Books We Read: 11 Readers on Reading in 2016—Part 1.

There has never been a time when there was a surfeit of what to read as our time. Besides wanting to read and finding the time, there are times when we read something—a poem, an essay, a comic or a book—and we feel that reading is its own reward. For those who like to read and do so on a consistent basis, reading is at the very habit they enjoy. For this piece, we feature Eleven Readers with at least 550 books jointly read in 2016—besides other things read that were not books—and reading habits that reach as far back as two decades drawn from, they tell us about their notable reads in 2016 and offer insights into their reading habits, and challenges, they make book recommendations and also talk about their to-be-read—in 2017—lists.

As you will find, there are more references to the works of some authors; Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Yaa Gyasi, Junot Díaz and Teju Cole while Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel is very fervently anticipated.

Enjoy read.i.ng.


Tolu Daniel

Some books can be excitable, yet not exert the kind of force or the kind of power to accord them the honour of prizes or notable mentions. Yet any book, good or bad, excellent or average is a function of a selective bias either from the perspective of the readers or judges of prizes.

I remember reading a review of E. L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey in 2014 and almost basing my decision about whether or not the book was worthy of my time on the negativity of the review. To sum the review into a few words, Kat Brown opined that “the writing was bad”. Another reviewer on USA Today described the book as 50 Shades of monotonous. Yet when I got to read the book months later, I didn’t think the books was half as bad as it had been described in those reviews.

Another instance which comes readily to mind would be Percy Zvomya’s review of Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel The Fishermen which he described as overwritten with many metaphors creaking and stretching beyond the point of breaking. I would eventually get to read the book and fall in love with the writing on the same basis with which Percy debased the book in his review. I would enjoy his use of metaphors to describe, to evoke the images his narrative couldn’t concoct on their own.

This year, I have learnt to form my own biases and decide what fits into my own categorization of what is a good, bad or great book. It has been an enriching experience, I have travelled cities by foot, on trains, fought battles, befriended kings, married princesses, had orgasmic sex and within several turns of pages, my thirst to know more is ever on the increase. Here is my list of 10 Notable Books I read this year. Each title is here because of beautiful, cliché-free prose and daring to wing language to do their bidding like magicians wing their wands.

Notable Reads

Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim showed his ability to deliver very concise prose through his debut offering; The Whispering Trees. This debut novel of his depicts the realities and the intricacies of the puritanical society which Northern Nigeria is known to be. It darted questions at the societal concepts of right and wrong and more importantly morality. This story is the story of love and lust between two unlikely characters, Binta Zubairu and Hassan Reza Babale and everything that surrounded their relationship.

I enjoy reading very detailed and graphic first chapters in any book I read. This is because this chapter decides how the rest of the book should be for me. It is this chapter which invites me into the narrative and piques my own curiosity. Word for word and sentence for sentence, that first chapter for me was a hit. It reminded me of VS Naipaul’s opening line in House for Mr Biswas in its ability to squeeze in everything important about the book in one beautiful sentence.

The narrative also had a pace about its delivery which would keep a reader’s mind and eye glued till the story ends. It was the kind of narrative that can earn applause at the end as though it was a movie being seen at the cinema.

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

Igoni Barrett’s Blackass gave us a character that successfully transitioned from being a full blooded black Nigerian man and to a white man. What struck me most about this character of Furo Wariboko was the fact that despite his skin and facial transformation, he retained every other aspect of him, his voice remained the same and his thinking faculties too. The narrative wasn’t big on limiting itself and scope to a single theme but danced around a variety of themes. It moved from racial identity and its effects on the psyche of people and how they respond to these changes to themes of psychological and physical transformation. Especially in a world that is struggling with the problems of racial profiling, xenophobia, homophobia and trans-phobia. Blackass deals subtly with these issues as though the writer intends to provoke a discussion. But what I like most about the book is the ease at which each transition is made, touching on sensitive issues without bordering on sentiments.

Igoni begins the narrative with one of the most powerful opening lines I have ever encountered in a novel.

“Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep”.

Blackass started strongly and maintained that rhythm for the duration of the story. The story centres on the life of Furo Wariboko who, born and bred in Lagos begins the morning of a long anticipated job interview which to him was going to be like any other one—unsuccessful—because of the number of applicants that he would meet there. He woke up that morning and finds out to his horror that he had turned white for no reason at all. This was one of the things I found a little curious about the narrative. I believe like most people that for any change to occur, it must be a result of a process in whatever form that this process may take but like Kafka in The Metamorphosis, this writer decides not to give an explanation.

Blackass is very funny and provocative. Its characters were fully formed, self-aware and they matured with time as the writer intended. Each character was a classical representation of the typical Lagosian. A closer examination of the characters shows that the writer clearly understood the working and politics of a city like Lagos and how it reflected the psyche of Nigerians.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

With one of the most colourful prose I have ever read or encountered in a work of prose, Zusak’s Book Thief runs the risk of being labelled a masterpiece. The Style of the narrative awakens in you, a sense of dedication to imagery. In The Book Thief, the man hiding a Jew named Max Vandenburg is a decorator and part-time accordion player, Hans Hubermann. One of the reasons why he’s hiding this particular man is because Max’s father saved his own life when they were both German soldiers in the First World War. He and his wife, the ever angry and shouting Rosa Hubermann have also adopted a girl named Liesel, the main character of this tale. The growing relationships between Hubermann and Liesel and, later, Liesel and Max Vandenburg are central to the book.

Another delightful thing about the book is the narrator, a very observant narrator in Death who seemed to see the world in colours. This gives the story a kind of balance with glimpses of what is yet to come.

We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo

Easily one of the best books I read this year staking a place because of Bulawayo’s intimate portrayal of Zimbabwe. The first part of the narrative was centred on a little girl in a small shanty town called Paradise which Bulawayo describes in the simplest of language, the kind which is at once alive and confident, often very funny.

I enjoyed reading this book more because of how relatable those experiences which accompanied Darling—the central character—were, the carelessness and carefreeness of childhood and of course, the perfection of the child narrative voice. The second part of the book was a little less dramatic and funny, perhaps owing to the maturity of Darling and the colourlessness of her new reality in the United States. Here, the novel descends into trite observations about the oddness of snow, the sound of gunshots and the clash of cultures when a skinny Zimbabwean marries a fat American in order to get immigration papers.

Never Look an American in the Eye by Okey Ndibe

This book is a witty pile of memoirs about Okey Ndibe’s time of living in the United States and not an angry, anti-American screed as the title implies. It is an addendum to an assumption made by one of Ndibe’s uncles who had been fed with perhaps a few tens of some movies titled Westerns that every American carries a gun and that if you were caught, you being a stranger or a foreigner, it was likely that you would get shot.

In this memoir, we were allowed the luxury of seeing the making of Okey Ndibe, both as a writer and a journalist. He took us on a journey which allowed us to see his relationship with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and some of his tutors while he was in grad school. The memoirs also gave us front row seats to watch Ndibe’s struggles to keep the African Commentary magazine which had been his reason for going to the United States in the first place.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I found two things particularly attractive in Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend and the first is the manner in which time was handled and also the attention the writer gave into describing to the last detail every plot and every nuance in the narrative despite the timeline. It is a story of friendship between two girls, the narrators being Ferrante and her friend, Lila. A friendship shared through books and continuous juxtaposition of ambition.

The narrative shows both characters as fascinating portraits of admirably strong, ambitious women in a patriarchal world. While Lila is enigmatic and volatile, Elena is often more subdued. These features in both characters are more or less what drove the book. These characterisations are also why I found the book amazing. The characters grew with the narrative and one could almost guess how either of them would respond to any given situation which were presented in the book.

The Dove’s Necklace by Raja’a Alem

This book relied on the brilliant use of a variety of literary devices, notably personification and metaphors. And this usage of these devices without veering off on the idea and ambition of the story is why I think this book is a winner. In some parts of the book, you may be dismayed at the extent of details which the narrator provides but when you critically reason the point of view of the narrative voice, it would sink in and you would find yourself applauding the audacity of the writer to attempt such feats.

Policeman Nasser al-Qahtani is assigned to investigate the death (and possible murder) of a woman who fell naked from a window onto the Lane of Many Heads, an alley in a poor section of Mecca. Positive identification of the dead woman is complicated by the disfigurement caused by her fall and by the silence of collective shame that hovers over the victim’s exposed, naked body.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi is arguably one of the most important writers of this generation. This book contains some beautiful writing with an incredible penchant for detailing. Her stories were real to the points of being labelled fantastic. I particularly enjoyed her interplay of the themes of youth and desire throughout the stories that made the book. There is a reassuring grace and subtlety to her style of delivery which makes the narratives very believable.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

If there was a book, I badly wanted to read this year, this was the book. Written in a blend of Spanish and English, Díaz delivered what I believe to be a masterpiece. The story is like a biography of sorts for Oscar, who has never had many good things happen to him in his short life which was punctuated by his disastrous weight issues. Despite all these, the young man harboured dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen King and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú—the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim—until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is an unusual story. A story that is at once difficult and disturbing at the same time. It is the story of an event seared into the fabric of history told in the innocent voice of a young boy. This story will break your heart. It is the story of nine-year-old unhappy Bruno; his father has a new job and he’s leaving his comfortable house, his neighbourhood and his three best friends behind. His big sister Gretel is hopeless, for like older sisters everywhere, she’s in a world all her own, though it is obvious she isn’t thrilled about the move either. Their servants are tight-lipped and nervous, and Bruno’s mother tries to explain that this is not only a promotion for his father, it is his duty she says but Bruno is not convinced.

I like this book for various reasons, one of these reasons is simplicity in delivery and also suspense. The narrative is woven in such a manner that despite its childlike simplicity, nothing is given away about the outcomes and despite the story being set in a familiar past, the reader still needs to turn the page to untangle themselves from the web of mystery that the book was woven with. If you haven’t already guessed, John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a young adult novel about the Holocaust.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

This is the story of an aging philology teacher, who finds a book of memoirs in a book store and starts to read them. The author of the memoirs was a Portuguese doctor and a resistance fighter during the Salazar dictatorship. Gregorius, the teacher, believes he has found his fantasized soul mate in this resistance fighter, Amadeu Prado, a brooding and tortured aristocrat.

The story of Amadeu Prado’s life reveals itself to him in bits and pieces as he completes his journey to Lisbon to talk to all of Prado’s relatives, friends, and teachers. It is through Prado’s life that Gregorius discovers and virtually relives a life of passion he never allowed himself as a fifty-eight year-old dull ancient-language teacher. One of my issues with the book was that it seemed like a drag with very long soliloquy like thoughts expressed in long boring sentences, but eventually I got used to them. I got to travel through Europe in all its intimacies with the writer. This is one of the reasons why I found this book fantastic.

Not Worth the Hype

Here are three notable books I didn’t enjoy.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

This book came highly recommended and also after winning the Man Booker prize, one may have been right not to expect less from it. In terms of prose, it was an amazing work of historical fiction into the life and death of Bob Marley. But it makes my bad books for the year because of the same reason it can be ascribed as a good book. I found the switching from personality and voice very distracting and the book became a bore barely few pages in to it. I could not easily identify the timelines or the characters. I had to keep going back to look for sentences to define things that should have held my attention.

Bury Me Come Sunday Afternoon by Nike Campbell-Fatoki

I endured this collection of stories and for me, asides one or two stories in the collection; the rest is unworthy of this author. The narratives are ridden with everyday clichés almost as if the writer intentionally wanted to display her not so good works in a book.

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

When I started the book, I enjoyed the writer’s directness, his fast short sentences and straight-to-the-point-ness. The story was majorly about the disappearance of a supposedly moral and upright boy. The writer was detailed in his descriptions, hence the perfection of his opening chapter. But the following chapters took us on a journey of pasts, most of the details there honestly were not necessary for me. They didn’t move the narrative forward in any way. But like I always say, I am entitled to my biases. The story moved from what it began with—the disappearance of a boy—to a careful study into the lives of members of his family. I didn’t think we needed to read all those bits. I was pissed that the writer neglected his hook and circles back to him only later at the end of the story when I as a reader had almost completely forgotten about him despite the initial story being all him.

