My 10 favourite books of 2013

I’m not being too strict this year…  a couple of these were not published in 2013. Books 10 to 2, could easily be jumbled around in order, but number 1 slot was a clear winner this year.

  1.  TransAtlantic – McCann, Colum
  2.   The Quarry – Banks, Iain
  3.   Life After Life – Atkinson, Kate
  4.  Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar – Lustig, Robert H.
  5.   The Fault in Our Stars – Green, John
  6.   Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – Sedaris, David
  7.   You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, – Black, Ian
  8.   Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries – Ronson, Jon
  9.   Dark Places – Flynn, Gillian
  10. The Goldfinch – Tartt, Donna

I loved the Goldfinch. Easily get’s the number one slot.

Now and then, someone in work will ask me what I’m reading, and what’s it’s about. I’m often a bit stumped on how to answer that, as happened with the Goldfinch recently. I could say it’s about a guy who steals a painting after an explosion in an art gallery, and the consequences that followed. But of course the painting in The Goldfinch is a bit of a mcGuffin, and as with a lot of books like this, I found myself saying… Oh… god… what is it about… it’s about everything, love, loss, death, friendship, art, marriage, morals, parenting, growing, mental health, addiction, hedonism… life.Tartt, Euginedes, and Franzen really excel at taking a bunch of interesting and believable characters to tell a story that itself is just a backdrop to the broad canvas of life. Their novels are always an amazing experience to read. The books that come before and after always pale in comparison. And The Goldfinch is no different. A masterpiece.

The Blathering

I wrote this at the start of the year for a Kindle Book of short stories based around The Gathering that someone was organizing – but it never happened…

Update: it did happen: But mine was not included… reason: because children might read it! Um ok, why didn’t you goddamn say so in the first place.

– – – – – – –

The Blathering

Redser’s gaze was so absorbed in the red ripples of the sky reflected across the blue ripples of the water that he almost didn’t notice the wet nose busily sniffing his arse.

“Jesus! What the fuck have you been eating?”

“Yer Ma”.

“You wish. She hated gingers.”

“How many times do I have to tell you. Red Setters are red. NOT ginger. The name’s Redser, remember?”

“Yeah right, as if a human would be stupid enough to call a Red Setter Redser. What did they actually call you?”

“Redser! Sure didn’t they call you Blackie!?”

“Not the same thing and you know it. C’mon Red. You can tell me. What they really call you? Been asking you for years now.”

“Not a chance.”

“I bet it’s something to do with that white spot on your forehead.”

“Drop it, Blackie”.

“Very strange for a Red Setter to have a white spot on his forehead.”

“So you keep telling me.”

Blackie sits beside Redser and joins his gaze across the sea. “What a perfect moment this would be if it wasn’t polluted by that fucking stench. Seriously Red. You should see a vet about that, that’s some serious stinkage. Tell me, what fine establishments have you been dining at recently to pollute your intestine so?”

“Oh yeah, that is worth telling actually. I was hanging around the back of Jo’s this morning. I was only there five minutes, when some young lad backs out the door with a bucketful of fried eggs. FUCKING JACKPOT. You know I love the oul eggs!”

“They don’t love you, Red. Seriously. They’re trying to send you a message. Arse to Brain – stop eating eggs… What the hell were eggs doing in a bucket anyway? Does not compute Lord Vader. I mean, why would they fry a load of eggs and then chuck them out in a bucket?”

“Got me, Black. One of life’s mysteries. Anyway, where’ve you been?”

Blackie looks a bit sheepish. “Nowhere. Here and there. Nuthin. No one.”

“You’ve been hanging around the park waiting for that poodle again, haven’t you?”

“No sireee, Bob. Not me. Nope. No way”

“You’ve no fucking chance, Blackie. You’d want to snap out of that. You’ll be in the pound in no time. Seriously.”

Blackie just stares out to sea, looking a bit miffed. He’s determined not to respond but doesn’t last five seconds. “She’s gagging for it Red, I’m telling you, she’s all fur and no fucking Snickers. Get that one into a bush for two minutes and she’d be howling like a she-wolf. She’d never look at another poodle. Once you’ve had Blackie there’s no going backy!”

