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6. The Psychology of Money

In recent months, I have been thinking of money, It is not a topic that has occupied my mind until recently. I have never lacked it nor had an abundance of it. Almost every need and some wants of mine have been met. However, in recent times due to the current economic realities (mostly local but also global), I have begun to look over my shoulder. I have gotten to that stage in life where I have begun to ask myself if I have been a good steward and if an evaluation of the past might lead to regret. I have also begun to be slightly apprehensive about the future. I decided to interrogate my view on money from all angles; first from a spiritual perspective and the secular perspective. The two-sided evaluation was not deliberate but coincidental. I recently started a more devotional attitude towards biblical themes and the book I started with had riches and poverty as its theme (for anyone who may be interested, it is Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions by Craig Blomberg ). Not completely sold on the prosperity gospel of the Pentecostal movements that I largely identify with, I wanted a nuanced view of money and I could not have found a better study. While this piece is not about that book, I was struck by some of its finer points that were reechoed in The Psychology of Money. Unlike most finance and prosperity books (which I can’t stand),  is not a motivational book on how to get rich and stay rich, it is a pop-psychology book about how to reorientate the reader’s bias around money. Not necessarily how to make it but how to handle it, both in the present and the future. It is about the place of risk and luck in evaluating financial decisions. Luck and risk humble the wealth holder and cause him or her to handle it with caution because no proven 100% rule ensures it can always be replicated. The Psychology of Money evaluates how humans frame savings and how the rational decisions we make limit our saving culture. It also examines concepts of greed and contentment as factors that impact how we relate to money. The Psychology of Money has no magic bullet to getting rich nor does it have any of those silly 5 steps to being a billionaire. Instead, it preaches the patient mystery of the confounding nature of compounding and warns not to disrupt its tremendous power unnecessarily.

The Psychology of Money is a humbling read that stretches the mind, causes a lot of introspection and shifts mindsets. Also, it causes a late starter to start small and be hopeful of staying the cause. It subtly encourages the user to not only start small but also to manage the goalpost of desires that consumerism breeds. This is an excellent read that I will return to over and over again.

4/5The Psychology of Money 4The Psychology of Money 6The Psychology of Money 5The Psychology of Money 3The Psychology of Money 2The Psychology of Money 1

5. Dog Eat Dog

I’ve got a little revelation – For a while I have alluded to a Twitter conversation where two users who are African fiction book lovers were arguing whether a particular writer was a good writer or a good storyteller. That writer was Niq Mhlongo. They could not reach an agreement but I always knew on which side of the divide I belonged. Dog Eat Dog is Niq Mhlongo’s debut which was published 20 years ago. I wanted to add a reread to my 2024 TBR and chose it for the special nostalgic memories it holds. I read it weeks after it was published and that period holds special memories for me.  Rereading it brings back those memories but while this review is not about the time when I first read it, previous memories play a part in rereads. One thing that is obvious in rereading Dog Eat Dog is how much Niq Mhlongo has grown as a writer. Dog Eat Dog is a post-apartheid novel that is set in 1994, and apartheid has just ended. Racial integration has just begun and non-segregation is becoming the mantra of public institutions. In it, the protagonist Dingz, is a young black Wits University student from a poverty-stricken family, whose mother single-handedly supports nine children (including grandchildren) from her pension. The basis of the story is how Dingz navigates life as a fresh undergraduate while being disenfranchised when his expected bursary does not come through and the new South Africa is unfolding. A new South Africa where the past holds back a typical black South African like Dingz and prevalent social issues like xenophobia, crime, HIV/AIDS and racism are at play.

Rereading Dog Eat Dog, there is a lot of fun and witty dialogue but the story is lacking in rigour and substance. The characters are barely developed and Dingz stumbles from one drinking session to a sexcapade to another drinking session. His academics are almost irrelevant in the scheme of things and he just seems to cruise through with little effect either way. The strength of Dog Eat Dog is not in its story (which is almost nonexistent), or even in its characters, but in its setting and descriptions of place. The description of the Soweto and larger Joburg environs is spot on. This is one aspect of Niq’s work that has been excellent from day one. No one describes or sets a story in South African townships any better. His subsequent works have been a marked improvement on Dog Eat Dog in terms of plot development and character development. This reread has satisfied a nostalgic itch but I’ll rather recommend his later works.

