If you haven’t read Wolf Hall, or Hilary Mantel’s brilliant sequel to her fictionalised history of high-level politics in Tudor England, Bring Up the Bodies, and you like history, you need to read them, now.
If you’re interested in human nature, politics, the reasons people act as they do, not to mention the history of these islands, both books are compulsive reading. While they’re both historical fiction, there’s something indefinably real about them, and the Booker Prize judges, who this week awarded Hilary Mantel the prize for the second time (she is the first woman ever, and only the third person, to have accomplished this), have chosen a worthy winner.
In case you’re wondering what brought on this bout of bookishness, look out the window. Why would anyone want to go out in that? While all of us have busy lives and no amount of bad weather will put a stop to all the things we have to get done in a day, try and put aside some time to read a book.
The weather will definitely put a damper on your mood, but watching and listening to too much news is bound to do the same. There’s only so much bad news anybody can take, and combined with the weather at the moment, only a backing track composed of Radiohead and Peig duetting on a sean nós song would make things any more bleak.
A journalist telling you to turn off the news is a little like a turkey voting for Christmas, but we all need some downtime, and with the incessant chatter of radio, TV, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest, sometimes it’s good to just shut out the noise and dive into someone else’s world.
Wolf Hall is an especially useful example in that the world it depicts is a lot more miserable than ours. You’ll emerge thanking your lucky stars for being born in a time when people aren’t expected to die by 40 and your rulers can’t just decide to send you to war as spear-fodder, or have you killed for making a face at them.
You don’t have to be literary to enjoy a good book though. The late Maeve Binchy produced some of the most insightful and human writing of any author I’ve read, and her books were brilliantly accessible. Her anointed successor in Irish women’s fiction is Marian Keyes, whose latest book The Mystery of Mercy Close is a light-hearted detective romp with some wonderful observations on modern Irish life. This includes a dig at our own Newshound columnist Jonathan Healy, whose lunchtime show on Newstalk is apparently too miserable for the protagonist – see what I mean about turning off the news!
My current read, by Cobh comedian Maeve Higgins, is equally light, but will have you rolling around with laughter. There are no decapitations as in Wolf Hall (apart from an incident involving a Spanish student and a cat – you'll have to read it to find out what happens), and it feels more like a chat with your most amusing friend than a book. It’s probably the complete antithesis to anything Hilary Mantel would ever write, but that’s no harm, especially if you’re not keen on decapitations – there are rather a few of those in any book about Henry VIII, unfortunately.
The best thing about books is you don’t even need money for them – there are whole buildings full of them that will give them to you for free. Libraries. If you’re not a member of your local library, what are you waiting for? Off you go. And when you get home, light the fire, make yourself a cup of tea, and prepare to hibernate. It’s going to be a long winter, but if you have a book, you have company.