Looking Forward to Read in 2017

Hopefully, 2017 will give me the chance to read more rewarding books.

Here are the books I look forward to reading the most.

Tolu Daniel is a writer and photographer.

Debbie Iorliam

This year has been a successful reading year, but I didn’t realize I had read this much until I took out the time to compile this list. I found it a bit challenging picking out the books I have listed here because I had a tall list of very incredible books. Having done this, I feel more satisfied than I would have done after having chocolates—they are my favourites.

Notable Reads

A Rare Blue Bird Flies with Me by Youssef Fadel (translated by Jonathan Smolin)

Written in parts, it was refreshing and different to read a dog give its account of what was happening in Morocco. It also reminded me of Nigeria, the judiciary and the fate of many who are in jail without trial. The imagery used was powerful so much that I could perceive the stench of rotten human bodies through the pages of the book. It has a universal theme of decay and most nations of the world can relate to this.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Roy’s technical narrative compelled me to read the book twice and slowly both times. Once I went past that challenge, I was in for a serious and almost tragic reading. It has a great command of diction, imagery and skill.

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

Weirdly witty. This is how best I can describe this book. The characters are distinct. The story line is unusual. I liked the narrative casualness and humour even when something tragic was about to happen. You wouldn’t find this in most books.

Possession by A. S. Byatt

I didn’t enjoy reading this book much, mostly because I found it too academic. A lot of academic materials that should have stayed out were included, which explains for how bulky the book is. Beneath the academic pages is an engaging story and I liked the narrative style and language of the author.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

At that point where Florentino and Fermina stood naked in the comfort of the ship, staring at each other’s wrinkles, the former perceived the smell of old age, and only then did he realize he was grey. He had spent his entire life chasing a woman. I paused at this point and asked myself, is this it? When our dreams eventually come true, what next after that? Perhaps another ambition to fill our days with? It made me realize the nothingness in life. I liked the way this book engaged me, the emotion on every page and how much it made me think deeply about life.

The Fourth Dimension by David Yonggi Cho

It taught me how to pray the right way. My spiritual life became better.

Nowergian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I thought this book was sick when I was done. I said that much to a friend. It felt like being in a psychiatric hospital without really being there. This feeling wasn’t overwhelming, merely emotional that I couldn’t help but connect with the characters like I knew them.

Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen

Imasuen unapologetically uses pidgin without translation. By doing this, I felt at home and connected to the energy of the narrative. The humour helped to ease my suspense when it got rough in the book. The vivid description is a major plus to this book because even for someone who have never been, the vibes and colours are so alive in words; it would feel like you have been to Nigeria.

Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

I first read Abubakar’s debut book Whispering Trees and there was so much soul and ease in the way he told the stories that I was looking forward to reading this one. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. The narrative ease I had seen in his debut book was lacking in this one. The novel was edited to an antiseptic point. I enjoyed the story a lot but wondered why certain characters were forcefully killed.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

I have read all three of Hosseini’s books that it has become really hard to draw the line between each book. Certain themes resonant in his books: poverty, family, marriage, war etc But one thing remains certain, Hosseini is a great story teller, his story would pull at your emotions, cause you pain and even make you cry a bit, but you will always remember Mariam and her sacrifices.

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

Adventurous, informative and entertaining. This is what you get as Chatwin takes you on a ride to the world of the aboriginals in Australia. I found this semi fictional book more informative then pleasurable. A lot of characters zipped past and it was a bit difficult trying to sort them out in the head, what with the fast pace of the book. But largely it will always stand the test of time because of its historical content.

Man and Boy by Tony Parsons

This book for me reiterates the well known fact that humans are selfish in love and life. I related to it in a lot of ways. It was insightful.

Notable Mentions

  • Ake Review Journal, Volume 2&3
  • The Rainbow Lied: An online anthology
  • A Half formed thingby Ehizogie Iyeomoan, Ikechukwu Nwaogu and Servio Gbadamosi
  • If Everyday were Christmas by Su’eddie Vershima Agema (Short story)

Looking Forward to Read in 2017

These are some of the books I look forward to reading in 2017.


Debbie Iorliam
 is a poet, writer, editor, model and a fellow of Ebedi International residency.

Richard Ali

2016 was a difficult year as far as reading books was concerned. In no other year in recent memory have I had so many books bought or gifted which I have still not read. At the top of this list is Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, both of which I hope to get to in the coming days yet. I think back with nostalgia for 2000/2001, a year in which I read well over 150 books (I made a list!) borrowed from my professor friend’s library. This year, I have barely made 30. For the most part, these have been African writers.

My favourite book this year was Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account—a powerfully imagined story of a North African, Mustafa al-Zamori, who presses himself into slavery and ends up on the historical Narvaez expedition. Now renamed Estebanico by his Spanish masters, they set sail for America seeking gold, meeting the resistance and hostility of several indigenous American groups. The further north they go on the increasingly delusory quest, the more the ordered society of slave and master and the elaborate rules that hold it in place fail and degenerate. Only four persons survive, and in the historical account, Mustafa/Estebanico’s voice is muted. It is this voice that Laila Lalami assumes and makes central. Her prose is quite beautiful.

Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms comes next to this—a story about a middle-aged woman in conservative northern Nigeria who falls in love with a weed dealer in his twenties. I read it at about the same time as Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday. Both are set in northern Nigeria and aim to tell stories about characters whose lives are impacted by forces outside their control—religion and culture—and ensuing tragedies. Both books are important. Abubakar’s characters come across as more organic and from that great opening sentence, he is able to keep the pace of the novel even until the end. Both novels approach their subject with a slant peculiar to each writer, which in turn informs the choices of style and point of view. The effect is that Abubakar’s comes across as a novel about people and Elnathan’s come across as a novel of ideas about people. Both answer the question of how much scope a person has in choosing to control their fates.

Early in the year, I enjoyed Zukiswa Wanner’s London, Jo’burg, Cape Town which, like Lalami’s book, was also published in 2014. Zukiswa is one of the finest writers we have on this continent and this book about South Africa in the period after the end of Apartheid is important reading. Using prescient observation along with a special class of humour, the shades of colour of the rainbow nation are examined for their frays in the story of British-born African, Martin, his white British wife Germaine, and their biracial child. The story of their lives and the tragedy of it, and perhaps of a bewildering South Africa too, is told with empathy even when it saddens. My gutsy friend, Hawa, writing as H. J. Golakai, also published a lovely read, a crime thriller titled The Lazarus Effect in which we follow Voinjama “Vee” Johnson, a Liberian journalist who follows the story of a murdered girl through a peculiar dysfunctional family while keeping the demons of her own trauma from the Liberian civil war and love at bay. The novel starts off slowly but once Ms. Golakai hits her stride, there’s no letting up.

A recent good read, great read even, is Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North which recalls the fate of Australian prisoners of war pressed into building a mad railway for the Japanese through Burma in the course of World War II. Using the memories of a “hero POW”, Dr. Dorrigo Evans, in today’s Australia, the experience of the men on the line and the stories of the Japanese Army commanders and their Korean accomplices, it questions love and suffering equally candidly. It is a moving account, a story of death and the many senselessness-es of life, of diarrhoea and cholera and madness. At the heart of it is the killing by all present, Japanese, Korean and POW alike, of a sergeant named Darky Gardiner, who most symbolized hope and who is beaten to death. Flanagan is able to enter the motivations of men all on the brink of death and something in this sad choreography makes a powerful novel. It reminded me of Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K in its brutal eye to human degeneration, only this is far more elegant, far sadder.

I’m a sucker for great prose and the master of prose this year is Maik Nwosu. His new book, A Gecko’s Farewell, is one of those for which the temptation to underline prescient language is strong. I imagine that falling into this temptation will lead to a sort of art, yellow highlighting marker on paper like zebra stripes or leopard patches. Farewell is the story of three exiles of disparate lives who meet online. There’s Etiaba, a sacked Nigerian schoolteacher; Nadia, an Egyptian photojournalist endangered for taking a timely photo of an Islamist terrorist just before he unleashes mayhem, and Mzilikazi, a fugitive South Africa boy soldier the only survivor of a village massacre in Kruger Park. Then there is the inimitable Dr. Lookout, a serious madman walking the endless plank of sanity in dystopian country, for which release can only come from falling and exile from a homeland where one is no longer at home. As they narrate the stories of their lives, some of the most enduring images of Africa are created by Maik Nwosu’s prose. This is writing of sheer, sheer beauty.

The second instalment of Chuma Nwokolo’s Nigeria centenary short stories collections belongs on this list. How to Spell Naija Vol. 2 comprised fifty short short stories of great hilarity and drama which, in truth, paint the most profound picture of Nigeria there ever can be. In telling a friend about the book, I said at a point that “Chuma knows people.” She misunderstood me, quite tellingly, to mean that the author was “connected” in the Naija sense of being a friend, relative or client to powerful people. What I meant was that Chuma knew people down to the minutiae of their lives, to the motives that impel them for which they are ashamed to admit and sometimes for which they adopt the patent Nigerian in-your-face. The earlier collection, Vol. 1, made my Ketchup List in 2014—five print books I promised to publicly eat with ketchup only if anyone bought and did not enjoy reading—and while I have not made such a list for 2016, Vol. 2 is a top contender.

Being a poet, I should speak about the better poetry collections I have read in this year, to even out a bit a prose heavy list. The first should be an old one, HOWL by Allen Ginsburg, a gift from a German friend. There is a tendency to think of dead poets, such as Ginsburg, as being “prophets” when their writing seems to speak to today’s realities—the loss of identity and our incapacity to be happy, the seeking for something greater to make sense of things, a something we know does not exist. This is the core of HOWL. Yet, I think the reality is slightly different. These writers do not speak to us, know nothing of us. They speak instead to something unchanging and prophets they are, every few decades, from Milton to Eliot, to Lorca to Ginsburg, all come to speak for an inexhaustible sadness because even with all the years and technology and changing fashions, men have not changed really. Another memorable collection is Ahmed Maiwada’s 2013 Eye Rhymes, a short collection of great stylistic innovation. I do not think a more innovative poet than Maiwada exists in Nigeria—in terms of form and style, in terms of the prescience of his language and the overarching poetic vision. I liked his earlier Fossils but I think Eye Rhymes is a far superior collection with its use of eye rhymes and a coherent cornucopia of allusions. As with Niran Okewole’s 2007 collection, Logarhythms, it saddens me greatly that these poems are not better known and read much more widely. And then of course, there is Amu Nnadi, who gave us A River’s Journey this year. It is a really great collection of poems that threshes the riverine image, clearly inspired by Christopher Okigbo’s The Passage from Heavensgate and Gabriel Okara’s The Call of the River Nun. In most of the poems gathered, Amu Nnadi does what he seems best able to do, which is evoking pure mood in the reader. These poets are all different, but they all are doing something poetry.

In talking about the year gone by, I must also say a few words on my half-read pile. At the top of this is Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me which I started and even started annotating as I read but which went missing at some point. I am hopeful that when I clarify my dwellings in the New Year, I will find it hidden somewhere and not in fact stolen. There’s also Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, which I read halfway and has remained by my headrest for months now. It is amongst the modest five I intend to finish before the end of January. There are a few books I would like to read which I have not bought yet—Toni Kan’s Carnivorous City, Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist and Yemisi Aribisala’s Longthroat Memoirs and then there is Kenyan writer Oduor Jagero’s Ghosts of 1894 and Zimbabwean Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s debut novel which follows her brilliant short story collection, Shadows, published in 2012. Finally, in a year of reading, mention must be made to the digital platforms where I surfed from one world of story to the next by following generous hypertext breadcrumbs—primarily, these are Jalada, Praxis Magazine and Expound Magazine.

Richard Ali is a Nigerian writer whose poems were first published in 2008. He has served in the National EXCO of the Association of Nigerian Authors and sits on the board of Uganda’s Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation. A member of the Jalada Writers Cooperative based in Nairobi, his work has been published in African Writing, Jalada, Saraba Magazine and elsewhere.

Zainab Quadri

My favorite books of 2016 gave me what I really needed this year, great storytelling and fiction that dealt in truth.

