Ulysses and Us
By Declan Kiberd

Recently we’ve been witnessing the collapse of the Irish economy. Next on the block will be the Irish government.

In this decade, of course, we’ve also witnessed the collapse of the Irish church, so at this point you could be forgiven for wondering if the Republic itself is next. 

In times of crisis it becomes important to refocus on what we truly value as a nation. Economists will turn their attention to the European Union, politicians will focus on their election prospects -- but Irish scholars and the general reader would do well to return to James Joyce.

In Ulysses and Us, author Declan Kiberd’s engaging and lucidly written new book on Ireland’s literary titan, Kiberd is hoping to remind us that Joyce wrote Ulysses for the public, and not the elite academies where it has languished for decades.

Nowadays most Irish people think the book is highbrow literature that’s undecipherable by the common reader. Nonsense, argues Kiberd, it’s for and about the common person.

Why does Ulysses still matter? Because of what it can teach about living a full life, because of its capacity to make us laugh and to move us.

The book’s aim was to celebrate the common man and woman, so there’s a terrible irony in the fact that it’s read by so few of them. That needs to change and Kiberd’s reassessment wants to reintroduce it to its intended audience: us.
Norton, $17.95.

Suck On This Year: LYFAO@140 Characters or Less
By Denis Leary

What to make of Denis Leary’s latest book? Since it’s composed of a random series of short, illustrated tweets, brevity is the watchword -- but unfortunately comedy is not.

Leary’s decision to embrace tweeting came about when he realized that all the fast quips he was making to friends were going to waste. That realization led him to the social network craze, and this slim book is the unexpected result.

Not many celebrities could produce a hardback volume this slight and hope to have it published, never mind read. But Irish American comedian and actor Leary is idolized internationally, so his every pronouncement is re-tweeted by millions. 

Here’s a sampling of his thoughts for your reading pleasure: “This just in: Vatican acquires Neverland ranch.” Or how about: “Mexican government considers legalizing pot. Finally, a reason to sneak IN to Mexico.”

Har har. It must be said, he’s been a lot funnier in the past. And 18 bucks is a lot to ask for a book this skimpy.

But banking on your enjoyment of his past work and the fact that it’s the holiday season, perhaps the publishers are hoping you’ll fall for the fancy packing and not its meager contents.

Calling it the perfect stocking stuffer (that’s printed in large type with colorful pictures) it’ll take about 15 minutes to read and less to forget.
Viking, $18.

William Trevor: Selected Stories
By William Trevor

This is the only book you’ll need for a truly absorbing Christmas. A selection of some of the most celebrated works by the Irish born author, Trevor is universally considered the greatest living writer of short stories in the English language.

Culled from his most recent collections, including the pitch perfect volume After Rain, and other noted collections like The Hill Bachelors, A Bit on the Side and Cheating at Canasta, this selection reminds us how intimately Trevor knows Irish society and how droll and sometimes shocking his observances can be.

Often as funny as they are moving, what marks Trevor’s short stories are his understanding of human of the nature, and his steadfast refusal to celebrate or condemn. He simply turns on the camera and shows us what he sees, and what he sees is often unforgettable.
Viking, $35.

War and Peace: Ireland since the 1960s
By Christine Kinealy

In War and Peace: Ireland since the 1960s Professor Christine Kinealy, who teaches History at Drew University in New Jersey, has written a remarkable and authoritative study of the Troubles and their impact on Ireland north and south.

The past 50 years have been (and continue to be) tumultuous for the country, and in her book Kinealy explores the political triumphs and tests in Ireland over this period.

The experience and legacy of three long decades of violence and social unrest mark the majority of the study, but the book presents a comprehensive overview of Ireland's social and political landscape over the last 50 years. Of interest both to the scholar and the general reader, anyone interested in Ireland's recent past, and how it will continue to develop, will find it an invaluable resource.

Reaktion, $40.