Nominated by Nathaniel McAuley
One Sentence Review:
Beautifully written, drenched with colour and infused with a nostalgia for a just gone era.
Kei Miller read at Literary Lunchtime last Autumn and I can’t remember why I wasn’t there but I instantly regretted by absence. Returning to the Hall next morning my inbox was full of glowing reviews and recommendations for good places to begin reading Miller’s extensive body of poetry and prose. Nathaniel has been Kei Miller’s unofficial number one Belfast fan boy for the last few years and despite his painfully white pallor and Northern drawl has begun to inflect with a distinctly Jamaican accent and so it made sense that I would begin my adventures with Kei Miller on the heels of Nathaniel’s recommendation. The Same Earth is a short novel set in Miller’s Jamaican birthplace and skipping back and forth across the pond to a rain-drenched 1970s England. Not unlike the writings of the Deep South this novel is infused with a deep understanding of colloquial religion, tradition, gender roles and most pertinently the incredibly colourful culture of the local people. A joy to read as it slid easily between characters, times, places and legends The Same Earth will undoubtedly be the first of many Kei Miller works appearing on my bookshelf.
Nathaniel also recommends:
Ernest Hemingway “The Sun Also Rises”
Nathaniel Joseph McAuley is a poet based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A recent graduate of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Creative Writing at QUB Nathaniel is currently working on his first pamphlet, reading barefoot at every given opportunity and mixing fantastic cocktails in the pubs and clubs of our good city. It is virtually impossible to pin Nathaniel McAuley down to one sentence but if you did it would probably contain tremendous charm, the gift of the gab, a penchant for Caribbean writers, a few well-selected Saints and the uncontrollable energy which makes projects him from one open moment to the next.
Nominated by Julie Malone
One Sentence Review:
A book of two halves; scathingly funny and painfully poignant in equal measure.
You don’t have to be a Rupert Everett fan, you don’t even need to know who Rupert Everett is, to enjoy this, the latest instalment of his wonderfully irreligious memoirs. Approached from different angles this book could be viewed as a little schizophrenic; there are two very different Ruperts running right through the narrative. However, the scathingly honest Withnail-esque Everett who critiques the pomp and posturing of celebrity with a nose for the scandalous the Mitfords would have been proud of, is also the same chap who records with humbling detail the painful process of watching his father’s final descent and his travels whilst advocating for HIV awareness in some of the world’s poorest countries. Everett has a theatrical flair for telling terrible stories and is unafraid of implicating himself as the biggest huxter of all. However, it is the sections of the book which deal with loss and suffering, recounted simply, with surprising honesty, which lingered with me, leaving me keen to read Everett’s other memoirs. (Thankfully, the book makes no attempt to excuse the disastrous American Pie and some of Rupert Everett’s other onscreen atrocities).
Julie also nominate-
Alexandra Fuller “Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight”
Julie Malone lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She is one of our all time favourite box office ladies at the Ulster Hall and it’s always a treat to come in and see she’s on duty. A ferocious reader, Julie has always been generous and pretty spot on with her reading tips and of late I have a few favourite books which came straight from Julie’s bookcase. She has a fantastic ability to be genuinely interested in those who come across her path, knows how to listen to others and exudes a wonderful warmth wherever she is. Julie can always see the story in people and it has been a real treat to get to know her these last few years.
Nominated by Trevor Wilson
One Sentence Review-
Simple, beautiful, haunting; a book like breathing.
I don’t normally enjoy this kind of non-fiction read. I often find such books over-sentimental and preachy. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Sky Burial. The narrative unfolds with such matter of fact simplicity that there is plenty of room for the beauty and mystery of Tibet to unfold at its own gracious pace. The protagonist, a young Chinese woman, determined to track down her missing husband in 1950s Tibet, is both believable and yet far from exceptional and the story itself is given precedence over any of the characters it contains. The landscapes and rituals of Tibet are explored with reverent detail. Time, takes a back seat as the plot, such as it is, unwinds at its own leisurely pace allowing for a reading experience similar to breathing; something I last enjoyed in Marilynne Robinson’s exceptional novel, Gilead. Sky Burial has been expertly translated from its original Chinese with a deftness of touch which manages to capture much of the fleeting poetic language and thought of Tibetan and Chinese tradition. On this occasion it was a pleasure to be forced to read outside my comfort zone.
Trevor also nominates-
C.J. Sansom “Winter in Madrid”
Trevor Wilson lives and works in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is a buyer and keeper of good books and always worth asking for a reading recommendation. A fluent Spanish speaker, Trevor has spent a great deal of time in Spain and North Africa and thoroughly enjoys their food and culture. He is not so fond of driving in developing countries. Trevor is a wise and thoughtful man with a great love of hospitality and bringing people together.
Nominated by Iain Griffin
One Sentence Review-
Could have been better. Could have been a whole lot worse.