I read more than 135 books this year, so my list was determined after considerable hand-wringing and a closely guarded (completely proprietary) re-reading and well thought out process.

Notable Reads

The Happy Marriage by Tahar Ben Jelloun

This book tells the story of a painter who was confined to a wheelchair after suffering from a stroke allegedly caused by his wife. As his wife reads his version of the event. She gives her own version of the story.

It’s unusual to find a book at once freewheeling, controlled, and startlingly observant. The writing is clear; we were allowed to sympathize with both sides.

Although this is a translated work, it is written in bare, straightforward, almost skeletal prose.

I feel so bad for just discovering this author and even recently found out he gets mentioned every year as a possible contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. I think we really need to read more books from North Africa.

Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi

Jennifer Makunbi was asked in an interview at the Ake Festival “What are the new frontiers of African literature?”

She answered “Pre-Colonial Africa”. To boldly go where no Europe has touched. Can you imagine stories set in historical Timbuktu? Can you Imagine personalities like Mansa Musa, Zwangendaba, Lubengula being brought back to life the way we see Richard III or Henry VIII all the time? For me, pre-colonial African history is the new frontier for literary adventure.”

This why her debut book about a generational curse passed down from as far back as 1750 to descendants of Kintu, is at its most rigorous and richly detailed — and as riveting as any thriller.

Set in Uganda, it starts with the murder of Kintu Kamu, who was killed because he was mistaken for a thief. Some months later, his killers are all found dead in horrendous conditions.

The author then takes us back to 1750 when it all started. Makunbi combines history, politics and, most of all, a gripping family drama into a tale of constant plot twists and dark humor.

This book is well researched and so rich in depth, I had to keep convincing myself that it is just fiction.

I absolutely agree with the other reviewers saying this should be compulsory reading for every human being. One of the best and most intense stories I have ever read. I always love fiction that dealt in truth and this is why this book is beautiful.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Another pre-colonial literature, set in the 1700’s, spanning decades and generations.

Meet Effia and Essi, two half-sisters, one was sold into slavery and another was married to a slave trader by her cunning stepmother.

Tackling questions of slavery, survival and endurance in Ghana and America across 250 years, this book is precise, artful, ingenious and most importantly, a vastly entertaining feat of storytelling.

Even after reading, I feel reparations have to be paid to families affected and separated by slavery/colonialism.

I can’t talk about this book without getting all emotional and I am happy that Yaa Gyasi did not resort to poverty/White people worshipping porn to make her point. She captured so many stories and she handled them beautifully.

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole

Teju Cole is a wonderful essayist. His writing skills and use of language are superb. In this collection of essays, he name drops—a lot—and introduces us to writers/books that have influenced him. I particularly love his conversation with Aleksandar Hemon.

This collection of essays is so beautiful. It turns the conventions of an essay inside out. It is more than the portrait of an unusual photographer or writer, it is an exploration of why arts/books are important, how we are made and unmade in the stories we tell about our lives.

Although, his attempt at faking depth was obvious but there is poignancy to the book that remains long after the reading of it has finished.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

I can relate to book a lot because I also lost my uncle unexpectedly to a fatal accident on Lagos, Ibadan express way. Just like Ficre’s stairway death in this memoir, my uncle’s death was so shocking and heartbreaking.

Elizabeth heartbreaking and sublime memoir is an intensely personal story of her own loneliness, profound isolation, and constant mind-numbing fear of losing her husband unexpectedly. “He was just playing with me hours ago, we had plans, he was going to make more art.”

When I read, I thought of it as a memoir about the inevitability of grief, suffering and the elusiveness of consolation.

It’s been months, but I can’t stop thinking about Elizabeth Alexander. How is she doing? Has she remarried? Is she happy now? How are the children doing? Has she sold his studio? Is she going to auction his art to let go? I find myself googling her at odd times trying to see if she is doing well.

No one has perfect spouses, and no one can write a perfect book about them. But Elizabeth has come close.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

This book explains why I so often prefer fiction to non-fiction these days. Who could write a story as interesting and moving as this? It is suspenseful, sometimes chilling, humane and wise.

Two hundred pages-plus of effortless reading. A story that begins with the simple premise of a man trying to so hard to feed his family but turns into a page-turning extraordinary thriller.

There are many reasons why I loved this book a lot—its richly characterized voices, its sumptuous period details, its dark sense of humor and healthy but never grating awareness of itself. None of these even gets close to why it’s such a marvel. Even the preface is awesome.

It is basically unspoilable. It’s the kind of mystery/crime fiction that gives you a scare and makes you question everything. Even after reading, this book still left me with the, who do unit question?

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

My inability to stand White savior stories stems from the fact that I have read too many White on Black hate books. Just look at the Underground Railroad, where black people and people who house them live in constant fear of being mugged and burnt at the stake by the white majority.

This book tells the story of how slaves who have escaped from their masters, are ferried and cargoed through the Underground railroad to freedom.

Whitehead is well-informed and skillful in unfolding a story, presenting detailed descriptions of people whose inner lives and social histories are generally ignored by traditional literature. Whitehead describes black fear, black inferiority complex as created by slavery and its aftermath.

This book was utterly brilliant. The pleasure of reading it was palpable.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

The Sellout is a profoundly moving, brilliant book that will make you laugh, cry, snicker and then laugh again. I am not exaggerating the laughter, I laughed a lot.

It is talky and intellectual, and it takes us through race relations and identity in America, repression, desire, political resistance, creativity, and intellectual curiosity.

Clever, funny and curiously misunderstood, this book is a masterly study of black interactions, behaviors, and the nature of identity. It tackles some serious issues without getting heavy.

A poignant but deadly accurate depiction of racism in America. People of color will recognize and relate to the black humor! A deeply satisfying book, totally deserving of the Man Booker.

The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shula

Riz Ahmed’s ‘Typecast as a Terrorist’ published in The Guardian made me borrow this book. 21 well-written essays from black, Asian and minority ethnic voices emerging in Britain. Despite the fact that it was written majorly by immigrants working in the media and/or entertainment industry, its coverage of systematic racism and abuse still made me shudder.

But this is more than a group of immigrants coming together to tell ‘our story’. This is an exploration of immigrant life and identity written with deep personal vulnerability, profound and courageous conviction about the future of immigrants in Britain.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

This is an uncommonly insightful, sincere, and sobering revelation of how to really and actually become a good writer. One of the most significant books on writing and meditation I have ever read.

I have been trying so hard to write and concentrate this past few year, I am a shitty writer and this book reassured me that even that is okay. And that as long as I have a draft, focus on my craft, I would get better.

A beautifully written insight into writing, it certainly opened my eyes. It’s a very simple read, but the reader takes away a clearer, more complex understanding of writing.

Zainab Quadri takes beautiful book-centric flat lay photographs that you can check out on Instagram, @zaynabtyty.

This is the first part of a piece on Readers on Reading in 2016. Go on and read the second and third parts.

Advertisements

Books We Read: 11 Readers on Reading in 2016—Part 2.

This is the second part of a piece on Readers on Reading in 2016. If you haven’t, you should read the first part.


Kemi Falodun

Books serve as a bridge between ourselves and other people. With them, we do not only have the option of living our own life, but we can also observe, empathise, and be a part of other people’s lives.

My main focus this year was on contemporary Western authors—fiction and nonfiction mostly. Although, I read some books by writers in other parts of the world. In making this list, the major criterion was how much I was able to connect with the story and characters. Stories spring from the hope of communicating with others. And these books gave me that.

Notable Reads

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

After reading a few pages, I knew it was going to be a remarkable book. The powerful voice of the protagonist, Lucy Barton, as she tries to make sense of her life and experiences, draws me to her in a way that I cannot resist. Not only is it a story of intimacy—or lack of it—between a woman and her daughter, it is about longing, and acceptance. As Lucy and her mother bond over stories of people they knew in their past, Strout reveals to us how important familial relationships are in influencing children’s view of the world. Her vivid writing of childhood emotional and psychological deprivation, and her elegant portrayal of loneliness, make her stand out as a true storyteller.

“Loneliness was the first flavour I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden in the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

Some passages read like compilation of notes. A couple of short paragraphs that may appear independent on the first read but are sure to further the story. Everything is intertwined. Being on the longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize is no surprise. The story is compelling, and sad and beautiful. I like how she takes her characters through seemingly unimportant activities and conversations but with strong meanings and lasting impact on their lives. A book I read this year with similar themes is Rachel Cusk’s Outline. Not only are the narrators writers with reflective voices, the mood and rhythm of both books are even all through. Strout and Cusk share in their ability to capture the mundane and the complexities of relationships.

Strout’s depiction of the unreliability of memory is also worthy of note. The novel is narrated in hindsight and the protagonist has vague remembrance of some events, just as it is with humans.

“I still am not sure it is a true memory, except I do know it, I think. I mean: It is true. Ask anyone who knew us”

There are few books I have been able to connect with on this level. Reading it was a rollercoaster of emotions, and this explains why it is the only book I read more than once this year, and I know I will read several times.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

This novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read. A Swiss Classics instructor, Raimund Gregorious, gives in to an impulse to abandon his life in search for the unknown. The story recounts his journeys as he delves into the life of a dead Portuguese poet and medical doctor, Amadeu de Prado. He is the hero we encounter through the stories and perspectives of other characters. Through Prado’s notes and conversations with people that knew him when he was alive, Gregorious discovers him to be a deeply intelligent man who was burdened with cares. His relationships, despair, and inner conflict on subjects of love, politics, religion, philosophy, are explored throughout the book.

“Human beings can’t bear silence; it would mean that they would bear themselves”

It is a thought-provoking, philosophical novel that I’ll describe as ‘meaty.’ You can literally highlight almost every sentence, but at some point, the essence of it seems forced because of Prado’s overly melancholic outlook on life. It was a slow read, but that was okay. There are lots of passages worth rereading and even memorizing. If you’re looking for an interesting, fast-paced book, this is a poor choice. I know this book will not leave you the same way you were when you started reading it.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

It is a series of letters written in form of essays to his son, telling him what it is like to be Black in America. He emphasizes that violence and infliction of pain on the Black body has become American legacy. He does this by writing personal experiences and stories of real life incidents to buttress the narrative of racial discrimination.

A book with the same theme that is called to mind is The Fire This Time, a radical collection of essays and poems that also capture racism in America. Written in homage to James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, it chronicles daily injustices and tragedies Blacks are subjected to. The contributing writers expressed their anger, frustration, the horror being played out in the country, fear for their lives, and the right steps to take in preparing their kids for the world of discrimination ahead. To teach them what to do, how to behave, and how to respond. Although Coates’ book does not reflect my own experiences as I live in a country where my rights have never been trampled upon because of my skin colour, reading this book was a privilege as it shows how other humans deal with fear daily and how race is an omnipresent cause for worry in America. As the fight against racism is a journey that may never end, Coates did not write this book to provide a resolve to violence against Blacks, they are words of a caring father to his son about what has been, what is being, what may always be, and how he should navigate through. As for the Whites that don’t live in the reality portrayed by Coates, reading the book will probably lead to some form of emotional discomfort, enlightenment and empathy on their part.

Between the World and Me was a great read. Coates’ voice has become an unequivocal protest against injustice in America.

The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath edited by Ted Hughes

Reading Plath was quite difficult in the beginning, but there was something about her soul that I found myself clinging on to. Her words feel like a voyage of discovery and insight. To call her poems just “confessional” would be to underestimate her works. Plath loves to push to the extreme–humour, irony, pain. Her fluidity of language, use of metaphors and intensity are three very notable elements in her works.

She often employs descriptive words and metaphors to create the world she wants to take her readers. The imageries are astounding. Her sarcasm, humour, wit, gut, can be seen all through the pages. Some lines of her poems now reside in my head:

Always in the middle of a kiss

Came the profane stimulus to cough

Always from the pulpit during service

Leaned the devil prompting you to laugh

I observed some transitions in her works:

  • There were some villanelles in earlier poems but I did not see any in her later works
  • Her allusion to natural elements like the universe, sun, moon, was more apparent in her earlier works compared to the poems she wrote between 1956 and 1963.
  • Her later works mirrored more candour and intensity
  • Use of rhymes in her later works compared to earlier ones was also evident

She has become one of my favourite poets. On some days, I run to her words. Her poems amplify our sameness and differences. This collection of 274 poems communicate her pain, loss, joys. The part I enjoyed reading most is the section, “Juvenilia.”

