Category Archives: Books

Best novels of the 2000s – according to US critics

The Guardian is carrying an report on a BBC Culture survey recently among US literary critics on what they considered the top novels of the 21st century so far. I’ve a read a few and haven’t heard of some!

Their top twelve are:

1. Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
2. Edward P Jones, The Known World (2003)
3. Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (2009)
4. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)
5. Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (2001)
6. Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000)
7. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010)
8. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012)
9. Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001)
10. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
11. Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2000)
12. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

My take on those I’ve read:

Wolf Hall was one I really struggled through. It was only my stubborness that kept me going. I liked the gist of the story, in my mind at half or two thirds the length it would have been much better.

Gilead is one many of my friends like Jayber raved about. I enjoyed it, although it didn’t blow me away. I may need to reread it.

A Visit from the Goon Squad – another one I struggled with and really wasn’t impressed by.

Atonement – the first on their list that I agree with – brilliant and poignant.

Half a Yellow Sun – again this is a fantastic book – I’m a fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Americanah – one of my best novels/reads of 2014 makes number 13 on the critics list.

What do you make of the critics choices?

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Five best non-fiction reads of 2014

Following on from my top fiction reads of 2014 and top reads from Jayber, Robin and Gemma I’ve tried to distill my best non-fiction reads of last year.

The Governor – John Lonergan

A fascinating insight into life in the prison service and the Irish penal system. Some legal friends seem a bit sceptical of him. I found this hard to put down and kept reading bits out to whoever was near me – doing their heads in no doubt.

Falling Upward – Richard Rohr

My first encounter with Richard Rohr. As my thirties have entered their latter stages much of this book about the two stages of life really resonated with me and, reflecting back I feel I need to go and dip back in.

French Children Don’t Throw Food – Pamela Druckerman

Funny and practical, this was one of only two books I read on parenting before the arrival of Colm. This is a great read – honest, amusing and fascinating. This book resonated with us particularly as my wife spent part of her childhood growing up in Belgium. Pamela is an American journalist married to a Brit living in France, observing the differences between ‘Anglo’ parenting and French parenting. As about to be parents I’d thoroughly recommend it!

Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek

Given my day job I read a lot on leadership and this was the standout from 2014. Originally rooted in observations on leadership in the military, Sinek reminds us of the servant nature of leadership. Using a combination of anecdotal examples and brain science this is a manifesto for recovering leadership from ego and profit.

Nothing to Envy (Real Lives in North Korea) – Barbara Demick

Harrowing at times I struggled to put down these compelling stories of life in North Korea. Gleaned from escapees into South Korea, journalist Demick unveils the disturbing reality of life under the ‘great leader’.

 

Special shout outs too to the wonderful Pádraig Ó Tuama’s Sorry For Your Troubles (listen to him read some here – the best way to hear his poetry! ) and The Anatomy of Peace – Resolving the Heart of Conflict from the Arbinger institute.

What were yours? (and I can load up my reading list for this year!)

Best reads of 2014: fiction

One huge advantage of a kindle (apart from portability) is that with it I read more. This does not equal reading more good books but reading more average novels/easy reads, unable to resist a free or 99p deal of the day. Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks series and Greg Isle’s Penn Cage series were some of the more enjoyable cheap reads.

I did still manage some decent books and my top five in no particular order are:

An Officer and a Spy – Robert Harris

State corruption, whistle blowing, wrongful imprisonment. The story of French army officer Richard Dreyfus at the end of the 19th century. Harris at his best.

The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan

Ireland after the crash through the eyes of the inhabitants of a small town brilliantly demonstrating the human (and moral) cost of the boom times going bust.

Americanah- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Loved this tale of identity and belonging,  of emigration and return.

The Son – Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo does crime fiction/thriller like no other.

The Truth Commissioner – David Park

This had been on my list for a while and didn’t disappoint. Weaving together several characters and their past into an imagined future of a truth and reconciliation commission in Northern Ireland.

 

What were your top fiction reads of 2014?

 

Next up – non-fiction reads of 2014.

Currently Reading: Invisibles

Amazon recommendations can be wonderful things. This is one that is certainly working so far.

Telling the stories of many of the highly skilled people who by doing their job well become invisible it provides an antidote to the self-promotion and ‘platform’ building all around. [And yes even by blogging about it I recognise a level of irony!]

As David Zweig researched this group he began noticing similar characteristics:

  • ambivalence towards recognition
  • meticulousness
  • savouring responsibility

Not exactly things that tend to characterise most of the ‘5 tips’ ‘6 ways’ etc articles that populate most of our twitter feeds (and I’m guilty of retweeting!) And not characteristics that our culture tends to promote.

Our ever more fragmented news and entertainment fosters an increasingly personalised experience, which research suggests implicitly reinforces a solipsistic attitude. Most of all, as we continue to develop and live through our online versions of ourselves – forever crafting our various social media profiles and avatars – there is the growing notion that we, as individuals, are actually brands to promote. this cacophony of self-importance, of personalised electronic vuvuzelas, has made us like that annoying kid at the front of the class who keeps raising his hand, moaning with distress as he over-tries for the teacher’s attention. and it is tipping us dangerously out of balance.

What can help us maintain a healthy tension to avoid slipping into what he describes above?

David Zweig - Invisibles

The Books I’m Planning to Read in 2014

Gemma inspired me to be a little more intentional with my reading so I’ve put together a list of the books I’d like to read in 2014. I’m sure it will have a degree of flexibility.

Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

Fiction
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Canada – Richard Ford
May We Be Forgiven – AM Homes
Best Of Our Spies – Alex Gerlis
Biography
The Governor – John Lonergan
Conversations With Myself – Nelson Mandela
Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life – Sari Nusseibeh & Anthony David
Leadership
Boundaries for Leaders – Henry Cloud
Authentic Happiness – Martin Seligman (Psychology as related to coaching)
Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
Thanks For The Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – Sheila Stone &Douglas Heen
Theology
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatious
A Theology of Work -Darrell  Cosden
Introducing Liberation Theology – Boff & Boff
Why Cities Matter – Stephen Um & Justin Buzzard
Doing Local Theology – Clemens Sedmak
And looking for some good stuff on Isaiah
Have you read any of them? What did you think? Any you think I should add or not bother with?

2013 in Books: Leadership (Non-fiction part 2)

leadershipbooks2013Given what my day job is I tend to read a lot of books around the broad themes of leadership. These are the ones I found most helpful  – which of course was related to where I was at when I read them.. Or maybe I just got sucked in to buying books with red, white and black covers…

Heroic Leadership

Despite the title, this was a fascinating look at the Jesuits through the lens of leadership, distilling out many of the leadership traits valued and practiced by the order. The author left the Jesuits to pursue a career as a management consultant so writes with deep experience of both.

Manage Your Day to Day (99u)

The 99u site is full of helpful articles and tips. This book (which also has one of those covers that feels really nice!) pulls together a selection of articles. Obviously some resonate more than others and there are some gems that not only inspired me but helped me to be more focused and work more effectively. Things like challenging the ‘conventional wisdom’ of starting the days with some small easy tasks, and obvious yet wonderful advice such as not opening your email for the first few hours to allow you to get the important work done.

The Icarus Deception

Seth Godin at his best. We’re all familiar with the story of Icarus and the warning not to fly too close to the sun. the bit always left out was that he wasn’t to fly too low- too close to the sea either. Godin is the master at motivation and this book really inspired me. One of the things that really stood out was about not wasting time and energy trying to create ‘art’ for the masses who aren’t interested but instead concentrating on those who really want/need what you are doing. I found this really helpful in work as we are building and growing Innovista.

The Advantage

I think Patrick Lencioni is one of the best writers on business/leadership around. His books aren’t manuals or textbooks but parables with the theory in a small section at the end. Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a must read for everyone. The Advantage distills material from all of his books to date so isn’t written in the fable style yet is peppered with real-life examples. The focus of the Advantage is that organisations need to be healthy, not just smart (clear vision, strategy etc.).  Some of his material on the importance of recruiting for values led to us overhauling our recruitment policies and processes. This is one of those books that I should read every year.

Leadership and Self-Deception

Big shout out to Andy Masters for recommending this to me. My first read of 2013. Brilliant short book that uses story to unpack the ways in which we deceive ourselves and the consequences for our relationships. One of those books that could be Christian if you change the language…

What were your best leadership reads in 2013?

2013 in Books: Non-fiction (part one)

Due to my need to categorise this is part one in the non-fiction books. On a side-note I’m finding Goodreads a great way of keeping track of my reading.

Biography

OneWildLifeFrontCoverART-sm1. One Wild Life – Claire Mulvaney

This qualifies as biography (in my mind!) in that the author Claire Mulvaney tells the stories (and interviews) people around the globe who are working for social change. From Ireland to India she introduces over 30 people working to make the world  better place. With a few pages per person its a great book to dip into every day and come away inspired and motivated to make a difference. Find out more on her site here.

51eaYJmEwfL._AA160_2. Adventures of a Waterboy – Mike Scott

No matter if you’re a fan of the Waterboys or not this is a great read and wonderful insight into life as a musician. I read Peter Carlin’s ‘Bruce’ at a similar time and Mike Scott’s writing is vastly superior – unsurprisingly.

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3. Where Are You Really From? – Tim Brannigan

I think everyone from Northern Ireland should read this – especially if you come from a Protestant background. Fascinating and incredible story of growing up black in West Belfast in the 70s and spending time in the H blocks.

Honourable mention for ‘Stillness and Speed: My Story’ by Dennis Bergkamp which isn’t really by him but more a series of interviews. Bergkamp was undoubtedly one of the best footballers to grace the Premiership. His insights and story of a playing career spanning Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal are a must read for the football geek. and it was only 59p on Kindle. Bargain.

Theology/Christian

Interestingly I found myself reading much less Christian books in 2013 although maybe I was just being more selective!

JTMEE1. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes – Kenneth Bailey

Kenneth Bailey is a Middle-Eastern scholar (and lived there for 40 years) who has written some brilliant books unpacking the context of the Middle East at the time of Jesus helping bring deeper understanding of many of Jesus’ encounters and parables. The section of Jesus and women was particularly helpful with some of the material on the parables similar to his earlier works Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes.

WMF2. The Word Made Flesh – Eugene Peterson

I feel I’m starting to turn into Jaybercrow as my love for Eugene Peterson’s writing reaches adulation. Maybe its about stage of life or experiences but I find Peterson incredibly insightful, earthy and inspiring.This is the fourth in Peterson’s wonderful ‘Spiritual Theology’ series. Continuing the parables theme – I really enjoyed getting stuck into them this past year, also dipping into Ched Myers ‘Binding the Strong Man’.

STPOTC3. Seek the Good of the City – Doug Banister

A free ebook (get it here) this is a wonderfully short, holistic and practical guide to what it looks like to seek to bless the city.

Honourable mention to Multiplying Missional Leaders by Mike Breen – another practical and provocative read.

What were your best biographies and theology/Christian reads of 2013?

Next up is leadership and productivity.