“You wish. Just don’t do anything stupid. Not too many of us Paddies around here these days. I mean what’s the chances of any other dog fluking it over to here like we did? I’m telling ye. I’d go insane if I had to talk to these yankie doodle poochies all day. I mean they’re alright and all but you need to talk to one of your own now and then or you’d go fucking mad.”

“Awww, poor Redser, doesn’t want to be all alone and the big bad west. That reminds me. Did you hear about that thing where they’re trying to get everyone to go back home?”

“Yeah. The Gathering, will you ask me big dangly bollox!?”



“Bollock. The noun one would apply to the dangly vestibule of creatures bestowed in single testicularity.”

“Fuck you and your two tiny chewing gum balls”.

“Two heads are better than one. No interest then?”

“In The Slathering Blathering? Christ no. Seems like a load of nonsense.”

“I think it sounds good. It’d be like one big long Paddy’s Day.”

“Oh Jesus Fucking Christ. As if that’s a good thing.”

“Yeah but imagine what the atmosphere would be like with lots of people going home for the first time in years.”

“We ain’t people, Blackie, and you know better than anyone I can never ever go back there. Even if this was a fucking Disney Movie and we could stowaway in a serious of hilarious events. I can’t go back there. Ever.”

“I know, I know.  But it’s a pity – I think it’d be great crack.”

“Yeah you’re right. I can imagine how great a distraction it’d be from the shit storm of a mess that country is in. How clever of them.”

“You is one cynical old dawg, Red.”

“You have to be cynical about everything that lot do, Blackie. You know I’d sooner eat a conspiracy theorist than listen to one spouting their garbage, but you have to question every idea that comes from that lot. Everything. When it comes to the Irish government, I’m definitely more of a Mulder than a Scully. The truth is out there!”

Redser has been toying with an injured fly for the last two minutes and decides to put it out of its misery. It tastes like shit but he likes the crunchy texture, and the little pop it makes as it bursts onto his tongue.

“Maybe I’m just being nostalgic” says Blackie. “But I’d sure love to get back home for something like that.”

“Christ, Blackie. It’s a marketing team’s wank fest. I mean there’s nothing I like more than licking up a puddle of spilt Guinness. But see that Arthur’s Day? Get it well the fuck away from me. That’s the biggest trick the devil ever pulled right there. Another event for the Irish to go out and get pissed for a whole day. Paddy’s Day. Arthur’s Day and now the fucking Gathering. Would you ask my big shiny bollock!”

“So you’re immune to all marketing ploys then, is that it, Redser?”

“No one’s immune to marketing. I’ve neither purse nor pocket, yet the claws of marketing scratch me every day. More than these fucking fleas. Doesn’t mean I can’t do my best to avoid shit-fests like this though.”

At the mere mention of fleas, both Blackie and Redser have to pause the conversation, throw their legs akimbo, and start a three minute scratch-fest.

Blackie continues, his voice shaking as he’s still going hell for leather behind his ear “I dunno, Red. I’m sure you’re right. Maybe it was conceived as a distraction but I still bet it’d be an amazing atmosphere…. Oh shit, here’s Vinnie.”

“Vinnie’s alright. I thought you liked Vinnie too?”

“He was alright before he came out and turned into the biggest queen in town. I don’t get it. Everyone knew he was the gayest dog around. And everyone was fine with it. But then he makes the big announcement, as if he needed to tell anyone, and suddenly he’s camp as Christmas. I’ve never heard anyone trying so hard to lisp while they bark! I mean, that dog used to have the best taste in music around. The conversations we used to have about glitchy German House, and all of a sudden he’s obsessed with Kylie Minogue. The whole thing’s ridiculous. I know plenty of gay dogs who are, you know, normal, and plenty who were always, you know, a bit camp. All well and good. But this complete transplant is nuts. What the fuck is that all about!? Fake as fuck.

Vinnie – “Hey ladies! Mwah. Mwah.”

Redser – “Hey Vinnie.”

Vinnie – “What you two luvvies looking so serious about?”

Redser – “Blackie was just saying how much he loves your recent zest for life. Saying you’ve got a great spring in your step for a big butch Saint Bernard.”

Blackie – “Never mind him, Vinnie. We were talking about  The Gathering. Redser here is being as cynical as ever.”

Vinnie – “Oh that, yeah. Sounds great to me. Party party party!”

