Peter Boyle is a Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin where for many years he has been writing scientific material. Recently he veered into so-called ‘creative writing’ and now is an enthusiastic aficionado of this completely different genre. He has already received recognition for his work in several short story competitions – including being shortlisted in our competition last year. His story The Spirit Of Music appears in our first print anthology. He is a member of the Blessington writing skills group in Co Wicklow, Ireland and is very chuffed at having been invited to contribute to this Cranked Anvil series of ‘On the Shelf’. He is aware that his list of five favourite books may seem a little old-fashioned, but he makes no apology for that.
Great Contemporaries by Winston S. Churchill
Now and again in my reading I come across a passage or a phrase which blows my mind. I stop and ponder at the wonder of it and ruefully reflect that were I to write for a thousand years I could never match such use of words. In reading this book I have enjoyed many such precious moments. It is often forgotten that amongst his many accomplishments Churchill won the Nobel prize for literature in 1953 and I find him to be amongst the most brilliant writers in the English language. This shows in the masterful life-sketches in this book of about twenty famous public figures from the late nineteenth century up to 1937. It makes fantastic reading.
The Penguin Book of American Short Stories edited by James Cochrane
This book should be essential reading for anyone aspiring to write short stories. Some of the writers in the collection are world-famous such as Ernest Hemingway, Henry James, Edgar Allen Poe, and Mark Twain; many of the others deserve to be. The bracing freshness of the language, the brilliance of the plots, the unique construction of the stories, all combine to make a reading of this book an exceptional literary experience.
Darwin by Adrian Desmond & James Moore
I love reading biographies and in spite of its enormous length, over 700 pages, I could not put this one down. It is an amalgam of research scholarship of the highest order and crisp insightful writing in which the authors successfully manage to develop the complex character of Darwin and to capture the excitement of his famous voyage on the Beagle and the furious controversies of his later years.
The Forsyte Saga novels by John Galsworthy
In 1969 the BBC broadcast a 26-part serial production of the Forsyte novels. Eighteen million viewers watched the final episode. It was a masterful depiction of a wealthy upper middle class professional family. Years later I got round to reading the books and was hooked on the brilliant portrayal of these troubled London people, and Galsworthy has remained one of my favourite authors ever since. He was the Nobel prize winner for literature in 1932.
Milkman by Anna Burns
This is an extraordinary portrayal of what life was like for a young woman living in a Republican area of Belfast during the ‘Troubles’. The milkman is an IRA activist whose unwanted attentions the young woman resists and although he is not one of the major characters he is always there lurking menacingly in the background until he is shot. The style of writing is extraordinary. Not one of the characters in the narrative has a name. Instead they are referred to as ‘first sister’, ‘second brother-in-law’ and so on. An early episode in the story is when ‘Maybe brother-in-law’ wins a vintage Bentley car in a raffle and a sinister situation develops when it arrives with a Union Jack logo attached to it. The pressures under which people living in such a community suffered during these years is skilfully brought out, and when you become accustomed to the unusual style of writing this is one of the best novels to have come out of these disturbed years in Northern Ireland. It won the Man Booker prize for 2018.