Also, she has an indirect and direct way of alluding to things, incidents, encounters and experiences. In Stillborn, she metaphorically describes her dissatisfaction with her poems:

These poems do not live: it is a sad diagnosis.

They grew their toes and fingers well enough,

Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.

If they missed out on walking about like people

It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love.”

I find it unsettling that many people view her poems through the lens of her mental illness and suicide. She writes with both cheerfulness and gloom about a range of topics: love, marriage, literature, depression, suicide, nature, feminism. Her words are raw. It is as though she speaks from a place of isolation, like a voice calling out in the wilderness. I also observed the use of two particular words in several poems: “great” and “clock.” Plath was one of a kind and this is a collection I know I will keep returning to.

What Was She Thinking?: Notes on Scandal by Zoe Heller

It is about a school teacher who has an affair with an underage male student, and everything that transpired before and during the affair. The big scandal is revealed a few pages into the book; no suspense. It is the telling of the story from the perspective of the teacher’s friend, Barbara, that makes it a fascinating read. Her desperation for connection pushes her to take several rash actions. In writing about her friend’s illicit relationship, she ends up revealing more about her crushing loneliness and hypocritical personality, giving the readers a better understanding of her inner motives. This book is funny and engaging. The rhythm is sometimes accelerated and other times slowed. With well-strung sentences, fluid transitioning, wicked wit, and humour, Heller makes it a page-turner.

“Lonely people are terrible snobs about one another, I’ve found. They’re afraid that consorting with their own kind will compound their freakishness. The time that Jennifer and I went to Paris together, we saw an airline employee at Heathrow ask two very fat people in the check-in line where they were both off to. The fat people were not a couple as it happened, and the suggestion that they were panicked them. Leaping apart, they both shouted in unison, “We’re not together!”

Heller writes with such cleverness that makes her characters compete for the “most annoying” title; you find yourself wondering who to root for. There’s also a level of emotional involvement and introspection the book gives you.

“There are people in whom you can detect the seeds of madness – seeds that have remained dormant only because the people in question have lived relatively comfortable, middleclass lives… but you can imagine, given a nasty parent, or a prolonged bout of unemployment, how their potential for craziness might have been realised”

I haven’t seen the movie adaptation, but with actresses like Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, one cannot expect anything short of an excellent performance.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

In this collection of ten short stories, Li portrays the strange, dark, and unusual aspects of her characters, mostly Chinese. Li’s confidence and wisdom reflect in her writing. It is as though she has fully-formed worlds for her characters and she is not afraid to invite her readers. For someone whose native language isn’t English, she deserves credit for writing such elegant prose. Jhumpa Lahiri, an Indian American writer who also writes beautifully in English language, is readily called to mind.

This Chinese American writer fuses culture, myths, history and personal experiences in such a way that makes her stories delectable. In the title story, she reveals the importance of language in relating and communicating with other people. Here, in a dialogue between Mr Shi, the disillusioned protagonist, and her daughter:

“Baba, if you grew up in a language that you never used to express your feelings, it would be easier to take up another language and talk more in the new language. It makes you a new person.”

Li has an old soul. In this ambitious book, she probes into the depth of the human condition. Most of her characters have secrets, or a part of themselves they are not comfortable with. In all, she has an impressive ability to write about people trying to find their way, and the ones that are totally lost and in denial of it. With other contributions in literature, Li has proven herself to be one of the finest writers of her time.

The Best American Essays (2014) edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan

For someone who just got introduced to nonfiction, reading this anthology felt like being presented a goldmine. I came across some wonderful writers here and went ahead to read some of their other published works. This collection of 21 essays was compiled by John Jeremiah Sullivan and Robert Atwan. Reading it ushered me into a new world of essay writing and made me attempt writing them––something I thought I did terribly at the beginning of this year. The contributors like Wendy Brenner, James Wood, Zadie Smith, Timothy Aubry, amongst others, wrote on several topics. There’s so much to say about it, but all I can write is that I’m grateful for this collection.

Here Is Where We Meet by John Berger

Having read Ways of Seeing, a book on art criticism in which he was one of the contributors, of course I realised he is not one of those writers you read once and forget about them. Berger writes with clarity. A few months ago, I read an interview in which Teju Cole, a writer I adore very much, was asked for the book that has had the most influence on his work. Here Is Where We Meet, he said. And I knew I was going to read it. In this book, Berger writes about memory, grief, death with such sublimity. It is about the people the narrator has met at different times in his life. It begins with a meeting with his mother who has been long dead. These meetings and conversations take him to different places. One needs to read closely to follow the transition of scenes. The pages are sprinkled with poetic lines.

“Women always wonder about other lives, most men are too ambitious to understand this. Other lives, other lives which you have lived before, or which you could have lived. And your books, I hoped, were about another life which I only wanted to imagine, not live, imagine by myself on my own, without any words. So it was better I didn’t read them.”

Reading him felt like communing with an extraterrestrial being.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

In this book, Duhigg uses research to explain how habits are formed and how they can be broken or changed. He used Rosa Parks’ story, for example, to explain the importance of social ties. She was quite influential in her community, hence the massive support and outcry after her arrest. I found most of the stories fascinating. From a variety of case studies, he shows how routines are developed. If you are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s works, then you will have an idea of what Duhigg did in this book. I applied some of his practical strategies and found them quite helpful. Although there are instances he started a story and jumped off to another one, and later came back to the first one. It appeared stylistic at some point, and totally unnecessary in some places. But in all, it was a fantastic read.

Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexievich

Zinky boys is the name given to people who died in war and shipped down in zinc coffins. This book is a product of personal interviews the writer conducted with the surviving Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan war and the relatives of the dead. In 2015, Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” Told in several voices, the book chronicles the lives of war victims. Some were told they would be taken to other destinations, only to find themselves in Afghanistan when the plane landed. Some civilians, of their own volition, joined with the intention of serving and providing succour to the soldiers, but their well-meaning intention soon became a nightmare as some ended up badly injured, sexually assaulted, or dead.

“Mum, buy me a puppy and call it Sergeant so I can kill it when I get home”

The pages bleed truth, revealing the upsetting realities of war. Writing this review brings back the memories of the anguish I felt while reading it.

“We don’t need anything. Just listen to us and try to understand. Society is good at doing things, ‘giving’ medical help, pensions, flats. But all this so-called giving has been paid for in very expensive currency. Our blood.”

Antifragile: The Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

It is a sort of follow-up to his 2007 book, The Black Swan. He tells us antifragile––which isn’t a word that exists in the English dictionary––should not be confused with resilience. To be resilient is to return to the former shape after external pressure, but to be antifragile is to become even better, having benefitted from chaos, stress, and errors. For example, the mythological Hydra—a serpent-like creature with numerous heads—grew two heads each time one was cut off. He argues that the social policies, political systems and even our private activities should not be overprotected from randomness.

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility…

The book started off pretty well, but soon became repetitious. Finishing it was an obligation for me, but I did not waste my time reading it. He illustrates several instances of antifragility, but did not suggest steps to take to become antifragile. Although his ideas are scattered all over the book, with close attention, a reader will be able to pick the important points. With a mixture of confidence and boastfulness, Taleb proffers his theory on how to live in an uncertain society.

Looking Forward to Read in 2017

Dear Friend, From My Life, I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li

My first encounter with Yiyun Li was in the anthology, The Best American Essays (2014). Reading her essay, “Dear Friend, From My Life, I Write to You in Your Life”, was cathartic for me. In it, she attempts to assay time and memories. Her words reflect honesty and vulnerability. It is my favourite essay and the most read in the collection. Li is a brilliant writer and I just can’t wait to read her memoir.

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

Adebayo is someone I admire up close, and at a distance. Everyone I know who has ever read her is awaiting her debut. First story of hers I read was “A Kind of Happiness,” published in Ilanot Review. She writes about struggles, especially between couples, with such beauty and grace. Several magazines have listed Stay with Me, as one of the most anticipated books in 2017. Adebayo has the ability to make her readers see themselves in her characters. And I have no doubt that she has come to stay.

Kemi Falodun loves words and fine sentences. She writes short stories, essays, and occasionally, book reviews.

Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke

When I first received the invitation to make a list of my notable reads in 2016, I momentarily panicked, unsure whether I had read enough books. How could I explain that most of the readings I had undertaken in the year were dissertations and monographs.

At first, it was almost impossible to recall most of the books I had read. Isn’t that a common occurrence with readers? You want to house characters or specific descriptions or authorial comments from a notable book in your mind but the house but your memory will tell you that you are only a tenant yourself.

But slowly, titles came rushing to my mind like long lost friends, demanding once again, to be reacquainted. Then I was faced with the problem of compressing my list. At that point, I was sure of what I’d write in response to the invitation.

So here is my list, in no particular order.

Notable Reads

The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux

This book came to me from the Kofi Awoonor Memorial Library in Ibadan, where I work as an administrator. It has afforded me another understanding of Theroux’s ingeniousness as a travel writer, a model traveller worthy of emulation. It is a travel account of the author’s journey from his home in Boston, USA to South and Central America.

But, what it recounts is not just mere fun travelling, not just sightseeing, not just a search for the extravagance and luxury. No. It is not a journey through capitals either. It is aimless travel. Many things come alive in the account. The simple people the author meets, who offer opinions on many things; peasants, who symbolise the poverty of the continent; his meeting in Argentina with the legendary writer, Luis Jorge Borges.

Although I have not travelled South and Central America, I have vicariously travelled through Theroux to those parts of the world. I recommend this wonderful travelogue to anybody who is interested in the art of travel writing, for many things. It is without airs. This beautiful book is peopled, graphical, concise and poetic. In fact, there is a page from the book I have taken the liberty to versify as a poem, and nobody could argue the authenticity of the passage as poetry.

The Hate Artist by Niran Okewole

Do not let us start a lecture on ‘what’s (not) poetry’. The little space here could not contain such lengthy argument. Moreover, it’s a topic that has been considered reasonably by scholars and poets. And there are schools of thought concerning this, Valéry’s for instance, that poetry is meant to appeal to emotions directly. But this volume rather appeals to the intellectual faculty of a reader first before scratching the consciousness of the reader for empathy or whatever.

Also, the book has been dubbed and perceived by some readers I have come across as ‘intellectual acrobatics’ because they feel it is too daunting to interpret. I’d rather not subscribe to such a lowbrow view. I embrace the complexity of the volume for its successful and daring experimentation. The Hate Artist is the kind of poetry that there are too few samples of in contemporary African writing. It shows metaphors can and should stretch our imaginations, that metaphors can be found in names and bibliographies. I am proud of this book that it is written by a Nigerian poet. I discussed this as well as the thematic preoccupations of the volume with the poet [here].

White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Written in an epistolary form, told in simple, endearing language, and narrated by the chief character in the story, Balram Halwai, a psychopath and self-styled ‘entrepreneur’, White Tiger is an exceptional novel that addresses the struggle between the upper class and the lower class in a modern India of outsourcing and entrepreneurial possibilities. It is bitingly satiric, with the motifs of poverty, corrupt practices in government, which has widened the gap between the rich and poor, condemned their relationship to that of servants and masters. But Balram, though born in a poverty-stricken village, rises to wealth in New Delhi through his deceitful, murderous scheming. I will remember this book for being unmercifully satiric. Aravind Adiga is a storyteller.

A Slim, Green Silence by Beverly Rycroft

When a devastating secret is let out in the open, people shudder with a fear that may infect their skin with goose bumps because it is like seeing a huge snake slither down a tree in one’s compound. You wonder, has the snake really been there all along? And, for how long? These form the contentions of the novel. Read my full review on Wawa Book Review.

Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro-Wiwa

This is the travel account of Noo Saro-Wiwa—daughter of the late environmental activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa—in Nigeria, her country of origin. The merits and faults of the book could be considered on two levels, as autobiography and as travelogue. I would consider it simply as a travelogue, and I think its merits as a travel account outweigh its faults.

