Introspective poet considers death and we are grateful for his insight

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Winter recipes from the Collective
By Louise Glück
Carcanet, £ 12.99

It’s not Glück if it’s not dark. In this first collection since her Nobel Prize, the intensely introspective poet considers death, the “burden” of the body and strained family relationships. A bonsai tree brings her to the inescapable conclusion that “all things eventually die” and she mourns the loss of infancy, when her mother loved her, “What a shame I have become / verbal!” At the start of the collection, we are guided by the wisdom of a prophetic “janitor” and reassured by the poet’s assertion that “the book contains /. . . recipes for the winter, when life is tough ”. Glück’s skill is similar to that of Orpheus: to travel to hellish depths and find his way home. As we travel through such dark territories, we are grateful for his insight. – Tanvi Roberts

Shackleton: a biography
By Ranulph Fiennes
Michael Joseph, £ 16.99

Although this is another book about the great explorer Ernest Shackleton, it has an important difference as the author is considered today to be the world’s greatest living explorer. It is therefore ideally placed to comment on Shackleton’s heroic adventures in Antarctica. And to Fiennes’ credit, he never hesitates to call Shackleton “the Irishman”. From an early age, Shackleton craved attention and believed that his sea voyages offered adventure, fame and fortune. Unfortunately, he was never financially savvy. Although periodically in debt, the money he earned from his world speaking tours he donated to local causes. A man of immense charm and personality, men admired him a lot and ladies adored him. But his real greatness was to be an inspiring leader for his crew. Despite suffering from dysentery, starvation and exhaustion, her crew never doubted their decision making, especially when all hope seemed to have faded. It’s a Boy’s Own story for adults. -Owen Dawson

The science of happiness
By Brendan Kelly
Gill Books, € 19.99

In his introduction, the author quotes a philosopher, Henry Thoreau: happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it the more it will escape you, but if you turn your attention to other things it will come and sit gently on your shoulder. Afterward, Kelly elaborates not only on the pursuit of happiness, but on how we can achieve it. He considers sleep the most obvious and overlooked ingredient in a happy life. He asks why do we feel guilty about having fun and why do we fear failure more than we covet success? This too, he observes, seriously limits our happiness. And why the Nordic countries are systematically at the top of the league of happiness (Finland the best) and the African countries in last position (Afghanistan the most unhappy). Happiness, Kelly argues, is complex, but not as mysterious or unpredictable as you might think. We start life happy; we become sad; and then we become happier again. -Owen Dawson

Crossing the line
By Willie Anderson, with Brendan Fanning
Achieve Sport, £ 20

Most sports biographies are published too soon after the final whistle. Anderson’s book is different. Written over 30 years after his last Irish rugby cap, it’s a raw, uncompromising, at times brutal and still passionate tale of Anderson the player and the man. Tyrone’s youth on a farm (his father was also in the B Specials) is followed by days of play – and in particular his Walls-of-Limerick challenge to the All Blacks haka – and nights of drinking, including the famous farce involving an Argentinian Flag which led to his imprisonment in Buenos Aires. His subsequent coaching career was squared; a reputation for surpassing the mark may explain why he never coached his beloved province, but he maintains an atavistic loyalty to all things Ulster. – John O’Donnell

From afar: the essentials AA Gill
By AA Gill
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £ 20

Readers, but especially admirers, of AA Gill will warmly welcome this latest posthumous collection of his journalism. For many years he was best known as a travel writer and restaurant and television critic for The Sunday Times. This book clearly illustrates why it has always been in such demand. Gill wrote only first-person journalism, was very opinionated, provocative, but never boring. He had a wonderful eye for getting to the heart of a story. His views were original, admittedly, but beware of anyone or anything he found distasteful. The book (mainly on his travels) is divided into sub-sections on the near (UK), the farthest (Europe), the farthest (Asia) and the world on a plate (anywhere). His article on Haiti and its people is heartbreaking. Another on the UK motorway service stations an absolute joy. A pleasure to marvel at a master at his best. -Owen Dawson

With a full mind
By Dermot Whelan
Gill Books, € 16.99

“If you don’t have time to meditate 20 minutes a day, then you should meditate 40 minutes a day” (Zen proverb). This is only one of the reasons the author urges us to practice meditation. Best known perhaps as a comedian, radio DJ, and TV presenter, Whelan here takes up the serious subject of meditation and makes a compelling argument as to its benefits. He writes from personal experience and, he claims, extensive research ranging from the scribes of ancient India to modern Buddhist philosophies. Whelan is particularly good about stress and its many negative implications. Meditation, he argues, will reduce stress, reduce anxiety, help depression, etc. He writes, among other things, how his mood and relationships improved and how his brain was freed. For such a serious subject, Whelan offers us a lot of pleasure because the writing is marked by humor, anecdotes and even puns. -Owen Dawson

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