Christmas Books

Christmas Books
Our Books Editor Peter Costello makes recommendations for you to place in someone’s Christmas stocking…
Hey Grandude
by Paul McCartney (Puffin Books, £12.99)

This is a fun book which granddads of a certain age will enjoy reading with the grandchildren. It is odd to think of Paul McCartney himself as a grandfather – how times flies, but this book was inspired by and written for his own small clan, and will be widely enjoyed.

The President’s Surprise
by Peter Donnelly 
(Gill Books, €18.99)

This is the third in this surprising but delightful series by artist Peter Donnelly. Here his Excellency goes out for a walk in the Park while final preparations are underway in the Áras for his birthday.

A cup of coffee, a bit of yoga and various other diversion delay his return to home. But, as might be expected, all turns out well. Lovely and amusing stuff. It says a great deal about Irish life today that such books sell so well. Let us hope the President himself buys lots of copies

Ordinary Joe, Joe Schmidt
(Penguin Ireland, £25.00)

What with the rugby ups and downs that were in the year, it is inevitable that this book is one of the dominant books for Christmas. It is all very fine and will be greatly enjoyed, but there is a feeling perhaps that there is a great more than might be said about the inner life and thoughts of the man, and his leadership style. So we can expect more to come in future years.

But for now his book will be read by many with pleasure.

Irish International Grand Prix 1929-1931
by Bob Montgomery (Dreoilin Publications, €49.99)

RIAC archivist Bob Montgomery tells a tale of international stars performing in the Park. He recalls in loving detail the famous races in the Phoenix Park, which recall in their way the Gordon Bennett races of an earlier era. This was an all-Ireland event, however, which de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government would not support – was motor racing seen as some kind of “foreign game”. Other such races, such as the Monaco Grand Prix, prospered and continued, but not Ireland’s.

Glenstal Abbey: Through the Seasons
Photos by Valerie O’Sullivan (Columba Books, €24.99)

A lovely combination of fine photography and graceful writing about what monastic life is like, and what it aspired to.

So many people these days find the very idea of a monk’s life so strange, they never pause to ask themselves might they, in some corner of their lives, have something to learn from the Benedictines, such as the idea that work is a form of prayer. But this is also about a famous Irish institution of Ireland, which in its time as been and remains very influential.

Agent Running in the Field
by John Le Carré 
(Viking Penguin, £20.00)

The latest book from a hardy litterateur of espionage and intrigue. This one though in the present day is bubbling with anger about such things as Brexit, but all the old skills are as well honed as ever. Will be greatly enjoyed as the work of a master craftsman still on top of his skills.

Irish Countrywomen’s Association, Book of Bread and Baking
(Gill Books, €22.00)

The ICA is a good thing, and its members present here recipes straight from the rural (and perhaps not so rural) kitchens of Ireland for all kinds of baking treats. Brown bread and soda bread are joined though by recipes for sourdough bread – – so popular now with mashed avocado for a weekend brunch.

Rick Stein’s Secret France
(BBC Books, £26.00)

Rick Stein is an old favourite ours, and we have followed him around the world over the years. Unlike so many of the cooks and chefs that clutter our book shops and television screen, he has always been ready to learn from those he encounters on his travels.

How often have we seen him in earnest conversation with local cooks, his note book in hand, taking down what they have to say, rather than showing them how to cook their own local dishes.

Here he is on the by-ways of the Hexagon in search of French treats, seeking out 120 recipes that reveal “real French home cooking”.

Into the Deep by Wolfgang Dreyer
illustrated by Ainnike Siems (Prestel, £18.99)

The future of the world depends on the much abused ocean, where life began millions of years ago. This book is suggested for readers seven and up, but the lovely accurate illustration and the authoritative text by the director of Kiel Zoo are informative for any age. Saving the planet starts this moment, and here is a way to enroll your children in the crusade to save creation.

As Time Goes By
by Alice Taylor (O’Brien Press, €19.99)

Alice Taylor is one of the great phenomenons of Irish literature. Her success over the decades has been exceptional. She evokes a world of yesteryear, and yet in her own life is a fully functioning business woman, mother and local activist. A truly great woman, who is always a joy to read.

Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind
by Tom Holland (Little, Brown & Co., £25.00)

There is a great deal of negativity around about religion, and about Christianity in particular. Here, in his latest popular exposition of history, Tom Holland reminds us just what Europe, and beyond that world cultures actually owes to Christianity.

