Summer time and the reading is plenty

A selection for summer reading

Summer is a time for relaxing, for the family and friends, and for having the time to actually do what one would like to do. So for many people it is a time to catch up on their reading, to explore the world ñ and themselves ñ through books. Here are some suggestions for summer reading of a varied nature…


Treasured and Transformed

by Daniel O’Leary

(Columba Books, €14.99/£11.99)

Here in a sense is the ideal spiritual book for summer reading. Author Daniel O’Leary focuses on the power of dreaming to transform oneself, and by doing so transform the lives of others. In  summer we become conscious of the beauty of the world, with the shining sun, brilliant green, the ebb and flow of the sea, and the time to enjoy it all.

But the beauty of creation O’Leary suggests is merely a reflection of that inner beauty which should all aim to seek out and discover. We have to become explorers of our own inner territory in order to explore the world. 

“Now you will begin to perceive yourself and the world in a shockingly delightful way,” Danile O’Leary writes. “You will discern the love and meaning in all your experiences, even the painful ones – especially the painful ones.

Instead of being diminished by your suffering, your vision will become profound and wise, your imagination will amaze you, your delight in life will flourish, your capacity to love deeply will flood your mind and heart, no matter what. And that beautiful ‘Catholic imagination’ will nourish the souls of those around you.”


The Broken Road

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

(John Murray, €12.99/£9.99)

Patrick Leigh Fermor is the justly famous author of some of the best travel books of the last century.

This book is the final part, published posthumously, that rounds out his recreation of walking across Europe in the 1930s, begun in The Time of Gifts and The Way Through the Woods. His destination was supposed to be Constantinople, but as the title reveals he ends in Mount Athos.

This place of retreat seems a very fitting conclusion, for the author was in love, not so much with Byzantium and ancient imperial glory, but in the eternal verities of Greece itself, in life, art, philosophy and religion. Written oddly enough before the other books but never completed due to a catastrophic writer’s block that marred his last years, it now appears to the delight of all readers interested in understanding something of the Europe we have lost.


Hard Choices

by Hilary Clinton

(Simon & Schuster, €11.99/£9.99 pb)

For the serious political buff this is the read of the summer. Whether Hilary Clinton will run for the White House remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma. This book recounts her experiences as American Secretary of State, dealing directly with the foreign affairs of the United States.

This is one of the most sensitive yet often over exposed roles in modern government. The need to provide that instant response, yet to maintain long standing relationships which often carry with them obligations that the US has, in effect, no control over.

She talks of the need to deliver prosperity and security for the world, but this all too often has a hollow ring in many parts of the world, such as Africa and the Middle East where both poverty and lack of security often arise form decisions made far away from the people involved.

This will be an essential book to aid an understanding of the future candidate’s mind.

But the reader will have to assess whether this liberal Democratic agenda will carry its full appeal to a very fractured and unhappy America. But on reading this one feels in the end Hilary Clinton lacks the warm appeal of husband Bill, to whom peace in Ireland owes so much.


The Price of Power

by Pat Leahy

(Penguin Ireland, €18.99/£14.99)

For those still absorbed in the current of Irish politics Pat Leahy’s book about the inner tensions of the present coalition will make an absorbing read, as riveting as his account of Fianna Fail in Government as the economy collapsed. Not exactly escapist reading, but necessary perhaps.


The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle over a Forbidden Book

by Peter Finn

(Harvill Secker, €25.00/£20.00)

In 1956 Boris Pasternak, who had a recognised place in modern Russian literature as a poet, but was not otherwise widely known, passed to Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, the Marxist publisher in Milan, the manuscript of a novel on which he had been working for many years, and which it had proved impossible to publish within the Soviet Union.

The Soviet government tried to put pressure on the publisher and failed and the novel was published to universal acclaim in 1958. Then the CIA printed a clandestine Russian language version which was published illegally with the Soviet Union. The poet became the victim of the power struggle between the two empires.

Drawing on formerly secret files, this is a fascinating account of how artists and writers are endlessly manipulated for political gain.

The CIA, as we now know, had its hand in many cultural pies.

The novelist Peter Matthiessen who died recently revealed that when he founded The Paris Review he was a CIA agent. Encounter, also a much admired magazine of culture, was also sustained by CIA money. Even poetry it seems cannot escape the baleful taint of power politics.

I suspect that many people know the novel only through its film version – fair enough, but the book itself remains an ambiguous masterpiece, very much a poet’s vision, the turmoil of war shot through with elements of the eternal Russian sensibility to beauty and religion.


The Hairy Bikers Asian Adventure: Over 100 Amazing Recipes from the Kitchens of Asia to Cook at Home

Si King and Dave Myers

(Weidenfeld & Nicholson,  €11.50/£9.00)

An entertaining collection of dishes, many suited to outdoor cooking, which will enliven the summer season. Not all Asia cooking is red hot curry or over chillied Thai food.

