Wednesday 23 October 2019

Talented choice of holiday reads

For ideas on what to read this festive season Jennifer Ryan turned to some of the country's most creative people

Lisa Hannigan
Lisa Hannigan

Jennifer Ryan

Marian Finucane, broadcaster: Fresh from the publication of her book The Saturday Interviews: 2005 -2011, Finucane is now free to enjoy her reading time and is bursting with suggestions.

First up is Cutting The Stone by Abraham Verghese, a book about a surgeon cutting people. "I laughed out loud. It was full of humanity and humour. I think every doctor in the country should read it." Next on the list is a novel, The Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle. The Italian thriller had the broadcaster hooked. "It felt like a real whodunit, a great crime story." Also receiving the seal of approval is non-fiction title The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis. "Lewis wrote all about what went wrong in the US economy in a most accessible way. It's a lively, rattling good read." Released in paperback earlier this year, it's a pity this parable didn't come a few years earlier.

Anne-Marie Casey, TV and film writer

With her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women well underway at Dublin's Gate Theatre, it's difficult to imagine Casey has much time to kick back with a good book. She did, however, manage to re-read March by Geraldine Brooks, in preparation for her work on the show. "Brooks takes the story of Pa March, the absent father from Little Women, and elaborates on his life during the American Civil War. It's such a brilliant book." Fast forward and Casey found herself transported to Fifties New York City with Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything, a novel about young women in the publishing industry. "I watch Mad Men and, like everybody else, when I saw Don reading it I was intrigued. It found it fun and memorable."

Writing adaptations means Casey is constantly on the look-out for her next project. "Hence, for relaxation I like to work on things I know I would never, ever work on! That's why I loved SC Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon, a book all about the Native American Comanche tribe. It's non-fiction but completely fantastic."

Lisa Hannigan, singer/songwriter

Huddling on the wind-swept Blasket Islands ahead of her recent performance on Other Voices, Hannigan was looking forward to the downtime that follows a tour. "I've been stocking up for my Christmas break! I want to get the autobiography, This Wheel's On Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band. It was recommended by our drummer, Ross Turner. It's one of his favourite books."

The book that caught Hannigan's imagination earlier this year was Paul Murray's Skippy Dies. "It ended up being wrapped up in one of the songs on the record. I was writing a song called Home, about that teenage time, that loss of innocence you never recover. That atmosphere was perfectly wrapped up in that book; it certainly wormed its way into the song. It was a great help!" The singer's favourite read of 2011 was Patti Smith's Just Kids. "She's an amazing writer and it's such a beautiful elegy to a life lived devoted to art. It's also incredibly moving; I was in floods of tears for half of it." One to immerse yourself in over the holiday break.

Diego Fasciati, executive producer, Rough Magic Theatre Company

IN preparation for Rough Magic's revival of the musical Improbable Frequency, Fasciati is set on tackling That Neutral Island: A History of Ireland During the Second World War by Clair Wills. "The Emergency is a hugely fascinating period and I look forward to brushing up on this chapter of Irish history over Christmas."

This year, Belinda McKeon's debut made an impression, "I was struck by Solace -- I admire the clean style of the prose and the sometimes unusual syntax." On Fasciati's shopping list for Christmas presents are The Apartment, the debut novel from Greg Baxter and Stephen Sondheim's Look, I Made a Hat. "The second volume of Sondheim's collected lyrics with essays and comments, including his views on the use and role of critics." Being immersed in Irish theatre, Fasciati appreciates a good Yeats read. He recommends Roy Foster's Words Alone: Yeats and His Inheritances as a must-read. "It traces the influences on Yeats and provides a useful cultural overview of 19th-Century Ireland."

Arlene Hunt, author

Since the launch of her latest thriller, The Chosen, Hunt has much more time to read for pleasure. Her top read of 2011 was Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bones. "The words sang off the page for me." Set in America's hillbilly country, it's a dark mix of crime and mystery. Another that earned this successful crime author's approval was Robert Olmstead's "rather bleak but magnificent" Far Bright Star, a lyrical but uncomfortable read about one man's experience of war. Hunt also spent some time investigating the work of detective Nero Wolfe, star of Rex Stout's mystery novels, first published in the Thirties. Stout's words had Hunt "completely caught in the web he creates".

Does she have anything set aside for the winter evenings? "I am feverishly awaiting [my] first collection of PG Wodehouse! I doubt I'll have my nose out of a book at all in 2012!"

Ciaran Walsh, Le Cool Dublin, online magazine

AS a purveyor of all things bang-on-trend it's not surprising that Le Cool Dublin man Walsh should choose Chris Judge's The Lonely Beast as his stand-out read of 2011. Having recently won the Junior category of the Irish Children's Book of the Year, illustrator Judge's "huggable, plodding, titular character" has found a firm fan in Walsh's toddler, Edie. "I read it in its entirety at least three times a week. Edie loves the story, especially the beast party at the end." On the more senior end of the scale, Walsh's favourite find of 2011 was The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life by Ryszard Kapuscinski. "He's probably the best journalistic writer I've ever come across. Him or maybe George Plimpton, I can't decide."

