AH, late December. It is, as Andy Williams once suggested, the most... list-making time of the year (OK, I'm paraphrasing slightly). Top Ten lists. Best of lists. Lists of things embraced as 'hot'. Lists of things shunned (and spat upon) as 'not'. The year's top 50 apps. The year's top 70 marmalades. The year's top 100 YouTube videos of adorable baby sloths slowly eating raspberries. Lists, endless lists. We're drowning in them.
If you're looking for a fresh and progressive approach to end-of-year list-o-mania (or anything, really), Liveline isn't the first place you'd turn. And yet, on Tuesday the show really did offer something different (honestly!). Instead of celebrating the usual list fodder -- mainstream blockbusters or critically lauded fare -- it focused entirely on books almost nobody listening had ever heard of (let alone read).
In what is becoming an annual Christmas tradition, Liveline devoted its full duration to self-published books and the authors behind them, with Joe Duffy racing and rattling his way through almost 30 phone conversations, in little over an hour.
As some of the online reaction to the show demonstrated, it's easy to glibly dismiss self-published books as "amateurish" vanity projects, knocked out for a self-aggrandising lark. But what came across from Duffy's mini-interviews was how passionate these "amateur" authors actually are about their projects.
Getting self-published books 'out there' and into bookshops, in the face of hostility or indifference, requires serious levels of commitment driven by personal motivations that (the interviews suggested) go far beyond vanity.
Liveline being Liveline, the selected works didn't sound particularly radical or ground-breaking, but it was still a fairly eclectic spread. An ex-nun discussed her memoir. A surfing pioneer described a volume about the birth of the sport in Ireland. A Waterford man talked up his book on the local pirate radio scene. Werewolves were mentioned. Antique Dublin prams were celebrated. Imprisoned stalkers were defended (kind of).
Duffy seemed particularly excited by Bernie Comaskey's novel The Team, which promised a rip-roaring fusion of sex, hurling and the IRA.
Explosive stuff. I, myself, was quite taken by Miriam A Walker's A Cautious Man. Any novel that has, as its central character, a Celtic Tiger-era banker called Moss Mortimer is worth reading. Just to discover if he could possibly be as odious and punchable as he sounds.
Anyway, given that it is list-compiling and award-giving season, and given that I'll be MIA next week, I may as well get into the spirit of things and dish out some gongs myself, honouring the shows that have most pleased me in 2012.
I'll need a name for these non-actual and made-up awards, though. How about the 'Herald Angels'? Suitably Christmassy, so let's go with it (and ignore the fact that it sounds a bit like the name of a high-class escort agency).
My first 'Herald Angel' goes to... Lyric FM's Culture File (a show I've praised here before). In what category? Oh, I don't know. Let's say: Consistent Being-Very-Goodness. It may only be on air for seven or eight minutes a day, but brevity is part of the appeal. What it offers are delicious little slices of culture. Little tasters, little samplers; little glimpses of quirky and murky corners of the cultural universe.
Whether it's illuminating say, hand-made Iranian bags, or the practice of 'performance knitting', or Dublin comic-book artists, it's rarely anything other than charming, witty and engaging.
I'm running out of space here so I'll make my second 'Herald Angel' my last (for 2012 at least). I'm awarding this one to... Newstalk's Off the Ball. Why? Well, first, because the lively banter never descends into the kind of smug 'laddishness' that can make other sports shows (particularly British ones) so excruciating. Second, because it doesn't talk down to its audience (rare again in a sports show). And third, because I know of several sport-hating people who tune in regularly. Turning people who have no interest in what you're talking about into enthusiastic listeners? That's a radio miracle right there.
Enjoy the holidays.