In an attempt to cover up for my mild slackness in 2016, I slid into 2017 half-reading literary works published last century; hopping from Fugard to Conrad, Shafer to Achebe, and by the time we were hitting the close of the third week in January, I hadn’t ‘read’ any. An untidy, unplanned-for, conversation with Trust F. Òbe came to my rescue and drove me back to my desk.
The game changer: I created a detailed one-text-a-week year plan intended to guide me through fifty-two literature texts (for now). I succeeded. I failed. I failed to reach half-target. But I succeeded in experimenting what it seems like to cover fifty titles (exempting academic, faith-based and work-related materials.)
If there’s anything I intend to do differently to perform better with my reading in 2018, it is to integrate this plan into my general yearly agenda. Else, one will be sacrificed for the other along the line. For example, I read nothing from October till mid-November because of a project I was handling within the period. But 2018 will be smarter. (Or I will be smarter in 2018.)
It feels good to end 2017 without compunction of being deliberate about works by Africans and about Africa. I am open to more of such in 2018; principally creative/narrative/biographical nonfiction, historical fiction and a few selected materials that explore the many nuances of diplomacy, big data, advocacy and gender relations in seamless, unconventional ways.
Born to the middle class, pioneering Ransome-Kuti family in Abeokuta, Nigeria, a thoroughbred Fela hijacks his life from parental restraints and reinvents it into a stroke of genius that would, for successive generations, become a reference point of sterling artistry and sociopolitical nonconformity. Fela: This Bitch of a Life employs a systematic, relatable approach to chronicle Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s life prior to, inside, even beyond, his self-proclaimed Kalakuta Republic.
The biography, which clearly presents the Afrobeat legend as a man groomed by manifold influences: from J.K Braimah to Sandra Smith; from James Brown to Gerald Pino; from Malcolm X to Ambrose Campbell; from Reverend Ransome-Kuti to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, is an amusingly fluid text, rendered through a variety of perspectives, mostly in English and Pidgin.
Difficult as it may be to overlook the typographical errors that stare back at you on several pages, Moore’s medium-shot interrogation into the lives of the rebel musical legend’s wives and their relationship with him is commendable. The text is punctuated with several images —mostly newspaper cover pages and portraits of Fela and his queens— that sets the tone for the period covered as well as puts the reader in the mood of the global happenings of the time.
Sauced with a swarm of references, Fela: This Bitch of a Life is an absorbing go-to document for readers who wish to know the man beyond his music.
In the wake of a twist, Okey Ndibe is translated from being a dreamer to becoming a dream-owner. This memoir is a reflection of his journey from growing up in Nigeria to taking responsibility for his life in America. But maybe not the ‘Obodo-Oyibo’ dream that began to mature in his heart while he read Time, Newsweek, and a variety of Western novels as an undergraduate in Nigeria.
The book affirms Okey Ndibe’s relationship with literary icons, revealing even how a gesture from Wole Soyinka saved his Christmas and Achebe’s role in the rise (and fall) of African Commentary, the magazine he had originally been invited to the United States to edit. n With obvious mastery of language and sense of humour, the personable Okey Ndibe writes his true self into his journey to now in a number of ways, his first attempt at writing a novel being a must-mention.
What makes Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun a memorable read is that, despite the novel’s brevity, its protagonist, a Nigeria-born Dr. Morayo Da Silva, stays long in any reader’s mind. The vivacious, bouncy septuagenarian is a retired professor whose daily experiences resonates with the dynamic vigour characteristic of the hill city of San Francisco she lives in.
Even when Morayo falls and becomes an in-mate at a rehabilitation center, her good-to-be-with personality does not diminish. Whether in her house or at the rehab center, Morayo carries the memories of former husband, Antonio, with her.
Readers who want a story of ageing —laced with humour and humanity— will find Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun a worthy recommendation.
Most reviewers say No Man’s Land is a “very good supplement” to Donovan’s The Way of Men, but put more correctly, the inverse is the case. While the former is a philosophical, three-chapter treatise interrogating how “masculinity has been maligned, re-imagined and mis-represented,” the latter is a more elaborate, practical expansion.
