Brilliant Book Titles #320

beautiful on the outside.jpg


Former Olympic figure skater and self-professed America’s Sweetheart Adam Rippon shares his underdog journey from beautiful mess to outrageous success in this hilarious, big-hearted memoir that the Washington Post calls “comedic gold.”

Your mom probably told you it’s what on the inside that counts. Well, then she was never a competitive figure skater. Olympic medalist Adam Rippon has been making it pretty for the judges even when, just below the surface, everything was an absolute mess. From traveling to practices on the Greyhound bus next to ex convicts to being so poor he could only afford to eat the free apples at his gym, Rippon got through the toughest times with a smile on his face, a glint in his eye, and quip ready for anyone listening. Beautiful on the Outside looks at his journey from a homeschooled kid in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to a self-professed American sweetheart on the world stage and all the disasters and self-delusions it took to get him there. Yeah, it may be what’s on the inside that counts, but life is so much better when it’s beautiful on the outside.

The Ladybird Book of the Hangover by Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris


Ladybird’s series of satirical books for adults is brilliant, and this is probably my favourite of the lot. For anyone who has ever suffered a mind-blowing hangover, most of this book will jog some flashbacks. It’s funny because it is hilariously accurate, for example:

“Some hangover symptoms are caused by impurities which enter the body along with the alcohol. These impurities can include methanol, acetone, acetaldehyde, esters, tannins, grab bags of Wotsits, railway-grade pasties and KFC Zinger Tower Burgers.”

A very quick read, and written in the style of the traditional Ladybird storybooks, this is a highly entertaining grown up version. I highly recommend this book for anyone in need of a good laugh, or who’s currently in the throes of a hangover and needs reassurance that they are not the only person who has felt like this.


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

5 New Poetry Collections to Watch Out For

The Tradition by Jericho Brown (4 Feb 2020) 
A Poetry Book Society Choice

‘To read Jericho Brown’s poems is to encounter devastating genius.’ Claudia Rankine

Jericho Brown’s daring poetry collection The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex – a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues – testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while revelling in a celebration of contradiction.

A Woman Without A Country by Eavan Boland (11 Feb 2020) 
a woman without a country
Eavan Boland is considered “one of the finest and boldest poets of the last half century” by Poetry Review. This stunning new collection, A Woman Without a Country, looks at how we construct one another and how nationhood and history can weave through, reflect, and define the life of an individual. Themes of mother, daughter, and generation echo throughout these extraordinary poems, as they examine how-even without country or settled identity-a legacy of love can endure. From “Talking to my Daughter Late at Night” We have a tray, a pot of tea, a scone. This is the hour When one thing pours itself into another: The gable of our house stored in shadow. A spring planet bending ice Into an absolute of light. Your childhood ended years ago. There is No path back to it.

Homie by Danez Smith (20 Feb 2020) 
“& colin kaepernick is my president, who kneels on the air
bent toward a branch, throwing apples down to the children & vets

& rihanna is my president, walking out of global summits
with wine glass in hand, our taxes returned in gold
to dust our faces into coins
& my mama is my president, her grace stunts
on amazing, brown hands breaking brown bread over
mouths of the hungry until there are none unfed
& my grandma is my president & her cabinet is her cabinet
cause she knows to trust what the pan knowshow the skillet wins the war” ―from ‘my president’

Danez Smith is our President.

A mighty anthem about the saving grace of friendship, Danez Smith’s highly anticipated collection Homie is rooted in their search for joy and intimacy in a time where both are scarce. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family ― blood and chosen ― arrives with just the right food and some redemption.

Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is written for friends: for Danez’s friends, for yours.

Ledger by Jane Hirschfield (10 Mar 2020) 
A pivotal book of personal, ecological, and political reckoning from the internationally renowned poet named “among the modern masters” (The Washington Post).

