What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

what belongs to you

On the cover of Greenwell’s first novel is a quote from author Claire Messud that simply says “Here is the real thing” and this book really is. Firstly, and it’s been a long time since I’ve had this pang of regret, but as I was reading the book (a library copy), I was sad that it wasn’t my own as I knew this would be a book I would have for the rest of my life, that I would return to and re-read more than once, in which I would highlight and underline passages. Even now, having stayed up until after two last night to finish it, I’m looking forward to buying my own copy and reading it again.

So, what makes this book so special?

On the surface, the plot is simplistic. The unnamed American narrator living in Bulgaria meets a young hustler called Mitko in a public toilet and largely it is the story of their relationship, fraught as it is. Split into three sections, the book recounts the narrator’s overwhelming attraction for Mitko, their contractual relationship, the narrator’s life – including his familial relationships and his first love that cast a shadow over everything – up until now and his elliptical meetings with Mitko, but this book is so much more than that. Why? The writing. This relatively slender book (under 200 pages) is filled with some of the most beautiful writing I have read in a very long time. The story is sparse, tight and every scene entirely essential, pared back with a poet’s eye (a fact felt throughout the book since the narrator, an English teacher by trade, is a poet himself), and the prose is deft, sparse, haunting and entirely present, insistent and elegiac, with not a duff word or a malformed line. More than that, Greenwell and his narrator write profound sentences that literally litter the book and struck me deeply at times, such as this paragraph, when discussing the multiplicity of chatting to people online:

               “… it’s one of the things I crave in the sites I use, that I can carry on these multiple conversations, each its own window so that sometimes my screen is filled with them; and in each I have the sense of being entirely false and entirely true, like a self in a story, I suppose, or the self I inhabit when I teach, the self of authority and example. I know they’re all I have, these partial selves, true and false at once, that any ideal of wholeness I long for is a sham; but I do long for it, I think I glimpse it sometimes, I even imagine I’ve felt it.” (p. 70)

This is a writer who has clearly read the work of the gay writers who came before him; Edmund White and Tony Kushner were two who came to mind during my reading, however, they are not influences that he works from – Greenwell manages to come across as entirely original, as something utterly new. More than anything, I think why I responded so strongly to this book was that I recognised in the character; a gay man living abroad in a strange country, a poet seeking to document, to make sense of the world.

And that desire to document led to one of Greenwell’s most (to me, at least) devastatingly true assertions, which could be a talisman for the whole novel. Towards the end, on a train journey with his mother, the narrator watches at length a small child at play and towards the end says:

               “I looked once more at the little boy, whom I felt I would never forget, though maybe it wasn’t exactly him I would remember, I thought, but the use I would make of him. I had my notes, I knew I would write a poem about him, and then it would be the poem I remembered, which would be both true and false at once, the image I made replacing the real image. Making poems was a way of loving things, I had always thought, of preserving them, of living moments twice; or more than that, it was a way of living more fully, of bestowing on experience a richer meaning.” (pp. 170-171)

And that’s exactly what this book is; a crystallization of a man’s at times lonely, desperate, alien, and haunted life as he moves through the unfamiliar country – the city he lives in, the way he looks at life, the extent of his connections with people – and his relationship with arrogant, beautiful, petulant Mitko who, as Edmund White says on the back cover, is like a myth. And like a myth, he can never quite be fully grapsed, nor explained.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Brilliant Book Titles #10

My kind of music 🙂

#brilliantbooktitles

this will end in tears.png

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
This Will End in Tears is the first ever and definitive guide to melancholy music. Author Adam Brent Houghtaling leads music fans across genres, beyond the enclaves of emo and mope-rock, and through time to celebrate the albums and artists that make up the miserabilist landscape. In essence a book about the saddest songs ever sung, This Will End in Tears is an encyclopedic guide to the masters of melancholy—from Robert Johnson to Radiohead, from Edith Piaf to Joy Division, from Patsy Cline to The Cure—an insightful, exceedingly engaging exploration into why sad songs make us so happy.

