The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

the shipping news

After writing a number of reviews for South Dublin Reads, I have decided it’s about time that I review one of my favourite books – Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.

While Proulx is probably best known for gay cowboy classic Brokeback Mountain, The Shipping News, published in 1993, won her both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the US National Book Award for Fiction. It is a wonderful piece of work, languorous and moving, beautifully bringing to the life the story of protagonist Quoyle and the small Newfoundland town of Killick-Claw.

The Shipping News concerns a few years in the life of Quoyle, a lonely man with who, in an effort to get over the tragic end to a disastrous relationship, moves with his aunt and two young daughters back to his ancestral home on Newfoundland. While the plot of the Shipping News hinges around Quoyle and his journey to this new life, the star of the show is undoubtedly Newfoundland itself, stark and bleakly beautiful. There is a wonder to the icebergs clinking in the bay, the fog “against the window like milk”, the tumultuous sea.

Newfoundland shapes the characters, their considerations and motivations are reflected by the island. For example, this paragraph concerning Quoyle in the early stages of the book; “His thoughts churned like the amorphous thing that ancient sailors, drifting into arctic half-light, called the Sea Lung; a heaving sludge of ice under fog where air blurred into water, where liquid was solid, where solids dissolved, where the sky froze and light and dark muddled.”

Over the years I’ve found The Shipping News has polarised readers. Some I’ve recommended it to have dismissed it as too slow, too exhaustive or Proulx’s literary style as too descriptive.

I am no longer friends with those people.

The Shipping News is an unhurried, slow-burning read. There is great joy to be had from watching the characters open and evolve, their wit and charm and harshness imbued with the salt of the Newfoundland air. My admiration for this book is so enduring, I plan on visiting St. John’s this summer to eat some seal flipper pie and watch the icebergs sail by…. Reading it might encourage you to do the same.


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

5 New Music Books to Watch Out For

Let the Good Times Roll: My Life in The Small Faces, Faces and The Who by Kenney Jones (31 May 2018) 
let the good times roll

As drummer with the Small Faces, Faces and later The Who, Kenney Jones’ unique sense of rhythm was the heartbeat that powered three of the most in?uential rock bands of all time.

Beginning in London’s post-war East End, Kenney’s story takes us through the birth of the Mod revolution, the mind-bending days of the late-1960s and the raucous excesses of the ’70s and ’80s. In a career spanning six decades, Kenney was at the epicentre of many of the most exciting moments in music history and has experienced everything the industry has to offer. He jointly created some of the world’s most-loved records, hung out with the Stones, Beatles, David Bowie, Keith Moon and Rod Stewart, and suffered the loss of close friends to rock ‘n’ roll excess and success.

The legacy created by Kenney and his band mates has in?uenced acts as diverse as Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols and Oasis. Now, for the very ?rst time, Kenney tells the full story of how a young Cockney Herbert played his part in the biggest social transformation in living memory – the people, the parties, the friendships, the fall-outs, the laughter, the sadness, the sex, drugs, and a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, while also opening up about his own deeply personal battles and passions, too. This is a vivid and breath-taking immersion into the most exciting era of music history and beyond.

Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music and the Decade that Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller (22 Jun 2018)
strange stars
In the 1960s and 70s old mores and lingering repressions were falling away, replaced with a new kind of hedonistic freedom that included sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Although it didn’t factor into the stereotype, it also included science fiction. Strange Stars tells the story of how incredibly well read artists – David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and many more – brought Sci Fi’s cosmic flare to their lyrics, sounds, and styles, and changed pop music forever.

Swans: Sacrifice and Transcendence, the Oral History by Nick Soulsby (26 Jun 2018)
swans sacrifice
I m no stranger to failure, and I m aware it can arrive at any minute as it often has. You have to keep things close to your chest and be aware of what s really important: the work, not everything around it. If you have faith in the work, then the people will come … it s an artistic imperative, it has nothing to do with public perception or career or any of that cr*p.

The name, Swans, it s synonymous with who I am, but it s how it s achieved and it s achieved by people those people need to have total commitment to making this sound and to making it utterly incisive and uncompromising. The work is everything and it has to at least at the time appear, to me, to be stellar. That s the prerequisite. It s an intangible thing where it really speaks and has some truth within it. Michael Gira

Over a span of some three and a half decades, Michael Gira s Swans have risen from chaotic origins in the aftermath of New York s No Wave scene to become one of the most acclaimed rock-orientated acts of recent years. The 1980s infamous loudest band on the planet morphed repeatedly until collapsing exhausted, broken, and dispirited in the late 1990s.

