What I was reading in 2019 (and what I’m looking forward to in 2020):
What I’m currently reading: Minor Monuments (Ian Maleney)
(Most of) what I read in 2019(ish):
The Vegetarian (Han Kang) – Short, excellent and weird. 9/10
A Pity Youth Does Not Last (Mícheal O Guiheen) – An account of one of the last residents of the Blasket Islands. I didn’t find the narrative particularly engaging, but it was interesting as an account of a way of life that is now no more. Also, the phrasings (being translated from Irish) often seemed joyfully irreverent. 6/10
Duffy is Dead (J M O’Neil) – Hit and miss, but worth the time for the chronicling of the often ignored life of London Navvies during the 1970s and 80s. 7/10
A Hundred Years of Solitude (G G Marques) – Excellently written and frequently entertaining (and informative), but some of of the more fantastical tangents didn’t quite do it for me. 7/10.
The Milkman (Anna Burns) – A brilliant, if bleak, satire of the insanity of sectarianism in Northern Ireland. Took me a while to get through it, that says more about my current reading habits than the book. 8/10
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) – Conceptually brilliant, but I found the style jarring on occasion and kept losing the narrative. I still reckon its worth a read though. 6/10
Problems (Jade Sharma) – Hilarious, filthy, iconoclastic. One of the few books I read where I read the whole thing in less than a day, compelling. 8/10
The Iron Age (Arja Kajermo) – a hugely readable account of a young girl watching he family fall apart as she grows up in post-war Finland. My main complaint is it was too short. 8/10
Leonard and Hungry Paul (Rónán Hession) – One of my books of the year. A simple story about simple people which celebrates the magic present in the mundanity of the everyday. 9/10
Solar Bones (Mike McCormack) – Another contender for my book of the year (although I might have read it at end of 2018). Absolute hypnotic descriptions of the unremarkable life of an everyday man. 9/10
This is Going to Hurt: Confessions of a Junior Doctor (Adam Kay) – Eminently readable diary of a junior doctor’s experience in a crumbling NHS. Equal parts comic and poignant. 7/10
The Mark and The Void (Paul Murray) – I’m a big fan of Paul Murray and this was, for my money, his best yet. A meta-fictional satire of the insanity of the Celtic Tiger. 8/10
Silk (Alessandro Baricco) – For a novel that it only about 15,000 words it packs in a lot. Ostensibly the tale of a 19th C French silk baron, but a neat twist at the end turns it on its head. 7/10
The Wounded Stork (Jackie O’Gorman) – I had the pleasure of work-shopping and reading with Jackie during 2017 Poetry Ireland ‘Introductions’ series. She was clearly very talented, and this is an excellent debut poetry collection from a poet with a great ear for capturing the rhythms of the natural world. 8/10
White Horses (Jo Burns) – Another excellent debut poetry collection, this one from from award winning Irish poet, Jo Burns. Displays an impressive range from tender and lyric to narrative and obliquely comic. 8/10
Levitation (Séan O’Reilly) – A really, really good, and surprisingly underrated, book of short stories – all about barbers. 8/10
Still Worlds Turning (Anthology – No Alibis Press) – I’m a bit biased here, but I was genuinely impressed with the range and diversity of the stories. 8/10
What I’m looking forward to in 2020:
I have by no means a forensic knowledge of the publishing world, but here are a few books coming out in 2020 that have caught my eye:
Tennis Lessons (Susannah Dickie) – Like Jackie I mentioned above, I also had the immense privilege of attending a poetry Ireland Introductions course with Susannah back in 2017 – and it was obvious she was very talented too. She has since produced two excellent pamphlets from Lifeboat Press. Her poems are often very narrative, and she was shortlisted for The White Review short story prize, so it was only a matter of time before a novel was on the cards. I look forward to seeing what her debut novel brings. Here she is being tipped for one to watch in 2020: https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/new-irish-authors-to-watch-out-for-in-2020-1.4117970
Notes From The Apocalypse (Mark O’Connell) – non-fiction where (fellow Kilkenny man, I found out) Mark O’Connell travels the world talking to ‘end of day-ers’ (people who are stockpiling for the coming apocalypse). I read a short extract in one of the papers recently and it was both deeply philosophical and deeply funny.
A Selection of Classic Irish Fantasy (Jack Fennell) – Both Irish Sci-Fi and Irish Fantasy are often overlooked genres, but Jack Fennell is doing a fine job of bringing forgotten writers of both disciplines back into the public consciousness.
Intimacies (Lucy Caldwell) – Irish short story collections are are going from strength to strength over the last few year (June Caldwell, Billy O’Callaghan, Wendy Erskine, Nicole Flattery, Séan O’Reilly – and more) and, when combined with Faber’s uncanny ability to publish consistently high quality collections, point to this one being something special.