Brilliant Book Titles #9

Okay, I just plain love this one!

#brilliantbooktitles

terrible

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of is a full-colour illustrated compendium of the most painfully bad games, based on Ashens’ YouTube series of the same name.

Everyone’s heard of E.T. for the Atari 2600 and Superman for the Nintendo 64, but these are almost nothing next to the abject incompetence of Count Duckula 2 on the Amstrad CPC. There are people who seriously believe that Shaq Fu is the worst fighting game ever made, having never experienced Dangerous Streets on the Amiga. This book will blow their very soul apart. (Not a guarantee.)

Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of is meticulously researched and written, with the dry humour you’d expect from a man who has somehow made a living by sticking rubbish on a sofa and talking about it. Each entry is accompanied by a series of full-colour images from the games.

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves

mothcatcher

I have to say up front that I’m a fan of Ann Cleeves’ “Vera” novels.  They were recommended to me by a library patron last year and I’ve happily worked my way through all of them. The latest, “The Moth Catcher” finds DI Vera Stanhope sent to investigate a body found in the undergrowth at the side of the road in a remote Northumbrian valley.  The body is identified as that of Patrick Randle, a young man employed to house-sit a large country house.  When Vera and her DS, Joe Ashworth, go to take a look around the flat in the house where Patrick was living another body is found. The only thing the two men seem to have in common is an interest in moths.  Add in the residents of the nearby Valley Farm development – including the parents of a woman about to be released from prison and we have an impressive cast of suspects.

Ann Cleeves always creates a wonderful sense of place with her novels.  Vera’s Northumberland is beautiful and bleak.  Vera herself is a larger than life character – intelligent, confident, lonely and inquisitive.  The supporting characters are fully realised and even as the plot twists and turns, I never felt that the author was throwing in red herrings just for the sake of it.

These books are tightly plotted and very well written and a must-read for anyone who likes crime fiction.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

BONUS POST: Five new memoirs to look out for

[Most of the links below redirect you to South Dublin Libraries’ online catalogue so you can reserve a copy online]

famous nathan
Famous Nathan: A Family Saga of Coney Island, The American Dream and the Search for the Perfect Hot Dog by Lloyd Handwerker and Gil Reavill (21 Jun 2016)
Beginning with just five feet of counter space on Coney Island in 1916, Nathan’s Famous – based on the basic principles of quality ingredients, hard work and a price everyone could afford -soon stretched across the globe, launching the hotdog as an American food staple and Nathan Handwerker to national fame. But the story behind the dog is even tastier…

Fleeing Eastern Europe as the shadow of WWI looms large with nothing but twenty dollars in his socks, Nathan arrives in New York with the insatiable desire to make a better life, and within two years he sets up a shop of his own, hawking frankfurters for five cents at the sleepy little beach retreat of Coney Island. As New York booms, pushing trains and patrons to the shore, so too do Nathan’s humble hotdogs. Within ten years he has the whole corner, and a brand as recognizable as Coca-Cola and Cracker Jack. Nathan’s is famous.

But with success comes difficulties, and as Nathan’s two sons vie to inherit the family dynasty a story of Biblical proportions plays out, mirroring the corporatization of the American food industry.

