and Me - Maria Beaumont - what if, on a dare, you wrote a novel that then was embarrassingly, wildly popular. I laughed my way through it both times.