The travels in this account cover some important cities in Nigeria, from Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Kano, Benin City to Port Harcourt. It reveals the country’s many frustrations and paradoxes, its complex people who cling to religion untiringly. But what actually distinguishes this book is that it veers away from the tourism and pleasant travel typical of some travel writers in Nigeria. Although, she was lured to visit monumental and historic places, her response to them is contained. In all, I think it’s a brilliant travelogue.

My Secret History by Paul Theroux

Let me also tell you another thing about Paul Theroux. Whenever you see that name on a book, you can confidently buy it. Whatever it is you are looking for in a book, you will certainly find it in his writing. He’s better known for his non-fiction where he has achieved a trademark for his travelogues, but Paul Theroux is also wired for fiction.

This highly controversial book straddles fiction and non-fiction. But what makes it controversial is the tantalising question of how much of it is fiction and how much is fact. It’s suggested by some critics that it’s, in fact, a straight autobiography dealing with the author and his failed first marriage.

What I really like about the book is its prose. Whatever it is, fiction or non-fiction, it’s good writing. It is the story of Andrew Parent, a libidinous writer and traveller who leads an interesting double life. He first discovers sex as an altar boy, and his sexual contentment has never been met since.

Andrew soon becomes a volunteer worker in Africa, which is characterised by a sexual frenzy in which our protagonist contracts gonorrhoea. As a married man, now a prominent writer, he tries to stay faithful to his wife, at least a bit, but he still keeps a mistress in another home, on another continent.

At the end, the marriage comes undone when on return from a trip, he discovers his wife is having an affair and his wife catches him with his mistress as well. Paul Theroux is a sensuous writer, even in his travelogues, which is not surprising as he is an enthusiast of Gustave Flaubert.

So, it is not unexpected that this work of fiction is ‘erotically charged’ to the extent that it is even described by one reviewer as ‘pornography’. But beyond sex, the story also touches on the troubled life some writers lead in their marriages. It’s a wonderful read and I could read it all over again.

Selected Poems of Femi Oyebode by Femi Oyebode

Many younger poets in Nigeria do not know the name Femi Oyebode. I myself recently came across it. But ever since I came in contact with Oyebode’s poetry, I have had to place him among the best Nigerian poets I have read. And I think this alienated poet deserves more recognition in the literary space of his home country for the ebullition of his craft.

This collection of his work, from six poetry volumes, selected and enthusiastically introduced by the scholar Onookome Okome, offers a wide range of thematic excursuses tinged by hues of migrancy and exilic consternations. There is a voice in his poetry, a longing voice, that searches for home, a metaphysical home and the home of his country. But of course, these are only fragments of what can be obtained from his poetic collage.

The selected work also offers an insight into his craft, in terms of stylistics. Obododimma Oha says of the poet, “Oyebode’s… poetry is metaphysically rich, semiotically decentring, and politically committed to a racial/ethical means”. I’d say you should watch out for my interview with the poet.

The Story of Anna P, as told by Herself by Penny Busetto

It is a rara avis, empathetic, compelling novel. The book is a major contribution to modern African literature and offers a rethink of how that literature is defined. The Story of Anna P is a disturbing, haunting story of a woman on a remote Island in Italy who just lives day-by-day expectant of nothing. She suffers from repressive amnesia, trauma and sexual abuse. Actually, her memory loss is so chronic that she cannot remember how she she’s come to settle on the Island except for her passport saying she is South African and through occasional traumatic flashbacks.

She’s connected to a murder she cannot remember but suspects her connection to it and must face the law for it. The story gives an insight into troubled people who may appear normal on the face of it but who may be utterly broken and suffering a devastation they may not even be aware of.

The strength of the story really lies with the character Anna P, her inner disintegration rather than her external vision. It is for this purpose I have freely lent a home to the fictional character in my mind. Maybe she will occupy a spot there for a long time. And, Penny Busetto should be praised as well for the accomplishment that is this novel. This has kept me on the lookout for her next book, just as I am awaiting Jennifer Makumbi’s next book. Here is my interview with the author. I’ll also recommend a review of the book, which can be found in Saraba’s Special Issue on the 2015 Etisalat Prize.

Plays by Anton Chekhov, Second Series by Anton Chekhov

Bernard Shaw, feeling intimidated by this Russian playwright declares, “Every time I see a play by Chekhov, I want to chuck all my own stuff into the fire.” His reason for saying this is not farfetched or over exaggerated. Chekhov’s is a name that has closely been associated with drama. Here is a collection, of comedies, eight plays, mostly in one act, except for the two plays that are in four acts.

‘On the High Road’, ‘The Proposal’, ‘A Tragedian in Spite of Himself’, are good, enjoyable reads in which minor conflicts, like vodka, bring out the comedy that can be found in little disputes. And the four-act play, ‘The Three Sisters’, is a little bit close to what can be called an absurdist drama. His play is also easy to read because he uses more dialogue and an unadorned dramatic aesthetics. Of all the plays I have read this year, I could say this collection by Chekhov really stands out.

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany

This novel has been acclaimed by literary critics as one of the powerful contributions to modern Arabic literature. The choice is obvious. The book is extraordinary for many things; it’s a wonderful literary accomplishment.

Having just two chapters, the plot is a fragment of many lives in contemporary Egypt, assembled together through an uncanny force and needs. There is Zaki Bey el-Dessouki, a metaphor for the earliest ruling class in Egypt before the 1952 Revolution, who has an unquenchable thirst for women. In its treatment of sexuality, there is also Hatim, a trace into the repression of queer sex in modern Egypt.

Bringing to the fore Islamist extremism, there is Taha el Shazli, representing the pauperised class, who is let down in reaching his dream by an unjust social setup and in effect turns him to terrorism. The Yacoubian Building is a book of people. It can also be read as a parable because the same building that houses the affluent class of Egypt also houses the underclass of that social order.

The book is frank about the sexual themes, like Mahfouz’s Sugar Street, unlike some Arab witters pussyfooting around the theme. But beyond this, the novel is also pervaded by the corruption in Egyptian government.

Not Worth the Hype

Of course, once in a while, a reader may come across books that do not meet his standards, based on his predilections for learning and what’s in his baggage. Also, it is a question of individual perception. What I regard an average or bad book may be an excellent read for someone else. For example, what if I had said Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things is a pretentious, beast of a book?

On the other hand, as a reviewer, I am also aware that books should not merely be dismissed without offering a careful consideration of their literary demerits. For this reason, I will decline to give a list here. The little space afforded me will not permit me to analyse fully why I consider the books on such a list average or not worth the buzz some people have created for them.

Looking Forward to Read in 2017

My reading does not usually have a particular, pre-set direction. To be candid, I have not made a list. I seldom do. I am just looking forward to advancing my knowledge of the interdisciplinary connexion between poetry and mathematics, to read more travel books with Jenny Diski’s Stranger on a Train topping my list, and to read more books from my favourite authors. I look forward to reading more cookbooks, plays and other new books by African writers.

Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke is an editor, literary critic and poet from Ibadan, Nigeria. Tope is the co-publisher of Fortunate Traveller, a travel journal. Also, he is the administrator of the Kofi Awoonor Memorial Library in Ibadan. He writes for Wawa Book Review, Abuja, and FilmsandCinemas, Lagos. He enjoys travelling and cooking. He is presently experimenting with poetic forms, including mathematical poetry, but does not know when his debut poetry collection will be ready. @LiteraryGansta is his alter ego on Twitter.

Ifeh Agbonmire

For the last 6 years I have consistently read 100 plus books. How do I do it? I read 2 books every week. I belong to a book club that prescribes a book a week, so I never run short of what to read. I also found a system of reading early mornings, lunch (also steal time from work) and bed time, so my reading doesn’t succumb to the excuse of there is no time. Reading is one of the pivotally things I believe I was sent to earth to do. Maybe that’s why I was sent in this age not the stone or bronze ages, the democratisation of the options to read is a bonanza, I can start with a physical book, move to my phone, read on my laptop and end the book on my kindle.

Reading 100 plus books makes it hard to come up with a condensed list of 10 notable reads but I will give it a shot.

Notable Reads

No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez

Gabo is my favourite author and every year I must read and reread a couple of his books. This book was my favourite of the ones I read this year. The Colonel and his wife are poor and grieving the death of their son. They have nothing; the poverty is well captured by Marquez’s descriptive skills. For 15 years without fail the Colonel has waited for a mail that will contain his pension, but the postman comes every Friday but has nothing for the Colonel. The novel has no beginning nor ending. The reader is dropped in the middle of a pessimistic story without conflict but rich in irony.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s debut is a glorious epic voyage of black history from three hundred years ago to the present day. The horrifying act of slavery is delicately captured and the implications are laid bare for people to see. It starts with the separation of two sisters, Effia and Esi, and tells the story of their genealogy with each person’s story told with discipline and fine craft. It is hard to believe that this is a debut from a writer who is just 26 years old. It is hands down my best book for the year.

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

This book is the sixteenth of the Gabriel Allon series and I have read all of them and it is my favourite. Gabriel Allon is a legendary Israeli spy, assassin and art restorer. He has led the most delicate and dreaded missions and has paid heavy prices on many of them. In this one he faces a villain, Saladin, who has orchestrated some dastardly attacks on some of Europe cities and is largely unknown. This book takes you the dark and ruthless world of ISIS, shows you the brain-washing it carries out and how amorphous network it is.

The Cartel by Don Winslow

The Cartel takes you to the dark world of the drug cartels and the mayhem they create in the Americas. DEA agent Art Keller had put Adan Barrera away in Book 1, The Power of the Dog, but Adan Barrera is out of prison and ready to put his dynasty back again. But the fervent Keller goes all out to stop it from happening. An epic story of power, corruption, revenge, violence and justice spanning ten years of bloodletting and scheming.

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

I dare say that Teju Cole is one of the most brilliant intellectual writers from Africa, I admire his thought provoking essays and his photography. I am yet to read his latest book Known and Strange Things so while waiting I decided to reread this gem of a book. I initially didn’t like it when I first read it years ago because at thought it pandered to the single story of wretchedness in Africa the West likes, but now I see it as an honest portrayal of everyday life in Nigeria. It seems the Nigeria of then is even better than now, tells a lot.

Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

Elnathan John was a literary superstar before he published his first book. He has an enormous talent and ego to boot, so the spotlight was out to see if his book will match the talk. Elnathan John delivered with this delicate and unflinching gaze at what gives rise to fundamentalism and radical movements. Dantala is a street boy who is preyed on by a society that is inverted. He is recruited by politicians during elections to cause havoc and barely escaped with his life when the police tried to restore calm. He escaped and was taken in by a sheik, but the quiet, calm life is upended again when the sheik’s deputy leads a radical movement.

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

Almost all reviews will state that Blackass is a retelling of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, this is true, but it is a big exploration of the ‘what if’ question and the attendant changes it brings. Furo Wariboko wakes up one morning before an interview and discovers that he has changed from a black man to a white man. This condition instantly changes his status in Lagos. Blackass is an intense black comedy that looks into the identity question.

Conclave by Robert Harris

The conclave is a congregation of cardinals, the princes of the Catholic Church, who assemble to choose a pope when there is a vacancy and it is as competitive as any group of men can be. Cardinal Lomelli is the Dean of the Congregation, he is in charge of coordinating the process, he expected a straight forward election, but when he discovered that a cardinal was asked to resign by the pope before his death and another had fathered a child early in his ministry and they were all front runners, he just had to do something. The more actions he took the more he discovered that he was twisting the race and it was getting out of hand. The pressure to choose a pope, the political system in the Vatican and the expectation of the people are captured here. A thrilling quick read which stays with you. Robert Harris the author of Fatherland and Enigma still has the ability to spike your pulse.

To Quote Myself by Khaya Dlanga

Read my review here.

Affluenza by Niq Mhlongo

Read my review here.

Not Worth the Hype

On Becoming by Toke Makinwa

This book was a media sensation in Nigeria. Most illegally downloaded book in Nigeria and also a bestseller. Toke Makinwa is a celebrity in Nigeria. She decided to write a memoir about her life, how she became Toke the celebrity but she just focused on her failed marriage and serial cheating former husband, Maje. The narration was flat and insipid but I think it is a book people still need to read for the lessons inherent in it.