Swans returned triumphantly in 2010 to top end-of-year polls and achieve feted status among fans and critics alike as the great survivors and latter-day statesmen of the underground scene. Throughout, Gira s desire has remained to create music of such intensity that the listener might forget flesh, get rid of the body, exist as pure energy transcendent inside of the sound.

Through these pages, the musicians responsible tell the tale of one of the most significant bands of the US post-punk era. Drawing on more than 125 original interviews, Swans: Sacrifice And Transcendence is the ultimate companion to Swans and their work from the 1980s to the present day.

Outside the Jukebox: How I Turned My Vintage Music Obsession into My Dream Gig by Scott Bradlee (12 Jul 2018)
outside the jukebox
From the creator of the sensation Postmodern Jukebox–with millions of fans globally–comes an inspirational memoir about discovering what you love and turning it into a creative movement.

With student loan debt piling up and no lucrative gigs around the corner, Scott Bradlee found himself in a situation all too familiar to struggling musicians and creative professionals, unsure whether he should use the little income he had to pay the rent on his basement apartment on the fringes of New York City or to avoid defaulting on his loans.

It was in these desperate circumstances that Bradlee began experimenting, applying his passion for jazz, ragtime, and doo wop styles to contemporary hits by singers like Macklemore and Miley Cyrus–and suddenly an idea was born. The bands Bradlee went on to launch–from A Motown Tribute to Nickelback to Postmodern Jukebox, the rotating supergroup devoted to period covers of pop songs for which he is best known–borrowed from and refined the initial idea he had arrived at to bring genres now sometimes considered arcane to wide audiences. Today, the success he has had is astonishing, with Postmodern Jukebox collecting upwards of three million subscribers on YouTube, selling out major venues around the world, and developing previously unknown talent into superstar singers.

Taking readers through the false starts, absurd failures, and unexpected breakthroughs of Bradlee’s journey from a lost musician to a musical kingmaker headlining Radio City Music Hall–and presenting all the insights he learned along the way to becoming an entrepreneur like no other–OUTSIDE THE JUKEBOX is an inspiring memoir about how one musician found his rhythm and launched a movement that would forever change how people make, distribute, and enjoy their favorite songs.

Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down: Rock’n’Roll War Stories by Allan Jones (9 Aug 2018)
cant stand up for falling down
Allan Jones launched Uncut magazine in 1997 and for 15 years wrote a popular monthly column called Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before, based on his experiences as a music journalist in the 70s and 80s, a gilded time for the music press.

By turns hilarious, cautionary, poignant and powerful, the Stop Me…stories collected here include encounters with some of rock’s most iconic stars, including David Bowie, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Smiths, R.E.M. and Pearl Jam. From backstage brawls and drug blow-outs, to riots, superstar punch-ups, hotel room confessionals and tour bus lunacy, these are stories from the madness of a music scene now long gone.



Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right

kill all normies

This was fantastic, a real education. With the eye of a scholar and the pen of a good journalist, Nagle brings outlines the unsavoury of the shadowy world of forums, memes and and blogs and how they have grown in influence over the last decade to such an extent that the real world of Trumpian rhetoric now reflects the digital world of bald-faced mysoginy, racism, anti-semitism and any form of bullying abuse you care to name.

The frightening depths some of these anonymous keyboard warriors will sink , and have sunk too, doesn’t bear thinking about. Unfortunately though, we have to start thinking about it, because as long as we ignore them or try to shout them down instead of engage with them, people like Trump get elected.

Despite all of the grisly anecdotes Nagle relates of how these cowards have targeted individuals online for a unending tirade of abuse, it is liberals, the left and progressive society that comes in for the most heartfelt criticism. Nagle’s logic is that it is liberal intolerance which has driven people (mostly angry young men) to these ends. It’s a compelling argument in a compelling book.


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

Brilliant Book Titles #207

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

In this thought-provoking and playful short story collection, David Foster Wallace nudges at the boundaries of fiction with inimitable wit and seductive intelligence.
Wallace’s stories present a world where the bizarre and the banal are interwoven and where hideous men appear in many guises. Among the stories are ‘The Depressed Person,’ a dazzling and blackly humorous portrayal of a woman’s mental state; ‘Adult World,’ which reveals a woman’s agonized consideration of her confusing sexual relationship with her husband; and ‘Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,’ a dark, hilarious series of imagined interviews with men on the subject of their relations with women.
Wallace delights in leftfield observation, mining the absurd, the surprising, and the illuminating from every situation. This collection will enthrall DFW fans, and provides a perfect introduction for new readers.

