Bryan Dobson picks his top five books

Bryan Dobson joins Shane Coleman to take a look through some of his favourite works

Bryan Dobson, Books, podcast,

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Bryan Dobson joined Shane Coleman on The Sunday Show to discuss his favourite books in our new podcast series Top 5 Books.

His choices reveal a man with a deep curiosity about the world in which he resides, with a particular passion for history and the maritime sphere.

The veteran RTÉ broadcaster stated that he was a keen reader, and that "I always have a couple of books going". 

One of his choices is Modern Ireland 1600-1972 by Roy Foster. Dobson first read it when it was published in the late 1980s, saying that "it blew me away at the time".

As we enter the centenary year of 1916, Dobson highlighted the important role that history writing plays in reviewing our past, saying "where we are today changes our perspective on the past".

Foster in particular looks at very different aspects of society and tries to tie the disparate strands together, which is what makes that work appeal to him.

"Any historian who wants to be called an historian should be a revisionist, because it’s always a process of revising the judgements that have been made by previous generations".

Dobson believes the idea of the discipline is to revise what was previously accepted and examine it within the context of the now. Everything gets overtaken by new learning, new thinking and new source material, something which Foster himself recognises by revising his own writing as new source material becomes available.

History is not static but it is malleable and evolves; the true practice of history leads us to a different way of confronting and encountering our past and ultimately, a much healthier way, something which Dobson believes Foster's work accomplishes.

Another of his choices, Dubliners by James Joyce, is a book that Dobson has been dipping in and out of since his teens. Initially, he started reading it as a collection of simple stories, but it was only as he got older that he began to appreciate how nuanced the work is. As he goes through his life, he finds the stories revealing more and more to him.

The story in the collection to which he repeatedly returns to is 'The Dead'. Set on the Feast of the Epiphany at a party on the Dublin quays, Dobson said that he likes to read the story on the 6th of January each year to mark the day.

While Dobson believes that Dubliners is quite an accessible work, he adds that it can also offer something new to the reader every time they revisit it.

A keen sailor, Dobson also chose the poetry collection Sailing to an Island, by Mayo poet Richard Murphy, which was published in 1963. Written when Murphy lived in Cleggan on the far western reaches of Connemara, the collection deftly deals with the themes of life and death.

Dobson, very familiar with the area himself, read briefly from the final lines from the titular poem of the collection.

Later, I reach a room, where the moon stares

Through a cobwebbed window. The tide has ebbed,

Boats are careened in the harbour. Here is a bed

A regular visitor to Inishbofin, he identifies with Murphy's descriptions of the island off the Galway coast, noting how the poems capture the uniqueness of its people.

Describing himself as a cautious sailor and a travel book fanatic, Dobson also chose Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings, the 1999 travelogue by Jonathan Raban.

The book charts British born Raban’s journey from Seattle to Juneau in Alaska in a small boat: the time spent in transit allows Raban to meditate over different aspects of his life while appreciating the immediacy of sailing the Pacific North-west.

Stating it to be Raban's finest work, he highlights the strands and layers that make it different from typical travel writing. However, like the best of the genre, the journey undertaken by the writer is both internal and external, seamlessly weaving history and introspection with an account of what is happening.

Also on the list is Never Let Me Go, a 2005 novel by Japanese-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro. While not as well-known as Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go narrowly lost out the Booker prize to John Banville's The Sea.

Image: Alessandro Fucarini / AP/Press Association Images

Though presented in a dystopian, science fiction framework, Dobson notes that it deals with themes of maturing and nostalgia, describing it as "a book with more twists and turns and unexpected vistas than a Kerry mountain road". 

While he concedes that the book is, in essence about death, the fundamental questions that are raised are about life and the passage of time.

Dobson states Never Let Me Go touched him at a particular point in his life when looking back was to the fore in his mind. His own childhood memories and how they elicited regret over friendships lost and opportunities missed chimed true with the central themes in Ishiguro’s work.

Bryan Dobson’s Top 5 Books

Modern Ireland: 1600 to 1972 by Roy Foster

Sailing to an Island by Richard Murphy

Dubliners by James Joyce

Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

You can hear more from our newest podcast, Top 5 Books, by clicking here