Redser – “Oh Christ. Don’t you start.”

Vinnie – “Would you not love to go back to Ireland for that Redser? I’m sure you’ve got plenty of puppies back there, ha!”

“NO I FUCKING DON’T!” Redser growls, and then snaps at Vinnie, catching his ear, and drawing a bit of blood.

Vinnie is so shocked that he doesn’t fight back. Just says “What the actual fuck!?”

Redser looks a bit embarrassed and just turns tail and runs off.

Vinnie – “WHAT. THE. FUCK!?”

Blackie – “Sheeeeeite! Not your fault Vinnie. I should have known better to keep going on about Ireland. But, you know, it’s been donkey’s years now.”

“What the fuck is going on, Blackie!?”

“You don’t know why we left?”

“I sure as hell don’t.”

“Ah. Ok. Right. Well. Where do I start?”

Blackie looks out across the sea again as he casts his mind back.

“Right. So. There’s this beach back home. It’s a bit like this beach here. But it’s got lots of sand dunes. And lots of sand. Duh! And lot’s of marshland full of birds too. It’s a great spot. There’s always loads of dogs there. We used to go down there all the time. Even family dogs used to have a bit more freedom back then. But this one time, we were messing down at the water. Running in and out. And we spot this bag in the water. We both make a dart for it at the same time. But Redser gets there first. He picks it up in his teeth ready to shake it from side to side. Trying to soak me like. But he sees it too late. Shakes it anyway. Three dead puppies spill out.

“Oh my fucking god.”

“Three dead red setters. One with a little white spot on its forehead.”

“Oh christ. Fucking hell. Poor Redser. What fucking animals people can be.”

“He wanted to kill the murdering bastards. I don’t know how I stopped him. But I did. I made him stay at the beach. We slept in a fisherman’s boat that night. At least we thought that’s what it was before all the drug smugglers climbed in the next morning! We couldn’t believe it! Thought that shit only happened in movies but sure enough, four lads… that looked as normal as anything jumped in… but they were definitely bringing drugs across the water. And… well… I think you know the rest of our travels. Finally ended up here. And we’ve been here ever since.”

“Jesus, yeah. But I’d no idea about the start!”.

“I should have known better than going on about the fucking Gathering.”

The two dogs sat for a moment and gazed once more across the red rippled sky. In the distance, Blackie could just about hear a sound that he thought he recognized as Redser’s howls but it might just have been the wind.

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease

As you can see from the title,
Fat Chance
is about Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.

This book gets 5 stars from me, not because it I loved reading it so much, some of it was a bit of a chore. But it’s one of those books you wish everyone would read, or that it was on the school curriculum, as the knowledge within is so important and so beneficial to everyone’s health. (And if everyone read it, it might stop other people feeding your children sugar every chance they get).

I don’t hold much truck with news headlines that say this food or that food, is bad for you, or good for you one month, and vice versa the next month. I prefer to get my facts from books based on hard science, and years of research. And that’s what Fat Chance is.

In no particular order, here are just some of facts that I have learned or had confirmed by this book:

– Sugar is a poison. It’s not the type of poison that will kill you straight away. It’s worse than that. It will slowly eat away at your health, greatly increase your chance of cardiovascular disease, and ultimately decrease your life span.

– Fruit is good for you. But only as nature intended. Peel an orange, eat it, great. But even juicing it changes everything by eliminating the fibre. Then you’re just drinking sugar water, no better than a can of coke or sugared drink! Even smoothies shred the fibre too much.

– (Natural) Juice has 5.8 teaspoons of sugar per cup. Soda has 5.4

– “Real food doesn’t have or need a Nutrition Facts label. The more labels you read, the more garbage you’re buying”

– Stepping on a scale measures 4 types of weight: 1. bone, 2.Muscle 3.Subcutaneous fat (big ass, fat thighs etc) and 4.Visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat isn’t bad for your health, but Visceral fat is, this is fat around your belly and inside your organs. That’s the fat you need to lose. (If your focus is on health rather then vanity)

– Obese people should not be judged. Thinking of them as lazy over eaters is a grossly incorrect generalization. There is a vast range of health issues that makes it impossible for some people to lose weight without medical intervention specific to their body. And a vast range of societal and environmental problems that might have put them there in the first place.

