Gutter Bookshop's Bob Johnston gives his recommendations
This time every year, we try and take the sting out of shopping by bringing in the experts to tell you what books to buy for your loved ones this Christmas
Bob Johnston is the owner of the Gutter Bookshop in Temple Bar and Dalkey and here are his picks:
(You can also listen here)
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell
I read this a few months back and loved it! It’s a spooky bit of Victoriana set in London in 1893. It’s winter and snow is falling. Gideon Bliss seeks shelter in a Soho church, where he finds Angie Tatton lying before the altar. His one-time love is at death's door, murmuring about brightness and black air, and about those she calls the Spiriters... in the morning she is gone. Our very own Liz Nugent described it as 'like the love child of Dickens and Conan Doyle'. Great fun and very well-written – Paraic is from Bray in Co Wicklow!
Found in Translation by Frank Wynne
This big hefty tome of short stories (1,000 pages!) contains 100 glittering diamonds of world literature, celebrating not only the original texts themselves but also the art of translation. Collated by Irish translator Frank Wynne it travels from Azerbijan to Uzbekistan, by way of China and Bengal, Suriname and Slovenia – it includes works from well-known and less-known writers all translated from their original languages with consummate skill.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking
As we face potentially catastrophic changes here on Earth - from climate change to dwindling natural resources to the threat of artificial super-intelligence the late Stephen Hawking turns his attention to the most urgent issues for humankind. Intellectually stimulating but infused with his characteristic humour, BRIEF ANSWERS TO THE BIG QUESTIONS is a personal view on the challenges we face as a human race, and where we, as a planet, are heading next.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
I read this last week and thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s a quirky whodunnit style thriller set in a Gosford Park type country house. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed...but Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden - one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party - can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath...
This Book Will Send You to Sleep by Professor K. McCoy and Dr Hardwick
This book makes no claims to be fun or interesting. It is a book you can read in full confidence that you will find absolutely nothing to stimulate your brain. Read about the political crisis in Belgium 2007-2011 or the recent developments in the taxonomy of molluscs, a summary of the administrative bureaucracy of the Byzantine Empire, a world almanac of pickled cucumbers, the measurement of the linear density of fibre. 'Prepare to fall fast asleep with the most boring book ever published' Tim Jones, sleep specialist.
100 Poems by Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney had the idea to form a personal selection of poems from across the entire arc of his writing life, small yet comprehensive enough to serve as an introduction for everyone. He never managed to do this himself but the project was been returned to, resulting in this intimate gathering of poems chosen and introduced by the Heaney family. A beautiful gift hardback for any poetry lovers.
Does It Fart? : The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence by Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso
Dogs do it. Millipedes do it. Dinosaurs did it. Octopuses don't. Spiders might do it - more research is needed. Birds don't do it, but they could if they wanted to. Herrings do it to communicate with each other. This is one of our biggest selling books this Christmas. Make of that what you will.
Humanology by Professor Luke O'Neill
Taking us on an incredible journey across centuries and galaxies, accompanied by his characteristic wit, Professor Luke O'Neill explains how it all began, how it all will end and everything in between. Among many fascinating facts, you'll discover the science behind how we got to be so smart, why sex with a caveman was a good idea, the science of finding love, why we follow religions, and how robots will become part of everyday life. Luke O’Neill is professor of Biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin.
If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura
This is a quirkly little Japanese novel with an interesting concept – if you could gain an extra day on Earth by nominating something else to disappear, what would you pick and would you do it? Paperclips? Mobile phones? Cats? Our young protagonist is dying and is offered such a deal by the Devil – but will he take and what will be the consequences if he does?
Becoming by Michelle Obama
This got off to a slow start when it was released but it’s selling and selling now and is a great gift for anyone interested in US politics as well as inspirational and strong women. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet but everyone I’ve spoken to who has read it says it’s gripping and well-written and a fascinating insight into Michelle Obama as an independent woman as well has her marriage to Barack.
Last Stories by William Trevor
This beautiful hardback from Penguin Books would make a great gift for anyone who loved William Trevor’s writing or Irish short stories. It’s a final collection of ten short stories in which Trevor probes into the depths of the human spirit.
The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth and Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris
Anecdotal gems that have until now lain undiscovered in medical journals for centuries, this is a fascinating collection of historical curiosities - many of which are monuments to human stupidity - such as the sailor who swallowed dozens of penknives to amuse his shipmates, or the chemistry student who in 1850 arrived at a hospital in New York with his penis trapped inside a bottle, having unwisely decided to relieve himself into a vessel containing highly reactive potassium. Others demonstrate exceptional surgical ingenuity long before the advent of anaesthesia - such as a daring nineteenth-century operation to remove a metal fragment from beneath a conscious patient's heart. We also hear of the weird, often hilarious remedies employed by physicians of yore - from crow's vomit to port-wine enemas - the hazards of such everyday objects as cucumbers and false teeth, and miraculous recovery from apparently terminal injuries. Blending fascinating history with lacerating wit, The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth will take you on a tour of some of the funniest, strangest and most wince-inducing corners of medical history.
Milkman by Anna Burns
We can’t let a book recommends slot go without mentioning this year’s ManBooker Prize Winner – the first time a Northern Irish writer has won it! Set during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the story follows an 18-year-old girl who is forced into a relationship by an older married man known as the "milkman". It continues to sell by the bucketload even though some people have labelled it as ‘difficult’ – it is challenging but it’s also funny and wise and full of great characters.