Review: Four book recommendations for summer reading

Globe and Mail Arts staff John Doyle, Marsha Lederman, Brad Wheeler and Kate Taylor give their picks for the summer reading.

We Don’t Know Each Other: A Personal History of Modern Ireland
By Fintan O’Toole (Liveright; 624 pages)

For centuries people have suggested that I read and review Fintan O’Toole’s book. I understand. O’Toole and I are the same age and from similar backgrounds. We attended University College Dublin together, graduated at the same time and, unbeknownst to many who suggested it, we knew each other there. He became a theater critic for the Irish Times and I became a television critic for The Globe and Mail. He went on to become a hugely influential general columnist for his newspaper, Ireland’s Best, and we both wrote about growing up in Ireland at a special, special time.

The dense and profusely researched book is a personal history of Ireland from its birth, cultural, political and focusing on the waves of change as he and his family experienced them. This makes the narrative and the analysis gripping, both by what it questions and by what is sometimes missing. Of course, Ireland fascinates many readers and scholars. This fragile democracy born out of the 1922 revolution had a heavy literary impact and part of that is here. O’Toole is a keen, cautious and reluctant writer to generalize about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, offering a perspective – that of Dublin’s working class – that is more realistic than much that has been written on the subject.

As a child, there was the idea of ​​a “disappearing Ireland” in the air. Emigration was so widespread, particularly from rural Ireland, that there was a visceral sense of declining population and culture. Even in 1971, he points out, the population of the Republic of Ireland was less than 3 million, smaller than the city of Paris. What dominates its history of the last decades is the pressure exerted on Ireland by the Catholic Church and its related institutions. In fact, almost every institution, from elementary and secondary schools to much of the health sector, and even universities, was in the hands of church figures. Its heroes, if there are any, can be summed up as a handful of politicians and civil servants who, in the 1960s, decided to pull Ireland towards economic modernity via industry and tourism.

While much of Europe changed in the 1960s, it was a decade later that Ireland changed course, often inelegantly. I was charmed to find O’Toole as a teenager rebelling against cropped haircuts and ordinary school clothes. Like me, he went to the then glamorous Herman’s Klipjoint on Grafton Street to look like someone who follows style and enjoys personal freedom.

He is excellent on the series of political scandals that still defy opinion today. The scams and quibbles, the millions of dubious transactions. But the book can get lost in the halls of power in Dublin. Additionally, O’Toole is inattentive to sport in Irish life and its significance. It is a sporting nation and the success of the men’s national football team in the 1990s carries far more connotation than is acknowledged. The difference between me and O’Toole is that I left for Canada. Ireland seems less fascinating to me than it used to be. The corridors of power in Dublin are narrow and small, while the outside world is bigger and more open. This beautiful book is for those who are a bit fanatical about Irish miseries and the new modernity. John Doyle

pure life
By Eugene Marten (Strange Light; 385 pages)

It’s heartwarming to see yourself and your experiences reflected in a work of fiction – it’s wonderful. But I also love a novel that takes me on a journey away from what I know. Add evocative prose and sharp cultural commentary and…touch.

In pure life, the new novel by Eugene Marten, born in Winnipeg, a young man from a depressed city in the United States who plays football. Strategist. He works very, very hard to overcome his physical deficits. Luck intervenes and offers him a professional career. And with it fame, wealth, a beautiful wife – daughter of the owner of the team. But none of this lasts longer than the injury to his body – specifically, his brain. He took too many blows to the head. He suffers from depression, drug and alcohol addiction, blackouts. Things go wrong: in his marriage, with his children, his finances. The former winner loses everything, even his chain of steakhouses. When he travels to Honduras for experimental medical treatment, the story takes an even darker turn. And the last part of the book is absolutely heartbreaking, told in vivid and excruciating detail.

We never learn the name of the protagonist; we only know him by his jersey number – Nineteen – which adds to the haze of the reading experience. Everything is a bit off. We have to work to understand things. Just like Nineteen does. For the reader, the work pays off. Marsha Lederman

This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music
Edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Kim Gordon (Hachette; 257 pages)

After reading This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music, it’s hard to care whether Pitchfork gave Harry Styles’ new record a pan of 4.2 or a rave of 8.7. My god, decimal points – please tell me Lester Bangs died for more than numbers.

The book of 16 women’s essays is edited by Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon and Irish author and music journalist Sinéad Gleeson. There are no album reviews; no adjectives of The dictionary of rock snob were injured while making a collection of pieces about pioneering musical artists.

Highlights (for this man, anyway) include Anne Enright fan girl essay on fame, Laurie Anderson and identity. “Music undoes me,” writes the Booker Prize-winning novelist. “It doesn’t tell me who I am. It’s something I listen to on my own. »

I enjoyed the Rachel Kushner one country girl, a story by rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. There’s a story about Elvis Presley telling Jackson she should wash her fake ponytail. Jackson took it off and said to Presley, “Here, you Wash it.” Take that, king!

Jackson’s essay reads like a movie waiting to happen, but more compelling is an essay that scans like a saga. Maggie Nelson’s my brilliant friend is not just a 21-page tribute to the late great American-Canadian singer-songwriter Lhasa, but a poetic mini-memoir by Nelson herself. She describes a bohemian woman who seems to come from a planet where I don’t exist. And anyway that matters, I really don’t live in their world. Full marks for Nelson’s piece and 8.7 for This woman’s work. Brad Wheeler

Homo Irrealis: Essays
By André Aciman (Farrar, Straus, Giroux; 239 pages)

Although he does not say so directly in this penetrating cultural memoir, the American writer André Aciman belonged to the Jewish community driven out of Egypt in the 1950s by the nationalization policy of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Instead, Aciman describes, from the perspective of a boy living in a place he knew he had to leave, how his family experienced the city of Alexandria through a sort of suspended nostalgia.

Aciman is now best known as the author of call me by your name, source of the successful film, but it is no coincidence that he is also a specialist in Proust. There is a parallel here with the way in which Marcel Proust’s narrator In Search of Lost Time begins to miss loved ones while still in their company, or the way his character Swann is obsessed with his mistress Odette, the two men anxiously living through the separation before it even happens.

He wrote elsewhere (Out of Egypt) on his family history in Alexandria; this collection of essays focuses on the emotional states produced by a reluctance to settle in the present place or time. here are the unreal moments, passages of life when one feels out of oneself, so intense is the regret for the past or the nostalgia for the future. The self-help psychologist could give a talk on mindfulness and the importance of living in the present; Aciman does not judge himself or the various filmmakers, writers and artists who, it seems to him, capture these states.

There are excellent essays here on Eric Rohmer’s films, and the experience of seeing them in now-defunct New York performance houses, reading WG Sebald’s book The emigrants and considering the theme of wasted lives, and on Proust, who made a lifetime’s work of his emotional entanglement with time.

Aciman approaches these cultural experiences from a purely personal angle – where he was when he read a book or saw a film; how it related to this period of his life – with a method that deepens the reader’s ideas rather than indulging the author. It ends with the scheming Fernando Pessoa, provocatively dismissing as uninteresting the Portuguese poet’s use of numerous pseudonyms. Instead, he writes: “I am interested in his conscious inability to set foot in a time zone. Like Aciman, the poet inevitably inhabits the unreal mood. Kate Taylor

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