I’ve flicked my way past this book a million times in Oxfam books. I’m not sure if it bodes well for a book to make it into the Second Hand Books Top Ten although Bridget Jones’ Diary is almost always included in that particular list and I’m preternaturally fond of Ms Jones. Two Tractors is a quick read and not without its charms. It ploughs the slightly romanticized and oftentimes comedic field of “foreign people” viewed through a Western lens in a Jonathan Safran Foer-esque fashion. The overall vibe is jolly, occasionally poignant and downright likable. And yet, this book is nowhere near as wonderful as Everything Is Illuminated. The characters are nice but forgettable. The adventures are moderately adventurous and yet feel a little trite and over-scripted. The multiple narratives sit well with some characters and with others -particularly the soliloquy from Dog- grate like poorly sketched caricatures. I still enjoyed reading this book and yet have definite concerns that the ethnic groups represented here are crass stereotypes of themselves, that the plot is negligible and, most worryingly of all, that the incredibly disturbing issue of human trafficking is not given the gravitas it deserves.
Iain also recommends-
Terry Eagleton “The Gospels”
Iain Griffin is an artist based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Having recently moved from Dublin he is currently a Director at Catalyst Art Gallery, a guide at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, an arts facilitator and just about anything else you ask him to be. In the last year Iain has become married to the lovely Charis and has also discovered competitive reading. He is currently devouring Paul Auster at a rate of noughts, working on a fake history of Belfast and walking the fine and somewhat precarious line between artist and helper of artists. I am both challenged and encouraged by Iain’s ferocious appetite for creativity on a weekly basis.
Nominated by Leah Brown Swan
One Sentence Review-
Too much graphic. Not enough novel. Sorry.
I have to admit I’m a bit of a Philistine when it comes to graphic novels. I haven’t read enough of them to hold any kind of informed opinion. Blankets helped me to make it over my former prejudice that graphic novels should not be considered “proper” literature and I’m definitely open to falling in love with a good story well-illustrated. I thoroughly enjoyed the artwork here. It’s stunning and imaginative and I particularly appreciated the moments when the images zoomed in and out and repeated themselves like a kind of dreamy, telescopic, zoetrope. (I wasn’t particularly fond of the places where you had to turn the book sideways to read but I’ll forgive Ware for the fact that I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to lay out). However, hard as I tried, and I really did persevere with this one, I simply couldn’t get excited by the writing here. Used to novels and short stories, the text here felt clunky and abbreviated. I fully acknowledge that this is a different medium and I appreciated Ware’s playful take on linear time and dream/thought sequence but Jimmy Corrigan felt like more of a plod than most of the novel’s I’ve read this year. Maybe I just need to read more graphic novels.
Leah also recommends-
David Sheff “Playboy Interviews with John Lennon and Yoko Ono”
Leah Brown Swan lives and works in Portland, Oregon. Back in 2005 she was one of the first people I met when I moved to Portland and I am grateful for all the secret Portland moments and wonderful people she introduced me to over the years. A woman of exceptional taste and great shoes, Leah is a filmmaker, blogger and music lover. She is married to Brady and has one of the best and warmest smiles of anyone I’ve ever met.
Nominated by Isabel Wylie
One Sentence Review-
A page turner with a great deal of heart.
The Island is the kind of book you’d read beside the pool on holidays. An easy read it follows four generations of a family who’s story is tightly interwoven with that of a leper colony on a small Cretan island. There are more ups and downs than an Alpine ski slope, keeping the plot trundling along at the kind of rate one might expect from a Dan Brown page turner. However, the characters are nicely drawn, the story quirky enough to hold attention over 500 pages and, while slightly trite in places, the novel was refreshingly warms and uncynical. Not my usual kind of book but enjoyable nonetheless.
Isabel also recommends-
Beatrice Coogan “The Big Wind”
Isabel Wylie lives with James in a farmhouse in Kells, just outside Ballymena. A retired schoolteacher, I have known Isabel my entire life and have been fortunate to benefit from her encouragement, her hospitality, wisdom and incredible kindness on many, many occasions. Isabel is one of the warmest hosts I know and her front door has always been open to anyone who needs a good chat and a cup of tea. Isabel also has a real gift for the piano and a beautiful singing voice. She and James have been honorary grandparents to a lot of people over the years and I am very blessed to be counted among the many and truly grateful for her prayers and encouragements.
Nominated by Wes Patterson
One Sentence Review-
Not entirely convinced this time, Gladwell.
I’ve read a number of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. They provide you with nice anecdotes and facts to drop into conversation when you’re trying to illustrate a point about how society works. I have to say Outliers was not my favourite. I enjoy Gladwell’s storyteller’s perspective on social psychology. I enjoy the way he presents large scale statistics and trends through well-crafted, human-focused narratives. The first time I read the Tipping Point I spent weeks mulling over Gladwell’s hypotheses and debating his conclusions with friends. I think Outliers might have failed to grab me in the same way because the examples here are chiefly taken from the world of mathematics, sports and computer programming; areas which I have little knowledge of and even less inclination to acquire any. As such Outliers didn’t fully enage me. I’m not a social psychologist but in places it felt like Gladwell was choosing his examples and evidence in a somewhat manipulative fashion and with no room given to any dissenting voices, I was not entirely convinced by his arguments. A good read nonetheless and, refreshing to dabble in the world of non-fiction.
Wes Patterson is originally from the Mid-West but currently lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he is one of the pastors at Belfast City Vineyard. Married to Lesley and dad to Gwynneth, Oscar and Everett Wes is a bear of a man with an incredible knack for enthusing and encouraging those around him. He enjoys contact sports, good movies and robust discussion over a pint. Wes has an amazing story about a man who lost a finger during a game of American football. You should ask him about it.