A selection of books for Christmas

From the piles of new books for Christmas, this week we present a selection which may interest readers of The Irish Catholic, and make for a pleasant surprise for others under the Christmas tree…

Counting My Blessings

by Francis Brennan 

(Gill & Macmillan, €14.99) 

This was one of the season’s most charming books by well-known hotelier and TV celebrity Francis Brennan. It is very funny, but also sincere and honest, and at times serious enough, a remarkable achievement. He is interesting to read on the role of faith in his life. 

Windharp: Poems of Ireland since 1916

ed. by Niall MacMonagle 

(Penguin Ireland, £20.00) 

In the century since 1916 Ireland has seen the progress of Irish poetry through the late Celtic Twilight to the late post-modernism. In his wide ranging selection of poets of all kinds and all schools (and none), Niall MacMonagle, whose name is widely associated with promoting the best of Irish poetry, has selected a very varied collection. 

Here indeed are the clamouring and the quiet voices of a hundred years of literary and social change. A real gift for the literary person in the family circle.

Give Dust a Tongue: a faith and poetry memoir

by John F Deane 

(Columba Press, €19.99)

The author is one of the few poets in Ireland to take religion and spirituality with the seriousness of poets in other eras. But he is also himself an insightful critic, so the reader gets to appreciate both sides of the creative coin. The role of the critic is to open out a work of art to understanding. Too often it is thought of as an act of destruction. But this is not the case with the truly great critics, such as Coleridge. John F. Deane is one of that company. 

SPQR: a history of ancient Rome

by Mary Beard 

(Profile Books, £25.00)

The very excellent Mary Beard has written an authoritative but accessible history of the Roman Empire, or rather as the title suggests the Senate and People of Rome. 

Well worth reading, if only because the global dimension of the Catholic Church’s ambitions, as well as its way of government, owes a great deal to an inherited memory of the Caesars. In any case essential reading for an understanding of the later history of Europe.

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

by Gerard Russell

(Simon & Schuster, £9.99)

It is all too easy to carry away the idea that the Middle East has always been a place of deep intolerance. But this is not so. Indeed, it is only since the Wahabi sect rose in what is now Saudi Arabia, sowing widely the seeds of prejudice against some Islamic traditions, let alone other groups of Christians and non-Christians, such as the Yezedi, Mandaeans and Zoroastrians. 

This book is a welcome reminder of the truth about the Middle East in all its cultural and spiritual richness. The real war of the West should not be with Iraq or Syria, but with the House of Saud.

Hallelujah: The story of a Musical Genius and the City that brought his Masterpiece to life,

by Jonathan Bardon 

(Gill & Macmillan, €20.00) 

Christmas musical events are often dominated by the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Accomplished historian Jonathan Bardon relates in this book the story of the first performance, for charity, of the Messiah in Dublin on April 13, 1742. This is a book for Dublin history buffs as well as musical enthusiasts.

1916: Portraits and Lives

ed. by Lawrence William White and James Quinn, illustrated by David Rooney 

(Royal Irish Academy, €30.00)

Here, selected out of the multi-volume Dictionary of Irish Biography, are 42 people whose lives were dominated by the events of 1916, making this a handy but highly authoritative compendium of essential up-to-the-moment scholarship on the makers of the Rising. 

Foster’s Historical Irish Oddities

by Allen Foster 

(Gill & Macmillan, €10.99) 

The latest in the quirky but well documented series by Allen Foster. A delightful bedside book filled with strange insights into what happened or didn’t happen in history. The contents owe a great deal to our native love of tall stories, or indeed any kind of story.

Between Sisters

by Cathy Kelly 

(Orion, €13.99) 

For those missing a new Maeve Binchy at this time of the year, Cathy Kelly’s novel of relations in a family life across the generations may fit the bill. 

No Borders: Playing Rugby for Ireland

by Tom English 

(Area Sport, £19.99) 

Among the season’s books on sport, this title stands out. It is more than just a nostalgic look back through the years, the author claims. It is a searing portrait of the effects of politics and religion on Irish sport, in all four provinces, a story of great schisms and volatile divisions, but also a story of the profound unity, passionate friendships and the bonds of a brotherhood. A must for the family’s sport mad member.

The Nation’s Favourite Healthy Food

by Neven Maguire (Gill & Macmillan, €22.99) 

Christmas is traditionally a time of over indulgence, many families sitting down on the 25th to their biggest meal of the year. However,  not to worry. Neven Maguire’s new book will put us back on a more or less even keel with an assortment of healthy eating recipes for all the other days of the year. His dishes are always practical, and always tempting to eat. Neven Maguire is one of the better of the celebrity chefs.

Venice to Istanbul

by Rick Stein 

(BBC Books, £25.00)

This cook’s tour of the Balkans, Greece and Turkey has been one of the television feasts of the autumn. Already some of the recipes have been tried out at home, and have worked! Like the series, the book is chatty, yet very informative. But buyers in Ireland will have to be warned that the pomegranate molasses (which is being madly sought by all foodies, having featured in it) is hard to find. Better buy hen’s teeth instead.  

