I feel the need to read – Why September’s top book releases are essential for my mental health
About a year ago, I went on a retreat. It involved going cold turkey on all modern day distractions and unhealthy obsessions – technology, literature (eh, why?) television, music (again, WTF?), sugary foods etc. For the first few days, I felt like a junkie in the very early days of recovery. Without my phone, I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I craved sugar/caffeine/chocolate and I longed to be immersed in a story beyond the literature that was provided. I suffered delirious tremors at night; (perhaps a slight exaggeration) lying in bed, thinking about my phone and suffering severe FOMO. But the hardest thing about the retreat took me by complete surprise. It wasn’t my phone I was missing most – it was my books. There was a giant fiction-shaped hole in my heart. I tried to write. I couldn’t decide between the 3rd person narrative or the omniscient. I lacked inspiration. I felt empty. I would have given anything for a book. Anything! I thought about trying to smuggle one in but I didn’t have my phone with me to text someone- I’d left it at home. Yes – I learned how to nurture my spiritual side but it was one of the least enjoyable weeks of my life. From a young age, stories fuelled my joie de vivre and sparked my imagination. I loved to listen to my sister who regaled me with stories about the great figures throughout history especially her personal hero Daniel O’Connell – no surprises when she became a historian. My Dad is a bit of raconteur, as are his five sisters. He loves to chat about his early days in Waterford – the wild and wonderful characters that inhabited his youth and the reality of growing up during The Emergency – there was only one boy in his class that possessed a pair of underpants and he only saw an orange for the first time in his teens.
When I completed my retreat, I walked out of there with a sense of awe at the power of literature and the huge importance it bears on my life. Being without stories for a week led to an epiphany of sorts. I would never be without a book for that long again, I vowed. I’m very lucky to have been sent some novels this year for review. Here’s my top picks of new books released this September.
1. Smile by Roddy Doyle
My parents don’t get Roddy Doyle. Everyone in Lovin’ Dublin hates Roddy Doyle. I do not. Roddy Doyle, for me is an exceptional writer. To say he is a one-trick pony, in my opinion, is naive and uninformed. I first came across Doyle’s work in The Snapper – who can forget the star-crossed lovers of Dublin’s north side, Sharon Curley and Georgie Burges? I devoured Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, wept at The Woman who Walked into Doors and I’m only slightly obsessed with Roddy Doyle’s Star Trek on Facebook. Smile (Penguin) is Doyle’s 11th novel. It treads on some controversial territory; protagonist Victor Forde recalls being abused by the head Christian Brother at his school. An unwelcome figure from Forde’s past suddenly appears in his local pub and reminds him of this dark period in his life. But as the story progresses, questions are placed over the reliability of Forde as a narrator and even the existence of his friend. In a similar vein to Brian Friel’s Faith Healer and Philadelphia Here I Come, the lines between memory and reality are severely blurred in this novel. Ultimately, Smile is a poignant depiction of a broken childhood and the debris it leaves on one’s soul. Released 7 September, buy it here from Easons.
2. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie doesn’t mess around. Winner of over 32 international literary awards including the Booker Prize and UCD’s James Joyce Award, when Rushdie writes, we read. Kind of like a modern-day The Great Gatsby meets Rear Window, The Golden House (Jonathan Cape) provides its readers with snapshots of the life of the Nero family told through the eyes of their neighbour – an aspiring film-maker by the name of Rene Unterlinden. Rushdie very much hones in on current day American politics; the Nero family arrive in Manhattan on the inauguration day of Barrack Obama and the novel closes with Trump’s election. Identity is at the core of Rushdie’s story, its meaning explored through the study of the four Nero men. The patriarch Roman Nero’s origins are shrouded in mystery – he is stoic and silent. D, his youngest son is suffering a crisis of gender identity and struggles to define himself in binary terms. Apu, the middle boy has achieved creative success but longs to return to his homeland – he frames his identity in relation to his nationality. The eldest Nero son Petya is a recluse who exists in the world of computer games. In the current socio-political climate, The Golden House could not be more relevant. Brexit, gender politics (Chelsea Manning comes to mind), religious intolerance, racial profiling (#blacklivesmatter) and the terrifying rise of the German Nationalist party in the most recent German election all come to mind. Released 5 September, buy it from family-run business, Dubray books here.
3. Riot Days by Maria Alyokhina
If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m all about smashing the patriarchy and the trifecta that is Pussy Riot is one of the cause’s greatest proponents. Love them or loathe them, this biography by one-third of the artist-cum-activist group is interesting and bracing, to say the least. In response to the oppressive regime in Russia, Pussy Riot performed an inflammatory song at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour which was filmed and distributed across the internet. Sentenced to two years in a Moscow prison, this is Alyokhina’s account of her journey from that initial act of defiance, to her incarceration and release. Released 14 September, buy it at Galway’s independent bookstore, Kenny’s here.
4. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Love in the age of Muslim persecution is the starting point for Kamila Shamsie’s new novel. Home Fire (Bloomsbury) is a story about two British Muslim families colliding; from opposite sides of the same coin, they have a lot more in common than they think. Secrets, lies, politics and Jihadist legacies all coincide in this brilliant reimagining of Sophocles’ enduring tale, Antigone. A modern day parable, firmly rooted in the tradition of Greek tragedy. Released 7 September, buy it from Hodges Figgis here.
Do you agree that these four books are September’s top book releases? Here’s some other books out this month that I’ve ordered from the library.
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
- Sourdough by Robin Sloan
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celsete Ng
- Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
Have you read any of these?
NOTE: None of these are affiliate links. All books are by my own recommendation and I was not asked to write about any of the books I received or indeed, the others I have ordered from the library.