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The News Where You Are



Awards: Edgar Allen Poe Award Nominee, For Best Paperback Original

Listen: Catherine O'Flynn Discusses The News Where You Are (Duration: 3:30)
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Catherine O'Flynn's Recommended Reading List

These are the five books I choose today; if you asked me tomorrow they'd doubtless be different.

Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut

I've loved Kurt Vonnegut since I was a teenager. It's hard to single out one particular work, but I have a great fondness for Rudy Waltz, the narrator of Deadeye Dick. Vonnegut advised writers to make awful things happen to their characters, and I think poor Rudy bears the brunt of this. As a teenager he accidentally shoots and kills a pregnant woman and this, along with his "dangerous nincompoop" of a father's friendship with Hitler and the accidental detonation of a neutron bomb in his hometown, serves to reinforce Rudy's belief that "it is too easy, when alive, to make perfectly terrible mistakes." Rudy views the world around him with understated horror and is probably best described in his own words as "no good at life, but very funny sometimes with the commentary." I like the idea of a character underestimated by everyone, someone considered a bit of a joke, but who has hidden depths. This was the starting point for the character of Frank, and I'm grateful to Kurt Vonnegut for providing so many extreme and wonderful models for this.

Ripley's Game by Patricia Highsmith

This was the first Patricia Highsmith novel I read and I still remember how wonderfully fresh it seemed to me. Highsmith wrote enthralling, exciting plots but peopled them with subtle, complex characters like Ripley and Jonathan Trevanny. What impressed me most though was her coolness and restraint. She treated her readers with respect and allowed them to draw their own conclusions.

Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn

An amazing feat of imagination, verve . . . and audacity. Gordon Burn wrote in Cogan's voice, imagining that the phenomenally successful British singer hadn't died in 1966 but instead was still living in obscurity and isolation in the 1980s. I love Burn's writing. He captured the sights and smells of fifties and sixties Britain incredibly vividly—from damp smelling, postwar seaside audiences to the extraterrestrial glamour of Sammy Davis Jr. Even more impressively he rendered the texture of contemporary life just as richly, making the invisible visible and lending a sad poetry to everyday mediocre existence. A breathtaking dissection of fame and its dark counterpart notoriety.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I was living in Spain and had worked my way through all the English-language books I could lay my hands on, until just this one intimidating tome remained. I opened it tentatively and the next four weeks passed in a blur. It's not an easy book to describe: it features a halfway house for recovering addicts, a paramilitary terrorist group made up of wheelchair users, a sect of masked disfigured women and a videotape of a film so funny that viewers die laughing. What pulls you through—without any effort at all—is the writing, which is dazzling and breathtaking and frequently hilarious. David Foster Wallace demanded so much of himself as a writer, writing at times with an almost microscopic level of detail and describing scenes in hallucinatory clarity, but his virtuosity never got in the way of his great tenderness and humanity.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín could write about paint drying and I'd find it compelling. There is something about the stately pace of his writing that completely draws me in. Like the main character Eilis, my mother was a young Wexford girl who started a new life in another country, but beyond any personal connection this is simply a beautifully observed, powerfully moving story of migration and what we leave behind.