Saturday 15 June 2019

A smorgasbord of new books for a new year

As 2019 hoves into view, Hilary A White selects the best of the most-anticipated non-fiction releases coming to a bookshop near you

Nobel Peace Prize winner and all-round brave soul Malala Yousafzai
takes us into the heart of the refugee crisis in We Are Displaced
Nobel Peace Prize winner and all-round brave soul Malala Yousafzai takes us into the heart of the refugee crisis in We Are Displaced
Just One More Question
A Woman of No Importance
Francis Rossi - I Talk Too Much
Mama's Last Hug
What is Medicine For?
The Unwinding of the Miracle
Wild Women and their Amazing Adventures Over Land, Sea and Air
The Soprano Sessions
Commander in Cheat

Hilary A White

An inevitable glut of self-help fare appears at the start of the calendar year when, naturally, we are at our most vulnerable to suggestions of inadequacy. For the most part here, however, we will leave aside such publishing predations on our self-worth and look instead to the ample selection of other non-fiction releases on their way to provide us with intrigue, poignancy, knowledge, dropped jaws, and, perhaps most importantly, distraction as a daunting new year takes flight.

January

The Unexpected Joy of Being Single - Catherine Gray (Aster): Not content with the life-changing effects of quitting alcohol (as recounted in 2017's best-selling The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober), award-winning writer and commentator Gray decided to take a year off dating. The result is this presumably illuminating examination of the rising tide of singledom and the nature of modern coupling itself.

We Are Displaced - Malala Yousafzai (W&N): Nobel Peace Prize winner and all-round brave soul Malala Yousafzai takes us into the heart of the global refugee crisis, encountering the real lives caught up in the statistics we're constantly fed. Expect an acutely sensitive approach from someone who knows all about being displaced by oppressive forces.

The Sopranos Sessions - Matt Seitz and Alan Sepinwall (Abrams Press): Hard to imagine 20 years have passed since utterly brilliant TV writing forced the world to hold a vicious mob boss to their hearts.

The Sopranos legend has only calcified with time, and it is now accepted as the pinnacle of small-screen drama.

This collection of essays and interviews - including creator David Chase and cast members - looks like a fine way to commemorate Tony and co.

Wild Women - Mariella Frostrup (Head of Zeus): Waterford institution Dervla Murphy is among the featured scribes in this celebration of women's travel writing from broadcaster and commentator Frostrup. Possibly required reading for anyone who assumed that "the road less travelled" was a solely masculine preserve.

The Unwinding of the Miracle - Julie Yip-Williams (Bantam Press): Some people are dealt cruel hands in life. Born blind in war-ravaged Vietnam, Yip-Williams escaped euthanasia at the hand of her grandmother before managing to flee to Hong Kong and then the US. There, sight was partially restored, a family was begun, and a Harvard education achieved. She was then diagnosed with terminal cancer. Have the Kleenex ready for this one.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism - Shoshana Zuboff (Profile Books): The ominous relationship between modern capitalism and digital technology is put under timely scrutiny by Zuboff, whose In the Age of the Smart Machine marked her out as a chief voice concerning the information age and its impending risks.

February

What is Medicine For? - Seamus O'Mahony (Head of Zeus): Cork doctor O'Mahony brings his years of working in Britain's NHS to dissect how health has fallen foul of a "Medical-Industrial Complex" that is threatening not only patients and their welfare but also the practitioners themselves.

Childless Voices - Lorna Gibb (Granta): The issue of childlessness - whether by choice or not - is set to be prised open with sensitivity and breadth by A Ghost Story author Lorna Gibb.

Seven Signs of Life - Aoife Abbey (Vintage): UK-based Dubliner Aoife Abbey hit on something with her blog The Secret Doctor, which detailed the realities of working in the NHS. This debut memoir builds on that perceptive, analytical, but caring voice as she brings us into the emotional territory of an intensive care unit.

Parkland - Dave Cullen (Riverrun): A year to the day later, journalist and school-shooting expert Dave Cullen analyses one of the deadliest gun attacks in US history.

Where this differs from Cullen's 2009 bestseller Columbine is in the movement that he closely documents in the atrocity's aftermath - the #NeverAgain campaign for gun control spearheaded by the courageous young survivors.

March

Mama's Last Hug: Animal and Human Emotions - Frans de Waal (Granta): De Waal marked himself out as a popular-science whiz with 2001's engrossing exploration of culture in the animal world, The Ape and The Sushi Master. This treatment of the emotional world of animals should be similarly thought-provoking.

I Will Never See the World Again - Ahmet Altan (Granta): What many are forgetting in the noise surrounding the Saudi regime's butchery of Jamal Khashoggi is that Erdogan's Turkey is not a utopia for journalists either.

From a four-metre jail cell, writer Ahmet Altan pens this memoir reflecting on the trumped-up life sentence he is serving (for supposedly "sending subliminal messages" during the 2016 coup attempt) and the new value he now places on language and literature. Could be seismic.

Tunnel Vision - Kevin Breathnach (Faber): Hailed by Sally Rooney as "one of the most interesting writers working in Ireland today", Breathnach presents his debut collection of essays, ruminations and criticism. Hopefully this will back-up those murmurs of a white-hot talent in our midst.

The Little Book of Planting Trees - Max Adams (Head of Zeus): Trees, glorious trees - it's never been more important to plant them. When the hour comes for you to do so, this pocket guide to what they need to flourish looks like an invaluable source of tips and advice.