Written by Nathan’s own grandson, and at once a portrait of a man, a family and the changing face of a nation through a century of promise and progress, Famous Nathan is a dog’s tale that snaps and satisfies with every page.

stanley kubrick
Stanley Kubrick and Me: Thirty Years at his Side by Emilio D’Alessandro and Fillppo Ulivier (23 Jun 2016)
This intimate portrait by his former personal assistant and confidante reveals the man behind the legendary filmmaker–for the first time. Stanley Kubrick, the director of a string of timeless movies from Lolita and Dr. Strangelove to A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, and others, has always been depicted by the media as the Howard Hughes of filmmakers, a weird artist obsessed with his work and privacy to the point of madness. But who was he really? Emilio D’Alessandro lets us see. A former Formula Ford driver who was a minicab chauffeur in London during the Swinging Sixties, he took a job driving a giant phallus through the city that became his introduction to the director. Honest, reliable, and ready to take on any task, Emilio found his way into Kubrick’s neurotic, obsessive heart. He became his personal assistant, his right-hand man and confidant, working for him from A Clockwork Orange until Kubrick’s death in 1999. Emilio was the silent guy in the room when the script for The Shining was discussed. He still has the coat Jack Nicholson used in the movie. He was an extra on the set of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s last movie. He knew all the actors and producers Kubrick worked with; he observed firsthand Kubrick’s working methods down to the smallest detail. Making no claim of expertise in cinematography but with plenty of anecdotes, he offers a completely fresh perspective on the artist and a warm, affecting portrait of a generous, kind, caring man who was a perfectionist in work and life.

playing scard
Playing Scared: My Journey Through Stage Fright by Sara Solovitch (30 Jun 2016)
Stage fright is one of the human psyche’s deepest fears. Over half of British adults name public speaking as their greatest anxiety. Laurence Olivier learned to adapt to it, as have actors Salma Hayek and Hugh Grant. Musicians such as Paul McCartney and Adele have battled it and learned to cope.

Playing Scared is Sara Solovitch’s journey into the myriad causes of stage fright and the ways we can overcome it. Using her own experience as inspiration, Sara has written a thoughtful and insightful cultural history of performance anxiety and a tribute to pursuing personal growth at any age.

dark night
Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Paul Dini and Eduardo Risso (30 Jun 2016)
The Caped Crusader has been the all-abiding icon of justice and authority for generations. But in this surprising original graphic novel, we see Batman in a new light — as the savior who helps a discouraged man recover from a brutal attack that left him unable to face the world. In the 1990s, legendary writer Paul Dini had a flourishing career writing the hugely popular Batman: The Animated Series and Tiny Toon Adventures. Walking home one evening, he was jumped and viciously beaten within an inch of his life. His recovery process was arduous, hampered by the imagined antics of the villains he was writing for television including the Joker, Harley Quinn and the Penguin. But despite how bleak his circumstances were, or perhaps because of it, Dini also always imagined the Batman at his side, chivvying him along during his darkest moments. DARK NIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY is the harrowing and eloquent autobiographical tale of Dini’s courageous struggle to overcome a truly desperate situation. It is a Batman story like none other and one that will truly resonate with fans. Art by the incredible and talented Eduardo Risso (100 BULLETS, TRANSMETROPOLITAN).

thisisnotmybeautiful
This Is Not My Beautiful Life: A Memoir by Victoria Fedden (1 Jul 2016)
ONE OF “PUBLISHERS WEEKLY”‘S TEN MOST ANTICIPATED MEMOIRS OF THE SEASON IF YOU THINK IT SUCKS TO LIVE WITH YOUR PARENTS WHEN YOU RE THIRTY-SIX AND NINE MONTHS PREGNANT, JUST WAIT TILL THE DEA COMES KNOCKING (WITH THE IRS IN TOW): WELCOME TO VICTORIA FEDDEN S LIFE.When a squad of federal agents burst through her parents front door, Victoria Fedden felt ill-prepared to meet them: She was weeks away from her due date and her T-shirt wasn t long enough to hide her maternity undies. As for the question of how to raise a child when you ve just discovered that your mother and stepfather have allegedly masterminded a pump-and-dump scheme? She was pretty sure that wasn t covered in “What “”to Expect When You re Expectin”g and she really hoped that Bradford Cohen, the noted criminal defense attorney who famously waived his exemption on “The Apprentice,” would prove them innocent.”This Is Not My Beautiful Life” is the story of how Victoria lost her parents to prison and nearly lost her mind. No one ever said motherhood would be easy, but as she struggles to change diapers, install car seats, and find the right drop-off line at pre-school no easy task, when each one is named for a stage in the lifecycle of a f*cking butterfly she s also forced to ask herself whether a jump-suit might actually complement her mom s platinum-blonde extensions and fend off the cast of shady, stranger-than-fiction characters (like the recovering addict who scored a reality show when he started an escort service for women) who populated her parents world.A real-life “Arrested Development” that could only unfold in southern Florida, “This Is Not My Beautiful Life” is a hilariously funny and unexpectedly moving memoir of a just-functional family you ll never forget.”

