Monday 19 March 2018

So, what did you read this year?

A mix of well-known personalities share their favourite books of the year. Compiled by Jennifer Ryan

Annie West: Growing up, Annie's mother had oodles of cartoon books in the house, but it was Geoffrey Willans' The Complete Molesworth (Pavilion Books), illustrated by Ronald Searle, that the young cartoonist loved the most.

"It's written in the vernacular of a 13-year-old English schoolboy and it's hilarious. I keep going back to it. It was for my brothers but I read it because I wanted to look at the pictures." This year, Annie "attempted" Dave Fanning's autobiography The Thing Is (Collins), "I got as far as the introduction and I was laughing so hard the book fell out of my hand. It was dire -- so gushingly awful, so unlike him. I had to put it in a corner". Thankfully, she found herself laughing for all the right reasons at Charlie Connelly's Our Man in Hibernia (Little, Brown). "I get him. His writing is a good mix of information and funny."

Donal Skehan

Food blogger and recent winner of Best Irish-Published Book of the Year, Donal has a soft spot for cookbooks.

"I'm a big fan of cookbooks you can read from start to finish. There's only a few like that and my all-time favourites are Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (Fourth Estate) and his autobiography, Toast (Harper Perennial), which is going to be a movie with Helena Bonham Carter this Christmas."

One new release the young chef is dying to get his hands on is My Kitchen (Quadrille) by Stevie Parle. "It's looks like a really nice read and has a great quote from Nigella, one of my food heroes, on the front. He's going to be a new voice in food."

Nicole Dunphy

Starting a business during a recession is going to be tough, so whenever Nicole finds herself questioning her sanity, she picks up Willie's Chocolate Bible (Hodder & Stoughton) by Willie Harcourt-Cooze. "He went to Venezuela and bought himself a chocolate plantation, and made his own chocolate from bean to bar. It gives me a boost." Reading time is scarce for businesswoman and mother Nicole, so she treasures it dearly. "I heard Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights on the radio the other day and I got a real hankering to re-read that classic, curled up in front of the fire. Right now, I'm tipping through The Slap (Atlantic Books) by Christos Tsiolkas and it's a bit hyper-real, overly dramatic, but I'm going to stick with it."

Steve Ryan

Skippy Dies (Penguin Ireland) by Paul Murray, the novel set in a fictional Dublin boarding school, caught Steve's attention online. "I spotted it on Twitter. Someone tweeted about a new Irish author. The characters were spot on, developed to a T." As a guitarist and frontman of folk-rock band Windings, has Steve any recommendations for music fans? "Kill Your Friends (Vintage) by John Niven is a great book. It covers the horrible, horrible Brit Pop era, when everything was driven by Class A drugs and loads and loads of money -- pictures of Noel Gallagher drinking champagne with Tony Blair and all that. It's about an A&R man who needs to sign all these bands he doesn't give a shit about. It encapsulates that era perfectly." And a present for himself? "I'm hoping for a copy of Life: Keith Richards (Orion). I'd always been a Mick Jagger fan but recently I've realised Richards probably had to put up with a lot. I'd like to hear his version of events."

Will St Leger

When we speak, Will is off to the launch of Queer Notions: New Plays and Performances from Ireland (Cork University Press) by Dr Fintan Walsh. "I know quite a lot of people in it from the queer scene; Panti has written a play called A Woman in Progress." Will, like many in the Irish street-art community, is excited about A Visual Feast (Visual Feast Productions) by Rua Meegan and Lauren Teeling. The pair gained the trust of artists, became privy to their creative process and recorded their motivation and inspiration. "It's absolutely amazing, pages of beautiful pictures. Irish street art is no longer in its infancy. It's now in the teenage years, really trying to find its own voice and a dialogue with people. This is the first book really on Irish street art." His guilty pleasure? Will has devoured his copy of Mozipedia: The Encyclopaedia of Morrissey and The Smiths (Ebury Press) by Simon Goddard. "It's like a Bible. Full of facts and there's plenty of weird stuff in it too ... "

Barry McCall

It has been a busy year for Barry and his team as they compiled Pho20graphy -- a selection of portraits from Barry's 20 years in the business -- the proceeds of which go directly to the ISPCC. Nonetheless, the photographer has managed to make his way through John Connolly's The Whisperers (Hodder & Stoughton). "We went to the same school. I never got to know the chap but I've now read everything he writes." For something a little lighter, Barry has his eye on Dawn French's autobiography, Dear Fatty (Arrow). "I've seen her interviewed and she always makes me laugh." Any recommendations for photo fanatics this Christmas? "Yes, definitely anything by photographer Peter Lindbergh. Always worth a look." Keep an eye out for Peter Lindbergh: Photographs & Films (Schirmer/Mosel Verlag), just published this year.

Nick Munier

Fresh from the publicity circuit promoting his new tell-all book, Nick is looking forward to settling down with plenty of autobiographies over the holiday period. First up is Chris Evans' Memoirs of a Fruitcake (HarperCollins). "I wanted that title for my book." This will be followed by hellraising Rolling Stones lead guitarist's Life: Keith Richards (Orion). "It's like a bloody manual it's so thick." Until then, Munier is working his way through Donal MacIntyre's Hitmen, Gangsters, Cannibals and Me (Y Books). "He has an amazing career, quite formidable. But he's mad as a brush, which obviously helps."

