I THINK that books are the perfect Christmas gift and I’m always happy to recommend them.
The only problem is trying to narrow down my list of favourites. This year was a particularly good one.
There were some wonderful novels published this year, including Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (and this just won Irish Book of the Year); The Narrow Land by the always-marvellous Christine Dwyer Hickey (which is set in Cape Cod in 1950); The Jewel by Neil Hegarty which centres around the theft of a painting from a gallery in Dublin; Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout, which is her follow-up to Olive Kitteridge and the Booker-longlisted The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy.
Fans of the short story should also pick up a copy of Grand Union, the first collection of stories by Zadie Smith and Boulevard Wren and Other Stories by Blindboy Boatclub.
Essays have become so popular in the past few years and if you love essays as much I do, make sure you read Constellations by Sinead Gleeson and Make It Scream, Make It Burn by New York-based writer Leslie Jamison.
Poetry lovers will be delighted to receive copies of the new collections from Irish poets, including Enda Wyley and Peter Sirr. Stephen Sexton won the Forward Prize for his debut collection If All The World And Love Were Young. This autumn Belfast poet Frank Ormsby was announced as the new Ireland chair of poetry and his new collection The Rain Barrell has just been published.
For the sports fan in your life Richie Sadlier’s biography Recovering has received well-earned praise and I’ll also be interested to read Joe Schmidt’s Ordinary Joe over Christmas. Something In The Water, Kieran McCarthy’s behind-the-scenes look at the extraordinary success of Skibbereen Rowing Club is a great read, and for younger sports fans Eimear Ryan has written a book on the legendary Cora Staunton for younger readers.
Crime readers need look no further than Cork for their terrifying fix as there are so many writers, either from Cork or living in Cork, about this year. I can heartily recommend Darkest Truth by Catherine Kirwan, Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard and I Confess by Alex Barclay (who lives in Beara).
Fabulous YA (young adult) novels published this year include Meat Market by Juno Dawson, a story of the fashion industry from the perspective of a teen model; the spooky tale of two sisters Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Deirdre Sullivan, and Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain who is the Seamus Heaney Children’s Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland.
And for the smallies I’ve fallen in love with How Will Santa Find Us? by Shane O’Brien and Stephen Rogers, the story of a family who loses their home a week before Christmas.
On my own Christmas wishlist are Winter Papers, the annual anthology edited by Kevin Barry and Olivia Smith, and Correspondences, which is a call to end direct provision, edited by poet Jessica Traynor and actor Stephen Rea, who have paired writers, photographers and visual artists in the direct provision system in Ireland with Irish artists and writers.
And if I could only pick just one book it would be Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession. It’s an absolutely gorgeous tale of the friendship between two men and the book is both really gentle and funny, just like the two main characters. I read it earlier this year when it was just published and I still think about it all the time. For me that’s the sign of a great book – when it stays with you.
So head on down to your local bookshop – and West Cork has some of the best. Happy Christmas and Happy Reading!
Eimear O’Herlihy is the festival director of West Cork Literary Festival, a weeklong series of readings, workshops, seminars and family events that takes place in Bantry every summer.
The next festival will run from July 10th to 17th. The line-up will be announced on www.westcorkliteraryfestival.ie in the spring.