In honour of the first Ireland Reads’ ‘Squeeze in a Read’ Day today, we’re turning to the #TeamAlice bookshelves for a special books edition of the #AList! If you’ve pledged to squeeze in a read for Ireland Reads, we’re sharing our recommended reads, old favourites and a few books that we’ve found make us better at what we do!
Though we aren’t actually named after that Alice of Wonderland fame, it’s a literary reference we’re happy to embrace (yes, perhaps we are all a little mad here too) but it’s not the only book on our office shelves. Reading is part of our DNA – with a Team Alice Book Club (currently reading Raymond Carver’s ‘Call If You Need Me’ ) and, while we celebrated our Christmas do virtually last year, we did have the Zoom excitement of unwrapping Christmas books from our MD Martina who had handpicked titles for each of us and sent them out across the country!
We’ve also worked with a few bookish clients over the years – managing the launch of new books by Emu Ink, barrister Paulyn Marrinan Quinn and the Together for Yes campaign. If you’re searching for a new read this ‘Squeeze in a Read’ day, we’d recommend any of those and we have a few more suggestions for you too:
What we’re currently reading:
I’m currently reading ‘Post Wall, Post Square: Rebuilding the World After 1989’ by Kristina Spohr – an excellent account of how global politics changed as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square massacre. It gives a great overview of global politics during the Cold War and an insight into the political relationships which were key in bringing about change.
After buying ‘A Poem for Every Night of the Year’ for a few people at Christmas, I also treated myself to a copy and have created a little moment of poetry meditation every night as part of my bedtime routine!
I bought ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ by James Baldwin when we were doing the PR campaign for the Dublin Art Book Fair, run by Temple Bar Gallery + Studios, at Christmas. I’ve just started it this week and am really enjoying it so far.
To prepare for an upcoming house move, I’ve also recently binge-read ‘Mad About The House: How To Decorate Your Home With Style’ by Kate Watson-Smyth.
My most recent read was actually my Team Alice Christmas present – Ellen Coyne’s ‘Are you there God? It’s me, Ellen’. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it for anyone – no matter where you consider yourself on the spectrum of Catholicism! I identified with a lot of her inner turmoil about the Church and learned a lot from the different perspectives she explored. It’s a balanced exploration that I think anyone who grew up in Catholic Ireland could gain insight from.
I’ve just started ‘Breasts and Eggs’, by Mieko Kawakami – a Christmas present which I’ve yet to fully dive into, but it centres on two sisters: the elder sister Makiko is visiting her younger sister Natsuko in Osaka, to get a boob job, and Makiko has brought her daughter along with her, who hasn’t spoken to her mother in months and communicates by writing notes. Very intriguing!
I just finished ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck and, by god, it’s a bleak account of migration during the Great Depression. It’s a stark insight as to how ‘us’ and ‘them’ narratives can be stoked even between people of the same nationality. Overall, though, it’s about resilience, kindness, and the family bond in the face of destitution and loss. I plan to make my next read a happier one!
I just finished Anne Enright’s ‘Actress’ – it was a little dark but I like it very much: it examines a mother-daughter relationship in a very interesting way, the mother’s life as a famous actress, told through the daughter’s, at times, critical eye!
I’ve also just started reading Liz Nugent’s ‘Our Little Cruelties’!
I just finished ‘What Can I Do’ by Jane Fonda, a really accessible and practical look at the climate and biodiversity crises, structured around how the indomitable Jane Fonda built her Fire Drill Fridays movement in Washington DC in the months preceding the Covid-19 pandemic. A really interesting insight into movement building with a huge range of practical suggestions on how to get involved in the climate movement. Would recommend it to anyone worried about the climate crisis and looking for ways to get involved or start your own campaign!
I just finished ‘My Brilliant Friend’ by Elena Ferrante, the first of her Neapolitan series, it was a Christmas present and I’m hunting out the others that follow now! It’s a beautifully written story about two girls growing up and how their friendship changes as their paths take them in different directions.
My recent read which I absolutely devoured was ‘Little Bee’ by Chris Cleave, about a friendship that blooms between two strangers – one an illegal Nigerian refugee, the other a recent widow from suburban London. I’ve become really interested in the experiences of immigrants and asylum-seekers recently. This is fiction, but it brings up some of the issues they face as part of migrating to and living in the UK.
Nobody else has mentioned it so I will. I’ve just finished ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ by Richard Osman. It’s the kind of book we need right now.
Our All-Time Favourites:
Because it’s so difficult to pick all-time favourites, a few highly recommended from over the past year include ‘32 Words for Field’ by Manchán Magan, which is a brilliant exploration of the richness of the Irish language; ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’ by Dara McAnulty, which has deservedly been winning awards left, right and centre and has given me a renewed determination to learn about native birds, trees and plants; Dervla Murphy’s travel books – perfect to revisit during Lockdown when we can explore far-flung destinations vicariously; and one for the history buffs – ‘Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923’ by R.F. Foster. It follows the lives and beliefs of people who contributed to the Irish revolution and shows the huge scope that was there (pre-1916) to create a much more liberal, egalitarian and progressive democracy to the one that we actually ended up with!