– The single best thing you can do to keep healthy, is a regular routine of cardiovascular workouts. Running, cycling, swimming etc. (Note: for health & well being, not looking good).

– The only guarantee you can have that you are eating unsugared / unprocessed foods, is when you are eating food that didn’t come with a label. Real food: meat, fruit, veg.

– A calorie is NOT a calorie. This is a highly propogated myth. Some calories are not burned off as easily as others. The type of caloric intake varies greatly.

– “All successful diets share three precepts: low sugar, high fiber, and fat and carbohydrate together in the presence of an offsetting amount of fibre. Anything after that is window dressing”

– “First step in eliminating your sugar consumption is to start eliminating all sugared beverages. We were designed to eat our calories not drink them”

– Make dessert a once-weekly treat at the weekends. For you and your kids.

I’ve had a lifetime of over indulging in sugar and sugared foods. And I’ve also mostly had a sedentary life with little sports activity. And have always been *lucky* to have a metabolism that resulted in me never really getting fat. But I’m starting to almost consider that not so lucky, because I’m pretty sure that abuse has manifested itself in many other ways. Constant stomach aches and digestive problems, major fatigue issues etc, I’ve a long list of symptoms I won’ bore you with. Maybe if I had got fat, I would have cut down on sugar intake a lot sooner, and I might be healthier now.

Having said that, I’ve vastly cut out sugar recently and started exercising, and I’m definitely noticing the health benefits. And this book really drove all that home. If I could go back in time and warn my younger self about one drug to watch out for it wouldn’t be tobacco, alcohol, class A drugs or recreational drugs. It’d be sugar. It’s the one addictive, and slowly damaging drug that no one seriously talks to you about. Hopefully that will start to change.

The author’s hour and a half long presentation, which has had almost 4 million views on youtube in the header

Top 10 books of 2012

My top 10 books of the year. All audiobooks except for the Psychopath test. (Wow there’s not much between this post and last years top ten, I might just turn this into a book blog and be done with it)

10Into the Darkest Corner I still want to find a thriller that genuinely thrills me but in general I find them really disappointing, clichéd, full of plot holes, and the biggest flaw in any genre for me: inauthentic. But this was definitely one of the better ones. Authethentic, plausible, and neither cliched nor disappointing.

9. Heft Arthur opp; an obese reclusive professor. Kel Keller: a promising baseball star. And Kel’s mother Charlene; the link between the two men. A small story, finely handled.

8. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry I’m still baffled by the clumsy start to this book but otherwise a fascinating dissection of what it really means to be a psychopath.

7. The Family Fang considering I’m a sucker for darkly comic dysfunctional families, how’s this for dysfunctional: “Child A” Annie and “Child B” Buster, serve as little more than the main props in their parent’s performance art. Unsurprisingly they have issues by the time they get to adulthood.

6. The Marriage Plot – A bit like One Day, except not shit. Actually it’s nothing like one day except that it pivots around a relationship. Recommended for fans of Franzen. They are quite similar.

5. Tell the Wolves I’m Home The thing about this book is that it’d be a great YA book. Though if it was marketed that way I never would have read it. The Hunger Games was a fun romp – but it had me rolling my eyes in lots of places where it was really dumbed down nonsense. If that’s YA I’m out. Tell the Wolves is mostly about a teenager struggling with loss, love and grief as well as the usual teenage stuff. But unlike The Hunger Games, it’s Rock Solid. No eye rolling.

4. 1Q84 – I’ve had a curious relationship with Murakami books, I wasn’t crazy about the first one but there’s something about his stories that just lure you back for more, and I’ve enjoyed each one more than the previous. But I also think 1Q84 is his most accomplished work, there’s a crazy logic in the alternate universe of 1Q84. It’s bit of a marmite book though, some people seem to hate it. I loved it.

3. People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman True crime doesn’t get much better than this. There are so many fascinating strands to this story; the hostess culture in Japan, the exploration of how grieving parents are expected to act in the eye of the public, and of course the main crime itself involving the disappearance of Lucie Blackman

2. Skagboys  Brilliant. As good as Trainspotting, if not better. No one does it better with this kind of stuff. It was like being back with a bunch of old friends. Even scumbags like Begbie… The problem is, he’s a mate n aw. What kin ye dae?

