Reading Material for November

It’s been a while since I did a big book buy so on Friday afternoon I spent a very enjoyable fifteen minutes in Hodges Figgis adding to The Pile. I had wanted a Scrabble dictionary for ages (yes, I am that nerdy) and so it was first on the list. I played a game with a friend of mine recently in my house and as we didn’t have a Scrabble dictionary we couldn’t check allowable two letter words. That “problem” is now solved so any game in future will be played strictly by the rules!

I really enjoyed Kevin Barry’s short story collection Dark Lies The Island and so I picked up his novel City of Bohane which got great reviews on its publication in 2011. I’ll look forward to seeing how his facility for the short story translates into a novel.

Of course I have read The Great Gatsby before now, but the edition I have is a cheap old one which I’ve been meaning to replace for ages. When I saw this beautiful Penguin edition I knew I had to have it. Again this is proof of my utter nerdiness when it comes to books – buying different editions of books you already own is a sign that one is an irredeemable literary geek!

I have never read any Samuel Beckett (shame on me!) and when I saw The Complete Short Prose I thought it would be the perfect introduction to his work and ideas. Lastly I bought a biography of Marilyn Monroe by Lois Banner entitled The Passion and the Paradox. Banner has interviewed many friends of Monroe’s who haven’t spoken about her before and so I hope there will be some new information in this well reviewed biography.

Reading Material for June

I was lucky enough to get tons of books for my birthday a couple of weeks ago. My sister gave me an Amazon voucher which I spent in 5 minutes. I bought Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and The Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne. Brideshead Revisited is one of my favourite books and this book tells the story of Evelyn Waugh’s friendship with the Lygon family who were the direct inspiration for the Flytes. I’ve started this already and it’s well researched and written. The Amazon voucher also bought Beautiful People by Simon Doonan, a memoir from the Creative Ambassador-at-Large of Barneys, and Your Movie Sucks, a collection of hilariously bad reviews from Roger Ebert.

My Dad bought me Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson which is a biography that focusses on the last twenty seven years of Ernest Hemingway’s life and his passion for his boat, Pilar. It has been universally well reviewed and I’m looking forward to devouring it. My Dad also lent me his copy of Nuala O’Faolain’s Are You Somebody? which he bought after we both watched the recent RTE documentary on her life. He said it was a tough read but a great book.

My birthday present to myself was John Gardner’s On Becoming A Novelist, a book which I have been meaning to buy for ages. It’s part of my ongoing self-education which I think is important as I haven’t done any creative writing courses and so one could say that I’m working in the dark somewhat! This book is considered a classic and I’ve read most of it so far and found it very instructive and well written. The only part I’ve had any issue with is where Gardner posits that the novelist has nothing to learn about writing from watching television or films. I’d argue against that strongly – lessons on good dialogue, plot and pacing can all be found in the best films and TV programmes.

Lastly, a very kind friend of mine hunted out my Amazon wishlist (stealthy!) and bought me The Avoca Cafe Cookbook 2. One of my promises to myself is that when I move into my new house I’m going to get a lot better at cooking (which frankly wouldn’t be hard).

Reading Material for April

The Pile Beside My Bed

This post should be titled “Reading material for what’s left of April” but I reckon I’ll get through most of it. Jonathan Franzen’s book however is proving problematic. I have had Freedom for months and still not made any headway, which is odd as I loved his writing in The Corrections. I’ve picked it up a number of times but found I wasn’t in the right mood. By all accounts I’m missing out as it’s a triumph for Franzen according to the reviews. Some day soon…

The Etymologicon is one of those books that I couldn’t resist buying. Subtitled A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, it contains a wealth of useless information for word nerds like me. It’s written by Mark Forsyth and was published on the back of his successful blog, The Inky Fool.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any short stories and having read and loved Kevin Barry’s collection, I decided to add to this section in my library. Screwjack by Hunter S. Thompson has been on my Amazon wishlist for ages. It a slim volume and contains three short stories. Mescalito, the only story I’ve read thus far, is typical HST – a drug fuelled meltdown in a hotel room followed by an ill advised plane journey, all in his loony quickfire prose. I also bought The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers, a renowned American author from Georgia who used the South as the setting for many of her stories.

The latest issue of The Paris Review (which also happens to be the 200th issue) makes an appearance in the pile. Friends of mine gave me a subscription for my birthday last year which was an amazing present. I haven’t made my way through the whole thing yet but so far I’ve particularly loved the story by Mark Sumell entitled Toast.

Reading material for December

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts. I’ve read a lot recently and haven’t stockpiled much so have only had whichever book I’m devouring beside my bed. However I was gifted some books recently and am looking forward to spending cold mornings in bed reading the below with a never ending supply of coffee. Hey, there have to be some upsides to unemployment right?! So herewith the view from my pillow last night:

Starting from the bottom:

When I visited Cork at the weekend the lovely Sarah from The Licentiate gave me a copy of Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney. I started it on the train journey home and it’s well researched, interesting and beautifully written. Expect a proper review in the coming weeks.

