Brilliant Book Titles #241

your movie sucks

Blurb: 
Roger Ebert’s I Hated Hated Hated This Movie, which gathered some of his most scathing reviews, was a best-seller. This new collection continues the tradition, reviewing not only movies that were at the bottom of the barrel, but also movies that he found underneath the barrel.

From Roger’s review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (0 stars): “The movie created a spot of controversy in February 2005. According to a story by Larry Carroll of MTV News, Rob Schneider took offense when Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times listed this year’s Best Picture nominees and wrote that they were ‘ignored, unloved, and turned down flat by most of the same studios that . . . bankroll hundreds of sequels, including a follow-up to Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a film that was sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic.’

Schneider retaliated by attacking Goldstein in full-page ads in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. In an open letter to Goldstein, Schneider wrote: ‘Well, Mr. Goldstein, I decided to do some research to find out what awards you have won. I went online and found that you have won nothing. Absolutely nothing. No journalistic awards of any kind. . . . Maybe you didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers. . . .’

Schneider was nominated for a 2000 Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor, but lost to Jar-Jar Binks. But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo while passing on the opportunity to participate in Million Dollar Baby, Ray, The Aviator, Sideways, and Finding Neverland. As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.”

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The Sellout by Paul Beatty

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The winner of the 2016 Man Booker, and a worthy one at that.

I haven’t laughed so much at a book since Terry Pratchett tickled me endlessly with The Discworld series. This book is extremely clever and wickedly satirical. It’s comedy packs the kind of punch that all great comics strive for, boxing gloves laced with a social and political conscience.

The chasm-like social divisions in America once again comes under the microscope but, like the novel’s narrator, Beatty inverts conventional racial discourse and approaches the question of racism in America today like nothing I’ve ever read, seen or heard. I’ll admit I’m no expert on racism in America but I haven’t heard anyone come at the subject like Beatty has except for great Black comedians like Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle.

Would recommend this to anyone. A truly brilliant book.

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

5 New History Books to Watch Out For

Thomas Cromwell: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch (27 Sep 2018)
thomas cromwell
‘This is the biography we have been awaiting for 400 years’ Hilary Mantel
‘A masterpiece’ Dan Jones, Sunday Times

Thomas Cromwell is one of the most famous – or notorious – figures in English history. Born in obscurity in Putney, he became a fixer for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s. After Wolsey’s fall, Henry VIII promoted him to a series of ever greater offices, and by the end of the 1530s he was effectively running the country for the King. That decade was one of the most momentous in English history: it saw a religious break with the Pope, unprecedented use of parliament, the dissolution of all monasteries. Cromwell was central to all this, but establishing his role with precision, at a distance of nearly five centuries and after the destruction of many of his papers at his own fall, has been notoriously difficult.

Diarmaid MacCulloch’s biography is much the most complete and persuasive life ever written of this elusive figure, a masterclass in historical detective work, making connections not previously seen. It overturns many received interpretations, for example that Cromwell was a cynical, ‘secular’ politician without deep-felt religious commitment, or that he and Anne Boleyn were allies because of their common religious sympathies – in fact he destroyed her. It introduces the many different personalities of these foundational years, all conscious of the ‘terrifyingly unpredictable’ Henry VIII. MacCulloch allows readers to feel that they are immersed in all this, that it is going on around them.

For a time, the self-made ‘ruffian’ (as he described himself) – ruthless, adept in the exercise of power, quietly determined in religious revolution – was master of events. MacCulloch’s biography for the first time reveals his true place in the making of modern England and Ireland, for good and ill.

The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife (4 Oct 2018)
the ravenmaster
The first behind-the-scenes account of life with the ravens at Britain’s most famous national monument – as seen in the Daily Mail.

For centuries, the Tower of London has been home to a group of famous avian residents: the ravens. Each year they are seen by millions of visitors, and they have become as integral a part of the Tower as its ancient stones themselves. But their role is even more important than that – legend has it that if the ravens should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust, and great harm will befall the kingdom.