Brilliant Book Titles #206

her body and other stories.jpg

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

Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction

“[These stories] vibrate with originality, queerness, sensuality and the strange.”―Roxane Gay

“In these formally brilliant and emotionally charged tales, Machado gives literal shape to women’s memories and hunger and desire. I couldn’t put it down.”―Karen Russell

In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella “Especially Heinous,” Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naïvely assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgängers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.

Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

alone in berlin

This book (recently adapted for the screen with Brendan Gleeson starring) is based on the true story of a German couple in the early part of WW2 living in Berlin. Both are quiet, respectable, working class people who were not recorded as showing any signs of political dissent. During the invasion of France however, the wife’s brother is killed in action. His death turns the couple resoultely against the Nazi state.

This was one of the first anti-Nazi novel’s published after the end of the war and has been translated into numerous languages, such is its regard amongst Germans and other Europeans who felt the brunt of Nazi power.

Most of the book’s narrative power comes from this reality that what you are reading is non-fiction. The author, who’s life is absolutely fascinating by the way, came upon the account of this couple upon the intervention of a friend. Struggling with his muse and his mental health, Fallada’s friend had hoped to reinvigorate the author. Fallada wrote the novel in less than 2 months during a sojourn in a mental institution and died 4 months later.

Despite the story behind the book, I found it a little dull at times. You get the sense that a lot has been lost in translation as anachronistic German phrases are repeatedly used which just don’t work in English, e.g. “such and such person….”. It’s also a very long book. 600 pages long, in fact. It could be nearly halved it’s so much. It’s worth reading, but the dullness persists till the end and for that reason I just couldn’t call it a great book.


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

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

fire and fury

No book in recent times has captured the attention of the media quite like Fire and Fury has. With the Trump Presidency having just completed it’s first tumultuous year, the time was ripe for an insider account of the White House.

First impressions of the book were that is was rushed. It’s full or typos and errors. It’s obvious that getting the book to print was the main goal of the book, rather than having a final edit. But under the circumstances, that’s understandable.

There are no real revelations in the book, especially to anyone who has kept a close eye on US Presidential politics. The chief ‘revelations’ are that Trump never expected to win the Presidency, Melania Trump isn’t happy with the intrusion the Presidency has had on her and their son, Barron’s lives; and that people like Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner etc all had their own agendas when working at the White House. It’s obvious that Wolff had a lot of access to Steve Bannon and there is much extolling by Bannon of his virtues while berating the rest of the staff.

Wolff certainly makes the case, without saying outright, that President Trump is unstable and raise alarm about his fitness for office. But much of the anecdotes used to present this argument cannot be verified. Although Trump’s own tweets may be a strong enough case in itself.

This book is not a brilliant or insightful volume and it is definitely not an academic work. I don’t believe it will have much relevance or impact after 2018. No doubt, better informed and researched books will be published. Personally I wouldn’t recommend the book.


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

Brilliant Book Titles #205

love in the time of cholera.jpg

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

“A love story of astonishing power.” – Newsweek
the International Bestseller and modern literary classic by Nobel Prize-Winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

5 New Culture Books to Watch Out For

Beauty Sick: How Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women by Renee Englen (31 May 2018)
beauty sick
An award-winning Northwestern University psychology professor reveals how the cultural obsession with women’s appearance is an epidemic that harms women’s ability to get ahead and to live happy, meaningful lives, in this powerful, eye-opening work in the vein of Naomi Wolf, Peggy Orenstein, and Sheryl Sandberg.

Today’s young women face a bewildering set of contradictions when it comes to beauty. They don’t want to be Barbie dolls but, like generations of women before them, are told they must look like them. They’re angry about the media’s treatment of women but hungrily consume the very outlets that belittle them. They mock modern culture’s absurd beauty ideal and make videos exposing Photoshopping tricks, but feel pressured to emulate the same images they criticize by posing with a “skinny arm.” They understand that what they see isn’t real but still download apps to airbrush their selfies. Yet these same young women are fierce fighters for the issues they care about. They are ready to fight back against their beauty-sick culture and create a different world for themselves, but they need a way forward.

