January Reads

For me January is a month to go into a little hibernation mode after the joys and excesses of the Christmas season. Regular exercise and a good diet is a great start but for me chilling at weekends in front of a fire and not running around is a wonderful way to recharge your batteries.

First things first – reading. I have gotten through 3 books now this month and am on my fourth. So in order of reading them:

Enduring Love by Ian Mc Ewan

Enduring love

I have read several of Ian Mc Ewan’s books including Atonement, Amsterdam and Saturday, but I found this totally different from his other work. It’s an older book, first published back in 1997 and the plot concerns two strangers who become perilously entangled after witnessing a deadly accident. It’s a slim book but packs an enormous punch and I would highly recommend it for the thrill alone.

This Is How It Ends by Kathleen Mac Mahon

this is how

I got this for Christmas and I was really excited to read it after hearing so much hype around it (the first time author received a two book advance of over €700,000 and is the grand daughter of writer Mary Lavin) and while I enjoyed parts of it, I wasnt blown away. The characters are well developed if a little cliched in parts fitting neatly in stereotyped boxes and the plot was predictable. All in all, an underwhelming read but to be fair perhaps expectations were set a little too high to start with.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of The Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

yearold

A funny and fast paced novel following the 100 year old hero Allan Karlsson as he dashes an escape from his nursing home and embarks on a comic crime spree through Sweden picking up equally ludicrous accomplices along the way. The novel also manages to cleverly take in all the major events of the 20th century and the lead character’s role in them. Funny, entertaining and well worth a read.

I am currently reading Claire Kilroy’s The Devil I Know and while I am only a few chapters in, the writing and dialogue is excellent and I am looking forward to getting stuck into it more. It is a pretty savage satire on Ireland’s property boom so a good reminder of the excesses and tasteless extravagance of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’. Feels like a distant memory now in the heart of austerity.

On an aside, the house is falling down with books but it’s one thing I find it hard to part with so I have decided I need a Book Barn kind of like this one –  Baldwin’s Book Barn, an 1822 building in West Chester, Pennsylvania which has five floors of books, pretty realistic goal don’t you think?

Below are some images to ogle for book lovers.

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Christmas books I would love in my stocking

I’ll add to this list over the coming weeks as books are one present I look forward to every year at Christmas. I am starting out with this collection of short stories below!

Alice Munro – Dear Life

dear life

Canadian author, Alice Munro is one of those rare writers who sticks to the short story and doesn’t bother with novels. Just to read some of her stories, it’s easy to see that she has perfected the craft to such an extent that authors such as Margaret Atwood, who wrote the superb and affecting The Handmaid’s Tale, said of Munro that fellow writers ‘whisper her name in hushed tones’, so revered is she. Munro has been publishing collections of short stories for decades and when she won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009, it was widely seen as long overdue.

Her latest collection, Dear Life, instantly is unique in that it seems to be her most personal work to date featuring autobiographical stories, rare coming from an author who never speaks about herself or grants interviews. Each of these 14 stories are like mini novels in themselves and need to be read slowly and deliberately.

After the first 10 short stories, she inserts a single paragraph on an otherwise blank page, under the heading, Finale: “The final four works in this book are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last – and the closest – things I have to say about my own life.”

Reviews have ranged from ‘life changing’ to ‘spectacular’ which makes this collection firmly at the top of my Christmas wish list.

I would love to hear any more recommendations for good books for over the holidays.

National Book Award Winners 2012 Announced #nbaward12

Competition was so stiff in 2012, the finalists alone read like a Pulitzer Prize Hall of Fame and the competition was described as “unusually competitive”. Finalists included Junot Diaz who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008 with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao which I read and really enjoyed. He got into the finalists gang this year with his latest work This Is How You Lose Her.

