Getting that festive reading may be harder than usual this year — just when bookshops thought they were past the worst of it, paper shortages around the world, Brexit-related delays, and supply chain issues put a key to work. Buy early is the message I like to add, buy local, be patient. Like the rest of us, booksellers do their best in less than ideal conditions. But still, there’s plenty of literature to get you excited about Christmas this year, whether you’re looking for a plush gift book, stocking filler, or a page turner to stave off the winter blues.
Elizabeth Strout Hey William! (Penguin, £14.99) It takes us back to the world of Lucy Barton, and it won’t come as a surprise to fans of the Maine author that this was the best book I’ve read all year. Telling the story of Lucy’s first husband, William, and his as yet undiscovered past, it’s everything we’d expect: sparing, deep, subtle, heartbreaking.
Closer to home, Colm Toibin at his best with the magician (Penguin, £18.99), a novel about the life of Thomas Mann, while Claire Keegan Little things like this (Faber, £10) is a slick, skilfully told novel about a coal merchant whose family struggles to survive in the run-up to Christmas 1985, and Magdalen’s laundry casts a shadow over society.
In lighter fare, Aisling’s books just got even more charming. in the most recent, Aisling and the city By Emer MyLysaght and Sarah Breen (Gild, €14.99), our beloved heroine takes on New York, with hilarious results.
Fans of the genre will enjoy Shadow sounds: 300 Years of Irish Fiction: A History in Stories (Hodder & Stoughton, £25). Edited by John Connolly, it takes the lives of more than 60 writers—from Swift to Stoker to Jane Casey and Liz Nugent—and puts them alongside the stories they wrote.
crime / thriller
It didn’t take long for Covid-19 to find its way into the imagination. Catherine Ryan Howard, starting a queue at the supermarket the week the epidemic reached Ireland 56 days (Corvus, £14.99) He asks if the shutdown created an opportunity for someone to commit the perfect crime.
Back in time, Colson Whitehead Harlem Shuffle (The Fleet, £16.99) is a vibrant crime thriller set in 1960s Harlem. With the gurgle of social change and the buzz of upward mobility, a half-crooked furniture salesman is drawn into crime.
Silverview By John le Carré (Viking, £20), she is a cat and mouse chase from a seaside town of East Anglia to the Eastern Bloc. Published 10 months after his death, it represents a fitting definitive work for a master of spy fiction.
Two particularly handsome anthology this year tomorrow is beautiful By Sarah Crosan (Editor) (Bloomsbury, £12.99) and Domestic Wonders: Poems from Our Immediate Surroundings By Pat Buran (Editor) (Daedalus, €25). The former clings to Crossan’s belief that “poetry should serve all” and includes “poems to comfort, uplift, and delight” by Langston Hughes, Mary Oliver, Maya Angelou, and others, while the latter celebrates the rediscovery of precious places, with new poems from across the island and beyond.
Songwriter Imelda May’s first poetry collection, Lick and promise (Faber & Faber, £22) Contains 100 poems, including You Can’t Be Racist and Irish, written in support of Black Lives Matter. Derek Mahon fans will be happy about it Poems (1961-2020) (Gallery Press, €35). It gives a wide-ranging view of the career of a Belfast poet, collecting poems he would have liked to read from the forty-year period.
Memoirs / Biography
It might say something about Irish humor that the funniest book I’ve read all year was Did you hear that Mami died? (Fleet, £16.99). Séamas O’Reilly’s memoir of growing up among 10 siblings in Northern Ireland in the wake of the passing of his witty and warm mother, and a book that I will present to my father as my best friend.
Catherine Corliss wrote historical memoirs in Belonging: A Memoir of Place, Beginnings, and One Woman’s Search for Truth and Justice for Twin Children (Hachette Ireland, £15.99). It tells her personal story, as well as the individual accounts of some of the many survivors of the home of a twin mother and her child.
For the Politics Geeks, Gary Murphy HOGI (Gil, €27.99) presents a reassessment of the life and legacy of a former taoiseach, while the lives of the performers are explored in the biographies of musician Martin Hayes – Shared notes: Musical Journey (Transworld, £20) – and comedian Billy Connolly – Windy and interesting: my autobiography (Two ways, £25).
in a We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Ireland (Head of Zeus, £25), Fintan O’Toole takes, as a starting point, the year he was born (1958), and records and reflects on the changes this country has seen since then.
Frank McDonald’s A little history of Dublin’s future (Martello, £12.99) charts the evolution of our capital, from Viking origins, to the ‘Dublin of the future Abercrombie’, and the failures, successes and potentials of today’s Dublin.
Following the success of Old Ireland in Color, John Breslin and Sarah Ann Buckley old ireland in color 2 (Mercrion Press, €24.95), delves deeper into our historical archives, coloring over 150 photos and bringing ancient Ireland to life.
The classy approach of history writers is that of Mark Henry In Truth: An Optimist’s Guide to Ireland at Age 100 (Gil, 24.99 euros). It charts 100 years of the Irish nation through facts and stats, and is perfect for navigating through a fire.
Fans of sports bios have a lot to look forward to this year, with Kerry footballer, Aidan O’Mahony, taking us through his personal and athletic journey in Unbroken: A Journey of Adversity, Mental Strength, and Fitness (Hachette Ireland, £14.99), while Peter Schmeichel has charted his successful goalkeeping career alongside the fascinating story of his family in First: my autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, £20).