Many cultures provide subtle flavour food, largely distinguished by its use of fresh fish and vegetables. While trailing round the roads of Asia by motorcycle may not be possible, the recipes will provide a varied taste of Asia.

In any case the Hairy Bikers, at least on TV, are more fun than some of the other ghastly celebrity chiefs who are imposed on us these days, naming no names. Some days one longs for a revival of Mary Frances Keating!


Ma, Jackserís Dying Alone

by Martha Long

(Mainstream, €9.99/£7.99)

This is the seventh and final instalment in the continuing story of Martha Long’s heroine. All have been most successful, but this book has a striking twist to its tale.

Learning her childhood abuser is dying, the girl hopes she can witness his last pains and delight in them. But the experience turns out not to be as she expected. As she sits with him, she realises that before her is frail, dying old man, facing dissolution with fear and trembling. This puts her experience and his life into a very different perspectives.

Not perhaps everyone’s kind of story, but one which will awaken many echoes for Catholic readers of how we are told we should relate to others with a sense of forgiveness. A very moving book.


The Miniaturist

Jessie Burton

(Picador, €16.50/£12.99)

This is a debut novel, but one which has been widely praised for its atmospheric treatment of the theme.

The Dutch interiors, so familiar from paintings, here become the setting in the house and in the miniature doll’s house version of it, the setting for a playing out of the injunction of St Luke that “there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed” illustrated in the twisting of the plot.

For many readers this will be the novel of the summer. An actress by training, Jessie Burton brings a sense of both the dramatic and the historical to bear in her first book.

Naella Ottoman comes to live in the house of a rich merchant as the outcome of an arranged marriage. But with the apparatus of a gothic novel, the plot, with perhaps a little too much modern sensibility displayed, develops.


Northanger Abbey

by Val McDermid 

(The Borough Press, €23.99 / £18.99)

This is a ‘reimagining’ of  the Jane Austen novel, the second in a series. This may seem a strange sort of project, but the result, with the abbey now set in the Scottish Borders, a far cry from the genteel settings of Jane Austen’s original. But this novel too is great fun, which indeed is what a summer read should be. But having read it, maybe readers might return to the original model, a book which like all Jane Austen’s work retains its shocking power while entertaining.


Chestnut Street

by Maeve Binchy

(Orion, €11.50 / £9.00)

A last look round the Binchy estate so to speak in this set of tales concerning the varied residents of Chestnut Street, which readers of Minding Frankie will recall is just around the corner from St Jarlath’s Crescent.

These are warm and entertaining tales of the kind of suburban life which was very much Maeve Binchy’s special realm.

Her characters are often familiar, which makes them appealing, but what happens to them is often unexpected and dramatic in varied ways. Fans will certainly enjoy this but perhaps there are more tales to come from her long career as writer which may have been overlooked.

An example is the recently published Maeve’s Times (Orion, £7.99), which collects some of her articles from the Irish Times.

Can we look forward to Maeve’s Travels too, collecting those “little travel articles” with which she really began her career?


The Club at Eddyís Bar

by Zoltán Böszörrményi

(Phaeton Publishing, €25.25 / £19.99)

This is an interesting exploration of the state of Eastern Europe since the fall of communism, in many ways it echoes the atmosphere of a 1930s novel, but yet is right up to date in the attitudes to society and politics and money. This is a world which the author, a former journalist turned industrialist, turned novelist knows well.

His plot draws on his own experiences in a broad way, with escape and exile in Canada in particular, yet he remains very much engaged with the day to day reality of Romania and Hungary, but his novel tells the readers a great deal indeed about mentalities which in the coming years they may well need to know a great deal more about.

Unusual and esoteric, but one for the adventurous summer reader.


Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults

Irish Episcopal Conference

(Veritas, €24/£19.99)

This is perhaps the most important book of Catholic interest to be published this summer. While such a book, which runs to some 700 pages, may seem inappropriate summer reading, it ought to be borne in mind that an extended holiday period may in fact be the very best time for some busy people to come to terms with the book, its purpose and its content. There is also available Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults Study Guide (Veritas, €9.99/£8.49) which many will find a useful aid in their reading of the full catechism.

Many people tend to think, and argue, that a catechism is an instrument for teaching children. The dependence of many adult Irish Catholics on vaguely recollected passages from the old green catechism is hardly sufficient to inform and shape the faith of the mature Christian today. This book, while aspects of its presentation will see new to many, has been tailored specifically for the adult Irish situation. It is worth recalling here the appropriate words of the famous Dutch Catechism, one of the first of these modern expositions of the faith for adults, not just to repeat their faith but to renew it daily.