One man is personally responsible for ensuring that such a disaster never comes to pass – the Ravenmaster. The current holder of the position is Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, and in this fascinating, entertaining and touching book he memorably describes the ravens’ formidable intelligence, their idiosyncrasies and their occasionally wicked sense of humour.

Over the years in which he has cared for the physical and mental well-being of these remarkable birds, Christopher Skaife has come to know them like no one else. They are not the easiest of charges – as he reveals, they are much given to mischief, and their escapades have often led him into unlikely, and sometimes even undignified, situations.

Now, in the first intimate behind-the-scenes account of life with the ravens of the Tower, the Ravenmaster himself shares the folklore, history and superstitions surrounding both the birds and their home. The result is a compelling, inspiring and irreverent story that will delight and surprise anyone with an interest in British history or animal behaviour.

The Third Reich is Listening: Inside German Codebreaking 1939–45 by Christian Jennings (18 Oct 2018)
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The codebreakers at Bletchley Park have been immortalised in films such as The Imitation Game and Enigma, but the Germans were also breaking Allied ciphers. The Third Reich is Listening is the comprehensive account of the successes, failures and science of Germany’s codebreaking and signals intelligence operations from 1935 to 1945.

This fast-moving blend of modern history and popular science is told through colourful personal accounts of the Germans at the heart of the story, including a former astronomer who worked out the British order of battle in 1940, a U-Boat commander on the front line of the Battle of the Atlantic and the woman from the foreign ministry decrypting Japanese and Italian signals.

It investigates how and why a regime as technologically advanced as the Third Reich both succeeded, and failed, in its battle to break their enemy’s codes and to use the resultant intelligence effectively, and why they failed to recognise the fact that the Allied had cracked the enigma code.

It’s All a Game: A Short History of Board Games by Tristan Donovan (1 Nov 2018)
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Board games have been with us longer than even the written word. But what is it about this pastime that continues to captivate us well into the age of smartphones and instant gratification?

In It’s All a Game renowned games expert Tristan Donovan opens the box on the incredible and often surprising history and psychology of board games. He traces the evolution of the game across cultures, time periods, and continents, from the paranoid Chicago toy genius behind classics like Operation and Mouse Trap, to the role of Monopoly in helping prisoners of war escape the Nazis, and even the scientific use of board games today to teach artificial intelligence how to reason and how to win. With these compelling stories and characters, Donovan ultimately reveals why board games have captured hearts and minds all over the world for generations.

When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt by Kara Cooney (28 Nov 2018)
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This riveting narrative explores the lives of six remarkable female pharaohs, from Hatshepsut to Cleopatra–women who ruled with real power–and shines a piercing light on our own perceptions of women in power today.

Female rulers are a rare phenomenon–but thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, women reigned supreme. Regularly, repeatedly, and with impunity, queens like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra controlled the totalitarian state as power-brokers and rulers. But throughout human history, women in positions of power were more often used as political pawns in a male-dominated society. What was so special about ancient Egypt that provided women this kind of access to the highest political office? What was it about these women that allowed them to transcend patriarchal obstacles? What did Egypt gain from its liberal reliance on female leadership, and could today’s world learn from its example?

Celebrated Egyptologist Kara Cooney delivers a fascinating tale of female power, exploring the reasons why it has seldom been allowed through the ages, and why we should care.

Yeats Reborn

yeats reborn

Yeats Reborn (2015) is a remarkable book (published in limited edition quantity) that aims to shed light upon W.B.Yeats’s work in translation. It involves the translation of Yeats’s poems, plays and prose, including an introduction by the editor, Hedwig Schwall, as well as notes on the translators, scholars and academics who participated in this unique one-year project organized by The European Federation of Associations and Centres of Irish Studies (EFACIS) in Leuven. 181 translations in 21 languages were produced of a selection of 35 poems, 5 plays and 5 essays from Yeats’ oeuvre. These translations were selected for the web publication at http://www.yeatsreborn.eu/ and the best 90 translations were selected by an expert panel in order to produce this book. The target languages are: Castilian, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, Gaeilge, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, and Turkish.