The first two chapters read like a collective rebuttal to earlier arguments about “manning-up” by Michael Kimmel, Kay Hymowitz, Bill Benneth, Robert Brannon, among others. His clear opposition to their views is backed with a rich counter-argument savoured with intelligent buildup and a dazzling array of references.
No Man’s Land’s pithiness must never be assumed a compromise of quality. Though it can be covered within lunchtime, its contribution to the conversations around gender roles is arguably more than one could have found in any book of similarly small size.
What defines masculinity? Is it strength or honour? Courage? Mastery? With a deft distinction between being a good man and being good at being a man, The Way of Men aspires to address this and more.
“I present this book to you without ego” is the phrase with which Donovan opens the prefatory section of a radical, unapologetic, even unpopular compendium of a methodical argument that is The Way of Men. When we talk about the male gender, we often surrender to concepts that are derivatives of conversations around femininity and family. But unlike most other authors of gender-focused texts, Jack Donovan refuses to waver in his inquiry.
Laced with evident versatility in history, culture and philosophy, The Way of Men is Donovan’s proof of looking beyond trends and movements to respond to long-avoided questions of masculinity to satisfy his curiosity.
“Running and jumping and chanting the word change in the air like it’s something you can grab and put in your mouth and sink your teeth into.”
Through the lens of a ten-year-old Darling, Bulawayo takes her readers through a seemingly-predictable journey punctuated with varied unpredictable experiences: empathy, laughter, sympathy, even anger. We Need New Names, an expansion of NoViolet Bulawayo’s Caine Prize-winning story, Hitting Budapest, is set in Paradise, a shanty town in post British-Independence Zimbabwe, and Detroit, Michigan (or DestroyedMichygen as Darling and her friends called it.)
Can a story of poverty, hunger, even incest, be well-told without compromising humour? I think, by employing the lens of a child narrator, Bulawayo attempts it with this impressive debut. And succeeds.
This moving three-part collection is composed of a diverse spectrum of voices on race and justice unified by their mission rather than their Americanness. Every contribution in The Fire This Time offers a unique, logical approach to racial struggles (and silence) associated especially with being black in America.
Apart from earning its title from Baldwin’s This Fire Next Time, his name pops up on many pages, especially in Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s The Weight —a relentless investigation into Balwin’s personal life. This kind is what Honorée Fanonne Jeffers also does with “The Dear Pledges of Our Love”: A Defense of Phillis Wheatley’s Husband. And she does it so well.
Essays like Wendy S. Walters’ Lonely in America, Jesmyn Ward’s Cracking the Code and Claudia Rankine’s The Condition of Black Life Is One of Mourning draw the reader in with first-person perspectives, as much as Carol Anderson’s White Rage. But The Fire This Time, easily one of my favourite texts on race, is not only a book of essays. There are brilliant poems —Clint Smith’s Queries of Unrest, for example— and Know Your Rights!, a moving photo-essay by Emily Raboteau.
Numerous texts have evolved from a need to respond to questions and conversations around one incidence of police-aided killings (in the United States) after another. Historian Carol Anderson’s White Rage, originally ran as an Op-Ed in The Washington Post, was triggered by the police brutality that drove a volley of bullets into unarmed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo.
But White Rage is not about Diallo. Neither is it about Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. It seeks explain that what is tagged “black rage” —the reaction of the black community to racial profiling— is kindled by a more fundamental, less considered, American problem she dubbed “White Rage.”
Anderson brings her historical genius to fore in White Rage, weaving it along the lines of a meticulously-built argument robbing constitutional amendments, migration, civil rights movement and a black presidency of the many complexities they are often clothed in. White Rage is a fine recommendation for readers who seek to better understand the frenetic cadence of living in today’s America as a black.
If asked about my favourite book chapters in 2017, Touching Stranger comes to mind easily, without blinking. Categorized under the Seeing Things section of the three-part collection of essays (the other two being Reading Things and Being There), this chapter is Cole’s interrogation of Richard Renaldi’s photography book of the same title.
