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Literature

Libraries and readers across the country are joining first Fortnight to shine a spotlight on mental health-books during the month of January. From factual books to brilliant works of fiction and helpful information books, readers will be spoiled for choice with texts that will open up discussion around mental health.

To celebrate our 10th Anniversary, First Fortnight has also created a special First Fortnight Recommended reading list. Authors include Caelainn Hogan, Emma Dabiri, Angi Dixon, Niall Breslin, Charlie Mackesy, Matt Haig, Ruairí McKiernan, Havin’ A Laugh, Sinéad Burke, Arnold Fanning and Christie Watson. From beautiful illustrations to hitchhiking for hope to exploring long overdue conversations for a future, healthier Ireland, there is hopefully something for everyone for this new year.

  1. Hitching for Hope- Ruairí McKiernan
  2. Republic of Shame- Caelainn Hogan
  3. Midnight Library- Matt Haig
  4. Havin' A Laugh- Havin' A Laugh
  5. Sh*te thanks for Asking- Angi Dixon
  6. Don't Touch My Hair- Emma Dabiri
  7. The Chill Skill- Niall Breslin
  8. The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story- Christie Watson
  9. Break the Mould- Sinéad Burke
  10. Mind on Fire- Arnold Fanning
  11. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse- Charlie Mackesy

 



Hitching for Hope

After one of Ireland's worst economic recessions, Ruairí McKiernan took to a hitchhiking trip around Ireland to hear from a wide ranging group of citizens around their view of Ireland and what hope means to them. The core values shared by many reflect the values that became increasingly important in 2020. This book is incredibly relevant today and a reminder that hope can be found.

Republic of Shame

Caelainn Hogan sensitively talks to the survivors of the brutality of Irish women, especially pregnant, unwed women in her book Republic of Shame. The mental health impact of this culture of control and the stigma foisted upon many women was significant both in the past and present, creating a ripple of consequences through time and across generations. An often hard but important read to hear the voices of those who were ignored in the past, to remove past stigmas and create a space for much needed conversations.


Midnight Library

Nora decides to give up on life but is suddenly presented with an opportunity. Having lived a life she views as filled with misery and regret, she suddenly has an opportunity to explore different versions of her life and answer the "What If...?" question that can plague so many. This book is for anyone who loves Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. And sorry I could not travel both."

The book gives food for thought around how our expectations can often prevent us from enjoying our reality and exploring opportunities. It serves as a reminder of how we are flawed but also capable of so much.


Havin' A Laugh

Havin’ a Laugh is a Sligo based charity established to promote positive mental health through life-enhancing activities. An idea born from one of their coffee mornings has come to fruition- a book filled with stories, poems and images submitted by people aged 6 and up from Sligo, Leitrim and beyond. This book is a perfect example of the power of community and is great fun to dip in and out of. Several pieces of the work speak to the experience of Lockdown.


Sh*te Thanks For Asking

Angi Dixon wrote this book after her brother died by suicide. It's a conversation about grief and loss as she documents her grief journey and offers advice and comfort to those who one day might be on a similar journey. It's honest, raw and very Irish and absolutely speaks to the importance of self care.

2020 sadly saw a lot of loss and grief and an inability by many to mourn and support loved ones in the traditional way. This book felt like an important book to be included for our 2021 Recommended Reading list.

One striking moment sees Angi shopping during her grief and her wish that a sticker could exist so people could be aware and sensitive to her or other people's circumstances during times like these. It is another reminder of how we don't know what is going on in someone else's life but the opportunity to be kind is always there.

 

Don't Touch My Hair

Emma Dabiri explores the history of systemic racism, cultural appropriateness through a collection of essays centred around black hair. She considers black hair in the context of politics, philosophy, economics and mathematics. She also shares her personal experience of racism growing up in Ireland. First Fortnight tries to use the arts to create spaces for much needed conversations, this book is a masterpiece of creating conversation around a much needed topic to create a healthier Ireland. How Emma managed to cover so much in 256 pages has this First Fortnight reader still in awe!

The Chill Skill

The Chill Skill is Niall Breslin's third picture book and it helps teach children how to manage their anger when things don't go their way. Using mindfulness breathing techniques, this book is a great example of how mental health wellbeing can be taught from an early age through fun ways like books! Also we loved Emma Proctor's illustrations.

 

The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story

First Fortnight wanted to select a book to represent frontline health care workers.

Research has shown that even before the pandemic, challenging work conditions have created widespread mental health problems for the sector. The dedication, care and compassion, but also the daily struggles of healthcare workers, are captured in this beautiful book by Christie Watson. She was a nurse for the NHS in the UK for over 2 decades. Her first placement is in a mental health hospital and it’s insightful to read her perspective. The mental toll upon her profession is also shared.

She takes us on a journey from life to death, from A&E to the mortuary. What a normal day at work looks like in a health care setting is hard to fathom as an outsider. This book helps to give the reader a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for everyone who works as a frontline health care worker.

 

Break the Mould

In a world filled with pressure and anxiety for young people growing up, this book reminds people of the importance of embracing what makes you different. In doing so, often you can help create a change. It promotes inclusivity, finding your voice, taking your place and just being yourself. While it's a book for young humans to form healthy attitudes, we definitely recommend parents dip in and out for a few reminders themselves!


Mind On Fire

There is good reason why Mind on Fire was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize in 2019. Arnold Thomas Fanning is unflinchingly honest in his sharing of his mental health journey from depression to delusions and mania. He details his brushes with the law and his experiences of homelessness. That Fanning has written the book at all is a testament to his recovery. Mind on Fire might be an overwhelming read for somebody experiencing a first manic episode, but it is recommended reading for anyone living with an enduring mental health problem.

Irish Times capture it perfectly

'[A] painfully intense, courageous and gripping account of [Fanning's] journey to the underworld of madness and back. This is a brave and instructive book.'

 

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

This book is wisdom and chicken soup for the soul for people of all ages. It is a collection of stunning drawings with conversations and musings promoting the most simple but critical values like kindness, empathy, self care and of course cake!

One drawing has the Boy asking the Horse what is the bravest thing he's ever said, and the Horse replies "Help." 

Reading this book, you can understand why so many people are getting tattoos of Charlie Mackesy's drawings.


Image Credit- Stuart Simpson/Penguin

"This Storm will pass."

 

 




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