Most of the selected poems, as Professor Schwall writes in her introduction to the project, “dealt in one way or another with being born, dying and being reborn – not only literally but metaphorically too” (http://www.yeatsreborn.eu/pages/about-yeats-reborn). Prof. Hedwig Schwall inaugurates the above project with the following quote from Dirk Delabastita’s “Literary Translation”, Handbook of Translation Studies: Volume 2. (Ed. Yves Gambier and Luc Van Doorslaer. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011):

A poem is translated so that it “can ‘live on’ beyond the linguistic and cultural milieu of its origin and find ever new readerships. (Yeats Reborn, p.9)

Indeed, experiencing Yeats’s poems and plays in translation is going to offer you a new understanding of W.B. Yeats as a trans-national poet, and will promise to reveal to you all the wonderful new shapes that the translation of a culture can take!

Brilliant Book Titles #240

de sade

Blurb: 
This extraordinary play, which swept Europe before coming to America, is based on two historical truths: the infamous Marquis de Sade was confined in the lunatic asylum of Charenton, where he staged plays; and the revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat was stabbed in a bathtub by Charlotte Corday at the height of the Terror during the French Revolution. But this play-within-a-play is not historical drama. Its thought is as modern as today’s police states and The Bomb; its theatrical impact has everywhere been called a major innovation. It is total theatre: philosophically problematic, visually terrifying. It engages the eye, the ear, and the mind with every imaginable dramatic device, technique, and stage picture, even including song and dance. All the forces and elements possible to the stage are fused in one overwhelming experience. This is theatre such as has rarely been seen before. The play is basically concerned with the problem of revolution. Are the same things true for the masses and for their leaders? And where, in modern times, lie the borderlines of sanity?

Brilliant Book Titles #239

how to repair.jpg

Blurb: 
The summer after high school graduation, two cute and snarky boys hit the road in an RV. Their mission: follow the traveling fan convention for Castaway Planet, the cult sci-fi show they’re both obsessed with. BRANDON irons his t-shirts, loves the dapper and reserved Castaway android Sim, and hides his pesky Catholic guilt from his out-and-proud roadtrip partner, Abel. ABEL collects funny belt buckles, loves Castaway‘s brave and dashing Captain Cadmus, has a hot boyfriend with a phoenix tattoo, and has nothing to hide—except his epic crush on Brandon. During their six-week cross-country adventure, Brandon and Abel post new entries on their Castaway Planet fan vlog, spar with an online community of slash fiction writers, meet their TV idols, play with their action figures, uncover big secrets, and maybe possibly fall in love. Can two fanboys face down their obstacles and write themselves a real-life romance—or is fiction the only thing bringing them together?

Spill Summer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

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This one had been on my reading list for a while. There’s been a lot of hype about Baume and she seems to be one of the leading lights in Ireland’s new, hip and young generation of writers, but sadly, I didn’t enjoy this one. She is a supremely talented writer and you can feel the love she has for language leap off the page at you but I feel she’d be much better suited to poetry. If she found that form too stifling, then write the  the odd short story because from this showing, I feel she’s not suited to the novel.

This is the story of a lonely man who strikes up a friendship with a very badly abused dog. The novel charts their first year together and has no narrative to speak of other than the exploration of this man’s relationship with the world he has shut himself off from and how his new canine friend ruptures all his old routines and acts as a brash intermediary between this man and his familiar surroundings.

It’s a novel in which nothing happens. Plenty of Irish writers have written novels in which nothing has happened; John McGahern sprang to mind when I was reading this one, both in the content and setting. Despite Baume being, as I’ve already said, an expert at her craft, where Spill Simmer Falter Wither falls down is that it just seems to be a vehicle for Baume’s own poetic musings. Don’t get me wrong, her musings are wonderful but they don’t have the legs to sustain me for 215 pages. While nothing really happened in many of McGahern’s novels, he surreptitiously imbued them with the full wealth of life’s experience, so that after reading one of his novels I always felt like I’d just returned from an extended sojourn in rural Leitrim. After Baume’s novel, all I felt was the familiar realisation that there are so many trees, flowers and birds whose names, poets seem to enjoy reminding me, I do not know.

Comparing Baume to McGahern might be a bit unfair but I would argue it’s a mark of my esteem for her. She really is a superb writer and so I will judge her by high standards. On this occasion, she falls short of the mark.