Judith Woodworth

Culture vulture Judith is delighted to share her favourite reads of 2010. Her work affords her the privilege of meeting some of the world's most talented performers, such as extraordinary Chinese pianist Lang Lang. "He is one of the most successful pianists in the world. Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story (Laurel Leaf) is his biography, co-written with David Ritz. He has performed here at the NCH as part of our celebrity series three times and signed a copy for me. It is a story full of poverty, struggle, drama and ultimately triumph." This year saw the announcement of the Lost Man Booker Prize winner JG Farrell's Troubles (New York Review Books Classics). "That was my favourite book of the year. It's a hypnotic and hilarious insight into the twilight zone of the Anglo-Irish during the Black and Tan, and Civil War period. I laughed aloud." Sitting on Judith's desk, patiently awaiting her attention is Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate) by Hilary Mantel. "It looks like it has all the ingredients for a good read: politics, religion, money, sex, violence."

Catherine Fulvio

Working in the hospitality trade means Catherine was naturally curious when it came to Nick Munier's Boiling Point (Y Books). "It was the book of 2010 for me; very frankly written with hundreds of juicy details. I always said I would never use the word 'un-put-downable' but I really couldn't put it down." What's on the chef's nightstand at the moment? A guest at Catherine's Ballyknocken Cookery School recommended crime writer Sue Grafton and she is now addicted. "It reminds me of my youth and Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Famous Five but with a lot more danger. I'm going to tuck into her novel U is for Undertow (Pan) very soon." With her strong Italian ties, this TV chef is fascinated by Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah (MacMillan). "We spend a lot of time in Sicily, visiting relatives and, of course, enjoying the amazing food. We have only ever had good experiences there, even though one hears stories about Mafia. Reading the details of the Neapolitan Camorra is truly shocking; it's entering a world visitors would never see."

Stephen O'Leary

Naturally, given his business, Stephen was incredibly interested in The Accidental Billionaires: Sex, Money, Betrayal and the Founding of Facebook (Arrow) by Ben Mezrich, which charts the meteoric rise of Facebook and its unlikely beginnings, care of American students Saverin and Zuckerberg.

"I read it before I went to see the movie, The Social Network, and loved the book. It was written by the author of Bringing Down the House, the story of the MIT students who took down Vegas in blackjack. Mezrich -- really interesting that guy."

Earlier this year, publisher Corinthian brought out a paperback version of Crashed and Byrned: The Greatest Racing Driver You Never Saw, an autobiography about Tommy Byrne. "It's one of the best sports books I have ever read. His whole story is fascinating. It starts in the Sixties; he was born into a large family in Dundalk. They were pretty poor and the book is shadowed by Sectarian violence. He went from this to being a Formula One star in the Eighties." Sounds great? "Yes, but it's not a 'happy-ending' type of book; it's quite realistic and tragic in parts. Things just went off the rails a bit; there was a drug problem." He does have something cheerier lined up for the holidays. "I can't wait to read the new Ross O'Carroll Kelly book, The Oh My God Delusion (Penguin). I've read all the others. Living in Dublin 4, it's hilarious how many of the characters you see in everyday life."

Vogue Williams

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're bound to have heard of Fade Street, Dublin's answer to American reality TV drama The Hills. It follows the fortunes, heartbreaks and hangovers of a gang of Irish 20-somethings. Between takes the budding actress/model Vogue has had some time to dip into the bookshelves. "The books I most enjoyed reading this year were the Stieg Larsson novels. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Quercus) had me hooked. I have yet to see the movie but I always find they are awful in comparison to the book." Could there be a tell-all pending at some stage in the future? Vogue may be doing some research. "I'm planning on reading Russell Brand's new autobiography, Booky Wook 2: This Time It's Personal (HarperCollins). He used to really annoy me until I read his first book, but it was funny and really easy to read, so I'm looking forward to his next one." The striking blonde has "loads of favourite books" but if pushed to pick one author she would re-read over the holidays it has got to be Cecelia Ahern. Vogue reckons her feel-good novels are "so perfect for when the post-Christmas blues set in". Shut up, that's awesome ...

Jane Blunden

"My first choice is The Irish Country House by the Knight of Glin and James Peill, (Thames & Hudson), brilliantly photographed by James Fennell. Although the owners are out of sight, their characters are never far from James' lens. The houses and their contents illustrate family histories: they thrill, shock and enliven us through love letters, mud rooms, a basement shrine, unusual wallpaper, antique furniture, hand-me-downs and much else besides. I loved Gordon Ledbetter's Privilege and Poverty: The Life and Times of Irish Painter and Naturalist Alexander Williams RHA 1846-1930 (Collins Press). Williams' watercolours opened up the West of Ireland to a wider public. He helped run the family shop, working as a hatter and taxidermist, until the business was destroyed by fire in 1866. He continued painting and created a garden at Bleanaskill Lodge, now known as Achill Secret Garden. Finally, in How to Sound Clever (A&C Black), Hubert van den Bergh explains the meaning of 600 everyday words you feel you should know, but don't quite have the confidence to use. Electronic media and the internet haven't quite run the dictionary out of town and this book is a landmark -- clearly illustrated, funny, original and helpful."

Madeleine Keane

"I was sent an early proof of Anita Shreve's new novel Rescue (Little, Brown), which I attempted unsuccessfully to keep until I reach my post-Christmas retreat in Parknasilla. Shreve's simple, lucid style and her intelligent insights into family and relationships are to the fore again in another compelling tale of love and loss. Jonathan Franzen is another brilliant observer of the family and his latest tome Freedom (Fourth Estate) is a complex, funny, clever, exasperating portrait of the deeply dysfunctional all-American Berglund clan. Now more than ever, we need a spiritual voice and Soul Burgers by Christina Reihill ( employs a lyrical narrative to recount her deeply moving story of addiction and recovery. Her limpid poetry is both harrowing and inspirational in its stark honesty. A beacon of hope and beauty in these dark times."

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