Recent books in brief

Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter your Soul

by Bill Hybels 

(Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99)

The author is an American minister, but what he recommends in this little book has universal application. Though couched in the language of modern self-help, at the heart of what he puts forward is a recognition of the importance of making room for a true spiritual dimension in one’s life.

This means, however, resisting the demands, often pointless or misleading, that work and the every-day world makes on all of us. He reduces it all at the end to a straightforward plan, but basically he wants his readers to make use of the Bible, through personally selected verses as a guide to life. This may be an unfamiliar way to many Catholics, but it is actually what we are encouraged to do so often on Sunday, but neglect for the rest of the week.


Ireland’s Harp: The Shaping of Irish Identity c. 1770-1880

by Mary Louise O’Donnell 

(UCD Press, €28.00 pb)

One of the things that visitors to the Long Room in Trinity College can see to-day is what was once called “the Brian Boru Harp”. Though it was found in Limerick in the 18th century, it became identified with a harp that the exiled son of “the Emperor of the Irish” had given to the Pope. This in turn was given by the Pope to Henry VIII, who adopted it as the national symbol when he made himself King rather than merely Lord of Ireland.

Dr O’Donnell takes up the history of this national symbol towards the end of the 18th century, and follows its multifarious use as a patriotic emblem, a sentimental association, and an adjunct to all things Irish of the Irish.  Her research into the various strands of politics, culture and commerce and both revealing and entertaining.

 But she has a serious purpose too, for the harp is after all a musical instrument, and as Thomas Moore’s minstrel boy sang (in a poem of this period) “though its songs are made for the brave and the free,/ they shall never sound in slavery”.

When independence came in 1922 the new state maintained the harp as the symbol of Ireland, but thankfully reversed it from the one which had for long been appearing on bottles of Guinness at home and abroad. This is a revealing study not just for the musically inclined, but anyone concerned with Irish popular culture and its political and social dimensions.


Danger is Everywhere 

by David O’Doherty with illustrations by Chris Judge 

(Puffin, £11.99)

A delightfully silly, but amusing book from Docter (sic) Noel Zone, which anyone on either side of 10 will greatly enjoy. Centred around the arrival of a small dog called Napkin, with various chaotic and delirious moments to follow. Funny for the kids, amusing for the grown-ups  with its nicely judged satire of the health and safety culture in which we are all forced to live these days. It would make a very nice “back to school” consolation present.