Stoner by John Williams


The mantle of “one of the great American novelists” is often draped around John Williams’s shoulders, despite his surprisingly small bibliography and having read his two most famous works in recent months, I really believe that he lives up to the hype. 

Stoner is a novel that has often been called his most personal work as the narrative focuses on the life of an Assistant Professor of English in the university of Missouri, while Williams himself spent most of his professional teaching the the same subject, as well as creative writing, in the university of Denver. It’s beautifully written and traces the full scope of Stoner’s life from his humble agrarian beginnings to his literary awakening, from his difficult marriage to the strained relationship with his daughter and from the few intense friendships that sustain him throughout his life to the similarly few emnities that dog him personally and professionally. 

Our own John McGahern rates him very highly and has a very interesting introduction included in most editions of the novel. He claims that even making the subject matter of the novel (that of a humble teacher and academic meandering through his days amidst the bacdrop of “campus life”) compelling is a massive achievement in itself. However, he argues, when you add to that the understated force and ceaselss rhythm of the prose, the Steinbeck-esque resilience in the face of the tragedies that befall Stoner and the clarity of the pyschological prognoses that Williams is capable of doling out to the peopl in Stoner’s life, what you get is a truly wonderful novel. I’m inclined to agree with him.

[This book was previously reviewed by another contributor. Feel free to compare and contrast.]


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


5 New Comics to Watch Out For

Herding Cats: A Sarah Scribbles Collection by Sarah Andersen (19 Apr 2018)
herding cats.jpg
“. . . author Sarah Andersen uses hilarious (and adorable) comics to illustrate the very specific growing pains that occur on your way to becoming a mature, put-together grownup. Andersen’s spot-on illustrations also show how to navigate this newfound adulthood once you arrive, since maturity is equally as hard to maintain as it is to find … “–The Huffington Post

Sarah valiantly struggles with waking up in the morning, being productive, and dealing with social situations. Sarah’s Scribbles is the comic strip that follows her life, finding humor in living as an adulting introvert that is at times weird, awkward, and embarrassing.

Global Frequency: The Deluxe Edition by Warren Ellis (10 Apr 2018)
global frequency
Created by Entertainment Weekly “It” writer Warren Ellis comes a new deluxe edition hardcover of his critically acclaimed series GLOBAL FREQUENCY THE DELUXE EDITION! Global Frequency is a worldwide rescue organization that offers the last shred of hope when all other options have failed. Manned by 1,001 operatives, the Frequency is made up of experts in fields as diverse as bio-weapon engineering and Le Parkour Running. Each agent–equipped with a special mobile vid-phone–is specifically chosen by Miranda Zero, enigmatic leader of the Global Frequency, based on proximity, expertise, and, in some cases, sheer desperation! This huge volume collects the entire 12 issue Global Frequency storyline in one deluxe hardcover featuring art by mindblowing collection of artists including Lee Bermejo, Glenn Fabry, Steve Dillon, David Lloyd, Gene Ha and many others.

Invader Zim Volume 5 (30 Mar 2018)
invader zim
ZIM’s latest doomsday plot is foiled when GIR goes haywire and tries to kill everyone in sight! (But especially ZIM. He kinda deserves it.) Diagnostics reveal that the malfunction is due to a virus, forcing ZIM to do the one thing he never thought he’d have to GO INSIDE GIR’S BRAIN. Where nothing works and everything is exactly at GIR’s level of nonsense. And when ZIM discovers that the virus was created and implanted by a being known only as VIROOZ from the planet Cyberflox… well hey, let’s not give away too much, alright? Just read this special 4-part story with bonus guest issue from Dave Crosland!

Frank Quitely Drawing and Sketches (10 May 2018)
frank quitely
With three decades of comic art behind Frank Quitely, Drawings + Sketches selects work from Jupiter’s Legacy, Jupiter’s Circle, WE3, Pax Americana and more offering insights into the stories and processes behind them. Comics were invented in Glasgow. It is fitting then that Glasgow should be home to Frank Quitely, known worldwide for drawing Batman, Superman and X-Men. A standalone beautiful and inspiring art book, a must-have for any fan or aspiring comics creator.