My mate Mo gave me Half the Sky: How to Change the World by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. We had both just done a guest post on the “Because I Am A Girl” blog for Plan Ireland (Mo’s here and mine here) and Mo had read the book around the same time. She pressed it on me saying it was a must-read. To my shame I haven’t got round to it yet but it’s in The Pile so it’s only a matter of time.

My Dad bought me this biography of famous Italian artist Caravaggio after our trip to Rome in September. It has special meaning for us as we were looking at a Caravaggio painting in a church in Rome when we got some particularly good news.

You may remember I raved about Edward St. Aubyn’s Some Hope trilogy a while back. Mother’s Milk is the continuation of this and as a result of reading his previous work my anticipation levels are high.

Lastly, David Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice is a favourite seasonal read of mine and I think it’ll be on my present list this year (as in: presents to give not receive). Sedaris is a brilliant humorist and the story “The Santaland Diaries” is worth buying the collection for alone –  it tells the true story of Sedaris’ employment as an elf in Macy’s in New York and I laughed out loud while reading it, very rare for me.

(In the background is the ever present bottle of Ballygowan Sparkling water – I could get into an argument on the merits of carbonated versus naturally sparkling water but I won’t because I don’t live in California – and a glass of wine. Londis are doing a bottle of good Châteauneuf-du-Pape for €13.99 – sure you couldn’t leave it behind!)

Reading Material for April

I did my usual mammoth book buy last week and thought I’d share the results with you. Hodges Figgis were doing an offer on Vintage Classic Editions and so I took advantage and bought three for the price of two. I have devoured most of Richard Yates’ output but found two on offer that I haven’t read yet; Eleven Kinds of Loneliness and Cold Spring Harbour. Yates is familiar to modern readers as the author of Revolutionary Road which was made into a film in 2008 starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet. He is a phenomenal writer and I’m looking forward to reading him again after a long break.

Natasha Walter’s Living Dolls is a book that I have been meaning to read for a long time. I’m interested in the return of sexism (did it ever really go away?) and how young women are increasingly relying on their sexuality for their self-esteem.

Having read a bit about Edward St. Aubyn I was excited to start his trilogy Some Hope. I’m only a few chapters in but am very much enjoying it. I won’t give too much away as I’m sure I’ll devote a whole post to him in the next few weeks, but suffice to say his talent is making me both downcast and jealous so far.

I had a conversation with a very well read friend of mine a couple of weeks ago and mentioned to him that I have neglected to read any classic literature in the last while. I always used to balance my reading and include a couple of classics for every three or four modern books I read. I think as a writer it’s important to educate oneself and read for education as much as pleasure. Anyway I intend to address this recent imbalance and with this in mind I bought Nabokov’s Lolita. It’s a disgrace that I haven’t read this before now as it’s cited by many writers as a masterclass in style. I also picked up another classic, Graham Greene’s The End Of The Affair, as part of the Hodges Figges offer.

Reading Material for February

The Pile beside my bed - February 2011

I was lucky enough to get some great books for Christmas (how long ago it seems now). The book on the bottom is a beautiful hard back Penguin edition of Tales from 1001 Nights which was given to me by a fellow bibliophile for Christmas. I have been picking my way through this and have enjoyed it very much so far. It contains old favourites such as Sinbad and Aladdin as well as the classic animal fables.

I haven’t read any John Irving since I devoured all his books in one go when I was aged about sixteen. I think I overdosed on his particular brand of quirky symbolism laden fiction. My favourite book of his is without a doubt A Prayer For Owen Meany, one of the few books I’ve ever read which elicited both tears of laughter and sadness. I was given Last Night in Twisted River by some friends for Christmas and I’m looking forward to rediscovering Irving.

Visiting the Hodges Figgis sale is always on my to-do list in January. You can pick up some gems for half nothing and I have discovered many writers this way, buying a book for €2.99 and then realising I have found a new favourite writer. I bought A Life Like Other People’s in the sale. It’s a memoir by English playwright, actor and author Alan Bennett. I have never read anything by Bennett before and I’m looking forward to this.

Sean O’Brien’s Afterlife was a Christmas present too. I have started it already and unfortunately I’m not a fan so far. His writing is very bad and I fail to see how he has received such glowing reviews. Anyway I shall continue with it as I always finish books I start!

Lastly I bought Kingsley Amis’ Everyday Drinking in the Hodges Figgis sale. For anyone who enjoys drinking (that’d be everyone then) and well crafted humour, this is a must read. It includes cocktail recipes, advice for the hungover, recommendations on stocking your bar and quizzes. I have laughed out loud while reading this. For example, Amis on building a bar kit: “A refrigerator. All to yourself, I mean. There really is no way round this. Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator they have a claim on, even its ice-compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like food.”

Reading Material for November

"The Pile"

On Saturday I went into Hodges Figgis and did a long overdue book buy. I didn’t have much time as I was on my way to the cinema (more about that later in the week) so it was a lightening dash!