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

The Sense of Movement by Thom Gunn

the sense of movement

Thom Gunn’s The Sense of Movement was his second collection, and still when he was in his twenties (!). Gunn is famous for beautiful, effortless formalist poetry from a gay perspective, and this book, for me, far outshines his first, Fighting Terms. It just feels more expansive, and – (and this is a complement for a poetry book) – it took me so long to read because I kept stopping and re-reading and re-reading poems over and over, wowed by their musicality and their craft.

An example:

“What could I do but seek the synthesis
As each man does, of what his nature is?”

Another, and particularly of Gunn’s musicality. The first stanza from “The Allegory of the Wolf Boy”:

“The causes are in Time; only their issue
Is bodied in the flesh, the finite powers.
And how to guess he hides in that firm tissue
Seeds of division? At tennis and at tea
Upon the gentle law, he is not ours,
But plays us in a sad duplicity.”

I think from reading those it should be clear to you if Gunn is for you or not, but he’s definitely for me, and I’m tearing through his collections! Recommended!

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

Brilliant Book Titles #238

although of course.jpg

Blurb: 
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, STARRING JASON SEGAL AND JESSE EISENBERG, DIRECTED BY JAMES PONSOLDT

An indelible portrait of David Foster Wallace, by turns funny and inspiring, based on a five-day trip with award-winning writer David Lipsky during Wallace’s Infinite Jest tour

In David Lipsky’s view, David Foster Wallace was the best young writer in America. Wallace’s pieces for Harper’s magazine in the ’90s were, according to Lipsky, “like hearing for the first time the brain voice of everybody I knew: Here was how we all talked, experienced, thought. It was like smelling the damp in the air, seeing the first flash from a storm a mile away. You knew something gigantic was coming.”

Then Rolling Stone sent Lipsky to join Wallace on the last leg of his book tour for Infinite Jest, the novel that made him internationally famous. They lose to each other at chess. They get iced-in at an airport. They dash to Chicago to catch a make-up flight. They endure a terrible reader’s escort in Minneapolis. Wallace does a reading, a signing, an NPR appearance. Wallace gives in and imbibes titanic amounts of hotel television (what he calls an “orgy of spectation”). They fly back to Illinois, drive home, walk Wallace’s dogs. Amid these everyday events, Wallace tells Lipsky remarkable things–everything he can about his life, how he feels, what he thinks, what terrifies and fascinates and confounds him–in the writing voice Lipsky had come to love. Lipsky took notes, stopped envying him, and came to feel about him–that grateful, awake feeling–the same way he felt about Infinite Jest. Then Lipsky heads to the airport, and Wallace goes to a dance at a Baptist church.

A biography in five days, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself is David Foster Wallace as few experienced this great American writer. Told in his own words, here is Wallace’s own story, and his astonishing, humane, alert way of looking at the world; here are stories of being a young writer–of being young generally–trying to knit together your ideas of who you should be and who other people expect you to be, and of being young in March of 1996. And of what it was like to be with and–as he tells it–what it was like to become David Foster Wallace.

“If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious.”
–David Foster Wallace

Brilliant Book Titles #237

nico

Blurb: 
The story of Nico, former model, film actress, singer with the Velvet Underground and darling of Andy Warhol’s factory.;In 1982 Nico was living in Manchester, alone and interested only in feeding her heroin habit. Local promoter Dr Demetrius saw an opportunity, hired musicians to back her, rented a decrepit van and set off with Nico and the band on a disastrous tour of Italy. Over the next six years, until her death in 1988, Nico toured the world with assorted thrown-together bands. They made next to no money, appalled many of their audiences and occasionally, on the rare nights when the music worked, pleased a few.;James Young played keyboards for Nico throughout those years. In this book, he records the never-ending antics of a picaresque circus of addicts, outsiders and misfits who travelled the world – East and Western Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan – encountering an equally bizarre and extraordinary mixture of people: poets, artists, gangsters, losers and drifters. John Cale, John Cooper Clarke, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso are among those who appear in this story of Nico, the last Bohemian.