In Beauty Sick, Dr. Renee Engeln, whose TEDx talk on beauty sickness has received more than 250,000 views, reveals the shocking consequences of our obsession with girls’ appearance on their emotional and physical health and their wallets and ambitions, including depression, eating disorders, disruptions in cognitive processing, and lost money and time. Combining scientific studies with the voices of real women of all ages, she makes clear that to truly fulfill their potential, we must break free from cultural forces that feed destructive desires, attitudes, and words—from fat-shaming to denigrating commentary about other women. She provides inspiration and workable solutions to help girls and women overcome negative attitudes and embrace their whole selves, to transform their lives, claim the futures they deserve, and, ultimately, change their world.

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf (7 Aug 2018)
reader come homeFrom the author of Proust and the Squid, a lively, ambitious, and deeply informative epistolary book that considers the future of the reading brain and our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection as we become increasingly dependent on digital technologies.

A decade ago, Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid revealed what we know about how the brain learns to read and how reading changes the way we think and feel. Since then, the ways we process written language have changed dramatically with many concerned about both their own changes and that of children. New research on the reading brain chronicles these changes in the brains of children and adults as they learn to read while immersed in a digitally dominated medium.

Drawing deeply on this research, this book comprises a series of letters Wolf writes to us–her beloved readers–to describe her concerns and her hopes about what is happening to the reading brain as it unavoidably changes to adapt to digital mediums. Wolf raises difficult questions, including:

  • Will children learn to incorporate the full range of “deep reading” processes that are at the core of the expert reading brain?
  • Will the mix of a seemingly infinite set of distractions for children’s attention and their quick access to immediate, voluminous information alter their ability to think for themselves?
  • With information at their fingertips, will the next generation learn to build their own storehouse of knowledge, which could impede the ability to make analogies and draw inferences from what they know?
  • Will all these influences, in turn, change the formation in children and the use in adults of “slower” cognitive processes like critical thinking, personal reflection, imagination, and empathy that comprise deep reading and that influence both how we think and how we live our lives?
  • Will the chain of digital influences ultimately influence the use of the critical analytical and empathic capacities necessary for a democratic society?
  • How can we preserve deep reading processes in future iterations of the reading brain?
  • Who are the “good readers” of every epoch?

Concerns about attention span, critical reasoning, and over-reliance on technology are never just about children–Wolf herself has found that, though she is a reading expert, her ability to read deeply has been impacted as she has become, inevitably, increasingly dependent on screens.

Wolf draws on neuroscience, literature, education, technology, and philosophy and blends historical, literary, and scientific facts with down-to-earth examples and warm anecdotes to illuminate complex ideas that culminate in a proposal for a biliterate reading brain. Provocative and intriguing, Reader, Come Home is a roadmap that provides a cautionary but hopeful perspective on the impact of technology on our brains and our most essential intellectual capacities–and what this could mean for our future.

Chasing Phil: The Adventures of Two Undercover Agents with the World’s Most Charming Con Man by David Howard (7 Aug 2018)
A thrilling true crime caper, bursting with colorful characters and awash in ’70s glamour, that spotlights the FBI’s first white-collar undercover sting

1977, the Thunderbird Motel. J.J. Wedick and Jack Brennan–two fresh-faced, maverick FBI agents–were about to embark on one of their agency’s first wire-wearing undercover missions. Their target? Charismatic, globetrotting con man Phil Kitzer, whom some called the world’s greatest swindler. From the Thunderbird, the three men took off to Cleveland, to Miami, to Hawaii, to Frankfurt, to the Bahamas–meeting other members of Kitzer’s crime syndicate and powerful politicians and businessmen he fooled at each stop. But as the young agents, playing the role of proteges and co-conspirators, became further entangled in Phil’s outrageous schemes over their months on the road, they also grew to respect him–even care for him. Meanwhile, Phil began to think of Jack and J.J. as best friends, sharing hotel rooms and inside jokes with them and even competing with J.J. in picking up women.

Phil Kitzer was at the center of dozens of scams in which he swindled millions of dollars, but the FBI was mired in a post-Watergate malaise and slow to pivot toward a new type of financial crime that is now all too familiar. Plunging into the field with no undercover training, the agents battled a creaky bureaucracy on their adventures with Phil, hoping the FBI would recognize the importance of their mission. Even as they grew closer to Phil, they recognized that their endgame–the swindler’s arrest–was drawing near…

Anchored by larger-than-life characters, framed by exotic locales and an irresistible era, Chasing Phil is high drama and propulsive reading, delivered by an effortless storyteller.

