Almost two years ago, I stood in front of the bookshelf and randomly picked out a new book to read, then suspected I had read that book in the past.
Repeated attempts to pick other picks left me with a similar Déjà vu feeling that I had read those books in the past. At this point, I decided to be a bit more deliberate in my randomness. I started writing what I read on a sheet. At the end of 2018, I took the list and wrote a little twitter thread of the 2018 list (the twitter account is now long deleted). At the end of the thread, I decided to be a bit more deliberate (in the spirit of the new year eve ) and twitted a picture of the randomly picked books from my bookshelf which I intended to read in 2019 (this meant I could not read any book, not in that picture and this also excluded new purchases).
At the beginning of the new year, I got a journal and started writing down my brief thoughts on each of the books as soon as I finished reading, also found myself taking copious pictures of passages that I particularly enjoyed. Weeks back, I decided to take it a step higher; a blog about the amateur reviews in the journal together with pictures of memorable pages from the books. So here we are!
For starters, I am reproducing the twitter thread of the 2018 list.
The only advantage I get from Lagos traffic is an opportunity to read. A 2-hour commute every morning is substantial even for a slow and easily distracted reader like me. This is a thread of books randomly chosen from my bookshelf that I managed to read in 2018.
Devil’s Peak – Deon Meyer
I have a thing for African crime fiction, and in this sub-genre, Deon Meyer is king. This was very fast-paced with an excellent backdrop of the Eastern Cape scenery. DCI Benny Griessel was at his very best, and the storytelling was very intricate although the ending was a bit flat.
The New Tribe – Buchi Emecheta
One of Ms Emecheta’s lesser-known novels. A quick read that touches on cultural identity and differences and cultural assimilation as Chester seeks his identity as an African despite being adopted and loved by a white clergy family. Straightforward but layered with themes.
Us vs Them; The failure of Globalism – Ian Bremmer
Signs of globalization failure, the configuration of political and economic forces that are reshaping the politics of developed and developing countries alike are evident. This book makes a simple analysis of its failure but offers very little in the form of solutions.
The Wisdom of Crowds – James Suroweicki
The mediocrity of crowds is often highlighted, but this book is an antidote to that notion. It highlights that diversity and independence are essential in groups because the best crowd decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus and compromise.
Born on a Tuesday – El Nathan
I finally got around to reading this brilliant coming of age novel. I am a lover of simple prose, and El Nathan excels in prose that appeals to my taste while exploring the rise of Islamic extremism through the eyes of Dantala. I enjoyed this, as late as I am to the party.
Empire of Things – Frank Trentmann
This was a good read. It is a history of how we arrived here as consumers starting from the 15th century. It is a Tour de force that explores the effect various societal changes have had on consumerism; from wars to the democracy of debt (credit) to leisure hours and working hours.
The Dark Night of the Shed – Nick Page
In his usual funny way, Nick writes a profoundly honest book that addresses the fear and challenges of midlife while drawing on lessons from the story of Jacob in the bible and wisdom of Carl Jung.
Nervous Conditions – Tsitsi Dangaremgba
The first paragraph grips you and never lets you go until you finish. It is a coming of age novel that examines how four related women address the entrapment and stifling hold of patriarchy in their rural Zimbabwe family. Simple, unadorned prose at its best.
An Image of Africa – Chinua Achebe
This small book is a collection of two essays; the book title and a second one titled The Trouble with Nigeria. You read this essay written over 35 yrs ago and realize that nothing has changed. It could have been written last week. Like listening to Fela in 2018. No new problem in this country.
The Confidence Game – Maria Konnikova
This was one of my very best reads in 2018. Absolute gem. A thorough analysis of the cons. The sequences of a confidence game are well analyzed from the Put-up to the Play to the Rope to the tale to the Convincer to the blow-off and fix. A psychology treatise!
One is enough – Flora Nwapa
A simple tale that bears some similarity with Stay with Me in the sense that the main characters are dealing with seeming childlessness in their marriages. That is where the similarity ends as both women approach their problems in different ways.