From Liam Brady to Robbie Keane, Anne O’Brien, Stephanie Roach and more, Barry Landy traces the fortunes of Irish footballers and managers who are making their mark outside Ireland and Britain, in Emerald Exiles: How the Irish Made Their Mark on the World (New Island, €17.95).
High End / Big Spending
Anyone looking to receive a special reward might think Songs: 1956 to present By Paul McCartney and Paul Muldoon (Editor) (Allen Lane, €80). A two-volume book complete with a slip case, he collects never-before-seen drafts, letters, and photographs, charting McCartney’s life through song.
greater than the door sill, Coastal Atlas of Ireland By Robert Defoe, Val Cummins, Barry Brent, Darius Bartlett and Sarah Kandrut (Editors) (Cork University Press, €59) blends history and geology to give a comprehensive picture of the Irish coast, while Irish work (RRB Photobooks, £75) Focusing on photographer Tom Wood’s relationship with Ireland, it contains more than 200 photos, taken between 1972 and 2019.
Beautiful biography is Miss Dior: A Story of Courage and Fashion Design By Justin Picardie (Faber & Faber, £25). “How the polished surface of fashion hides the hidden depths” explores through the story of Catherine Dior, a member of the burgeoning Dior family and the hero of unexpected resistance.
Dinosaur Cure Written by James Stewart and WK. Romy (Sick) (Harper Collins, £8.99) is a fun and exciting humorous thriller about dinosaurs navigating the intricacies of life. It grew out of the successful web story @dinosandcomics.
for presentation phobia, Everything I know about life I learned from PowerPoint Written by Russell Davies (Profile Books, £14.99) is an easy-to-thumb book about the art of PowerPoint presentation. Divided into sections like PowerPoint Saved My Life, PowerPoint Rules the World and PowerPoint Easy, it’s colorful and uncomplicated.
A little on the shiny side are: In Kiltumper: A Year in an Irish Garden by Niall Williams and Kristen Brin (Bloomsbury, £18.99), and Decoration Abundance: The Essential Guide to Designing Your Home By Laura de Barra (£16.99). The first is a celebration of life in the Irish countryside, for a husband who left New York for Kiltember 34 years ago. And after reading the latter, I not only want to help the goddess of spear remodel my house, I want her to run my life.
Will McPhail has been drawing cartoons for The New Yorker since 2014, and his first graphic novel, in a (Scepter, £18.99), shows a young painter who can’t relate to people. It’s stylish, funny, fresh and affectionate.
rarityWritten by Nick Roach (IDW Publishing, €18.19), it is a popular horror film set in modern-day Ireland. Illustrated by Chris O’Lorran, he reflects on fatherhood through the story of a group of parents who accidentally free a malevolent entity from under their kindergarten.
For Avengers fans, The Avengers William Shakespeare: The Complete Works By Ian Doscher and Danny Schlitz (Sick) (Quirk Books, £27.99), showing all four Avengers films as Shakespeare plays. It contains original counter and poetry, theatrical directions, and amusing Easter eggs, that’s how the poet would have wanted it, Thinking Mayth.
classic poem Twas the night before Christmas By Clement C Moore (Walker Books, £12.99), brought to life by the artwork of one of Ireland’s beloved illustrators, PJ Lynch, and will suit children aged 4+.
For children aged 7-9, a new translation of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Olga Tokarczuk’s first children’s book, lost soul (Antonia Lloyd-Jones, tr., Joanna Concejo, Ill.) (Seven Stories Press, £16.99) would make an attractive gift. It tells the story of a man who “worked hard and too fast and left his soul behind long ago.”
For children over 9 years old, The Great Irish Politics Book By David McCullagh, Graham Corcoran (Sick) (Jill, €24.99) is the latest in the “Great Irish…” generation series. It researches political systems, elections, voting, government, human rights, freedom of expression, and fake news.
new girl By Sinéad Moriarty (Gil, €12.99), about the friendship between an Irish girl and a Syrian girl who joins her class, will keep younger teens (12-14) reading, while older teens (15+) will feel the warmth. Precious disaster By Deirdre Sullivan (Hot Key Books, £7.99). The second in a series of totally preventable deaths, this supernatural mystery revisits twins Caitlin and Madeline, whose lives are forever changed by the horrors they faced.
For readers of all ages, Manchan Magan, the bestselling author of Thirty Two Words for the Field, along with illustrator Steve Duggan, compiled a collection of Irish words for the naturalist, in Tree dogs, tree toes and other Irish words for nature (Gil, 19.99 euros).
Books published to help charity make great gifts, and there are two notable books this year. lights on the horizon (€24.95) and Amazing Irish Airlines (35 euros). The first is a collection of prose, poetry, and photography created during the lockdown. It raises funds for HSE and NHS across the island of Ireland. The latter is a collection of wonderful flying photos taken over Ireland, created to help Saint Vincent de Paul. More information can be found at lightsthehorizon.com and irishairspectacular.ie respectively.
Now in the seventh volume, winter leaves (Curlew Editions, €40) is an annual art anthology, edited by Kevin Barry and Olivia Smith. As gorgeous on the outside as they are on the inside, they can be purchased singly or as part of a multi-volume package at winterpapers.com.
For the gift that keeps on giving, a subscription to a literary magazine is ideal. One year gift subscription to Dublin review It costs 34 euros and consists of four versions, while stinging fly It offers subscriptions to magazines only from 28 euros, or magazine and book packages from 55 euros.
trees، explain, a new ‘officially non-fiction’ biannual magazine, costs £20, with the added bonus of having a high-profile magazine early on in its concept.