The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats by Vyvyan Evans (7 Aug 2018)
emoji code.jpg
Drawing from disciplines as diverse as linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience, The Emoji Code explores how emojis are expanding communication and not ending it.

For all the handwringing about the imminent death of written language, emoji–those happy faces and hearts–is not taking us backward to the dark ages of illiteracy. Every day 41.5 billion texts are sent by one quarter of the world, using 6 million emoji. Evans argues that these symbols enrich our ability to communicate and allow us to express our emotions and induce empathy–ultimately making us all better communicators.

Vyvyan Evans’s Emoji Code charts the evolutionary origins of language, the social and cultural factors that govern its use, change, and development; as well as what it reveals about the human mind. In most communication, nonverbal cues are our emotional expression, signal our personality, and are our attitude toward our addressee. They provide the essential means of nuance and are essential to getting our ideas across. But in digital communication, these cues are missing, which can lead to miscommunication. The explosion of emoji, in less than four years, has arisen precisely because it fulfills exactly these functions which are essential for communication but are otherwise absent in texts and emails. Evans persuasively argues that emoji add tone and an emotional voice and nuance, making us more effective communicators in the digital age.

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement by Matthew Horace and Ron Harris (30 Aug 2018)
the black and blue
Matthew Horace was an officer at the federal, state, and local level for 28 years working in every state in the country. Yet it was after seven years of service when Horace found himself face-down on the ground with a gun pointed at his head by a white fellow officer, that he fully understood the racism seething within America’s police departments.

Using gut-wrenching reportage, on-the-ground research, and personal accounts garnered by interviews with police and government officials around the country, Horace presents an insider’s examination of police tactics, which he concludes is an “archaic system” built on “toxic brotherhood.” Horace dissects some of the nation’s most highly publicized police shootings and communities highlighted in the Black Lives Matter movement and beyond to explain how these systems and tactics have had detrimental outcomes to the people they serve. Horace provides fresh analysis on communities experiencing the high killing and imprisonment rates due to racist policing such as Ferguson, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Chicago from a law enforcement point of view and uncovers what has sown the seeds of violence.

Timely and provocative, The Black and The Blue sheds light on what truly goes on behind the blue line.

Marriage in the City by Penny Reid

marriage of incon

There are three things you need to know about Kat Tanner (aka Kathleen Tyson. . . and yes, she is *that* Kathleen Tyson): 1) She’s determined to make good decisions, 2) She must get married ASAP, and 3) She knows how to knit.

Being a billionaire heiress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it sucks. Determined to live a quiet life, Kat Tanner changed her identity years ago and eschewed her family’s legacy. But now, Kat’s silver spoon past has finally caught up with her, and so have her youthful mistakes. To avoid imminent disaster, she must marry immediately; it is essential that the person she chooses have no romantic feelings for her whatsoever and be completely trustworthy.

Fortunately, she knows exactly who to ask. Dan O’Malley checks all the boxes: single, romantically indifferent to her, completely trustworthy. Sure, she might have a wee little crush on Dan the Security Man, but with clear rules, expectations, and a legally binding contract, Kat is certain she can make it through this debacle with her sanity—and heart—all in one piece.

Except, what happens when Dan O’Malley isn’t as indifferent—or as trustworthy—as she thought?


5 Knitting Club Stars

I love Penny Reid’s books, and I have really enjoyed her knitting in the City series. Marriage of Inconvenience is the seventh instalment to this series but can be read as a standalone.

My hiccups sounded like a shrill gasp if I wasn’t careful to keep my mouth closed. A few people eyeballed me as I walked, as though attempting to determine if I were in distress or just a weirdo making truncated shrieking sounds.

Kat is the sole heir to a Pharmaceutical empire worth billions and she needs help to save her father’s company. To do this she needs to get married. Dan is selfless and willing to give up his own happiness for Kat so she can save everything that means to the world to her. He made me laugh and I just completely adore him. I loved watching them as they got close to each other.

Parts of you are ugly and messy. I still want you. I want the ugly and the beautiful and everything in between. You don’t pick and choose the parts of a person you want. Shit, I’m the ugliest fucker I know, and I want to give it all to you.

There was a lot of awkward moments between Kat and Dan that had me laughing my ass off and made me love both of them so much. Marriage of Inconvenience is a wonderful feel good story. I really enjoyed seeing the rest of the Knitting crew and to see where their stories have gone. This book finished on a high and was the perfect ending to this series.