Ledger‘s pages hold the most important and masterly work yet by Jane Hirshfield, one of our most celebrated contemporary poets. From the already much-quoted opening lines of despair and defiance (“Let them not say: we did not see it. / We saw”), Hirshfield’s poems inscribe a registry, both personal and communal, of our present-day predicaments. They call us to deepened dimensions of thought, feeling, and action. They summon our responsibility to sustain one another and the earth while pondering, acutely and tenderly, the crises of refugees, justice, and climate. They consider “the minimum mass for a whale, for a language, an ice cap,” recognize the intimacies of connection, and meditate upon doubt and contentment, a library book with previously dog-eared corners, the hunger for surprise, and the debt we owe this world’s continuing beauty. Hirshfield’s signature alloy of fact and imagination, clarity and mystery, inquiry, observation, and embodied emotion has created a book of indispensable poems, tuned toward issues of consequence to all who share this world’s current and future fate.

Tongues of Fire by Séan Hewitt (23 Apr 2020) 
tongues of fire
A remarkable first collection by an important new poet

In this collection, Seán Hewitt gives us poems of a rare musicality and grace. By turns searing and meditative, these are lyrics concerned with the matter of the world, its physicality, but also attuned to the proximity of each moment, each thing, to the spiritual.

Here, there is sex, grief, and loss, but also a committed dedication to life, hope and renewal. Drawing on the religious, the sacred and the profane, this is a collection in which men meet in the woods, where matter is corrupted and remade. There are prayers, hymns, vespers, incantations, and longer poems which attempt to propel themselves towards the transcendent.

In this book, there is always the sense of fragility allied with strength, a violence harnessed and unleashed. The collection ends with a series of elegies for the poet’s father: in the face of despair, we are met with a fierce brightness, and a reclamation of the spiritual. ‘This is when / we make God, and speak in his voice.’

Paying close attention to altered states and the consolations and strangeness of the natural world, this is the first book from a major poet.

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell


In 2016, I read a library copy of What Belongs to You and loved it so much, I bought a copy shortly after, and read it again. It was a perfect little novel, really. I know there are people who prefer the novella Mitko (which is an earlier version of the first section of WBTY) but I read WBTY first, and I thought it was all absolutely necessary, perfect even. Beautifully written, it told the story of the unnamed narrator’s relationship – no, experiences – with Mitko, with a middle section that told of the narrator’s childhood, and told us, really, everything we needed to know about the narrator. It was all right there in its pages. [and here’s my rave review of that book, on this blog, from 2016] 

Which is why, when I heard that Cleanness featured the same unnamed narrator in the same setting (Sofia, Bulgaria), I was worried. Greenwell had written a, frankly, brilliant novel in WBTY, why would he go back to that world so soon? But then, I thought, he had written a brilliant novel, maybe Cleanness would be just as good.

Split into three sections like WBTY, but in Cleanness each section has three chapters within it, giving us a book of nine stories. And firstly, the format needs addressing: Cleanness isn’t a novel, and it isn’t really a book of short stories. It feels like it’s in that murky world of the fix-up novel, where existing stories are slotted around new ones to make up a book, but by all accounts this book was planned. Sure, there’s overlap and reference within but the stories feel like remote islands separated by hundreds of miles of empty sea.

Immediately, in the first section, I knew this was not WBTY (and look, that’s okay, it could be something else, and I would get on board, but…) and I went from being excited to, at times, hating this book. One reviewer said that you could read Cleanness independent of WBTY, but I can’t imagine how (or why) you would.