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

It had a good start but the story could not be sustained. Jowhor Ile is a good writer with a lot of promise, he was hyped by Chimamanda Adichie and I am sure that didn’t work in his favour with this ok debut book. I look forward to his second book; I hope he fulfils his promise.

Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie

The only book this year I did not finish. May not be a bad book, it may be due to how I felt at that point, but this book did not hook me at all. It dragged and was drab. I like magical realism and I will give this book a second glance in 2017.

Looking Forward to Read in 2017

Ifeh Agbonmire is a bookworm, has neither cats nor dogs, writes as a way to free the thoughts spinning around his head but primarily is a reader.

Adedapo Adesanya

2016 was a great year for books and book lovers and the beautiful world of literature. Here are the ten notable books I read in 2016.

Notable Reads

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

This beautifully written satire is about a young man’s isolated upbringing in the unpopular ghetto of Dickens. Raised by a controversial father amidst racism who performed practical tests on him. He enlists the help of the town’s most famous resident and initiates the most outrageous action conceivable—reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school in the 21st century which lands him in the Supreme Court. What gripped me about this book was how Paul Beatty painted sad reality in the best way known to man, through humour.

Favourite Quote:

That’s the problem with history, we like to think it is a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it is printed on. It is memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.

Submission by Michel Houellebecq

Submission as the title entails tells the tale of the fatalistic future of France. Told through Fracios, a middle aged professor going through existentialist dilemma in a politically tensioned nation. Alliances have been formed and Islamic laws have come into force; women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged and life in France sets a new course. This book piqued my interest initially because it was released on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Favourite Quote:

Only literature can grant you access to a spirit from beyond the grave—a more direct, more complete, deeper access than you’d have in conversation with a friend.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This tells the coming of age story of a magically gifted young man who grows into the most notorious wizard the world has ever seen. I found this an interesting journey because it was written in poetic prose, every word blending into each other and the ingenuity of mixing magic, music, and poetry into a gripping piece.

Favourite Quote:

We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.

Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger

Berger takes the reader on a journey on six certain factors that makes products and ideas popular. From consumer products, policy initiatives, and even viral YouTube Videos, the professor of Marketing asks the vital question; Why make things popular and reveals the six basic principles that drives all sort of things to become contagious.

Favourite Quote:

People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

This captivating memoir of South African comedian Trevor Noah explores the life of being a coloured child during apartheid, growing up with a rebellious, religious mother and an abusive stepfather. Trevor Noah guides the reader through how racism, privileges, violence and humour shaped his life keeping the authors till the painful last pages.

Favourite Quote:

I remember being told as a child, “if you don’t hit your woman, you don’t love her”. That was talk you’d hear from men in bars and in the streets.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Harari’s brilliant book on the history of Mankind takes the reader from a timeline of history to the present, from the Cognitive Revolution to the Agricultural Revolution, to the Unification of Humankind and to the Scientific Revolution. Harari wrote this in flowing prose that even a non-science oriented person will find it deep.

Favourite Quote:

How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This book depicts the tragic fate of the laws that lay down who should be loved and how. It is a compelling masterpiece that spread the disappointment of love, the disparity of families and the unbalance of nature. This book nearly drove me to tears.

Favourite Quote:

Change is one thing. Acceptance is another.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

This psychological thriller revolves around Roderick Macrae who commits a triple murder back in 1869. Recounting the actions that led to his conviction in form of memoir, transcripts, and newspaper report made this book really enjoyable.

Favourite Quote:

One man can no more see into the mind of another than he can see inside a stone…

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

Set in Ghana, Kwei Quartey introduce the readers to Detective Darko Dawson who is sent to the village of Ketanu to investigate the murder of a young AIDS worker. Not only will he unravel that the murder as a crime of passion but be thrown into a maze that includes clarity on his mother’s disappearance and cultural influence of rural life. The other strength of the book is its exploration of modern Ghana where traditional beliefs in witchcraft and healers exist alongside modern scientific and medical practices in an often uncomfortable way and did I mention Darko’s love for Malta Guinness?

Wizard of The Crow by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

This African masterpiece deserves an honourable ovation because of its portrayal of Africa’s postcolonial mentality. Set in the Free Republic of Abraria, the novel depicts with unwavering humour certain elements of truth through a myriad of character from the anonymous His High Mighty Excellency, the eponymous hero; The Wizard, sycophant ministers and a corrupt world organisation.

Ngugi exhibits his sheer genius with this one.

Favourite Quote:

Does rough weather choose men over women? Does the sun beat on men, leaving women nice and cool?

Worthy Mentions

Room by Emma Donoghue

To Jack, the small room his mother had been confined to was the world, in a twist of fate, he escapes and sees the world and its wonders. Room was truly a captivating read. Personally, this novel revealed how well we are comfortable in our space when there is so much more.

Favourite Quote:

Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.

The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins

Hawkins debut novel takes on a psychological journey about Rachel, whose life has taken a rough turn and takes the same commuter train every day until something changes. Rachel sees this as a chance to offer help but she is thrown into an inexplicable situation where she finds that her perception isn’t her reality. A noteworthy criticism is the fact that the reader finds himself faced with an unreliable narrator.

Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John

Elnathan’s BOAT focuses on the fifteen-year-old Dantala who grows up in violence in a society crippled by political upheaval, religious intolerances and social fragmentation. In fine prose, Elnathan delivers a worthy debut novel.

Favourite Quote:

Women can be very annoying. Sometimes they are very nice and they make you stay up all night thinking about them, unable to breathe because you feel your heart wanting to jump out of your chest. Other times they act as if the world is theirs to take, as if men were made to fulfil their every need.

Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett

The novel opens with Furo Wariboko physical transformation from a Nigerian to a white man, he is thrown in to the daily existential struggle of living in Lagos. The artful description of Lagos and social media woven together to deliver this fierce satire is a force to reckon with.

Favourite Quotes:

Crudity is a disease that exacerbates rather than cure.

One of the reasons I will never leave Nigeria is because, in this country, anything can happen.

Not Worth the Hype

Odufa by Othuke Omniabohs

Othuke’s debut novel, Odufa, is a lover’s tale about Anthony Mukoro and the eponymous Odufa. I dare say this book portrayed masochistic love and this is the kind of book a reader finds himself struggling to finish but couldn’t wait to be done with.

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

The novel centres around a mother and her daughter’s life but honestly it took a lot of self-will not to throw my phone at the wall, that was how exasperated I was.

Sector IV by Abigail Anaba

It used to be a welcoming idea to write about the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War, but this book is an exemption the reader will find himself reading a theme that has become a trope in Nigerian literature. One major let down in this book was the writing style, which could have given the book a lift despite the errant plot.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

This is not a book to be reckoned with except a reader wishes to deal with the abstract and not meaningful writing elements like veritable plot which this book found lacking.

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

Told Nineteen years later when the Hogwarts squad from the Harry Potter series are all grown, Harry Potter’s son Albus embarked on his own journey with expectations to meet. What didn’t do it for me is the deviation from the initial franchise, it is an absurd thing to learn that after Voldermort had dissipated, we learn he had a child. No! No! One can’t bear such heartache and then there was also the insipid adoption of time travel. These are more just made the book underwhelming.

On Becoming by Toke Makinwa

Randomly, I fear for myself not to include Toke Makinwa’s On Becoming but I have to say, I have mixed feelings concerning this book because it took a great deal of strength to write about so much imitacy and memories but it won’t deviate the open minded reader from the fact that so much masochism disguised as love was served in this memoir. Also, the author had benevolently won our empathy till the last few pages where she started blaming herself. Toke well done! You played yourself.

Adedapo Adesanya lives in Lagos. He spends his time tutoring, reading and listen to good music.

If you’re done reading this part, you can continue to the third and final part.

Books We Read: 11 Readers on Reading in 2016—Part 3.

This is the third and final part of a piece on Readers on Reading in 2016. If you haven’t, you should read the first and second parts.


Trust F. Òbe

A memorable reading year for me, 2016 is second to none in this ageing decade. From A. Igoni Barret to Yaa Gyasi, the experience of reading Edward P. Jones and Elena Ferrante more than once, knowing the possibilities in African (historical) fiction through the sheer power of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s fiction, and the gift of discovering necessary nonfiction in Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bruce Schneier’s Works.

Very quaintly, 2016 proved to somehow be about America as a dominant world power and this was well-represented, from America winning the Literature Nobel and Man Booker at once to it being clear that Nas could have the same claim to the Nobel for literature as Niyi Osundare. The only way I can expect more from 2017 is in the spirit of full optimism.

Here is a highlight of my notable reads in 2016.

Notable Reads

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev

In a Dele-Giwaesque manner of reportage, Peter Pomerantsev weaves the journalistic and the literary in this brilliant exposé of the new Russia.

Nothing is True and Everything is Possible sits comfortably between timely reportage and delayed whistleblowing, revealing the intricacies of modern, layered corruption, lacing the revelation with vignettes of Russia’s history and thus giving a nuanced context and backdrop to the series of unveilings the reader is about to encounter, one is made tellingly aware of the abyssal gamut of opportunities corruption does engender.

From Jambik Hatohov to Solzhenitsyn to Vladimir Putin to how the death of a Russian model in London just three days before her 21st birthday is connected to how a specific part of London (and the UK’s economy) is being targeted and taken over by foreign expats and how countries such as Nigeria (mentioned at least twice in the book) and Turkey seem to be cosplaying but are ultimately coalescing, to hints at why George Orwell’s 1984 owes a great debt to Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s “We” (implying that We is a ‘Classic’s Classic, the way James Salter is a ‘writer’s writer’ and Henry Green is a ‘writer’s writer’s writer.’

If corruption was a game of soccer, this book would be a testament to why Russia is thrice the game player Nigeria is. Both countries are losing, of course—or winning, just in case you’re part of a sacred order of elven folk in a post-GRRM, futuristic adaptation of ASOIAF set right at the heart of Crimea.

Brilliantly taking the reader into a tour that ‘scapegoats’ Russia, considering that there is no uniqueness to the basic form of what the book uncovers, Russia may have a stylistic hang on corruption but theirs is simply a solitary, eclectic reinvention of a phenomenon whose ubiquity is arguably, global. It’s like being introduced to Russian liquor; it is simply easier to personalize the experience than to generalize it. Pomerantsev opens up a global, critical conversation about wealth appropriation through political means, and what it means, or could mean for all the parties (or players, as no one is neutral, not even the innocent, having been forced into becoming the opposition) involved, in terms of benefits, consequences, ramifications and even complications, this particular kind of corruption is a citizen of the world, by way of the new Russia.

H is for Hawk1 by Helen MacDonald

Helen MacDonald’s part, memoir, part tribute, part biography is unpretentious and remarkably intelligent. MacDonald uses clipped precision of diction and a painstakingly well-done intertwining of three different but ultimately related strands of narrative to invite us into her difficult but uniquely personal journey of loss and grief. This exquisitely written but somewhat emotionally tasking read comes with an implication and an unspoken question, how close can one be in a relationship be with anything or anyone; a thing, a pet, someone one has never (and certainly will never meet face to face), a spouse, a relative or anyone for that matter? It proffers an answer I find acceptable: As close as one wants. I would love to reread this book every two years. It’s that unforgettable.

KINTU by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Have you seen the moon tonight? She is a thin slice of remnant hope.”

This was how Simi described the moon that crowned the vantablack-dark sky at 9pm on May 5th, 2016. Keep that in mind.

Once in a deep sky-blue moon, you finish a book and marvel.

Kintu is a multigenerational Ugandan epic that begins from the earliest Ugandan ancestry to modern day, cleverly cutting out the period of invasion and colonization. It explores several generations of a polygamous ancestor through the effects of a shared curse.