The Many Deaths of Scott Koblish (1 May 2018)
many deaths
Marvel Comics artist Scott Koblish (Deadpool, Spider-Man) has been illustrating his own demise for many years in morbidly funny, 4-panel black-and-white comics. He’s the one person struck by a comet, suddenly overrun by a pack of baboons, resting under the precarious rock tipped by a single bird, or the target of his daughter’s (of course homicidal) teddy bear come to life. Though it’s always Scott on the receiving end, the comics perfectly capture that irrational feeling we all have that everything can go very wrong in one irrevocable instant. Slapstick, surreal, and eerily plausible, with extended scenarios and pops of color throughout, this collection of cosmic reckonings shows that, if the end is nigh, at least you’ll die laughing.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

la belle sauvage

Over the Christmas I finally had the time to sit down and read Philip Pullman’s eagerly anticipated prequel to His Dark Materials. The original trilogy are some of my favourite books and I was both excited and trepidatious about a new addition to the canon. Luckily, any fears I had about La Belle Sauvage were quickly laid to rest.

In this, the first of a new trilogy of books, our protagonist is eleven year old Malcolm Polstead, a smart and resourceful son of tavern owners. Malcolm’s quiet life in Oxford is upended by the appearance of an infant, Lyra, a girl who is prophesied to play an important role in the struggle between the Magesterium and those who seek freedom from the Magesterium’s tyrannical oppression.

Readers of the original trilogy will be familiar with many of the characters who appear in La Belle Sauvage, not least the infant Lyra. Happily though, prior knowledge of the series is not necessary and the book works perfectly as a standalone adventure.

20 years after the release of the Northern Lights Pullman’s books still stand as scathing allegories of Church, State and the dangers of an absolutist regime. La Belle Sauvage builds on these themes and continues to expand on Pullman’s rich fictional universe. It’s a fantastic read for children and adults alike and a real pleasure for fans of the series.


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

Brilliant Book Titles #184

i never liked you
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

A harrowing memoir of loss and the struggle to connect, Brown’s story is told with a spare poetic elegance. A self-absorbed teenager, Chester Brown strays into the difficult territory of friendship and early love while at home there is a slowly building crisis over his mother’s mental health. Emotionally intense, the story veers unsteadily between the extremes of eerie detachment and sudden desperate outbursts of need. A complex and disturbing true story told with a nuanced, queasy visual style that lingers in the mind long after the book has been put away.

Brilliant Book Titles #183

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

Lionel Essrog, a.k.a. the Human Freakshow, is a victim of Tourette’s syndrome (an uncontrollable urge to shout out nonsense, touch every surface in reach, rearrange objects). Local tough guy Frank Minna hires the adolescent Lionel and three other orphans from St Vincent’s Home for Boys and grooms them to become the Minna Men, a fly-by-night detective-agency-cum-limoservice. Then one terrible day Frank is murdered, and Lionel must become a real detective. With crackling dialogue, a dazzling evocation of place, and a plot which mimics Tourette’s itself in its freshness and capacity to shock, Motherless Brooklyn is a bravura performance: funny, tense, touching, and extravagant.

Best of Both Worlds by N. R. Walker

best of both worlds

This is a 20,000 free novella told in ‘drabbles,’ which are 100 word chunks. That choice of form does a lot of things to the story, some of them interesting, some of them less successful.

Sebastian, who works in construction, goes out every Friday and there he meets a nameless guy who he dances with. The guy won’t tell him anything about himself for ages. Until after they are put together on the same site – even then, the other guy, Ryland, won’t tell him anything.

After time, they get together and Sebastian finds out about Ryland’s horrific coming out story that ended up with him hospitalised and his site knowing everything.

There’s a good story here, with a zippy pace, but it felt a little insta-love for my liking – perhaps it was the drabble thing, that there was a lot more time passed between the short chunks, but it didn’t feel like that. Liked the story, and would recommend it, but I wasn’t screaming YES from the rooftops. I might instead recommend, in the first instance, her series Red Dirt Heart, the first book of which I read and loved, but then equally, if you want something short, snappy, and angsty, give Best of Both Worlds a try, and it’s free on Amazon.

Blood, Sweat and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier

blood sweat and pixels

Video games, whilst often looked down on, are one of the biggest industries out there, often outstripping movies by millions (a Huffington Post article from 2016 had gaming rake in 92 billions, against Movies’ 62 billion and Recorded Music’s 18 billion). Despite this, there are not very many books about how these games are made. I’m a big gamer and I went hunting for some non-fiction on the topic and found this book.