1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette  Comedy is a funny thing(!) I usually find any books that are written for the comedy section anything but funny. I really didn’t like the comedy-book-of-the-moment “The 100 year old man who climbed out of the window”. But Where’d You Go, Bernadette was for me genuine laugh out loud funny as fuck.

I wish more books were like this. No long drawn out back story, or plodding character development. Just bam! Straight into it. A few pages in and there’s a whole world of hilarious stuff going on. This is one big passive aggressive note against the type of people who might write passive aggressive notes. Great fun, if a little far fetched in places, but it’s almost in sitcom territory, so we can give it some comedic licence. Highly recommended.

Honourable mention as I just finished it yesterday.

The Yellow Birds

Yellow birds is an American soldier’s semi-autobiographical experience of the Iraq war. That conjures up a book that generally I would have little interest in but this boy sure can write. You can easily see why he’s being compared to the likes of Cormac McCarthy:

“Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed. I knew, watching them, that if any given moment a measurement could be made it would show how tentative was my mind’s mastery over my heart. Such small arrangements make a life, and though it’s hard to get close to saying what the heart is, it must at least be that which rushes to spill out of the parentheses which were the beginning and the end of my war: the old life disappearing into the dust … ”

It’s in equal parts about the death of a friend and the death of his own youth, both killed in a senseless war. Brilliantly written.

The truth about tattoo removal

So you’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo removed for a while now. Google has brought you to youtube where you’ve ended up watching lots of cool videos of tattoos getting zapped by laser. Viola! All gone! That looks easy!

Although a picture can speak a thousand words, and a video can speak a million, the thing with words is: they can tell you about the stuff that you don’t see on videos which can be very deceptive. Here are those words.

1. A lot of the tattoo removal videos are done in laser clinics in the US where it’s more prominent to use some form of anaesthetic. But they don’t usually bother with that. Not in Ireland, and not in my experience. You just have to bear the pain like you did when you had the damn thing done. And it’s just as sore, maybe more so. Though it was only after I had a new laser technician that I discovered the first one was a sadist, and it’s not so painful when you a more caring technician who occasionally pauses the LASER THAT’S BURNING YOUR SKIN OFF.

2. These videos make it look like you have one session and that’s it, your tattoo is gone forever. And that is even more deceptive.
– It takes many many sessions to remove, at least a dozen depending on tattoo.
– The first session is the most effective and most noticeable reduction. Subsequent sessions may have ZERO visible effect. I had several in a row where there was no reduction.
– When you see a tattoo magically vanishing in a video, what you don’t realize is what you’re really looking at is a skin coloured blister. When your skin calms down, the tattoo re-emerges almost as strong as it was.

I’ve been going every 6 weeks for a year and a half now, and recently my mum pointed at my (slightly faded) tattoo and said “I thought you were going to have that removed?” oblivious to the fact that I have just finished my full course of my tattoo removal. In fact, I had to have many more sessions than I was told would be necessary.

It was maybe 14 or 15 sessions in all. I stopped counting. And the final result is that the outlines are mostly gone. Pretty much failed at removing any of the fill colour. I have to make an appointment for another round of sesssions with a different laser clinic, who have a machine that might do better at removing the fill colour. Which will obviously cost more.

So – the moral of the story is: be prepared for a much longer haul than those videos suggest.

Here’s the most recent one that I’ve seen:

My story:

There’s nothing quite like a very bad tattoo to remind you just how stupid you were when you were younger. I wonder just how many stupid acts I’ve been able to forget over the years. But there’s no forgetting this one. Only excuse I can give my self for such a stupid tattoo is that I was way under age (no one in the tattoo shop batted an eyelid though). I didn’t want to just pick a tattoo out of a catalogue, I wanted something different and for some bizarre reason, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to have a tattoo of an Adidas logo with my name instead of Adidas. Would love to go back in a time machine and ask myself what the hell I was thinking.

I’ve wanted to have it removed for years now. I’m forever pulling my t-shirt sleeves over the stupid thing which might as well read “Yes, I am an utter moron”.

So I finally scrape together a few quid and make an appointment and a year and a half later, after a lot of sessions, a lot of which had no effect, I just have a more faded tattoo.