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

follett

For over ten years,I balked at the idea of reading this book. Its sheer size put me off, despite many recommendations by library users returning it. “You’ll love it”, they’d say. Eventually I did read it and I did love it.  Who would have thought that a book about building a cathedral in medieval England could be so absorbing?

The plot has many twists and turns, there are lots of characters, but the underlying theme of good versus evil, drives the story, like an engine. From the first page we are hooked, Follett makes it impossible to turn aside from a poor family, cold, hungry and wandering in the woods.

After that you are on a rollercoaster of a tale with ups, downs, murder, mayhem, rape, treachery, revenge and saintliness and goodness. All of human life is literally there and I defy you to not get sucked in.

Though the cathedral is the focus of the activity in the novel, it is the strength of the characters that you remember, their resilience and humanity and you are cheering for the “good guys “, all the way.

Follett wrote two more in this series, but for sheer vitality and spectacular story telling this one is hard to beat. Forget the boxed sets, put a long weekend aside and immerse yourself in the Medieval world, and the fictional location of Kingsbridge.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Brilliant Book Titles #8

An occasional series of blog posts whenever something takes my fancy.

This came across my path this morning. Looks right up my street!

#brilliantbooktitles

shock value

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
1970s Hollywood often brings to mind directors such as Scorsese, Spielberg and Coppola. But the decade was also horror’s ‘golden age’, producing classics like Rosemary’s Baby, Carrie, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween by directors who would achieve massive success. Since then, horror has been a prominent part of popular culture.

Brilliant Book Titles #7

An occasional series of blog posts whenever something takes my fancy.

I love the seemingly innocuous title (that is far from it!).

#brilliantbooktitles

full service

You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb:
Scotty Bowers, a dashing young ex-Marine exuding sex appeal, arrived in Hollywood in 1946 and quickly caught the attention of many of the town’s stars. Working out of a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard, Bowers soon became the go-to guy for anyone looking for a bespoke sexual partner; no matter how outlandish the tastes, Scotty could find someone for everyone…

In his thirty years ‘tricking’ and arranging tricks for LA’s rich and famous, Bowers went to bed with thousands of people and engineered sexual liaisons of all flavours for countless more.

Full Service is the ultimate guilty pleasure, revealing for the first time the shadow lives of the people who created popular culture, told by the man who was so central to fulfilling their desires.

Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure by Ruth Dudley Edwards

patrick pearse

This is a biography of Pearse from the 1970’s. It covers his life from childhood, schooling at the Christian Brothers on Westland Row where his love for Gaelic Culture began, to his involvement with the Gaelic League and finally to his membership of the IRB and his leadership in the Easter Rising. His interest in the Irish language beginning in school under the Christian Brothers leads to his trips to the Connemara Gaeltacht and his experience of the poverty of the community there lead gradually to more radical political views from a more conventional middle class catholic Parnellite stance. This leads finally to membership of the IRB and his role in the Easter Rising. Pearse’s idealism comes out clearly through his promotion of modern educational methods and also the promotion of Gaelic in St. Endas. The author also makes clear Pearse’s  lack of practicality in business and combat, he fails in his attempts to maintain his father’s Stone masonry firm, the financial troubles he suffered with St. Enda’s and his ineffectuality as a military man in the rising.

