Books of 2015

It’s lashing rain and we are awaiting the full arrival of Storm Frank, so I’ve put the radio on and I’m going to compile a list of the best books I’ve read in 2015. Not all of these were published in 2015. In a year where I feel I have read less than I normally would, the books I have found the time and energy to read have been of a very high quality. The aim in my reading this year was to expose myself to more fiction. I made a solid effort at this, reflected in the choices I’ve added. Among the novels which didn’t make the cut include &Sons by David Gilbert, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka.

I also moved country in the past twelve months. In April, I moved to Prague. Because of that move I have invested a lot of energy in reading Czech history and literature where I have been able to find it in translation. Despite the breadth of reading, I’ve included just one of these books.  The only thing they have in common is that I happened to read them in the past twelve months. In no particular order, and from no particular genre:

Sara Baume – spill simmer falter wither

This is probably the book of the year where Irish literature is concerned. A powerful, unusual novel, if you read just one thing from this list, make it this book.

Hans Fallada – Alone in Berlin

A brilliant story of defiance and the desire not to feel futile in the face of evil.

Grégoire Chamayou – Drone Theory

A superb and sustained criticism of the increasing use of drones in the Middle Easy by the US Military. Absolutely critical reading if you want to understand what the drone means not just for the future of war, but how we relate to those we view as the enemy.

Owen Hatherley – Landscapes of Communism

A great romp through former communist countries and the architectural heritage the communist regimes have left. Also a great study of the differences between places built with the public instead of the private interest at heart.

Helen Macdonald – H is for Hawk

One of those brilliantly genre-less books, reading it was easy and compulsive. A very moving book.

Tom Wilkinson – Bricks & Mortals

One of two architecture books that made it onto the list. This book is a kind of short history of architecture and the relationship people have to their built environment. An excellent companion to Hatherley’s Landscapes of Communism.

Evgeny Morozov – To Save Everything, Click Here

A necessary and excellently argued polemic against the near-messianic attitude that has emerged that believes that the solutionist approach of Silicon Valley to every possible issue – that everything has a tech-derived solution, and its just a matter of figuring out what that is – may leave us impoverished in terms of civil liberties.

Laurent Binet – HHhH

A superb  novel that asks – and answers in its own way – how and if it is possible to write fiction out of reality.

Sean Bonney – Letters against the Firmament

A superb selected from one of the best living English language poets.

William Faulkner – As I Lay Dying

A classic novel, I read some Faulkner when studying English in college and was glad to reacquaint myself with the lives of those living, and dying, in Yoknapatawpha County.

Pavel Brycz – I, City

An urban novel where the city is literally the central character. Brycz assumes the voice of Czech city Most, a city moved under communism in order to facilitate lignite extraction from under the city’s surface. This a novel where a city tries to rediscover its sense of self.

Åsne Seierstad – One of Us

A compelling and morbid examination of Anders Behring Breivik’s attack on Oslo and Utøya Island back in 2011. Disturbing and sad.







Beerboar welcomes Divočák

My first post over on Beer Boar, check it out!

Beer Boar

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Divočák. As he roams around Prague he will regularly add to this site with field reports of various kind. Divočák is a social animal with more stories than he knows what to do with them. If you happen to see him wandering around pull up a stool and buy him a drink. – Beer Boar

The Divočák goes roaming

According to authorities no less than both the New York Times and the Guardian, I live next door to Hipster-central in Prague: Krymská. Krymská has just got a new pub, Bad Flash Bar, which carries an impressive twelve taps, each with a different microbrew. On top of this, the bar has 9 fridges full of bottled or canned import and local microbrew beers. An impressive selection and an impressive bar. I’ll take the time to write a full report in the New Year…

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Writing Elsewhere

As well as updating this blog, in recent times, I have also been writing a regular diary of watching Bohemian Praha 1905 for Irish football website and print magazine, Póg Mo GoalHere in one handy place are all of the posts I’ve written for them so far:

Dimples and Kangaroos

Coasting Along: Bohemian Like You

Bohemian Ballerinas?

Square Ball: This is Sparta

The Kings of Vršovice

The Mikuláš Miracle
As well as writing for Póg Mo Goal, I am about to start contributing to Beer Boar, an Irish-based craft beer blog on my drinking adventures in Prague. I’ll be writing those under the moniker of Divočák (Wild Boar). So, do keep an eye here on Sidelines for updates on both of these!

Christmas Post: The Wren Boy Tradition in Ireland

Christmas is a wonderful time of year for anyone with an interest in tradition and its invention, its upkeep, and its transformation. There are wonderful variations in food, music, drink and other aspects of celebrating the darkest period of the year before the lead-in to spring. British Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has just published a Christmas poem: The Wren-Boys, which draws on an old tradition of hunting wrens on the day after Christmas: St.Stephen’s Day in Ireland and Boxing Day in Britain.

This news delighted me, as I had done some work during the week on the Wren Boys and the song sung on St. Stephen’s Day in Ireland with some of my TEFL students during the week.

The tradition of the wren is still carried on in some parts of Ireland although these days it seems it is more organised performance than it is pure tradition, and likely, this has been the case since probably the middle of the twentieth century.

In the tradition groups of boys hunt and kill wren, placing it atop a poll and then go seeking money for the burial of the wren and for themselves. In Duffy’s poem the origins of why this is done is alluded to:

And here’s the craic: that the little bird
had betrayed a saint with its song,
or stolen a ride on an eagle’s back
to fly highest; traitor and cheat.

Boys or men dress in motley, with blackened faces, or in straw costumes covering body and head would dance and sing, beg money, food or drink for their success in avenging the bird’s supposed betrayal. An old tradition, it was not without its critics. In Kerry, I found an instance of one local priest who wished to suppress the practice in the 19th century. While in early twentieth century, some found the killing of the bird a cruelty:

SkibEagle 1907
From the Skibbereen Eagle, December 1907.


Perhaps one of the best aspects of the tradition is that verses sung as the Wren Boys make their way varies from place to place and over time. Some idea of the words sung in South Kilkenny come to us from this short extract in the 1930s in the Munster Express:

One group who made the tradition famous, The Clancy Brothers, came from Carrick-On-Suir, a place where the tradition of the wren is still popular and was taken in deadly serious earnest in the 1930s. Consider this court case for example:


The tradition has moved from the streets and country lanes and has been recorded in several versions since the emergence of the Irish folk revival in the 1960s. Here’s a link to a performance by the Clancy’s of the song, with a short introduction from them on the tradition. Here’s a different version taken from The Chieftains’ album The Bells of Dublin. And, just today, as Micheál Ó’Muirchearthaigh was speaking with Miriam O’Callaghan on her radio show, he made mention of the tradition in his reminscences of Dingle Christmases in his childhood. You can listen to that here. The tradition of the wren – or at least the memory of it – unlike the poor bird itself come Stephens’ Day, doesn’t appear to be in mortal danger.

Hope you have a Merry Christmas!