First of all, I bought Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now. I love du Maurier’s slightly gothic style and her most well known book, Rebecca, is one of my favourites. Don’t Look Now was made into a movie directed by Nicholas Roeg and starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. I haven’t actually seen the film and I’m glad, as the plot of the book will be a complete surprise to me. This Penguin edition is part of their “Decades” series where they have asked famous designers to create covers for selected books most representative of each decade. Zandra Rhodes designed the cover for this and the other books featured for the 1970s.

I then picked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I have seen the movie quite recently and was blown away by it. My sister had read the book and said that the film was a faithful and accurate interpretation, however she said the book was much more scary. The Road is McCarthy’s most recent work, published in 2006, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In a rare interview with Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy revealed that the book was inspired by his eight year old son. I’m looking forward to reading it and learning from McCarthy, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest living writers in America.

I also re-bought John The Revelator. This is my third copy of the book as I keep giving it away to people who really should read it! It’s the brilliant debut novel by Peter Murphy which tells the story of John Devine, an introverted boy living with his single mother in rural Ireland. When Jamey Corboy arrives in town and becomes friends with John, it turns John’s life upside down. Peter is a brilliant writer and his style and facility with language is to be greatly admired. Check out this trailer where you can listen to Peter read the first page from the book.

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson was recommended to me by a friend and I’m almost finished it. It’s a book of short stories all of which are about a character called Fuck Head and his adventures while high on drugs and his struggles with addiction. It’s beautifully written – at times dreamlike and poetic. It’s deemed to be a classic book and I have loved it so far.

The book on the bottom is one of the Paris Review Interviews with Writers series. I nearly always have one of these by my bed for inspiration and guidance. They’re my bibles.

Reading Material for May

Things have not been going well recently.  In addition to finding out that my job is being cut back to part-time, and that I have to move again in the next few months, my application for almost every job I’ve gone for has been rejected.  Good times, good times!

Whilst I know all this is only temporary, my mood has not been great.  My father, being the wonderful man he is, gave me a book token for my favourite Dublin bookshop, Hodges Figgis, to cheer me up.  It was very well timed as The Pile was looking a bit depleted.  So off I trotted last week to replenish it.

Firstly I bought The Rolling Stone Interviews which contains interviews with rock and acting legends such as Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Neil Young, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Kurt Cobain and our very own Bono.  My only complaint about this book is that it has very few interviews with women; out of forty interviews only five are with women.  I suppose it reflects the sexist nature of the music industry.  However so many greats collected in one book is bound to make for some interesting reading.

To counteract such sexism I then picked up The Women’s Room, a seminal feminist novel by Marilyn French.  The book follows the life of Mira Ward in in the 1950s and 1960s in America as she experiences a feminist awakening.  This is my second copy of this book as I lent the first copy to a friend about ten years ago and never got it back (one of my pet peeves).  This book’s influence on generations of women was huge (in fact my step-father blames this book for the breakup of his first marriage!) and I’m looking forward to re-reading it.

Lastly I bought Secrets of the Flesh: a Life of Colette.  It’s been a while since I’ve had a biography of a writer on the go and Colette had such a fascinating life that I thought it was definitely going to be a good read.  Colette lived a fairly scandalous life  – male and female lovers, a stint in vaudeville, an affair with her stepson, a final happy marriage to a younger man – and created a great literary reputation with works such as Gigi and Cherie.

A few of my (current) favourite things

Inspired by Queen Michelle’s post yesterday:


1. New necklace which is Florian for ASOS, blue glass ring from V & A which I only seem to wear in spring or summer, Wayfarers because it’s finally bright in Ireland!

2. Pink cheeks and lips for spring – Chanel Les Tissages blush and YSL Rouge Pur 32.

3. The current pile beside my bed.  Am almost finished Skippy Dies, which is brilliant, and I think The Glass Castle is next.

4. Am developing a serious, potentially life-threatening, addiction to Cadbury’s Caramel Bunnies.

HST is God

Book Pile

The above pic shows the pile of books beside my bed this month.  There’s always a stack beside my bed, containing half read and yet to be read books.  I go through phases of reading current novels and then the greats.  Earlier this year I went on a Hemingway binge, re-reading some of my old faves.   The current pile contains two Hunter S. Thompson related books as a HST binge is currently in progress.

The HST biography at the top of the pile is excellently researched and written by William McKeen and details the highs and lows of Hunter’s illustrious career.  A must for any HST fan.

Whilst reading the biography I also Googled HST and found these audio interviews on the Paris Review site.

And lastly, this wouldn’t be complete without a mention of Ralph Steadman.  I think I’m going to self-gift at Christmas with this:

Gonzo by Ralph Steadman

As far as I can see, the role, the duty, the moral obligation, and indeed the only choice of the writer in today’s world is to starve to death as honorably and defiantly as possible.

– Hunter S. Thompson