Tuesday 25 October 2016

Radio review: Book chat proves that no news is good news

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30

Shane Coleman of Newstalk
Shane Coleman of Newstalk

The slot on Newstalk's Sunday Show in which famous names are invited to choose their five favourite books offers a welcome respite from the relentless tyranny of rolling news. Presenter Shane Coleman has the confidence to let his guests speak without interruption, not feeling the need to show off his own knowledge. This in turn allows them to reveal a different side to their public persona.

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Last week, it was the turn of screenwriter and political analyst Eoghan Harris. He talked animatedly about everything from his love for Just William to his lack of patience for self-indulgent literary fiction which dispenses with plot.

Frank O'Connor's account of his time in the anti-Treaty IRA in turn prompted a timelessly relevant exchange on the "upper class Patty Hearst types" who "fall in love with terrorist groups for intellectual reasons and then find themselves in the company of psychopaths."

Most of all, there was Aristotle's Poetics, "the single most important book of my life", by which Hollywood still swears to this day as a template for disciplined and satisfying narrative structure. As always with Harris, good storytelling and good politics go seamlessly hand-in-hand.

"I could listen to you all day," Coleman said with genuine warmth at the end, and it was obvious that he meant it.

Icelandic writer Sjon touched on many of the same themes when he appeared on Tuesday's Free Thinking on BBC Radio 3. Speaking of how cinema was long seen as a "low art" by cultural arbiters, for example, he noted: "I love the fact that while the cultural elite and high class of Reykjavik were going to the theatre, watching outdated Danish living room dramas, and reading obsolete literature, the kids and the working class were in the cinema, witnessing the birth of a new art form." There should be more such interviews in the general schedule, rather than relegating the arts to its own ghetto.

The Pat Kenny Show does make an effort - the Newstalk host spoke to Sjon on Tuesday too - but on Irish radio the lowliest TD usually takes precedence over the most interesting artists or writers, and it's not immediately clear why.

Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh was on Wednesday's Ray D'Arcy Show to talk about Ramadan, and he denied that Muslim women were oppressed ("they choose to be dressed in this way") or that those who did not accept what he called their "religious obligations" were ostracised; but he did make one troubling remark that wasn't picked up on by the broadcaster.

"Everybody has shortcomings, whether you are a man or a woman," he began, before adding that, in the case of "a person or a lady that does not observe the hijab", their "shortcomings are clearer as people can see that." It's doubtful that any other speaker would get such an easy time from RTE if they said that the "shortcomings" of a woman were "clearer" to see just because of the way she dressed.

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