Also on the finalists list was Dave Eggers, frequently cited as one of the most gifted writers in American contemporary literature. I have read just one of his books Zeitoun about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and it is so powerful, he was up for his latest book A Hologram for the King. It’s set in Saudi Arabia and concerns an American businessman who’s travelled to the country in an attempt to revive his flagging career. The full list of finalists is available here

But onto the winners for this year – some good book club picks and Christmas present ideas below.
FICTION: The Round House by Louise Erdich
The Round House is a novel about a teenage boy’s effort to investigate an attack on his mother on a North Dakota reservation, and his struggle to come to terms with the violence in their culture. She accepted the award in part in her Native American language and said she wanted to acknowledge “the grace and endurance of native women.”
Pretty impressive result for Katherine Boo considering this is her debut novel however this is the same Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Katherine Boo who writes for The New Yorker so maybe not so surprising. It is described as a deeply affecting account of the life of families living in the slums around Mumbai.
YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE: Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
Another great result from a debut novel. Goblin’s Secrets is described as ‘breaking the mold’ in chikdren’s books. The story is set in the town of Zombay and centres around Rownie, a little boy who joins a theatrical troupe of goblins to find his missing brother Rowan. Aimed at ages 8+
The 88-year-old Ferry, whose collection swirls around the questions — both essential and superficial — of our mortal lives, teared up as he accepted his award, admitting that he didn’t think he had a chance to win because of his age, and calling the award a ”pre-posthumous” honor. The judges praised his work as ”singing about the human condition as casually and ferociously as it is lived.”

Honourary prizes were given to New York Times publisher and chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr and novelist Elmore Leonard.

Each winner receives £6,300 and were chosen from a list of 1300 books on the original submission list in the 63rd annual National Book awards.

The Sisters Brothers – a great read

I have just finished Man Booker nominated The Sisters Brothers by Canadian Patrick deWitt and I have to say, it is a great journey of a read from start to finish. Set in 1851 as the gold rush swept the American frontier this is a classic Western which follows the fate of two brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters, on the trail of an elusive prospector.

What really makes an impact is how dexterously deWitt gets under the skin of these two characters. Sure there’s violence, it’s a Western after all, but the book really gives an insight into what a bizarre and strange time this was. A particularly memorable scene is the arrival of the brothers into San Francisco where the first person they encounter is a man walking barefoot through the streets stroking a chicken having been driven mad by the lust for gold and surrounding decadence and deabauchery in the city.

Featuring plenty of action packed into short and punchy chapters this is a quick and engaging read. Even those who do not consider themselves fans of westerns, this will draw you in from the first page as deWitt himself admits he is not a big fan of westerns.

DeWitt’s first novel, Ablutions, was published in 2009, and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice so that is going to be next on my list. Anyone else have nay recommendations?

World Book Night

Over 1 million books will be given away in the next 24 hours to celebrate World Book Night which is being held this year in Ireland, the UK and the US.

Today, April 23 is also UNESCO’s World Book Day, chosen due to the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, as well as Shakespeare’s birth and death.

The aim of this initiative is to reach ‘reluctant readers’ so each year 25 titles are chosen and the 1,000,000 books are distributed throughout the community with half donated directly to hospitals, prisons and care homes, and the other half distributed amongst individuals in communities.

Titles on this year’s list include: Room by Emma Donoghue, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Misery by Stephen King and A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens.

The full list and more information on how to get involved is available here

Graham Greene

Graham Greene is one of my all time favourite authors. I absolutely loved The Heart of the Matter, Brighton Rock, The Power & the Glory, Our Man in Havana and The Quiet American. His writing and characters just suck me in and I find myself thinking about them for weeks and sometimes even years afterwards.

So I picked up The End of the Affair recently and was so excited about starting it as it was one of his better known I had never got to read and I have to say – I was so disappointed. It just didnt seem, to me, like vintage Greene. As always the writing and descriptive phrases were excellent but the characters while flawed and interesting, just never seemed to come alive to me.

I read a paper then where Greene admitted that The End of the Affair was his least favourite book and he was never happy with it even though it was very popular at the time of its release. I guess writers like everyone else just have off times but that still wont put me off Greene. In my eyes he is still in a league of his own but I would leave The End of the Affair to one side for now.

Want to be in with a chance to win €10,000?

If you like writing and want to be in with a chance to enter the Powers and Irish Times short story competition this year then read on. The task is to write a short story of no more than 450 words and you could win €10,000 and the chance to get published in an anthology of short stories to appear later this year.

This year’s theme is “Celebrating what truly matters”. It can be about anything within that theme – love, friendship, a special person or place, a moment that changed your life, an episode that mattered, something that makes you happy or sad, furious or philosophical. And the rules specify that the story doesn’t have to hark back to the past but can be about  the here and now, exploring what truly matters to us in 2012.

The closing date for the competition is the 17th of April and the winner will be announced and published by the 26th of May in The Irish Times Magazine. More details here including tips from established writers.