At once reminiscent of Thomas Mofolo, Chinua Achebe and Ayi Kwei Armah, Makumbi writes African stories with a cultural profundity that is contemporaneously unmatched and almost inimitable. Imagine a list of the most undervalued novelists from and writing* out of Africa and imagine Makumbi unwittingly and undeservedly holding a membership card. Keep that in mind

Kintu’s place as a timeless epic will take is taking too much time to be rightfully acknowledged, possibly due to the fact that even within Africa, the book has been hard to get outside of East Africa and literary gatherings—the most significant readerly counterincentive I have recently observed.2 In a partly euphoric, partly ironical twist of fate, its much-delayed US publication is due in 2017. Keep that in mind.

Kintu is ‘a thin slice of remnant hope’, a virile attestation to the fact that fiction from Africa still holds what it formerly held, and that lovers of African fiction can now behold – a contemporary epitome of the standards previous generation of African writers upheld – something so long since they last beheld.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

On the book cover, there is a one-line blurb from Alice Seobold. It reads: Elena Ferrante will blow you away! If I wrote that blurb, it would have read: ‘Beware! Elena Ferrante will blow you apart!

While it isn’t true that Elena Ferrante must blow you away or apart. She should and likely will.

The story of Lenu and Lena is at once quotidian and highbrow, set in Naples, the first of four volumes of delicately written, attentively told, and vividly imagined coming-of-age tale that can leave a reader feeling—in what is likely to feel more like an experience than an activity of intense perusal—catatonic, wallowing in a depth of immersion that is trancelike, you look away from the page and you feel like you’ve just come out of a séance.

In this possible Künstlerroman, the reader is offered a voyeuristic passage into the lives of two friends—an account of friendship that is searing, vivid, unforgettable and gut-smashing all at once—told with mirror-like clarity, leaving you with an almost unavoidable, wickedly compelling sense of faux-nostalgia.

This is the most poignant story of friendship I have encountered since The Shawshank Redemption and before that, Stand By Me.

Data and Goliath3 by Bruce Schneier

Bruce Schneier is an avenger**, to avoid the general superhero cliché. He might be the closest we currently have to a real-world Tony Stark or Peter Parker—or a hybrid of both, by virtue of what he does on the pages of this book. A Tony Stark earned by virtue of his tech-savviness and a Peter Parker earned, if only by the journalistic quality of his writing, you get the two of them in one of Bruce.

There’s also a fine line that connects Bruce Schneier with Aaron Swartz, who is now of blessed memory, if you know where to look on the same line you might also find some Snow in a den.

While Bruce Schneier is not Edward Snowden, this book is as Snowden as it can get in 400 pages. A book that is as revelatory as 1984 was prophetic. If the book had been released under the title of 2084—as a somewhat more befitting ode to George Orwell’s dystopian classic—not because it owes that book anything in its own right but because these two books unwittingly share a connection—like the connection between two consecutive Best Picture winners, but a little more—it could have turned out to be an unmistakable misrepresentation of the message it bears.

This prophetic nature of 1984 is totally complemented by the revelatory nature of Data and Goliath to the point that it is very safe to say both books are ‘perfect analogues’ of each other—despite and not because of their differences—the way a man is to a woman. Where one is prophetically poignant and subliminally unsettling, the other is acutely revelatory to the point of being almost superliminally instructive. Both books however still retain a marked timeliness, relevance and usefulness to their eras, despite maintaining almost the same degree of integrity.

In a world where corporations and governments misdirect their intentions with the dexterity of Harry Houdini, Schneier shies away from equivocation, from indirectness, from innuendo, from hyperbole and from nonsense****. He tells it the way it is, putting a definitive digital security bible in readers’ hands.

In a line of gatekeepers that may—or may not—have included Yevgeny Zamyatin, George Orwell, Dele Giwa, Aaron Swartz, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, Peter Pomerantsev as well as the fictional Elliot Alderson, Bruce Schneier takes a much deserved seat.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

FiiKiiiiii!

FiiiiiiKiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

Ficre Ghebereyesus is at the centre of this totally human, very subliminal memoir of loss, the second in a set of books on loss and grief I read within the last 12 months. This is easily one of the most unforgettable books I read in 2016. Besides acknowledging loss in all its validity and immensity—it’s bold, unruly confrontation and subtle determination to tear you apart by incentivising you with necessary grief.

Liz Alexander takes us through her memories, her low moments and personal struggles—the whole gamut of a healing process centered around intimacy and love.

Memory is a theme that replays frequently, to the honour of her Ficre, and as a testament to a marriage well-spent and a union enviable by every measure. Memories of Eritrean recipes cooked and eaten together, of simple and subtle moments, of places, of people, of tales and things shared, memories of a dual oneness, consecrated by loss, made sacrosanct by demise and glorified by a love that once was, still is and will now certainly forever be—because of and not despite of a transition.

I will have to suffer a serious memory impediment before I can forget Ficre, whom I have come to know as much as the book allowed. Utterly readable, unflinchingly evocative and desperately redemptive. I have recommended this book to more people than any other this year and I will not hesitate to do so again.

The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

Racheal Kaadzi Ghansah’s moving essay—part tribute, part recollection and part invocation—to of and about James Baldwin is a discursive, necessary and timely piece of deserved canonization. Considering the title of the anthology is a Tribute to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.

Wendy S. Walters’ personal inquisition about the remains of indentured African slaves in Modern day America which took her on repeated journeys to New Hampshire and Portsmouth is the basis of her deep, revealing essay which gives substance and deep posthumous honour to the memory of African slaves who were “carried like chattel on ships to America; sold to other people; stripped of their names, spiritual practices, and culture; worked their entire lives without just compensation; were beaten into submission and terrorized or killed if they chose not to submit; were buried in the ground at the far edge of town; and as the town grew, roads and houses were built on top of them as if they had never existed.”

Kevin Young and Claudia Rankine’s essays are two of my favorites from this collection. Very personal, intimate reflections of what it means to be black, as in Young’s deconstruction of Racheal Dolezal’s kind of blackness and Rankine’s unapologetic description of black life, written with orgasmic intensity and ferocious veracity, from years and years of experiential observation.

Emily Raboteau’s photojournalistic essay about how five New York boroughs maintain informative vigilance on ensuring police accountability, Jose Older’s futuristic essay about black lives and what it would be worth in posterity and Edwidge Danticat’s reflective piece of how the label of refugee in modern context is employed and deployed against certain race classes make this collection a compulsory read for now, as well as one of epochal relevance later.

Jesmyn Ward’s rightfully indignant preface, as well as her essay about how it is almost impossible for black Americans to construct a family tree going back generations, is part protest, part polemic.

The revelation that comes with Garnette Cardogan’s poignant juxtaposition on walking in a black body on the streets of Jamaica and on the streets of New York is achingly terrifying and ultimately disquieting especially because it could seem very surreal and ultimately unimaginable—which is how we’d rather have it and how it should be—but very sadly is not.

The fire this time is both a response, a testament and an armour, in the face of recent (and current) racial injustices, very necessary and a gift, to self-conscious black people anywhere.

The Cartel by Don Winslow

Netflix’s Narcos is the latest widely-acclaimed take on TV on the war on drugs but allow me to introduce you to Adanito Barrera, the character at the centre of this modern-day crime thriller set primarily in Mexico but runs across three continents for all bad intents and purposes. It had the most satisfying ending of any fiction I read this year, and one of the greatest. This book merges a personal vendetta between two former friends on either side of the law with a gripping inside look at the war on Drugs in Mexico from the viewpoint of every player involved—Youths, Elite Forces, Cartels, Journalists, The Mexican & US governments, Older Citizens, Civil Servants and Rogue Military forces. Only the lucky ones and the death-defiantly brave have the option of choosing a side, that option had been thrust upon everybody else. In a story that shakes you from fiction into reality, this book left the only other crime thriller I read this year—which was set in Lagos—in the dust. It is as thoroughly delightful to read as it was scrupulously-researched. The cartel leaves you better than it met you.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Simply one of the best debuts of any African writer in the past decade. Yaa Gyasi’s novel explores several generations descended from two sisters, from a city in Ghana to several cities in the United States. Using little vignettes from the lives of particular descendants, Gyasi deftly executes a story that a far less disciplined writer would have made, unforgivably into a needless tome. The writing is beautiful, not without inadequacies but perhaps the strongest thing that Homegoing brilliantly does is spin a concentric web of a shared maternal bloodline, while deftly using that to explore the ravaging effects of slavery and enslavement, questioning accepted norms about the implicit culpability of the colonized and making a well-informed polemic about displacement and resettlement, racial tensions, gender inequality and above all, the toxicity of privilege. Homegoing redeems itself ten times over for every single flaw you’ll squint to discover. Alongside Kintu, this text should be required reading within Africa, as well as anywhere else where there is great taste in African historical fiction.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

Borne out of eagle-eyed observation of racial tension, violence and seemingly innocuous but morally debilitating stereotypical assumptions based solely on race, yet suffused in verses at once elegiac and graceful, devoid of the indignant overtone you’d expect from a black writer writing about black inequality and injustices, the collection reads like a testament than an indictment. Its sheer force and hypnotic poignancy are not its hallmarks, it is its almost inimitable portrayal of racial prejudices in America that makes this gem compulsively rereadable and a contemporary classic. Rankine does with Citizen, what Ta-Nehisi Coates did with Between the World and Me.

Because of your elite status from a year’s worth of travel, you have already settled into your window seat on United Airlines, when the girl and her mother arrive at your row. The girl, looking over at you, tells her mother, these are our seats, but this is not what I expected. The mother’s response is barely audible—I see, she says. I’ll sit in the middle.

Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe

In a year that saw the release of at least two other widely acclaimed debuts; Ocean Vuong’s Whiting Award-winning Night Sky with Exit Wounds and the comprehensive, brilliant and formidable, National Book Award-winning Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, Sarah Howe’s debut collection stands out in style and form. A collection that weaves intricate, cross-cultural allusions together with deep, uniquely richly-complex duple metaphors, Howe distills her intelligence with a fiendish erudition which is only matched this year by that of Robin Coste Lewis’, sometimes making for an unflinching test of the reader’s noesis. I picked up five new words from this collection. My favourites: quincunx and quadroon.

I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek

As creative and original as it is irreverently funny, this is not the tokenistic satire you’ve come to expect from writers desperate for an attempt at social commentary. Jarrett Kobek defiantly points out things in his own distinctive manner, emphatically repetitive and stubbornly inventive, he is prismatic where another writer would be content with being kaleidoscopic. A work of full savage satire, the depth of which is only rarely surpassed. He imagines a futuristic world where the internet has more stakes in reality and the shows how we are currently implicit in creating that world. In both styleand form, Kobek dishes out a cynical but compelling criticism of popular culture, racial tensions, the dangers yet to come on the internet and human nature, what you get is a book that slowly packs a concatenation of punches, each as enfeebling as the ones before and after, knocking down the gigantic opponent that the readiness with which we deny our own culpability in the state of the world today has become.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates has predecessors in Olaudah Equiano, James Baldwin and Frantz Fanon and he is still as original as any of them. Coates’ book is written as a three-part letter to his young son—a mature dissection of the current wave of racial injustices and what it takes, means and requires to own, be in and hope to maintain a black body in modern-day America. In graceful, luminous and conscientious prose, this seminal book reads like a sacred text and feels like a first-person shooter videogame. We are all Coates’ young son as it turns out, as we get all of his loving, tender, fatherly guidance and a deeper, keenly-observed dimension into the deep-seated racial classism that has awakened to represent the recurring generational canker that it has—sometimes sleepily but overall—consistently been for over a century. This is the most important book I read all year.