This first section contains three pieces, Mentor, a bland and relatively boring section about the narrator and a gay student looking for advice. It’s a piece that thinks it’s more meaningful than it actually is (this is a world where gestures seem imbued with earthshattering meaning). And things that in the first book I didn’t mind, such as only calling characters by their initial, in Mentor with a much larger cast of classmates that the student was discussing, often became confusing. (Also, for all the fact that the second section is called Loving R., it is more than telling that the only person named in either of the two books is Mitko, and not R. the young man the narrator spent years with). The next piece, Gospodar, is where I started to despair. Greenwell has spoken a good bit recently about the purported ‘radicality’ of this book, how he wanted to write something sexual but ‘art’. Well, unfortunately, throughout the book, Greenwell writes about sex as if he’s the first person to ever write about it, and it grates. This section, in which our narrator is a sub in a dom/sub scene, turns violent at the end, and disturbing (it is never mentioned again outside of this section and the ramifications of the rape are never explored). I feel that Greenwell purposely wanted to write ‘sexy’ BDSM lit prose that turned into something darker, and whilst it shocked (and that was certainly part of the point), it just felt nasty and stuck out like a sore thumb. The third piece, Decent People, about rallies in Sofia escaped my memory entirely (to the point that I had to look it up).

The second section, the only one with a title – Loving R. – fares better as it has a unified subject, but at times it feels, well, amateur. In the collection’s title story, the narrator and R. have a stormy conversation whilst a literal storm takes place outside the restaurant. I really feel that Greenwell is capable of much better than this. I was vaguely surprised to learn that R., who is briefly mentioned in WBTY (and I’m curious to investigate where Cleanness sits temporally in relation to WBTY), was young (perhaps this was mentioned in WBTY, but I had forgotten?). But then, the whole book, both of them really, is about the narrator’s attraction to young men, yet it is a largely unexamined attraction, which is curious considering that many of the men (outside of the sex-based stories) are his current or former students. I’m not saying a character in a novel has to be a paragon of virtue – one of my favourite novels is Lolita – but the narrator lives a rather unexamined life, which is odd for someone who writes about his life so much. The relationship with R. inevitably ends – and perhaps aside from the narrator’s predilictions, this is why he was a student: to give a definite end date – but this leads us back to the freewheeling morass the first section had been in, where the narrator either dreams his way through his life or is violently, sexually, granularly there.

The third section opens with a piece called Harbor, a gathering of American and Bulgarian writers, of which the narrator is one, and it made me curious, what does the narrator write? I don’t think the narrator is the author of these novels, i.e.. the narrator hasn’t written WBTY, he is a character in it, but I would like to read something of what he has written, something external from his always-on-the-run-brain. But perhaps the narrator’s writing is terrible, or worse, mediocre, and best avoided. The second piece, The Little Saint, is the companion to Gospodar, except in this story, the narrator is the dom. Again, Greenwell writes as if this is earth-shattering, but it isn’t (as evidenced from the even keel of the sub), but perhaps that’s the point, perhaps the narrator is over-dramatic, wracked on the cross of his own emotions, constantly running unexpressed in his head. Greenwell also tries to write sex, whilst aware of the clichés of writing sex, leading to an all-too-knowing commentary on dialogue that, while appreciated, doesn’t quite work. Maybe overall it’s the character of the narrator that I’ve grown to dislike. The last section An Evening Out tells of the narrator, again with students (former ones this time), one of whom he surreptitiously hits on, before he leaves Bulgaria and teaching forever. Why? Teaching, because he’s fed up with it (fair enough). Why is he leaving Bulgaria? Presumably because he is no longer teaching? What will he do now? No one cares enough to say, or that it is so meaningless as to not even be mentioned. The book ends with him, drunk, curled up with a street dog that after all his years there, he finally lets into his house (and if that isn’t a backhanded reference to Mitko, I don’t know what is).

More than anything, this book, not only does it just not work as a narrative for me – too “this x makes you feel y, doesn’t it?”, too not the sum of its parts, nor its parts operating singularly – but it feels, plainly, unnecessary. Sure, Greenwell can write, and writes beautiful prose at that, but the story should have ended with WBTY. Cleanness adds nothing new, and for all of its talk about sex, and shame and gay men’s interaction with both, it adds nothing really new there either. Cleanness feels like an afterthought, the ghost of a lost love stuck wandering where it died, forever.