I found it a very readable biography of Pearse, balanced in its analysis of the foremost of the rebel leaders and not too academic. It’s a good introduction to a figure we’re all superficially familiar with whose life has perhaps been obscured by the mythology that has grown up around him.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

BONUS POST – 5 History Books to Watch Out For

From the year 9AD to Henry Ford, here’s five new books about history to watch out for:
[All links below direct you to South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue where you can reserve a copy online]

fourdays
Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg by Jason R. Abdale (30 May 2016)
For twenty years, the Roman Empire conquered its way through modern-day Germany, claiming all lands from the Rhine to the Elbe. However, when at last all appeared to be under control, a catastrophe erupted that claimed the lives of 10,000 legionnaires and laid Rome’s imperial ambitions for Germania into the dust. In late September of 9 AD, three Roman legions, while marching to suppress a distant tribal rebellion, were attacked in a four-day battle with the Germanic barbarians. The Romans, under the leadership of the province’s governor, Publius Quinctilius Varus, were taken completely by surprise, betrayed by a member of their own ranks: the German officer and secret rebel leader, Arminius. The defeat was a heavy blow to both Rome’s military and its pride. Though the disaster was ruthlessly avenged soon afterwards, later attempts at conquering the Germans were half-hearted at best. Four days in September thoroughly examines the ancient sources and challenges the hypotheses of modern scholars to present a clear picture of the prelude to the battle, the fighting itself and its aftermath.

hitler's berlin
Hitler’s Berlin: Abused City by Thomas Friedrich (7 Jun 2016)
From his first visit to Berlin in 1916, Hitler was preoccupied and fascinated by Germany’s great capital city. In this vivid and entirely new account of Hitler’s relationship with Berlin, Thomas Friedrich explores how Hitler identified with the city, how his political aspirations were reflected in architectural aspirations for the capital, and how Berlin surprisingly influenced the development of Hitler’s political ideas. A leading expert on the twentieth-century history of Berlin, Friedrich employs new and little-known German sources to track Hitler’s attitudes and plans for the city. Even while he despised both the cosmopolitan culture of the Weimar Republic and the profound Jewish influence on the city, Hitler was drawn to the grandiosity of its architecture and its imperial spirit. He dreamed of transforming Berlin into a capital that would reflect his autocracy, and he used the city for such varied purposes as testing his anti-Semitic policies and demonstrating the might of the Third Reich. Illuminating Berlin’s burdened years under Nazi subjection, Friedrich offers new understandings of Hitler and his politics, architectural views, and artistic opinions.

rough riders
Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment, and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hull by Mark Lee Gardner (16 Jun 2016)
The first definitive account of this legendary fighting force and its extraordinary leader, Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Lee Gardner’s Rough Riders is narrative nonfiction at its most invigorating and compulsively readable. Its dramatic unfolding of a familiar, yet not-fully-known story will remind readers of James Swanson’s Manhunt.

Two months after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in February 1898, Congress authorized President McKinley to recruit a volunteer army to drive the Spaniards from Cuba. From this army emerged the legendary “Rough Riders,” a mounted regiment drawn from America’s western territories and led by the indomitable Theodore Roosevelt. Its ranks included not only cowboys and other westerners, but several Ivy Leaguers and clubmen, many of them friends of “TR.” Roosevelt and his men quickly came to symbolize American ruggedness, daring, and individualism. He led them to victory in the famed Battle at San Juan Hill, which made TR a national hero and cemented the Rough Riders’ place in history.

Now, Mark Lee Gardner synthesizes previously unknown primary accounts as well as period newspaper articles, letters, and diaries from public and private archives in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Boston, and Washington, DC, to produce this authoritative chronicle. He breathes fresh life into the Rough Riders and pays tribute to their daring feats and indomitable leader. Gardner also explores lesser-known aspects of the story, including their relationship with the African-American “Buffalo Soldiers, with whom they fought side by side at San Juan Hill.

