What have the Virtual Library Team been reading lately and what are they excited to recommend for your enjoyment. Find out below…

Andrew has been reading Is Shane McGowan Still Alive? by Tim Bradford.

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I was hooked by the title and the enticing subtitle: Travels in Irishry. This is a witty travelogue and light-hearted rumination on what it is to be Irish.

In the course of his hilarious travels around the Emerald Isle, Tim encounters wild and beautiful women, a plethora of potholes, pints, painfully slow drivers and an eccentric landlady who thinks Daniel O’Donnell is the Irish embodiment of God!

Throughout he illustrates the book with his own comical cartoons, amusing maps and fun facts. It is written in a style that combines the madcap humour of Spike Milligan and witty observations of Bill Bryson.

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If you enjoy this book, you ‘ll love Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks.

For a £100 bet, comedian and author, Tony Hawks, hauls a mini fridge around Ireland for a year and meets a colourful gallery of quirky and obliging characters in the process.

Tony and his fridge surf together, enter a bachelor festival and one of them has sex without the other knowing! Rapidly they become endearing celebrities and are taken to the hearts of a nation. Tony Hawks’ antics reduced me to a mirth-stricken wreck. They made a film of this shortly afterwards, too.

Amy has been reading ‘Sapiens -A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari 

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Big concepts are explained vividly in an easy-to-follow way. Taking the viewpoint that it is human-kind’s ability to believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination as the reason why we are so successful as a species is utterly fascinating. Imagination doesn’t mean just unicorns and dragons – think more along the lines of laws, religion, and money which are all just concepts when you strip away their physical properties. Thousands, millions of people all believing in something that isn’t real is powerful and the key to human-kinds success (or downfall depending on your view of global domination!). How else could you convince strangers to crusade together in a foreign land if they didn’t believe in religion, or a whole country to drive on the same side of the road if laws didn’t exist? Sapiens objectively explains it all and I highly recommend you join its cult following. 

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Children of Time’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky also deals with the same big ideas as Sapiens. But instead of a history of humankind – you follow the evolution of spiders on a new world. Just as humans have skilled-up over 1000s of years, so do the spiders. Intellectually, they go through all the same stages as we did, from ‘primitives’, to the industrial evolution and beyond. Cleverly Tchaikovsky observes how our story of evolution would look and feel when it is applied to a species which is physically and emotionally different to ours. The book also follows the last of humankind in space who are trying to find a new planet to live on. And this is where another big concept is dealt with – who or what deserves to survive? How this plays out in space makes for a fantastic and thought-provoking read.

Paul has been reading The Commodore by Patrick O’Brian 


This is book seventeen, in a twenty-volume series, that follows two nineteenth century heroes: Doctor Stephen Maturin – physician, government agent, eminent naturalist; and Jack Aubrey – Royal Navy commander, mighty warrior, master of the weak pun. 

Together they traverse the globe against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars and colonial expansion, scrapping with the French, or the Spanish, or the Americans, or whoever else hoves into view on the horizon.   

Don’t be put off if this all sounds a bit too boys’ own.  They spend just as much time playing violin and cello; studying flora and fauna; and dodging debtor’s prison.  There’s a wealth of detail and insight here for the nineteenth century buff. 

Some may prefer the Hornblower books, but my vote goes to Aubrey and Maturin. But then, given the choice, I have always chosen the lesser of two (ship’s biscuit) weevils – thanks Jack! 


The Ash Tree by Oliver Rackham  

This little book is an unsentimental primer of a common but unsung tree – it’s history and habitat; the uses we have put it to; and its relationship with wildlife.  

It feels good in the hands – the papers quite thick with plenty of texture; could almost be hand-made.  There’s plenty of illustrations and old diagrams.  This is a book you can dip into now and again.  

It’s also a critical assessment of how we value trees; our misplaced good intentions in planting more of them; their commercialisation; and the piecemeal approach to combatting the diseases, that the resulting global trade has brought with it.