Here are some photos taken just after some of the laser sessions.

Before any treatment

Half hour after first session. Some of the lines are faded:

After third session

After Fourth session

Insert 4 sessions here that had such little effect, that I didn’t bother taking any photos.

Directly after 8th session

After 9th session.

And here it is today. After a total of maybe 14 or 15 sessions:

Here’s before and after

I’ll write an update in a few years when it’s gone altogether!

CABBAGE CONTROLS – some thoughts on Prometheus casting

I went to see Prometheus last night. Absolutely stunning design. I particularly liked the use of yellows. No, seriously!

But it was slightly let down by some other factors which I always find amazing once you compare the different elements.

I mean why spend gazillions on set design and special fx, and get them so stunningly brilliant and perfect, and then cast an archaeologist who’s enough of a douchebag, to really detract from the whole movie’s authenticity? I could all too easily picture this guy being smarmy at Hollywood after-parties, not chiseling away at rocks in the middle of nowhere.

So here’s the thing. WHY pay so little attention to casting and such fine attention to design? They might as well have a cabbage pop up for the flight controls instead of a nicely designed control panel. That’s the design equivalent of some of the casting.

If they had a douche playing Deckard, or a bimbo type playing Ripley, both Bladerunner and Alien would have been completely different movies.

You know that other sci-fi classic The Thing? One of the things I loved about it was the casting of a bunch of old guys, who were quite plausible as weather-beaten arctic scientists. I can remember saying to someone years ago. “I guarantee you if they remade The Thing, they’d cast young pretty things, and it’d be total pants“. And then they fucking well did it! A cast of pretty young things, and by all accounts, it’s pants.

That’s all casting seems to be these days: the gathering young pretty things. “Come to me my pretty, Mwahahahahahahaha“.

The plot, dialogue and script in Prometheus have some issues as well (Ok I’ll say it: the religious guff is a fucking joke, gimme a break) but not quite as distracting as the main casting. Though Fassbender was perfect, as were some of the minor characters. Even less excuses to fuck around with the other casting.

But here’s another one. WHY have Guy Pearce made up to look like and old guy, and looking exactly like Biff from back to the future? There’s good reason to have a young guy made up as an old guy in Back To The Future (tip: he also had to play a young guy) but no good reason in Prometheus. Just cast a fucking old guy!

Anyway, all that aside – it’s still well worth seeing, and worth seeing on a big screen.

p.s. I thought the same about Lord of the Rings. But the issue with that wasn’t the cast, but the utterly dire and sickly twee soundtrack which all but ruined it.

p.p.s. You know this issues with the plot? See this brilliant video asking all the right questions:

p.p.p.s In retrospect I think a much better dialogue may have hidden the bad casting a lot better.

Power’s Short story

I decided to have a bash at the Power’s short story competition recently. Here’s my entry:

They came. One after the one before. Each face old and unfamiliar. Then recognition emerged until they were so familiar, you wonder how you ever forgot them. These faces that once loomed large in your world, like the moon, always there.

There was Davey Boyd, the biggest gurrier ever there was. Kicked out by his own mam at 16, and fishing for more trouble by the day, until that one day I came home from school to find him and his sheepish grin parked at my place at the dinner table. Two months passed before I got that seat back and Davey was back at his own, no doubt causing trouble again from day one.

There were the Byrne Brothers from next door, standing tall in their uniforms, all three guards now. I remember mam passing plates of dinner over the back wall for a month when their own mam was sick. It must have been a winter, trails of steam busy to get away from the gravy, cutting through the air like a Bisto ad.

And she didn’t only feed the needy. She just seemed to enjoy stuffing people’s cake holes. She’d never let my own friend’s leave the house without having a bit of dinner. I’d bet a bucket of beans they had more dinners in my house than their own. A game of pool in the shed, until Ma shouted DINNER, then we’d all pile in. Polite declinations had long been disputed and lost, no more need for the Mrs Doyle routine.

There was the gang of them now. The state of them in their interview suits, and shiny shoes, each more red-eyed than myself.

Many more came that I didn’t know by name. But I remember their appreciating lips, appearing at our table for days, or weeks on end. I didn’t need to ask where she got them from, their weather-beaten faces said everything.

