Top 50: The best books of a decade
A bumper crop of literary talent offers a welcome antidote to the enduring economic malaise, says Andrea Byrne
'The Noughties was a very Irish decade. It was the decade that Ireland enjoyed blissful prosperity, now alas consigned to the realms of ancient history. But it was also a decade in which home-produced literary art really did redound to the greater glory of the nation -- when you only look at the 50 books gathered together for this promotion," said Sunday Independent literary editor Madeleine Keane, speaking at the launch of the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book of the Decade.
Befitting the importance of the event, Ireland's literary luminaries, including new mum Cecelia Ahern, Sebastian Barry, Diarmaid Ferriter and John Connolly turned up to a bustling Morrison Hotel for the announcement of the exclusive shortlist.
Chaired by Madeleine Keane and selected by a panel of independent literary experts, the shortlist is comprised of 50 of the best and most popular books written by Irish authors over the past 10 years including Edna O'Brien, William Trevor, Cathy Kelly, Anne Enright and Joseph O'Connor as well as celebrities such as Roy Keane, Eamon Dunphy and Bill Cullen.
Speaking of his nomination, a very contented Cullen said, "For a fella who was kicked out of school when he was 13, expelled for playing soccer, here I am today, and I am nominated in the top 50 books of the decade."
Meanwhile, for a resplendent-looking Cecelia Ahern, who will put writing on hold for another few months, her nomination for PS I Love You, was "an honour".
The award comprises a large cross-section of genres -- everything from women's fiction to memoir, children's to crime, history to biography. And unlike most other literary awards, it's not at all pompous. "Too often, there is this notion that if something is popular then people are immediately suspicious of it," says nominee Paul Howard, he of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly fame. "It's incredible to be nominated," Howard continued, "especially when you look at the names on the list. It's just great to be among them."
Paul Howard will be voting for Colum McCann's Let The Great World Spin. "I read it when I was on honeymoon. I remember my first reaction when I finished it was to say -- 'Bastard!' And my wife said, 'What?' And I said, 'It is that good!' There are some writers, who when you read them, they make you want to write. Colum is one of those writers who makes me want to give up -- it's an exquisite piece of work."
Given our position as one of the world's finest literary nations, one can only imagine how arduous it was to whittle the shortlist down to just 50. "We had fun and there was a brouhaha about what should and shouldn't be on it, but there was remarkable unanimity on 50 per cent or more of the titles. We only argued about 10 at the end," laughs Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards organiser Bert Wright.
The book that receives the most votes will be publicly announced in late May 2010. Wednesday's event coincided with the announcement that The Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards will be moving from their traditional spring date to the later date of November 2010. "It's fantastic for the industry when you think of all the pressure they are under," says Diarmaid Ferriter, who is nominated for Judging Dev.
A welcome and wonderful antidote to the enduring economic malaise, aside from acknowledging our rich crop of literary talent the purpose of the award, according to Madeleine Keane, "is to encourage a love of reading, to get people discussing the books they love and engaging in the passionate debate that so many of these books inspire".