At Christmas it is nice to give people a book which they will enjoy on other occasions, a book that will provide not just interest and amusement, but also insights of lasting value. Here is a small selection of books currently in the shops which we think readers may want to give or would love to receive. But a visit to your local independent bookshop will reveal many, many more. A happy Christmas and a great new year to all our readers.
And Life Lights Up, by Alice Taylor, photographs
by Emma Byrne (O’Brien Press, £19.99)
Where would the season of Christmas be without a new book from the always popular Alice Taylor?
In her latest book, Taylor guides her readers through the steps and ways to live a conscious life and focus on the goodness of the world around us.
She also inspires readers to be attentive to the here and now and embrace moments as they arise, especially the small graces of everyday life.
Gratias: A Little Books of Gratitude
by John Quinn (Veritas, €14.99)
Author John Quinn, well remembered from his RTÉ days, has edited a book that will have wide appeal. Gratias is an anthology of personal experiences, poems, memories, reflections and prayers in which expressions of thankfulness are recalled by a wide range of contributors, over a hundred of them.
The gifts of grace which inspired thanks take many forms. An inspiring book.
The Little Flower – St Therese of Lisieux: The Irish Connection
by Colm Keane and Una O’Hagan (Capel Island Books, €11.99)
The Little Flower’s blueprint for a good and fulfilling life –her “little way” – was a belief that everybody is important. Every little deed mattered. Her philosophy is as relevant today as it ever was.
Popular author Colm Keane and his wife have written an account of her, focussing on the Irish connections to her devotion.
St Thérèse’s suffering as a nun, the bullying she experienced at school, and details of her tragic death from tuberculosis at 24 are described, but so too her many miracles, including cures from cancer, arthritis and infertility.
Francis: A Life in Songs
by Ann Wroe (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)
This is an unusual book by an unusual but widely admired writer. She tells the life of St Francis of Assisi through verse.
Though this might awake in some fears of those long Tennysonian narratives of the Victorian era, Ann Wroe is a writer with a modern sensibility.
She captures here the essential spirit of the saint – himself a poet after all, whose work has never died – making this a delight to read. A book not to be missed, which will send the reader back to The Flowers itself.
by Cora Staunton (Penguin Books, £20.00)
The first-ever autobiography of a female GAA star, Game Changer will take its place as one of the most influential and powerful sports books in recent years.
Cora Staunton is an iconic figure. In this revealing autobiography, she describes her extraordinary journey from teenage novice to the highest-scoring forward in the history of Ladies Gaelic Football.
She recounts the triumphs of her career and the personal struggles that have plagued it.
Of all the sporting books published at this season, this seems to be by far the most interesting.
Prue: My All-time Favourite Recipes
by Prue Leith (Pan Macmillan, £25.00)
Prue Leith took over from Mary Barry on The Great British Bake-Off TV show. But the pair are united by a similar drive through both their careers to improve the way people cook and eat, actualities that lie at the heart of family and community.
This is, amazingly, Prue Leith’s first cookery book in 25 years, and she has woven around the recipes stories from her life.
France: A history from Gaul to de Gaulle
by John Julius Norwich (John Murray, £25.00)
This is the last book by Lord Norwich, former diplomat turned popular historian. In some 400 pages he deals with the history of a country and a culture which has long been central to the Expression of European culture in all its aspects. Like all the authors books it is driven by a personal engagement with the subject, one which began when he was taught French by his mother at the age of four. Once “the oldest daughter of the Church” France has also been many other things over all those centuries.
A Narrow Sea
by Jonathon Bardon (Gill Books, €24.99)
Scotland was the first colony of the Irish people, and this is the first history of that special relationship between Ireland and Scotland from respected historian Jonathan Bardon, based on his popular radio series.
A Narrow Sea traces how the long and complex nature of Ireland’s connections with Scotland, over the centuries, defined the relationship between these two spirited neighbours.
In 120 brief, episodic chapters, A Narrow Sea offers a sweeping overview. Moving across the centuries, from the first migrations of the regions’ Palaeolithic tribes, through the accounts cryptic and vague Greek and Roman explorers, to the incursions and settlements of the Vikings, Normans and Stuarts, this is the story of how a shared ancestry created two now very contrasting nations.
The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy
by Michael Lewis (Allen Lane, £20.99)
Traditionally we used to delight in spooky stories for Christmas. But here, recounted by a skilled and well informed journalist, is a horror story for real. This is a short book (120 pages), fast and furious and fear-filled.
The morning after Trump was elected president, the people who ran the US Department of Energy – an agency that deals with some of the most powerful risks facing humanity – waited to welcome the incoming administration’s transition team. Nobody appeared. Across the US government, the same thing happened: nothing.