Sometimes, as neighbour, friend, or stranger, left with a belly of stew, I’d ask her why she did it all. She’d just toss me a wink. “Building an Army Jimmy Boy”.

It was just something she said without much thought, but there they were now, bulging out of the church grounds. An army. The army it would take to replace a great sadness with the warmth I was now surrounded with. And I can’t help wonder if she really was building an army. An army that would be here for me on this day. An army that would celebrate her love and kindness and return it on to me.

I can see why I didn’t even make the long lists. The theme was “valuing the important things in life” and the story I went with seemed to have been done to death, not surprising in retrospect, and thus completely unoriginal. Twee as fuck and all. I always end up writing something twee when I try something like this, even though most books I like are dark and dirty.

This year’s winner is well deserved I think.

Books of the year 2011

My favourite books of 2011. Better late than never, right?

10. Solace (novel / paperback)
Realistic & authentic characters and relationships. I like that.

09. A Monster Calls (novel / audiobook)
Surprisingly good for young adult fiction which I don’t (purposefully) read.  It hit all the marks that Skippy Dies failed to.  Great artwork in the paperback version (which you don’t get with the audio.)

08. At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Narrative Non-Fiction / audiobook)
Even though it’s not his best, I do love a good dose of Bill Bryson – a hotch potch collection of trivia, loosely connected to the rooms we live in.

07. The Help (novel / audiobook)
I  was surprised to enjoy this so much, considering it has the whiff of an Oprah book club all over it. I think the performances of the Audiobook possibly helped, including Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar for the same role in the Movie.

06. The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex (Narrative Non-Fiction / audiobook)
More Kermodian Rants. Amusingly this is like a collection of rants from the radio show fleshed out and written down. Actually I probably didn’t need to hear the “Sex and the City Rant” and the “3D rant” again, but lot’s more ranting besides.

05. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (Narrative Non-Fiction / Kindle)
Joshua Foer’s highly amusing story of memory and mnemonics chronicling his discovery of and training for the World Memory Championship. Full review.

04. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (Fables / Kindle)
I loved this. Dark haunting animal fables. Or sometimes plain silly but hilarious animal fables. All in the inimitable style of my favourite essayist David Sedaris.

03. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Narrative Non-Fiction / audiobook)
Perfect blend of intriguing characters, a history of cell culture, and a fascinating true story.  A perfect piece of narrative non-fiction.

02. I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan (Comedy Biog / audiobook)
The perfect audiobook. Could not imagine reading this on paper when I can listen to Steven Coogan in character. Seven hours of comedy gold.

01. When God Was a Rabbit (novel / audiobook)

I fell in love with this book within the first thirty pages, an adorable, slightly quirky story, about a girl called Elly and those she loves. I find it hard to separate the book from the audiobook in this instance. The audiobook was such a perfectly complete piece. It’s read by the author, Sarah Winman, with great warmth and perfect nuance already knowing and loving her characters so well. She has a fantastic voice both as a writer and narrator. I loved the cheeky voices of the children. Adult narrators often really over-do the chirpy voice thing, and ruin audiobooks that feature children.

Though the children are such adorable characters, you miss them when they’ve flown the coop, all too soon for my liking. Its hard not to be a bit disappointed when the book suddenly jumps to their adulthood. I wanted to stay immersed in the wonderful world of childhood that bit longer. But such is life. Like it or not, Adulthood comes knocking and Sarah Winman does her best to hold on to the things we hold dear from our formative years.

“And from that moment, I watched her. Watched her with different coloured eyes, until the raging energy that coursed through my body finally revealed itself and gave itself a name: envy. For I knew already that something had taken me from me, and had replaced itself with a desperate longing for a time before; a time before fear, a time before shame. And now that knowledge had a voice, and it was a voice that rose from the depths of my years and howled into the night sky like a wounded animal longing for home.”

It’s all too easy for novelists to make BIG things happen in their books. It’s too easy to give characters great luck, or bad luck, or great health or wealth or disease, or fame or fortune. I often wince when some authors use these tropes as easy plot devices but Sarah Winman hilariously turns that on it’s head and does it all! You could retitle it to When God Was A Novelist.

Adorable book. Book of the year. Audiobook of the year.