I hate this question and can’t answer it definitively! One book that I’m always drawn back to is ‘To The Lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf. I feel very clichéd now, but something about the atmosphere, observations and introspective nature really draws me in. It’s also a great size to throw in a handbag if you’re going on a train journey/on holidays (will that ever happen again?!). I’m sure Virginia would be delighted to know I’m recommending her book because of how it fits in a handbag.
Something that I read in the last while that’s a favourite is Ann Patchett’s ‘The Dutch House’. I thought it was a great story, loved the characters and their relationship! I also love Dolly Alderton‘s Everything I Know About Love, I read this on holidays and remember laughing out loud at parts and also wanting to cry in others. I could relate to her so much.
I will always, always, always recommend these same titles to everyone – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, one of the richest works of fiction ever written and a touchstone for when the world seems to be going sideways; ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr, which is a beautifully written book about some of the darkest stories from WWII; and three books by the wonderful Sarah Moss – ‘Night Waking’, ‘Bodies of Light ’ and ‘Signs for Lost Children’ – which intertwine the stories of two sisters in one way or another. Each book completely envelopes you in a different time and place and brings little moments of history into full colour – from suffrage to pre-Raphaelite art to Japanese mythology to desolate island life on the Hebrides.
Not very highbrow, but I love ‘The Psychopath Test’ by Jon Ronson. I first read it on holidays and started looking at the people in my life in new ways after that! I revisit from time to time for entertainment.
I have such lovely memories of visiting the library with my Granny. The three books allowed with my junior membership was never enough. So my favourite book has to be ‘A Little Princess’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first borrowed from Walkinstown library.
It took me over a year to read ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy but it was definitely worth the commitment and the perfect epic read to take on during Lockdown! Totally worthy of the status as one of the greatest books ever written, provoking thoughts on class, wealth, inequality and the meaning of life.
My favourite book is ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d recommend anything by her to anyone but especially those interested in feminism, colonialism, and literature through a non-western lens. It’s about the Biafran struggle for independence during the 1960s, but also about relationships, family, and class systems in Nigeria.
The Books that Made us Better:
I swear by ‘Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style’ by Benjamin Dryer. Described as a “witty, informative guide to writing from Random House’s longtime copy chief and one of Twitter’s leading language gurus”, this book is both practically informative and highly entertaining. If, like me, you’re a stickler for good grammar, correct spelling and attention to detail in your writing, you’ll love it.
I also loved ‘Women & Power: A Manifesto’ by Mary Beard. The Irish Times describe it in their review as “a small but wonderfully potent call to action”. And two collections of brilliant journalistic writings – ‘Maeve’s Times’ – a selection of Maeve Binchy’s writings for The Irish Times, edited by Róisín Ingle and with an introduction by Gordon Snell; and ‘Nobody’s Perfect – Writings from The New Yorker’ by Anthony Lane, a film critic for The New Yorker since 1993. As it says in the blurb on the book’s front cover, “Lane writes prose the way Fred Astaire danced; his sentences and paragraphs are a sublime, rhythmic concoction of glide and snap, lightness and sting.” – I can’t describe it any better than that!
My favourite book is also a book I’d recommend as one that made me better at what I do – it’s called ‘Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate’ by George Lakoff. This book gives an excellent overview of political language in America. Lakoff argues that Republicans have been winning elections because they are better at framing issues than Democrats, and outlines how Democrats could make their policies more relevant and appeal to the electorate by changing their messaging. I think this is a great book for anyone working in or around public relations to think about framing effective messages.
A book I found helpful for thinking about attitudes to work was ‘Lost Connections’ by Johann Hari. It’s a very well-known book about the causes and cures of depression and while I wouldn’t normally be drawn to that kind of book, I’d heard so many reviews I had to see what the fuss was about! The author both explores his own journey with depression and speaks to scientists, psychologists and people with depression to get their perspectives. The research takes him across the globe. Given the past year we’ve all experienced, this is a good read and I’d encourage people not to be put off by the genre!
A few recent audiobooks which really changed how I thought about our work were ‘Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News’ by Emily Matlis and ‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama – in their own ways they gave real insight into how campaigns were shaped, how iconic news stories unfolded, and how things can go wrong or deviate from the way you planned and still turn out brilliantly!
As someone who writes a lot in a professional context and tries to write a little in a personal context, the journalism or essay collections I always return to for a reminder of what brilliant writing should look like are by Nora Ephron, Sinéad Gleeson, Emilie Pine and Nigel Slater!
The book that made me better: ‘The Mother of All Jobs: How to Have Children and a Career and Stay Sane(ish)’. Christine Armstrong spoke at the inaugural #WorkEqual conference in 2019. In the book, she urges us to consider less traditional ways of working that would serve both men and women better and to use whatever influence you have to drive organisational and wider societal change. If ever there was a time to make those changes, this is it.
I’ve just started listening to Anne Applebaum’s ‘Twilight of Democracy’, which I recommend in terms of better understanding international politics and the world around us.
This might be a bit ‘basic bitch’ but, as someone who’s a big fan of routine, I loved Atomic Habits by James Clear. Simple easy ways to add new habits! Practical information and definitely useful for work and planning your day!