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There’s an excellent tradition in Iceland of giving books on Christmas Eve so everyone can spend the night reading; they call it Jolabokaflod! It is part of a long held literary celebration enjoyed by everyone in a country that has more writers, and more books published per head than anywhere else in the world. In Ireland we pride ourselves on being well read and we produce some very fine writers, so let’s copy something that works a treat in Iceland and give it an Irish twist:

Flúirse Leabhar Nollag

“Plenty of Christmas books” to share and enjoy on Christmas Eve after all the shopping has been done, the presents have been wrapped, and the excitement, which is at fever pitch in houses up and down the country, needs to be toned down. Here are my suggestions of brand new titles to help you decide what to give relatives and friends and maybe you’ll find something special just for you.

Middle England by Jonathan CoeMiddle England by Jonathan Coe is a fine, sparkling and intense novel about family life against the backdrop of modern British politics. Coe has tracked events that led up to that Yes! vote, a decision that changes everything and takes us (yes, us) into unknown territory along with one couple in the novel who voted in opposite directions and now can’t bear to live with each other. Being part of a bigger community has meant that we shouldn’t simply identify as being British, or Irish, or French but we must all be mindful of others and watch our behaviour and temper our language and that drives so many people nuts. If I had a penny for every time someone comments, ‘that’s political correctness gone mad’ - usually when they’ve been caught out lumping whole groups of people together in one disparaging sentence - I’d be a rich woman indeed. Jonathan Coe has put his finger on exactly why we find ourselves where we are and does so with humour, insight and aplomb in this most enjoyable story.

Jennifer Clement’s latest novel, Gun Love, perfectly captures modern America: wealthy and progressive yet with millions of forgotten people who live on the margins. A mother and daughter live a relatively ordinary life even though their home is a car in a trailer park. There’s a place for everything and everything in its place, that is until trouble comes knocking at the windscreen and not even a change of oil will make this vehicle roadworthy again or bring back the way things were when their story began. Brilliant, touching, scary, relevant, a picture of what it is to be poor, down at heel, and one of the forgotten people.

The Paper Lovers by Gerard Woodward is a book that meandered nicely through a love affair, an everyday story of unfaithfulness that ends in tears or acceptance. But Gerard Woodward is much more than a writer who totters along to a respectable conclusion. Instead he leads the reader into a false sense of security and then throws everything up in the air with a touch of brilliance. How I chuckled, how I enjoyed every word.

The Flame by Leonard CohenTo at least four of my friends I’ll be giving The Flame by Leonard Cohen because to them Leonard Cohen is the epitome of everything they love about music and words (notwithstanding the fact that he was also the sexiest man of his generation). The Flame is in three parts peppered throughout with drawings and self portraits by this extraordinarily talented man. The first section contains sixty-three poems carefully selected by Leonard Cohen himself. The second section is those poems that became the lyrics of songs from his last four albums. The final section is a selection of writings jotted down in the plethora of notebooks that he used wherever he found himself. Adam Cohen said of his father, ‘writing was his reason for being’ as is so evident in this last testament to this man’s genius. One of the first poems I read in this book made me smile. Ah, I thought, he knew me well!

I Do

I do, I love you Mary
More than I can say
Cuz if I ever said it
They’d take us both away

They’d lock us up for nothing
And throw away the key
The world don’t like us Mary
They’re on to you and me

We got a minute Mary
Before they pull the plug
50 seconds maybe
You know that’s not enough

30 seconds baby
Is all we got to love
And if they catch us laughing
They gonna rough us up

I do, I love you Mary
More than I can say
Cuz if I ever said it
They’d take us both away

They’d lock us up for nothing
And throw away the key
The world don’t like us Mary
They’re on to you and me