You can use our online catalogue to reserve a copy of What Belongs to You here. [Cleanness, inexplicably, is only available as an eBook in Europe at the moment, with a physical release not planned until April]

Brilliant Book Titles #319



Hystories is an exhilarating book which lobs politically incorrect cocktails in all directions . . . it is important and impressive in opening up a debate and reminding us of the psychological relevance of history’ Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times

‘Groundbreaking . . . this is undoubtedly a brave book and one which should be welcomed for generating arguments which so far have been silenced’ Julie Wheelwright, Scotland on Sunday

Hystories is guaranteed to make us take a more reflective look at the fears and demons that so rampantly haunt our fin de siècle’ Lisa Appignanesi, Independent

‘Provocative and immensely readable . . . Showalter’s gift is for lively, literate and interpretive synthesis of specialized academic scholarship, in language that bridges the popular and scholarly worlds . . . we can be thankful for a commentator as sane, courageous and clear-headed as [she]’ Mark S. Micale, Times Literary Supplement

‘Considered and level-headed’ Ruth Rendell, Daily Telegraph

‘This is a brave book, not only because it dares to question feminist orthodoxies, but also because it reminds us that feminism’s purpose is the investigation of truth, not the perpetuation of blame’ Erica Jong


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


Brilliant Book Titles #318

white girls.jpg


‘I defy you to read this book and come away with a mind unchanged’ John Jeremiah Sullivan
‘Als has a serious claim to be regarded as the next James Baldwin’ Observer

‘I see how we are all the same, that none of us are white women or black men; rather, we’re a series of mouths, and that every mouth needs filling: with something wet or dry, like love, or unfamiliar and savory, like love’

White Girls is about, among other things, blackness, queerness, movies, Brooklyn, love (and the loss of love), AIDS, fashion, Basquiat, Capote, philosophy, porn, Louise Brooks and Michael Jackson. Freewheeling and dazzling, tender and true, it is one of the most highly acclaimed essay collections in years.

‘A voice that’s new, that comes as if from a different room. I defy you to read this book and come away with a mind unchanged’ John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

‘Effortless, honest and fearless’ Rich Benjamin, The New York Times

‘Als is one of the most consistently unpredictable and surprising essayists out there, an author who confounds our expectations virtually every time he writes’ David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

‘A comprehensive and utterly lovely collection of one of the best writers around’ Eugenia Williamson, Boston Globe


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


Brilliant Book Titles #316

little larger

This is the largest and richest volume of poetry by Pessoa available in English. It includes generous selections from the three poetic alter egos that the Portuguese writer dubbed “heteronyms” – Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Alvaro de Campos – and from the vast and varied work he wrote under his own name.


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

Brilliant Book Titles #315

i am so clever

‘Why do I know a few more things? Why am I so clever altogether?’

Self-celebrating and self-mocking autobiographical writings from Ecce Homo, the last work iconoclastic German philosopher Nietzsche wrote before his descent into madness.

One of 46 new books in the bestselling Little Black Classics series, to celebrate the first ever Penguin Classic in 1946. Each book gives readers a taste of the Classics’ huge range and diversity, with works from around the world and across the centuries – including fables, decadence, heartbreak, tall tales, satire, ghosts, battles and elephants.


Brilliant Book Titles #314



A collection of insightful and uproariously funny non-fiction by the bestselling author of INFINITE JEST – one of the most acclaimed and adventurous writers of our time. A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING… brings together Wallace’s musings on a wide range of topics, from his early days as a nationally ranked tennis player to his trip on a commercial cruiseliner. In each of these essays, Wallace’s observations are as keen as they are funny.

Filled with hilarious details and invigorating analyses, these essays brilliantly expose the fault line in American culture – and once again reveal David Foster Wallace’s extraordinary talent and gargantuan intellect.


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