Even our forms of disbelief have been shaped by Christianity. This is a book which hopefully a lot of people will enjoy, letting his clear style fill out for them a story which has become so confused for many.

Metaphors for Change: Essays on State and Society
by Sr. Margaret MacCurtain (Arlen House, €25.00)

As a teacher, historian, activist and nun, Margaret Mac Curtain has been a leading personality in shaping aspects of thinking and public discourse. In these collection essays the essentials of her outlook on life, society and history are to be found. She is one of the historians who have worked to reveal “the hidden Ireland” in which generations of Irish women have lived. Certainly a book not just for Christmas, but for the coming year.

Unsung Hero: Tom Crean – Antarctic Survivor
by Michael Smith (Gill Books, €19.99)

This is a reissue after two decades of an already well known book. Though Tom Crean was not in fact as forgotten as the author makes out, he was certainly neglected in Ireland.

The nature of his heroic exploits somehow did not fit into the ideals of the “new Ireland”. However today, the story of his true endurance a over a century ago with Shackleton in the Antarctic is now widely admired, and provide an ideal of courage and leadership which can not only be admired, but imitated. Here is the whole tale for a younger generation.

William Dalrymple The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of Empire
(Bloomsbury, £30.00)

Many will read this fascinating account of the East India Company activities in 18th Century India and contrast them with Ireland in the same century.

The narrative is cast in a chillingly up-to-date account of ruthless colonial exploitation. But it should also be said that India has always been a country in conflict. It remains one, given the attitudes of many Hindus to the minorities of all kinds in the subcontinent (including Buddhists, Muslims and Christians). The Mughals and the British brought some good things to India, as many Indians will admit.

Hallelujah: Memoirs of a Singing Priest
by Fr Ray Kelly (Columba Books, €16.99)

The Irish over the years have always loved singing priests. Perhaps it is the seeming contrast between the expected piety and the priest’s real aim to enlarge people’s lives through “mere” entertainment. Since his breakthrough in 2014 Fr Ray Kelly has become a familiar voice, singing popular songs, and here he tells the story behind his performing life. Never discount the power of music, all music, to move and change people.

Funny Ha, Ha: 80 of the funniest stories ever written
Selected and introduced by Paul Merton (Head of Zeus, £25.00)

Dead-pan comedian Paul Merton is something of an authority on English humorists since Victorian times. In this book he collects some of his all-time favourites. Other surprises await the reader in these very varied pages. The ideal bedside book for those who have sleepless nights.

Though it is a surprise to find Somerset Maugham, unusually thought of as having a rather grim view of the world, in this gallery. But then Merton’s selection is more about the humours of the human condition than mere rib-tickling.

Return to Sender by Paul Kelly
(Gill Books, €19.99)

Those who are devotees of the famous postcards of John Hinde will delight in this book. The bright sunshine of Hinde’s warmed up Ireland (lots of red, lots of sunshine in every image) will also reveal the changes over the decades. Author Paul Kelly mixes his own family’s unusual history into a tour of rural Ireland as it was – and as it is today. Enchanting, but also a little saddening.

Stuff that Changed the World: The extraordinary history of ordinary things
by Simon Tierney (Red Stag, €14.99)

Radio (or should we say wireless in this context) will have made Simon Tierney’s style familiar to many. This is a fascinating book filled with curious information and exceptional characters – inventors are always interesting to read about.

One caveat: he depends too much on American sources; the history of invention looks very different when written about in German, French or even British English. Industrial intellectual theft began in America, as the conflict between Edison and Swan 1880s about who really invented the electric light bulb showed so well.

But this is a very enjoyable book all the same, which will inspire budding inventors of any age.

An Urban Sketcher’s Galway
by Róisin Curé (Currach Books, €22.99)

This may be for many a book to catch up with. Anyone who knew or knows the City of the Tribes will enjoy this drawing and the text.

Róisin Curé is right on the button about what this thriving, happily active city is like today. In all of Ireland this is the place to go, whatever people from Derry, Cork or Belfast tell you.

Let’s hope she does more books like this. Her publisher should send her to Kilkenny for the New Year.

Sending Positive Vibes
Fr Bryan Shortall (Columba Books, €12.99)

Christians and the New Year should, like this book, promote a positive feeling in everyone, whatever their outlook.

This little book will provide readers of many ages with something meaningful to carry into the coming year and the new decade, and so perhaps leave bedding the rancour and division that has mounted up around over the last few years. Fr Shortal’sl message too is one of “Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all people”.

A Happy Christmas and Joyful New Year to all the readers of these book pages.