Khwezi – Redi Thlabi
Redi’s compelling book is well known, and I finally got a chance to partake of its richness. Khwezi’s tale is powerful and poignant but beyond that, serves as a platform to scratch the surface of a yet unaddressed wound; how the body of females served as collateral damage in the fight against apartheid, especially in exile. Things happened that were and are still not spoken even as assaults against women remains rife in South Africa. Khwezi’s story should give a voice to African women.
The Catastrophist – Ronan Benett
A well-pitched novel that centres around an Irish writer who follows his Italian lover to Congo just before independence. It is partly romantic and part psychological thriller while also serving as a political commentary of the waning Belgian rule in Congo just before independence.
A Life too Short – Ronald Reng
I bought this in 2012, but I have struggled to read this book despite repeated tried (as it was too heavy a subject) but finally got around to it this year. This is a delicately but beautifully told story of the tragedy of Robert Enke who struggled with severe depression and the struggle of his wife and agent to reach him in the depth of his darkness.
The Road to Somewhere – David Goodhart
Brexit, Immigration and globalization are themes tackled in this well-argued book. Thoroughly enjoyed although I feel a bit uneasy with how Goodhart manages to explain away the growing nationalism that underpins Brexit and the hate that anti-immigration breeds.
Soweto Under the Apricot Tree – Niq Mhlongo
Niq is one of those writers whose books I buy without checking for reviews or even reading the summary in the flap. I am not a big fan of short stories, but I will read anything by Niq. No one describes South African townships like him. I enjoyed the entire collection.
Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo
I love how this book played out with the political landscape in the background the entire time. The themes of the wretchedness of grief, fragility of family love and the consuming bond of motherhood are expertly handled in my favourite simple prose. Good one.
Love is Power or Something like that – Igoni Barrett
I did not enjoy this collection of short stories, but the My Smelling Mouth Problem story stood out and was a redeeming one. Very funny.
Graceland – Chris Abani
This was my favourite fictional read this year! A coming of age novel of a young Elvis who is trapped in the slums of Lagos while hoping to make his way out of the ghetto. It is nuanced and incredibly pitch-perfect. Excellent read.
The Good Doctor -Damot Galgut
A Graham Greene kind of book. This book follows a disillusioned doctor who decides to go as far away as possible. He ends up in a rural hospital, and the book shows an ailing Society (South Africa) through the portrayal of a small, dysfunctional group of people within it.
The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso
Not being a big fan of Ms Omotoso in the past but this one was good. A typical Cape Town tale but with well-drawn out characters and enough humour to boot. I enjoyed this tale where humanity triumphed over petty racism.
The Sellout – Paul Beatty
A hilarious and biting satire about a young man’s race trial and warped upbringing. You will need a good grasp of American culture to enjoy this fully, hence my measured enjoyment.
A Nearly Infallible History of Christianity – Nick Page
Nick Page is unique in his style of rigorous research, brutal honesty and very dark sense of humour that is often shocking to the uninitiated. The Church has had all sorts in its long history yet stands strong. Excellent read and instructive even for a biased reader who is part of the Ekklēsia and feels shamed at some of the ridiculous things in the Church’s history.
Soweto Blues: Jazz, Politics and Popular Music in South Africa – Gwen Ansell
South African jazz happens to be an integral part of my life, and this book is an authoritative guide to its history. I read this book during a road journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and I could not have chosen a better companion than this excellent book. No such history is complete without the dastardly effect of apartheid, and this book explores the critical part that jazz music played in the struggle. How jazz songs like Yakhal’ Inkomo and Mannenberg became struggle anthems in the face of brutality and inhumanity.
Deadly Harvest – Michael Stanley
This was another gem of African crime fiction. It was the first time I was reading a book from this writing duo. I was so thrilled I went out to get two more in the Detective Kubu series. This was about a serial killer on the rampage in Botswana. Good read.
The Myth of a Christian Nation – Greg Boyd
While I knew what to expect in this book considering my Anabaptist leaning, I was blown away with its relevance and impact in the light of current happenings in the evangelical settings. A quick reminder that the cross and the state are opposed. You can’t embrace one fully while holding unto the other.