Mary O'Rourke, Katherine Lynch, and Brian Kennedy looked back on a year of reading during a special festive edition
For the final meeting of the Eason Book Club on the Pat Kenny Show this year, the three panellists joined the host once again in Newstalk’s Dublin studios. But instead of poring over another monthly read, this time around the gang weighed in on the books that impacted them most from the year that was, some for good reasons and some less so.
For Mary O’Rourke, erstwhile cabinet minister, the Eason Book Club read that most stuck with her was Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, the story of an elderly widow and widower in a middle-American town.
“And gradually they come together, but in a very unusual way. They have a flowering – a late flowering of love – and it strikes me as very typical of life in that part of America,” Mary said. “I loved the book and it remained my favourite of all the books you’ve brought out, Pat, for our perusal every month. I loved that one.”
For comedienne Katherine Lynch, just announced as a celebrity contestant on Dancing with the Stars, her choice was made to stir up some controversy. “It’s not that I didn’t like it,” she said, “It’s that Mary didn’t! So I thought we’d have a little controversy. That’s Caitríona Palmer’s An Affair with my Mother, and I thought it was really brilliantly written and she was very brave to tell the story. She told the story very eloquently.”
The non-fiction book, detailing the secret relationship Palmer forged with the woman who put her up for adoption as a baby, did not find favour in Mary, who made her thoughts very clear.
“I didn’t because I thought she harassed everyone, and I know she won’t like because I have heard she has said she doesn’t like me, but anyway, that’s all right. I thought there was a consuming thrust to her about that book,” Mary said.
“I suppose, I picked it because I think we have to stand up for writers who are brave enough to go out and write their own story and sprinkle it with eloquent writing,” Katherine replied, a point Mary conceded.
For Brian Kennedy, his pick of the year was Kate Tempest’s The Bricks that Built the Houses, a multi-generational tale of drugs, desire and belonging in London.
“I was very, very lucky to have met her in London years ago,” Brian explained, “And already I was struck by her command of language. She’s a poet and a rapper, and she embodies that real London thing where she has all this multi-cultural language thing going on.
“I think she’s an incredibly powerful person. Especially because people go on and on about how inarticulate this new generation is, and yet it throws us up people like Kate Tempest to lead the way.”
When asked to recommend some books for Christmas for last minute gift buyers among the listeners, the panel provided an eclectic mix of genres that gave some insight into their personalities.
First up, Mary chose Irish historian Brian Murphy’s biography of Ireland’s first president, with Forgotten Patriot: Douglas Hyde and the Foundation of the Irish Presidency, praising its insight into a man who was “quite a character.” To that, Mary added the poetry collection All Through the Night: Night Poems and Lullabies, edited by Marie Heaney.
For Katherine, she recommended buying two novels for any teenagers you might be struggling to find things for, which might engage them and teach them a sense of empathy they’ll carry through for the rest of their lives. Her selections were John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Irish-Canadian author Brian Moore’s The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, “which will teach them lessons about loneliness.”
For Brian, it was a mixture of fun and serious; for the former, he chose Mr Pussy: Before I Forget to Remember, Alan Amsby’s memoirs, co-written by David Kenny – “No relation,” added Pat. The book tells the story of Mr Pussy, a British drag queen who ignited Ireland with his daring act. To temper the sequins and silliness, Brian also chose the great Irish author Colm Toibín’s award-winning The Master, the story of American writer Henry James.
The Eason Book Club is taking a temporary break for January, though February’s book selection will be announced on January 23rd. In the meantime, the panel wishes everyone a very happy Christmas and happy New Year, and implored everyone to support their local bookshops.
“Forget your Kindles,” said Mary. “Get a book in your hand and turn the pages.”