Favourite Articles

Notable Mentions

 

Looking Forward to Read in 2017

Not Worth the Hype

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

If this book was an orchard, the flowers in it certainly die faster than they grow. You have in your hands a novel which the sum of all its parts add up to a fraction of its whole. In a work that treats the quotidian without scope, ambition, finesse or panache, it is almost a mismatch of ideas, a book that suffers from a frailty of plot coherence that made some of its tolerable parts needlessly long and the worse ones, unrepentantly boring, even though you’ll find a couple of beautiful sentences in strange passages like you’ll find Riddler’s trophies in Batman: Arkham Asylum. If you read only the first and the last twenty-five pages, the saying that no knowledge is lost will hold true of the book in a literal sense in this case. Wait for the lazily-contrived denouement, which ends the endurance test that I found this book to be. No spoilers, you are welcome to take the test.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Liz Strout’s latest book isn’t exactly a page-turner, even though I turned every one of its pages without respite or consolation. In this experimental novel, two characters babble back and forth about their past. You’re expected to feel the implied weight of emotion in the whole experience but this seems like something one cannot do without first ascending the alps for six months of austere living to elevate the mind towards the border between sanity an insanity, a place where this book might really be fun to read. Reading this novel was a joyless experience for me. It was like taking a long ride to the beach to find out the beach is closed. A Bailey’s Prize, and then for a lack of restraint, Man Booker contender. It lost to Lisa McInerney’s much better book and didn’t make the shortlist of the latter, an award for which I will say it was carelessly, if not unworthily, longlisted. This novel feels impoverished in comparison to other books that have similarly unlikable—but contrastingly, deeply felt—characters such as Penny Busetto’s The Story of Anna P and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. My name is not Lucy Barton.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Under the Udala Trees is the only novel I have read that set an LGBT story at the backdrop of the Nigerian civil war. Something is commendable about the book and that is what it tries to do. I do welcome novelistic ambitions but when they are followed with a lazy writerly cathexis, (in this case of an LGBT discrimination and persecution story built against the chaos of the well-storied Nigerian Civil War) a visibly perfunctory novel is born. This birth, which admittedly, is a birth before it is any other thing is one riddled with undeniable congenital abnormalities. A plot that is force-fed by nothing but the sheer force of the insistent will of completion. You will find better value for your time in Kim Brooks’ I’m having a Friendship Affair, and that’s not even a novel.

Notes.

Books on Loss and Grief

Books on Security, Surveillance and Big Data

 

Trust is a Netizen, Reader & DeppHead

.

Tolase Ajibola

Most of the books I read were recommended by friends and close associates so it can be said that I was not in company of bad books. I read moving books—Wave and The Light of the World moved me close to tears. Some poems moved me that far too—Gbenga Adesina’s Painter of Water. Some books improved my person, Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan taught me not to gamble. 2016 has been wonderful.

Notable Reads

Home by Toni Morrison

Home is short. This book tries to take out the idea of a locked position in my thought of home. Frank Money, a war veteran who went to war with two other friends—who died at war—is going home. He received a letter that informed him of his sister’s deteriorating health, only then did his sister become the home he was to return to.

The Double by Jose Saramago (translated by Margaret Jull Costa)

The Double is full of surprises. A depressed history teacher slips a recommended movie—by his colleague—into the VCR to discover an actor—playing a minor role—who looks the way he did some years back, that was the beginning of surprises. The narrative technique employed allowed me to interfere in the decisions of Tertuliano, which movies should he rent—the recent ones or older ones by the same production company, what to tell his girlfriend when she asked about the movies, why he shouldn’t wear a false beard when meeting his double. The double was so graphic I thought it was from my memory.

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was… so began The Black Swan.

Why do—or don’t—you gamble? If one engages a gambler in a conversation, the logic of gambling will seem simple, that is, predicting or forecasting the future from past occurrences. Not only gamblers work with forecasts, brokers too, this means that their job is to predict market behaviour based on it past behaviours. It is plausible, isn’t it? Now, here is a black swan: The past tells us nothing about the future. So are brokers fraud? An example of a black swan event is 9/11, what previous event could has predicted the occurrence?

Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

What motivated me to read Wave was an essay in Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things, A Better Quality of Agony. When I read the essay, I thought of how impossible it was for someone to acquire most of the grief the world can give in one day or how else does one describe the loss of all that one has come to know as love. Sonali in her memoir writes about the Tsunami that claimed the life of her father, mother, husband and two sons in a way that one comes to own her grief too. I think that no circle has more warmth or offers more love than family. Wave tells of what it means to lose family. The story is in two part: one is of loss, how a woman lost all that she has treasured in a tsunami in Sri Lanka. How her world shrunk and the other is her path to rediscovery.

Sonali was raised in Sri Lanka, educated in England where she met Stephen who she later got married to and had her two sons with. Sonali and her family lived in London. Her parents lived in Sri Lanka and thus they visit often, what would later be a solo voyage. In December 2004, during their holiday in Sri Lanka, their resort was hit by a tsunami. After the event she was found naked, the event had ripped her off all she held dear. The event was so grave she couldn’t ask people to assist in her search for the fear that things might get real. What followed was her path towards healing, how she couldn’t live in their London home or tell her children’s classmates they died and her suicidal thoughts. How she relives the memory they made, and how remembering healed when she finally moved back into their London home.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander

“In which Ficre died” is a title I would have suggested. The light of the world is a voyage around an immigrant from Eritrea, Ficre Ghebereyesus, an artist, he takes wine, he takes aspirin three times a week—“baby aspirin are supposed to prevent heart attack”—but Ficre died from an attack. Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir puts us in the company of Ficre—her husband—his Eritrean recipe and his paintings. One could feel the radiating love of Ficre until the moment he was found dead by a running treadmill.

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole

Teju writes of the things he knows, literature and photography, in which we come into the knowledge of creative processes. Known and Strange Things have three sections apart from the epilogue – Reading Things, Seeing Things and Being there. In Reading Things where his opinion about the writings of others and his conversations with other writers are voiced, his writing can be said to have been from keen observation.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The book opens with an introduction to two systems, System1 which operates quickly with little or no effort or no sense of voluntary effort operates automatically and While System2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities, an example is solving complex mathematical problems. An example of System1 operation is identifying a person’s mood from their facial expression. Usually, System1 is automatic and thus humans make decisions without thorough thinking which could lead to erroneous decisions.

Thinking Fast and Slow has influenced my decision making process. Often I delay System1 response while System2 works, that way I get to compare the decisions of both systems although there are times System1 just jumps in.

Painter of Water by Gbenga Adesina

Painter of Water is a journey through Gbenga’s lenses to Africa, a water painted with blood and tears. Gbenga Adesina’s control of language helped to create images that will remain in my head for a long time. With Gbenga I went to places, landmarks, where history is made—Christmas in Chibok, Borno where the painter is. These journeys are anachronistic though, but I felt like I was there with the daughters of widows in their science schools where they were abducted, 200 of them.

The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

I am convinced Jesmyn Ward’s The Fire This Time will be a focal point of discussion around race. Amazingly, it is 2016 and we are still talking about racism, will we ever stop? Jesmyn Ward’s anthology addresses issues around race in a time when black bodies get shot at because their identity is mistaken—if it is right to say mistaken—for violence. The book reminds me of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, and it can be said that there is just a little difference between the two non-fiction texts. The book addresses the issues of racial equality in a manner that has the semblance of Baldwin. It is not a book of unforgivings, rather just grievances, that in 2016 our geography still has the semblance of Baldwin’s—not much has changed.

The New Testament by Jericho Brown

Read my review here.

Looking Forward to Read in 2017

Tolase Ajibola lives in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Niyi Ademoroti

Maybe sometime during the second month of the year, I decided to read only short story collections. I was tired of the tepid encounters I had with novels, how on the axis that represented enjoyment the line always deepened somewhere in the middle. Also, I was going to have a desk job. I needed stories I could finish before leaving for work, during lunch, the short free time between dinner and sleep. Another thing I set out to do was read stories by masters. No genre writing and nothing not authored by a literary giant.

Of course, it would take an extremely disciplined fellow, something I am absolutely not, to follow through these two things. So I read a couple of novels, a few by Achebe and another which gripped me through work assignments by Tobias Wolff. I also read a couple of letters, diaries, a collection of interviews, none of which you will find in this review because it didn’t occur to me to consider them—wrote out the review before typing out this preface. A couple of debuts found their way into my library. I loathed some and I loved one.

So, yeah, there it is. The summary or idea behind my reading experience this year.

Notable Reads

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson

It is always refreshing to see into the mind of a villain. More so when the villain is a degenerate. What’s most refreshing is that Fuckhead narrates with a passive indifference. He’s not telling you his story to get your pity. It is not for your affection either. He’s telling it because you need to know—why else do we tell stories? A review of this book would be incomplete without mentioning the surrealism of its prose. The way it treads the path of both the physical and the supernatural. Leaning ferns on drifting roads in forests and blooming flowers in the middle of a desert. And the structure of the sentences. God. Such a perfect book.

Cathedral/What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

I’ve always known the things which look the easiest are the most difficult to achieve. Quick joke: I dare you to prove 1 + 1 equals two.

Seriously though, Carver’s prose is so easy to digest. It is like water and sugar, maybe even ice-cream: It melts on the tongue and goes down easy. And his subjects. The normal average life. Women and men in lonely marriages dancing on lawns. Birthday boys with broken heads. It is always difficult to explain what makes the mundane beautiful. It is something Carver does so well.

Drown by Junot Díaz

What’s not to love about this one? I remember reading Fiesta, 1980—which I still believe has ties to Murakami’s Nausea, 1979—and going, this is the master in whom I am well pleased. The language is the most startling thing about Junot Díaz’s writing but I also love how emotive the stories are. How you can’t help but feel for a childhood. Empathize so deeply with characters.

The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg by Deborah Eisenberg

Self-awareness means a lot to me. I love it when people are aware of what makes them them, their amazingness, their shortcomings. You’ll read a Deborah Eisenberg story and you’ll meet people who are aware, to the minutest detail, why they feel what they feel. It is incredible. Also, the solitary feeling of the characters is another thing I can relate with. How they make mistakes and forgive themselves.

Blind Willow Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

I have a thing for prose which presents itself simple. That which glides silently in the mind, and you don’t realize you’re an hour deep. Yeah, that. Also, I have a thing for surrealism. Not exactly supernatural, magic, but not reality either. I have this belief that reality is calculated. It is a false thing, yellow. Aren’t the things we put out airs?

Anyway. Murakami. I read someplace—can’t remember where, or what exactly it was I read, even—that no writer has a more private body of work than Murakami. A lot of his stories are difficult to find root of. But, God, do they leave a dent. I remember reading A Poor Aunt Story and recognizing. What, I’m not sure of. The stories here are calm, beautiful. They remind me of music, in that it is a personal thing to the singer, but you’re a part of it, you’re being included. Yeah.

For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander

Haha. I remember reading a review of this and someone saying he didn’t like the book because he felt like the writer was showing off, like, “Oh I’m good, I’m an awesome writer, in your face!” I’d show off too if I could write that well.

When someone can do seriousness and humor with the same level of deftness, how will you not love the person? Read The Twenty-seventh Man, then Reb Kringle, and see just what it is I’m talking about. This book is so good.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I read maybe five novels this year. Here’s why: Novels demand attention; I’m not crazy for saying that, right? They go on and on and on. Everyone knows a short story is perfect from beginning to end. Every word is precise. No excess. Novels? With their tepid middles? No, thank you.

Homegoing though, a punch from start to finish. Was so touching it was easy to forgive the archetypical characters. I cried and laughed and went, “What the fuck is that?” Homegoing was a delight to read.

The Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor

I remember finishing The Lame Shall Enter First and going: “What the actual faaaack?” Flannery O’Connor IS a masterrrrrrr. Damn! The way she explores how lost people are in their own heads, religion, parentage, it is magic. Her metaphors and lessons, the way she shows her hands in her stories, the confidence. How do you write a review on a book you loved when you loved everything?

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

Alice Munro somehow manages to pack the content of a novel into a short story. I’ll be damned if I knew how.

The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie

This is not the first time I’m proclaiming my love for Ann Beattie, so I’ll let it be brief: I love her characterization, how real they are and how much they know.

I especially loved this book because you can see her progression from the ’70s to the 2000s. Good becoming great. It is a marvel.

Not Worth the Hype

Niyi Ademoroti is an estate surveyor who spends all of his free time either reading or tweeting. He hates everything else (and even tweeting, too).


  1. H is for hawk was the first of a set of books on Loss and Grief I read in the last 12 months
  2. I feel grateful to Tope Salaudeen-Adegoke for sending me his copy of Kintu in April and also sharing the article by Akin Adesokan.
  3. Data and Goliath was the sixth of six books I read on Security, Surveillance and Big Data, part of what has now become a habit of reading at least six books on at least one chosen theme over a 12-month period.