Having worked for a Russian news agency while living in Berlin, Walsh has a fixation with all things Russian. "I'm currently ploughing through A History of Russia by John Lawrence. Two thousand years of history, crammed in just over 300 pages. I'm up around the rise of the tsars at the minute..." No doubt Walsh's holidays will be spent bringing himself up to date.

Kathryn Murphy, entrepreneur

AS one half of the Irish cousins behind website, Murphy has had little time of late to relax with a good book. Instead she's sourced some inspiration for her business in What They Teach You at Harvard Business School by Philip Delves Broughton. "I can't quite decide whether he's attracted to, or repulsed by, the breed of rampant capitalism taught there. Either way it's a fascinating insight into the 'Masters of The Universe' mentality of the people responsible for our current economic woes."

Once the Christmas gift-buying rush is over, Murphy plans to bunker down with plenty of fiction. "I've heard good things about The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann so I'll be packing them in my suitcase for our Christmas break. And I'm going to have to read Stuff Irish People Love by Colin Murphy and Donal O'Dea (a former colleague) purely because apparently I've got the first credit!"

Ed Walsh, Founder, University of Limerick

Writing the many drafts of his own recently published book, Upstart: Friends, Foes and Founding a University, triggered a lot more reading for Walsh. He spent the summer working his way through several historical tomes. "I read Tim Pat Coogan's title, Michael Collins: A Biography, while trapped down below deck in the bad weather sailing around the Cork and Kerry coast." Back on terra firma, Walsh is currently reading Scenes From the Shores of the Atlantic, a title he rescued from a mildew-soaked attic on moving into his house back in the Seventies. The travel book dates from the 1800s and details the author's holiday on the Clare coastline. "It must have been written before the Famine. It describes that stretch of coast from Miltown Malbay to Carrigaholt and what's happening on it. It has absolutely caught my fancy!" For something more recent Walsh enjoys thumbing through Traditional Boats of Ireland: History, Folklore and Construction, edited by Criostoir MacCarthaigh. "A fantastic record of Irish boats and boatbuilding." Take note children of sailors in search of an appropriate gift!

Jane Blunden, writer and painter

Blunden, who lives in both Kilkenny and the Cotswolds, is researching the designs of Irish-American architect, James Hoban, and his connections to Co Kilkenny. Her first choice is Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. "Every step walks you through the battlefield of its chequered past: chosen place, the prize of empires, the only city both terrestrial and celestial. For the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims may now freely worship at their shrines." She also enjoyed Seen in the Yemen by Hugh Leach. "The author travelled in the Seventies with the redoubtable Arab and Asian traveller, the late Dame Freya Stark and others. The book gives an account of the Yemen's history and geography and tells about the ancient Jewish community of Sa'dah in the north; it is enlivened by the author's black-and-white photographs, taken with his trusty Thirties screw-threaded Leica camera, the pride of many early explorer photographers." She also picked Words Alone, Yeats and his Inheritances by Roy Foster. "He looks back in this erudite new volume to earlier 19th-Century writers who influenced Yeats. A mantra scribbled by Yeats, aged 21, on the cover of a jotter, notes: 'Talent perceives difference; genius unity'. We are all his inheritors."

Alan Early, author

Early's debut children's novel, Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent, made the shortlist at the Irish Book Awards earlier this year. In all the excitement he's still managed to find time to read, starting with the work of George RR Martin. "I became addicted to his A Game of Thrones books. I read the first three and have the rest of them on my bookshelf, waiting. I had to stop because they were taking up all my time and I was getting no work done."

Early's highlight of the year was discovering author Patrick Ness. "I read A Monster Calls in one day and went out to buy the rest of Ness's books. I loved the Chaos Walking trilogy. I'm delighted I found them." Early tries to alternate between reading young adult and adult fiction and so he's planning to start Belinda McKeon's Solace over the holidays. In the meantime, he's getting into the festive spirit by re-reading A Christmas Carol.

"Of course, everyone knows how it ends and all, but I'm just enjoying the warm Christmas feeling it creates!"

Rick O'Shea, broadcaster

A fan of all things quirky, 2FM broadcaster O'Shea is ridiculously happy to have discovered The Passage by Justin Cronin this year. "It's a 1,000-page-long post-apocalyptic, science-fiction saga. It's seriously the best thing I've read all year. It's an incredible piece of science fiction and I think it would make a great mini-series."

Closer to home, O'Shea was prompted to dig out his 15-year-old copy of James Plunkett's Strumpet City after reading Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light. "I saw shadows of that same Dublin in Ghost Light. I'm glad I re-read Plunkett's work now, it's far more beautiful and lyrical than I remember it to be. That era, from 1910 onwards, really fascinates me."

Moving into the present, O'Shea has a copy of Arlene Hunt's The Chosen waiting for holiday reading.

"I hear it's a great thriller and I haven't read a good thriller in a long time. Plus she's an Irish author, always a good thing."

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