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It wasn’t until  I made this list that I realised just how much more I enjoyed non-fiction over the year. I’ve felt like this before; almost giving up on fiction in favour of non-fiction. I found a lot of novels a little bit… Meh. And there was something more to some of the non-fiction that I couldn’t quite put my finger on – until Jackie at Farm Lane Books drew my attention to a genre called Narrative Non Fiction. They’re non-fiction books but they usually have some kind of story arc, heroes, villians, a plot of sorts, an array of interesting characters and other devices derived from fiction.

Take the Immortal life of Henrietta lacks for example, a standard non-fiction version could be a relatively boring story about the history of cell research. But no, it’s a fascinating story about the Lacks family, and how Henrietta’s cells came to be used in every stem cell lab in the world. And the author is just as much a part of the story, another common Factor in Narrative Non-Fiction. See more examples on I’ve created a goodreads shelf here with more additions.

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Most Overated, and ultimately dissapointing books of the Year

One Day
Old Filth
Before I go to Sleep
Skippy Dies


Pruning your feeds

I asked on Twitter recently if anyone has completely stopped using RSS readers, and a few people had completely. Others just about keep an eye on it. I don’t check mine half as much as I used to but I do still check in on it often enough.  It can get a bit unwieldy after a few days.

Seems a lot of folk have gone through the same route. RSS readers were there main source of information/entertainment at one stage. And they spent years subscribing to more and more feeds. And then Twitter, Facebook etc took over. Or apps like Flipboard and Zite got better at curating our interests.

So now it’s a lot easier to forget about your trusty rss feeds, you blink and you’ve 2000 unread items. Inevitably there are loads of articles that tell you how to prune your feeds.

But they always seem to get it backwards.

The message is always to get rid of the quiet ones. I don’t get that. Unless it’s some kind of self-preservation from the big blogs.  The quiet ones are exactly what RSS readers are good for. Some of my favourite blogs only update once a month, and less and less because of all of the above. They’re the ones I don’t want to miss.

I think the important thing to do is to only show unread items, then who cares if you’re subscribed to a feed that’s only updated twice a year?

Here’s a recent post from Lifehacker. There are a few good tips there. But main message is the pointless “kill the quiet ones”. Here’s the pruning that had a major impact on reducing my feeds quite quickly.

Kill the noisy ones
Take your noisy ones; like Lifehacker & both great but extremely noisy.  And there are many more like that. I got rid of all my noisey ones and the reduction in traffic was instant. They all post to  Twitter & Facebook anyway now. So if I want to kill 15 minutes online,  the posts are there for me while I’m killing the time and not clogging up an unread count when I’m not. I don’t get to read the ones posted while I’m not killing time, and that’s just fine by me. So just kill anything noisey from your rss and follow them on Twitter.

Separate business from pleasure
I also moved all the professional feeds I subscribed to;  web / ux design etc, to a Google work account. That killed off a hell of a lot more traffic.  I got a bit sick of opening up Reeder on a Sunday morning and being bombarded with the stuff that I do from 9-5. Lots of web people seem to eat, sleep and breath web tech. I confess, as much as I enjoy it, I need a break from it at weekends & evenings. Truth be told: I don’t read much of these in work either. SO I’ve pretty much killed off all web design feeds for now, bite me bitch.

No more obligation subscriptions
Then I unsubscribed from every blog that  I was subscribed to just because they were part of the Irish blogosphere or once left a comment on my blog. Obligatory shit like that.  There were just too many that  I wasn’t even reading.  There are lots of those that I still love and am still subbed to – but any blogs that I subbed to out of obligation: Hi Ho Silver. Got to be honest with yourself here; if you always click ‘next’ after reading the first sentence, unsub straight away. Get rid of your blogroll while you’re at it. Conscience cleared!

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Those 3 simple things really worked for me. Massive reduction in my rss inbox now, it only contains stuff I don’t want to miss, am genuinely interested in seeing, isn’t work, and isn’t something that I’m going to see on Facebook / Twitter anyway.

And I’m probably gone from your feed reader too! Which is why you saw this on Twitter / Google plus. Or not? let me know.

p.s. I find the same on Twitter I have a list for my friends and “The Quiet Ones”. They’re the updates I want to see more than people who post 100 times  day.

Long live the quiet ones!