Split into ten chapter, each sections tells the behind-the-scenes story of the creation of a game. The games range from massive AAA games such as Uncharterd 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, The Witcher 3, Star Wars 1313, to RPG’s such as Pillars of Eternity and Diablo III, and indie hits such as Shovel Knight and Stardew Valley.

It was the chapter on Stardew Valley that led me to buying the book. Unlike a lot of the other games and teams in this book, Eric Barone made Stardew Valley entirely on his own – the game, the programming, the art, even the music – over a period of four years. Six months after launching the game, Barone had made 12 million dollars from it. (We are all in the wrong business! But seriously, if you like games, and haven’t played Stardew, give it a go. I’ve spent more time playing it than any other game – 130 hours at present. Which is pretty damn good for a $15 price tag).

Anyway, this book is a captivating tale of games stories’ being chucked out the window, about release dates getting pushed back, about arguments, and game publishers breathing down the developer’s necks. If you have any interest, in any of the above games, I would suggest reading it, but honestly, if you’ve any interest in gaming, this is a fascinating, essential read that shows you exactly how the sausages are made, and why so many major games get released with so many, sometimes game-breaking, glitches (usually because they have just run out of time, and unlike every other artistic medium, publishers would rather release it as is, and patch it later, despite the huge negativity this can cause).

A fascinating insight, and highly recommended.

Brilliant Book Titles #182

boys girls and other hazardous materials

A debut novel from the bestselling author of Queen Bees and Wannabes!

Charlie Healy just wants a drama-free year, but it doesn’t seem like she’s going to get it. After surviving a middle school packed with mean girls, Charlie is ready to leave all that behind in high school. But then, on her very first day, she runs into her former best friend, Will, who moved away years ago. Now he’s back, he’s HOT, and he’s popular. And he takes Charlie back into the danger zone of the popular crowd. But when a hazing prank goes wrong, Charlie has to decide where her loyalties lie.

Brilliant Book Titles #181

we need to talk about kelvin
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Look around you. The reflection of your face in a window tells you that the universe is orchestrated by chance. The iron in a spot of blood on your finger tells you that somewhere out in space there is furnace at a temperature of 4.5 billion degrees. Your TV tells you that the universe had a beginning. In fact, your very existence tells you that this may not be the only universe but merely one among an infinity of others, stacked like the pages of a never-ending book.

Marcus Chown, author of Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, What a Wonderful World and The Solar System, takes familiar features of the world we know and shows how they can be used to explain profound truths about the ultimate nature of reality. His new book will change the way you see the universe: with Chown as your guide, cutting-edge science is made clear and meaningful by a falling leaf, or a rose, or a starry night sky…

We Need To Talk About Kelvin: What Everyday Things Tell Us About The Universe is a hugely accessible exploration of quantum theory, relativity, cosmology, biology and chemistry. Taking our everyday experiences, Marcus Chown quickly and painlessly explains the unltimate truths of reality.

Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn

our numbered days

I had such high hopes for this.

First things first, there is, and always has been, an ongoing war between slam poets and page poets: in short, it seems that slam poets look down on page poets for not performing their work, and page poets look down on slam poets for not writing for the page.

With that framework in mind, this review might make more sense. Our Numbered Days is a slam poetry collection by acclaimed slam poet, Neil Hilborn. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was excited for this book. Like many, I saw his poem OCD online (it has had 75 millions views ! A poem! Has 75 million views) and loved it, and eagerly ordered, and impatiently waited for Our Numbered Days.

And when I got it, I found it an absolute struggle to get through.

Hilborn is a good slam poet, but, despite his love for page poets, evident from the quotes throughout the book, his poetry largely doesn’t work in the context of this collection. Sometimes page poets are told that the poem ‘doesn’t come off the page,’ but in this context, it doesn’t work on it.

And it’s a shame, because there’s some good work here, and he talks about topics that should be talked about. But largely, these are performance poems, and they just don’t work on the page (interestingly, OCD is one of the exceptions).

Also, Hilborn feels really young. He was 25 when this collection was published, and whilst his youth gives the book at times a verve, other times it makes it a little cringey, (something he pretty much acknowledges on the back cover).

I think that he’ll make a great book one day, but I think we’re a good few years away from that (I know, he’s a new book out in April, The Future, and I’m tempted to have a look, but I’m afraid it will be more of the same). I think, if he wrote a collection for the page, it could be amazing but given that he’s a touring performance poet, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

So, in short, do I recommend this book? No. BUT, instead, go watch him perform his poems on YouTube, or go see him live.