The Nocturnal Brain - Guy Leschziner (Simon & Schuster): Nightmares, neuroscience and the secrets of slumber are present and tucked-in for this journey through the land of nod from UK neurologist Dr Guy Leschziner.

I Talk Too Much - Francis Rossi & Mick Wall (Constable): Arguably the most enduring one-trick pony in British rock, Status Quo still shifted over 100 million records in their time, something unimaginable in today's music landscape. In this autobiography (penned with legendary rock hack Mick Wall), Quo linchpin Rossi details the thrills, spills, and self-inflicted ills of the denim-clad boogie rockers.

Syria's Secret Library - Mike Thomson (W&N): One of the greatest victims of war is knowledge and truth. This was understood by residents in the besieged Syrian town of Darayya who clung to hope by maintaining a secret underground library of some 14,000 books. In the hands of acclaimed BBC war correspondent Thomson, this is unlikely to be anything other than inspirational.

Planets - Prof Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen (William Collins): Celebrity boffin and supposed heir to Attenborough (according to Attenborough himself), Cox has brought the galaxy down to ground level for a whole generation via twinkly smiles and Mancunian humility. This latest offering looks to bring a dramatic family narrative to the saga of our celestial neighbours.

The Pianist of Yarmouk - Aeham Ahmad (Michael Joseph): The universal is found in the particular in this account of the healing qualities of music in war-torn Damascus.

A song of hope, played on a piano in a rubble-strewn street, brings not only solace to those within earshot but a redemption that reaches far beyond.

A Woman of No Importance - Sonia Purnell (Virago): Ever hear the one about the American woman with the wooden leg who smuggled herself into occupied France and became the Gestapo's most-wanted Allied spy? Purnell biographies this extraordinarily wily and resourceful member of the war effort who will soon be getting the Hollywood treatment courtesy of Daisy Ridley.

Sex, Power, Money - Sara Pascoe (Faber): The award-winning comedienne "overthinks" modern life, dismantles it, and then reassembles it all in digestible - and presumably hilarious - cadences.

April

The Doctor Who Sat for a Year - Prof Brendan Kelly (Gill): When science and the new-age meet, the results can often be bemusing.

Likely to fall into this category is this memoir from Trinity psychiatry professor Kelly, who decided to see what benefits might befall him from a year of 15 minutes' meditation per day. Expect enlightening breakthroughs tempered by self-deprecating reality checks.

Just One More Question - Niall Tubridy (Penguin Ireland): Niall Tubridy (brother of Ryan) is one of Ireland's leading neurologists. He walks us through some of the cases he has encountered during a life of rigorous medical enquiry into the myriad puzzles of brain medicine. Candour, soul-searching and humility look likely.

The Awfully Big Adventure: Michael Jackson in the Afterlife - Paul Morley (Faber): Celebrated UK rock scribe, critic and author Morley paints the Promethean portrait of Michael Jackson and attempts to balance the tragic spiral of the bizarre with the thrilling music. We can only assume there is a meaning behind that dreadful title.

The Patient Assassin - Anita Anand (Simon & Schuster): Revenge is a dish best served in its own good time - this may well be the moral from this remarkable-sounding account of Udham Singh.

He survived the grim Amritsar massacre of 1919 that saw hundreds of innocent Indian men, women and children mown down by British troops under the orders of Irish-born Lieutenant Governor of Punjab Sir Michael O'Dwyer.

Vowing revenge, Singh tracked O'Dwyer across the world over two decades. File under the "too uncanny for fiction" ledger.

Constellations - Reflections from Life - Sinead Gleeson (Picador): A broadcaster, critic, editor, and all-round woman of letters, Gleeson will soon be able to add eminent essayist to her CV.

As if taking the baton from Emily Pine's Notes To Self, Constellations wades in beyond a comfortable depth on matters of life, death, love, art and womanhood, with poeticism, sensuality and piercing honesty. I've had a sneak peek and, well, you're in for a treat. 

The Deep - Prof Alex Rogers (Wildfire): Our relationship with this planet is coming under some long overdue focus, especially when it comes to our oceans. Leading marine biologist Rogers is not interested in haranguing, however, and instead wants to impress upon us the beauty and wonder of our seas and depths. Like all good nature writing, a deeply personal prism looks set to be put to good use.

In Sunshine Or In Shadow -Donald McRae (Simon & Schuster): Sports-writing supremo McRae charts a saga of redemption through boxing across the sectarian divide as he tells of Gerry Storey, who insisted the Troubles would be left at the door of his Holy Family gym in Belfast.

Storey would go on to bring this egalitarian attitude to training sessions with Maze prisoners and career fighters alike (including Barry McGuigan), ensuring pugilism remained above politics.

The Moment of Lift - Melinda Gates (Bluebird): The benefits to the world of empowering women is the manifesto of this personal statement from Melinda Gates.

Years of tireless work with the world-famous foundation she runs with husband Bill have revealed to her the importance of a liberated and mobile female energy across society.

Commander In Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump - Rick Reilly (Hachette): Whatever will we do when Trump is gone? How will we fill all the non-fiction chapters, column inches and social-media jibes without this greatest of unifying bogeymen?

Until faced with this inevitability, we have US sports writer Rick Reilly to take us through what the orange one's fairway etiquette says about him. Throwaway fun, perhaps.

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