Rich with action, violence, camaraderie, and courage, Rough Riders sheds new light on the Theodore Roosevelt saga—and on one of the most thrilling chapters in American history.

mythology
The Mythology of Richard III by John Ashdown-Hill (15 Jun 2016)
Richard III. The name will conjure an image for any reader. Shakespeare’s hunchback tyrant who killed his own nephews or a long-denigrated, misunderstood king. This one man’s character and actions have divided historians and the controversy has always kept interest in Richard alive. However, curiosity surrounding his life and death has reached unprecedented heights in the aftermath of the discovery of his skeleton under a Leicester car park.

The myths that have always swirled around Richard III have risen and multiplied and it is time to set the record straight. John Ashdown-Hill, whose research was instrumental in the discovery of Richard III’s remains, explores and unravels the web of myths in this fascinating book.

drive henry ford
Drive!: Henry Ford, George Selden, and the Race to Invent the Auto Age by Lawrence Goldstone (17 May 2016)
From the acclaimed author of “Birdmen” comes a revelatory new history of the birth of the automobile, an illuminating and entertaining true tale of invention, competition, and the visionaries, hustlers, and swindlers who came together to transform the world.
In 1900, the Automobile Club of America sponsored the nation s first car show in New York s Madison Square Garden. The event was a spectacular success, attracting seventy exhibitors and nearly fifty thousand visitors. Among the spectators was an obscure would-be automaker named Henry Ford, who walked the floor speaking with designers and engineers, trying to gauge public enthusiasm for what was then a revolutionary invention. His conclusion: the automobile was going to be a fixture in American society, both in the city and on the farm and would make some people very rich. None, he decided, more than he.
“Drive!” is the most complete account to date of the wild early days of the auto age. Lawrence Goldstone tells the fascinating story of how the internal combustion engine, a theory looking for an application, evolved into an innovation that would change history. Debunking many long-held myths along the way, “Drive!” shows that the creation of the automobile was not the work of one man, but very much a global effort. Long before anyone had heard of Henry Ford, men with names like Benz, Peugeot, Renault, and Daimler were building and marketing the world s first cars.
Goldstone breathes life into an extraordinary cast of characters: the inventors and engineers who crafted engines small enough to use on a horseless carriage; the financiers who risked everything for their visions; the first racers daredevils who pushed rickety, untested vehicles to their limits; and such visionary lawyers as George Selden, who fought for and won the first patent for the gasoline-powered automobile. Lurking around every corner is Henry Ford, a brilliant innovator and an even better marketer, a tireless promoter of his products and of himself.
With a narrative as propulsive as its subject, “Drive! “plunges us headlong into a time unlike any in history, when near-manic innovation, competition, and consumerist zeal coalesced to change the way the world moved.
Advance praise for “Drive!”
A wonderful, story-filled saga of the early days of the auto age . . . Readers will be swept up in his vivid re-creation of a bygone era. . . . Horse Is Doomed, read one headline in 1895. This highly readable popular history tells why. “Kirkus Reviews “(starred reviews)
A splendid dissection of the Selden/Ford patent face-off and its place in automotive historiography, this work will be enjoyed by business, legal, transportation, social, and intellectual historians; general readers; and all libraries. “Library Journal” (starred review)
This book contains the great names in automotive history the Dodge brothers, Barney Oldfield, all the French (they seemed, until Ford, to lead the Americans in development of the vehicle) and it is fascinating. . . . An engaging new take on the history of technological innovation. “Booklist”
Business history as you have never read it before. Lawrence Goldstone tells the tale of the important but now forgotten legal fight over the patent for the automobile. With more plot twists than a murder mystery and a cast of well-known industrial titans, “Drive!” takes the reader down the road from the dawning age of the automobile, when Henry Ford s dream almost turned into a nightmare. James McGrath Morris, author of “Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power””