And for Children…

A Dublin Fairytale

by Nicola Colton

(The O’Brien Press, €12.99)

A lovely little story by illustrator Nicola Coltin, set in a mysterious Dublin, or at least in a Dublin where the modern streets have strange things happening as little Fiona (in a red coat of course, borrowed for the occasion from another well-known tale) makes her way across a  city alive with other characters from fairy tales to her granny’s house. 

Imaginary Fred

by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers

(Harper Collins Childrens Books, £12.99)  

Oliver Jeffers has long been a must have read for Christmas. Here he teams up with Children’s Laureate Eoin Colfer, to produce a tale about that imaginary free-floating friend that so many children have, but who in this case transforms the life of a lonely little boy. 

Once upon a Place

ed. by Eoin Colfer, with illustrations by P. J. Lynch

(Little Island Books, €15.99)

Eoin Colfer again, this time in the role of editor of a collection of tales and poems from some of our leading writers for the young. Themed around a sense of place, this is a book that will provide readers with a taste of a multitude of talented tale-tellers new to them. 

Old School: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

by Jeff Kinney (€12.99) 

The tenth book in this ever popular series, and already a bestseller, author Jeff Kinney poses his school boy hero with a real problem, how to survive when his town goes ‘old school’ by going electronics free. This sees the return of the walkman and the ghetto blaster – remember them? Is this just an American nightmare, a pre-teen dystopia, adults might ask, or could such a thing be coming to a town near you?

Religion and spirituality 

The Great Reformer: Francis and the making of a radical Pope

by Austen Ivereigh 

(Allen & Unwin, £9.99pb)

This is perhaps the one vital book to be read to understand the Pope, through the life experiences that have made him the man he is, and moulded his way of thinking, so far removed from what is usually experienced and thought in the corridors of Rome, or some of the presbyteries near you.

And Catch the Heart off Guard

by Brian D’Arcy 

(Columba Press, €14.99)

After a troubling few years that caused him spiritual and physical anguish, Fr Brian D’Arcy, now in his 70th year, writes once again in his familial personal style. This book is quintessentially D’Arcy, in that it offers a collection of thoughts, reflections and stories from the heart, it is hoped that these thoughts and reflections will continue to both challenge and comfort the reader. 

All the trouble with the Vatican derived to some extent from the fact that he wrote about religion in a popular paper. But his readers all know that speaking plainly to people about what concerns them is very much his metier, or as one might say, his vocation. 

Pope Francis and the Family 

(Veritas, €9.99)

Divided thematically, this clear-sighted and engaging work sees the Pope provide wisdom and encouragement to readers everywhere, with particular emphasis on the role of the nuclear family in sharing and preserving the Gospel message.

An English Spring: Memoirs

by Cormac Murphy O’Connor 

(Bloomsbury Continuum, £20.00)

The allusion in the title is to Newman’s “second spring” and the revival of the Catholic Church in England in the 19th Century. But the spring has both blustery March, as well as flowery April, as the author realises. This is a frank and engaging memoir by a priest who is honest enough to admit he made mistakes. 

This is an important book to understand the way in which the clerical abuse scandal affected the Church in one country. It is hard to imagine one of our hierarchy writing such a book. Running through the story is Murphy-O’Connor’s passionate commitment to the family and to the community, and to the search for Christian unity.

Adding Life to Yours Years 

by Marian Byrne 

(Veritas (€14.99) 

Take note of the title: this book is not about living to 120, but of making every moment of the years you do have count. 

With warm wise words from a skilled life and parenting coach, this book may seem an unusual Christmas gift, but there is someone you know who will be only to delighted to get it – a Christmas gift that will last the whole year. 

A Treasury of Prayers

by Dinah Proctor 

(Columba Press, €12.99) 

Irish-born editor Dinah Procter has assembled a collection of prayers for all occasions “to help us to ground ourselves in God always…” These prayers provide a fresh, yet familiar, way of reflecting on our own situation and our relationship with the divine.

Sacred Space: The Prayer Books

by the Irish Jesuits 

(Columba Press, €12.99)

In its earlier editions this book has proved a popular read with many who lead busy lives, but try to maintain some time in the course of their daily round for prayer and reflection. This is a permanent form of “your daily prayer online”, for those off-line moments. 

Praise Be to You

by Fr Eamonn Conway and Cathal Barry 

(direct from The Irish Catholic, €12.99)

Somewhere under the symbolic Christmas tree there ought to be room for The Irish Catholic’s contribution to the climate change debate – or rather climate change campaign. 

As the authors observe not everyone has the time, or indeed the inclination, to read a full length papal document, which can be a difficult task at times. This guidebook clarifies the issues and the Pope’s, or rather the Church’s, response to them. 

This ought to be a key document in the years to come, and every thoughtful person needs to make themselves aware of all that is involved.