I’m a bookworm at heart, I have been since I was a child. I was that kid who was always, without fail, in the book section if you lost me in a toy shop – while my brothers were instructed to go to the security guard by the door if we lost sight of either parent, there was really no need for such instruction when I would be most likely to be found devouring an Enid Blyton tale of boarding school and ginger ale. My love of reading for pleasure somewhat waned when I hit college – ironically studying literature – because the sheer volume of academic reading intimidated me into ignoring the growing pile of books which I had been eyeing up for fun, as to attempt to get on top of difficult articles in multiple languages that I would be able to quote in assignments or exams. It wasn’t that I had lost my love of a good book, rather I realised that with working part time alongside a heavy college workload and extra curricular activities which were adding value to my CV did not allow much time for relaxing with a Marian Keyes book and a cup of tea. Since graduating three years ago, I have been making a concious effort to get back into reading, and have discovered a love for non-fiction, particularly Irish nonfiction. While it started with economics books (Freakonomics, numerous David McWilliams tomes and rather depressing tales of how the Irish economy had been flushed down the toilet), it quickly spread into biographies and tales of events happening within the last century in Ireland, things that have shaped the society I live in and that I am bringing my child up in.
My love of reading has certainly been aided since having my son 19 months ago by my increased use of the Kindle app on my iPhone; I can read snatched chapters while lying quietly next to him as he falls asleep refusing to let me leave the room, or on bus journeys where I get some rare me-time. I find myself always looking for something new and it never lets me down. Over the last few months I have discovered a few gems, all of them Irish nonfiction, so if you’re looking for something new to get your brain going, these are well worth a look.
I came to this book after watching the film, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, in November 2013, when I was pregnant. The harrowing tale of the fate of Philomena Lee, a “fallen woman” who had been sent to a mother and baby home in Roscrea, allowed to bond with her child for three years and then to have him ripped away from her and for all intents and purposes sold to an American family does not become any less grating on the heart the more familiar these stories become to us. The book comes from a different angle than the film; while the film focuses on Philomena Lee and her search to find the son taken from her fifty years on, the book is much more about the son, Anthony Lee, his upbringing and his life away from Roscrea. The feeling of how wrong the actions taken by the church, and sanctioned and encouraged by the state, were does not leave. While our current society looks at this as a major failing of society and serious wrong done to those women and children, in 2015 we are not a whole lot further away from church control of state policy in particular regarding reproductive rights. Philomena Lee and her story made me angry that our little country could let this happen for the “moral good”. Essential reading for all, these stories and tellings of the ordeals these people went through should not be ignored or forgotten.
Through the marriage equality referendum campaign, the drag queen Panti Bliss (and her alter ego, Rory O Neill) came to the forefront of media attention after a televised interview led to legal action, which in turn led to the viral video of Panti’s Noble Call which resonated with people worldwide. In this book, Rory O Neill tells his story from the beginning, leading us into his backstory and how Panti came to existence, from his childhood in Mayo to discovery of drag, his diagnosis with HIV to his accidental fall into activism. Funny, poignant and brutally honest, the book gives an in depth look into the person behind the wig and the perfect makeup. I really enjoyed this and am looking forward to checking out the documentary “The Queen of Ireland”, also about his life as both Rory and Panti.
Unless you were living under a rock in late 2012, it is highly unlikely that the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar passed you by without a thought. At 17 weeks pregnant, she was admitted to University Hospital Galway in October 2012 with back pain and became quickly aware that she was miscarrying her much longer for first child. Upon asking to have the process sped up with the news that there was no way to save the pregnancy, her request for a termination was denied due to the presence of a foetal heartbeat. After three days in pain, with her own health worsening due to infection, she did eventually miscarry but due to medical mismanagement and questions which were raised about the legal status of the health of the mother superseding the presence of a foetal heartbeat, Savita died, setting the wheels in motion for a passionate movement towards changing the law as defined by the 8th amendment to try to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again. Having been through the maternity healthcare system since all of this happened, it is clear that while certain changes have been made, much more needs to be done to ensure that the life and health of the mother is prioritised in law. It’s a subject which raises much emotion, and this is captured by Kitty Holland in an impartial way which states the facts without agenda, documenting the wheels put into motion by the death of the Indian dentist and the reaction of the world when the media ran the story. Not a light read by any means, but a powerful tale heavily linked to the current campaigns to Repeal The 8th Amendment.
Emma Hannigan, author of Designer Genes, Miss Conceived and many other books, is a self-titled cancer vixen. Diagnosed as a carrier of the BRCA1 Gene which gave her an 85% chance of breast or cervical cancer (the same thing which Angelina Jolie announced a few years later), she made the decision to have a hysterectomy and double mastectomy – and then cancer got her anyway. Her attitude towards fighting cancer is wonderfully courageous and upbeat. Despite having some serious lows, her attitude towards living life is inspirational and moving. Since publication she has battled cancer (and won) a further three times (and is battling now for the tenth time), you can follow her blog here which I highly recommend. As cancer is something which unfortunately will touch the vast majority of people in some way, this book is on my essential reading list due to the kick-ass voice of Emma telling her story, as well as explaining life with cancer and everything that comes along with it in a personable and easy to understand way, something which isn’t done enough in our society which euphemises everything. Again not the lightest read (are you seeing a theme here?) but so very worthwhile.
While these books may not have always been the cheeriest of reads (bit of an understatement), I did find that they had important things to say about the Ireland which we live in, as is common in the non-fiction that I read – not everything is happy 100% of the time but what is important is what we learn from these experiences being shared. I hope that you find these as worthwhile and enjoyable as I did – I’m always looking for new books to add to the list, so please let me know what your favourite non-fiction books are (and which ones to avoid, if you have any of those on your shelves) in the comments below!
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