People don’t notice when stuff goes right. That is the stuff government does. It manages everything that underpins our lives, but it also plans for the future not the next term, not even the next decade, but the next generation. This the present US administration does not do; rather it tries to prevent federal civil servants from doing it. Today the US government is under attack – by its own leaders.
For president Trump and his appointees, the mantra of ‘small government’ has become a matter of ‘no government’.
How the World Thinks: A global history of philosophy
by Julian Baggini (Granta, £20.00)
We tend in Europe, or at least in Ireland, to think that the way we think is the way humans all think. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The symbolic tale of the Tower of Babel, applied to thought for thought finds its expression in language
All cultures are different, and have different ways of thinking. In How the World Thinks, Julian Baggini provides a wide-ranging map of human thought.
He shows us how distinct branches of philosophy flowered simultaneously in China, India and Ancient Greece, growing from local myths and stories – and how contemporary cultural attitudes, with particular attention to the West, East Asia, the Muslim World and Africa, have developed out of the philosophical histories of their regions.
Interviewing thinkers from all around the world, he asks why, for instance, do our European systems of governments and justice differ so widely from the East? Why can Islam not easily incorporate secular knowledge? How do we understand China?
By gaining greater knowledge of how others think, we can become less certain of the knowledge we think we have, the first step to greater understanding. Many of these philosophical systems derive from religious view so this book serves as well to increase readers’ idea of other religions.
People on the Pier
by Betty Stenson & Marian Thérése Keyes (New Island, €24.95)
The authors are connected with the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown library system.
Rightly regarding the pier at Dun Laoghaire harbour as a great asset not only to the district but to the whole country they have put together a book which celebrates not so much the past and the great and the good, but the masses of ordinary people who use and enjoy the pier for all sorts of things, including (in our experience) informal rock concerts at the very end of it. A delightful and very human book.
A Short History of Europe: From Pericles to Putin
by Simon Jenkins (Viking, £25.00)
Well actually, at 400 pages, perhaps not so short, but at least concise when you consider what it covers.
As Ireland now indentifies itself with Europe, rather than with the people next door, perhaps we all need to learn a little more about the development of the continent as a whole. This may seem to some curiously old fashioned, in that it still writes of Greece as the cradle of Europe; whereas prehistorians and geographers have made us realise that this chronicle of civilisation has more to do with European elites that nations and peoples.
Many of Europe’s continuing problems lie in prehistory and in the very shape of the land and its climate.
The Balkans, for instance, with its thousands of valleys has many thousands of communities. It is in the clashes of those countless communities that the roots of Europe and its conflicts lies. Perhaps the books of Barry Cunliffe will fill out the deep backgrounds that Jenkins neglects.
Some other gems worthy pursuing…
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter
by Hazel Gaynor (HarperCollins, €14.99)
Looking for a Christmas ‘good read’, this new novel from an English-born Kildare resident writer, whose own story will doubtless encourage many others to start that novel they’re always thinking about. Those who have read Hazel Gaynor’s earlier novels will be delighted to hear of a new work.
For new comers this is a tale of two themes inspired by the legendary Grace Darling and a young American girl in modern times, united by the idea, the image of the lighthouse and of saving others.
The Lighthouses of Ireland: An Illustrated Guide to the Sentinels that Guard our Coastline
by Roger O’Reilly (The Collins Press, €24.99)
And while some in the house are reading Hazel Gaynor, here is a book that might go with it, for the rest of the family. In a way the whole experiences of Ireland is bound up with the lighthouses around our rugged and often dangerous coasts. Author Roger O’Reilly will inspire many memorable summer, or even winter, outings for families and lighthouse enthusiasts (for whatever reason) around the country.
Speeches of Note: A celebration of the old, new and unspoken
edited by Shaun Ussher (Hutchinson, £25.00)
We live in the era of the sound bite, rather than the set piece speech. And yet from the classic era onwards the rhetoric of speech has often been how great men, great events, and special moments were captured.
Think, indeed, of pages of Thucydides and Plutarch. But also such speeches as President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address – a brief oration which many modern holders of his great office would now be incapable. Shaun Usher in his elegant choice captures the span of this history, recalling people who rose to the moment with appropriate words.
Here are some of the really great examples of how words have been used in the past. Hopefully that power can be recaptured again.
by Helena Connolly (Messenger Publications, €19.95)
The cover shows an unusual view of one of the stations on Station Island in Lough Derg. It captures the feeling of this book which explores all the shrines, and sites and places associated with feelings of spirituality and of responding prayers.
Many of them are usual, or perhaps not previously as well observed as here. This is a book that lies in its images, but which will arouse many streams of thoughts and reflections in its readers.
An ideal little book the Christmas season, and a quiet reminder to us all of what the season is really about.