Teju Cole’s artistic dexterity, however, is seen across all the pages in Known and Strange Things. Littered with a laudable handful of references to names, histories and places, every essay follows a uniquely charming pattern of aesthetic prose. Known and Strange Things stands a chance of drawing any reader closer to the life and art of Teju Cole than any of his other works.
Resplendent in composition, Cole’s Known and Strange Things points unequivocally to how art can best be interpreted when viewed through the spectacles of another artist.
“The footsteps of one man cannot create a stampede.” —Igbo Proverb
The Fishermen follows the trajectory of an Akure-based family of four children, four boys-turned-fishermen —Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin. Their father, Mr. Agwu, tells them, when he hears of their fishing adventures:
“What I want you to be is a group of fishermen who will be fishers of good dreams, who will not relent until they have caught the biggest catch. I want you to be juggernauts, menacing and unstoppable fishermen.”
Their father’s relocation to Yola coincides with the period in which a popular nutter’s volatile augury hunts after them. In this thrilling debut, Obioma takes readers through a compelling journey along turns of unfortunate events that shape the lives (and deaths) of boys and irreversibly alter the destiny of a family bound by shared memories.
This is a beautiful book, a compendium of rich sentences woven with such eloquent simplicity that lures you into turning the pages in search of another charmingly-refreshing encounter that takes you in new directions.
In 2018, I eagerly look forward to reading:
I am a latecomer. I admit. But how Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me escaped my 2017 reading agenda is still a mystery. This is easily one of the most celebrated works of fiction by an African in 2017, claiming a space in the year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist and reopening closed pages of margin-marked social conversations. I look forward to reading this in 2018, especially considering that it is set in Ilesha, that ancient town, my place of birth and shaping.
Two reader-friends, at different points this year, asked in the middle of (probably) random conversations if I had read One Hundred Years of Solitude, and at each occasion, my response was greeted with obvious disappointment. I am keen on finding out why this historical fiction is a strong recommendation for me half-a-century after its publication.
I first heard about Sapiens during a private lunch discussion at a literary festival in 2015 but I didn’t look it up until I came across the author’s 2015 TED Talk, What Explains the Rise of Humans? weeks later. I am not sure if it was this 17-minute encounter that drew me in or one of his gripping essays I read thereafter. Harari’s genius is charming, and this is difficult to deny!
“It’s not because I overestimate the AI. It’s because most people tend to overestimate human beings.”
Earlier in the year, I read an article in which Harari explains why humans won’t dominate Earth in 300 years. It was an interview he granted Vox’s Ezra Klein. This book, listed along four others in Bill Gates’ summer 2017 reading list, is said to provide a “glimpse of the dreams and nightmares that will shape the 21st century.”
As Silicon Valley continues to tilt the fulcrum of democracy towards individualism, it will be exciting to view the future of humans and humanity through Harari’s interrogation.
This historical fiction by Moroccan Laila Lalami made my 2017 Reading List but was scheduled for October (I betrayed all October titles!) I am looking to pick it up early in 2018.
Between the World and Me introduced me to Coates. And I want more of him. His angst. His artistic merit. His guts. The consistency of his arguments as I have observed in his essays and interviews.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy is Coates’ collection of essays thematically concerned with racial interactions and “traces the development of a public intellectual against the backdrop of the Obama years”.
A few of my favourite articles online:
- Respectability Will Not Save Us by Carol Anderson
- What About All The People Who Can’t, or Won’t, Say #MeToo? by Abby Franquemont
- Interview with whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘There Is Still Hope – Even for Me’ conducted by Martin Knobbe and Jörg Schindler
- Can Poetry Change Your Life? by Louis Menand
- This Hell Not Mine: On Moving from Nigeria to America by Kenechi Uzor
- His Biggest Hit Sold More Copies Than Any of the Beatles’. So Why Haven’t You Heard of Him? by Sami Kent
Adedapo Treasure is a writer, filmmaker, etc.
This is the ninth of 10 pieces on Readers on Reading in 2017.