2.6/5

4. The Quarter

The Quarter is a collection of 18 stories. These stories were written by one of the Arab world’s foremost storytellers – Naguib Mahfouz. All 18 stories belong to a recently discovered cache of previously unknown stories found years after his death and labelled “To be published in 1994”. They are microfiction of some sort. Each story is very short, some as short as 2 pages and the longest no more than 4 pages. No one is sure if they were works in progress or completed in their current form. However, some things are set in this collection; all the stories are set in the quarter – a common living area in Cairo, its sparse infrastructure consists of a mosque, a fountain and a cellar (that seems to be a place where residents who enter it end u having encounters with the unseen and unknown and end up having their perspectives changed). The quarter is a place with its people in flux; either residents going, returning or just passing through. In all of these, two residents are constant and remain rallying points for the people – shaykh-al-hara, the administrative head of the quarter and the imam, the religious figure who supervises the mosque and serves as a regular counsellor to the former. Both find themselves constantly at the centre of all the actions that are provoked by the quarter’s inhabitants. It is through these two characters that an attempt is made to make sense of the mundane but important happenings of these ordinary Cairo residents.

The Quarter is short and crisp but the collection feels bare and incomplete as one is unsure if the reason why it was not published by the author is due to its incomplete nature. If this was written by a less celebrated writer, I doubt it would have been accepted for publication in its current form.

2.7/5The Quarters 1

3. Fortunate Son

Returning to that endless discourse of whether a fiction writer is a good writer or a good storyteller – Walter Mosley is an excellent storyteller. While I have almost a dozen Mosley books on my shelves, Fortunate Son is the third one I have read. The Awkward Black Man and The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey were the earlier reads. I had started the collection knowing that Walter Mosley was a mystery and crime fiction writer. Interestingly, none of the 3 books of his that I have read so far fall within those genres. However, what abides in all 3 is Mosley’s top-notch storytelling. Fortunate Son is a fable. A very simple fable. It is the story of two boys from Southern California – one black and the other white – who are as close as brothers at birth while being as different as can be in terms of the hand that fate deals each of them as they grow up.

Thomas is a black kid who is born with severe health complications and soon after he is discharged from the ICU, he and his mother move in with a widowed surgeon whose son, Eric, is the same age as Thomas. Thomas and Eric are as close as brothers while growing up. Suddenly, Thomas’s mother dies and the paths of the boys begin to diverge. Eric grows up effortlessly; academically, socially and otherwise. Progress comes to him easily. For Thomas, it couldn’t be any worse. Soon after his mother’s funeral, his biological father yanks him away from Eric’s home and he moves into a space that is filled not only with a lot of toxicity and abuse but also devoid of any support. A total contrast to what he had been used to. The trauma leads to a downward spiral in his life – he drops out of school, gets involved in drugs and the inevitable incarceration. Away from the other, the boys long for each other and sense a void that can only be filled with a reunion despite all they have to validate which is the nostalgia of growing up together. Their lives are intertwined and only when they reunite is redemption within grasp. On one hand, Fortunate Son is a fable about black and white America. On another hand, it is just a well-told simple tale of two young boys managing the differing hands that fate has dealt them. An enjoyable read, if not exceptional.

3.2/5Fortunate Son 1

2. Behold the Dreamers

Similar to most books that I own, Behold the Dreamers has spent a considerable amount on my bookshelves before its time in the Sun came as part of the 2024 TBR list. I have had it long enough not to remember what the synopsis of the book is. I was pleasantly surprised once I began reading it to realize that it is a Japa fiction; a tale of migration and about migrants. The basic plot of Behold the Dreamers is familiar. A migrant family with dreams, wanting to make it in the new land and brimming with optimism in the face of the hurdles that have come to mark migration.

Jende and his wife Neni are childhood sweethearts who have come to America in search of the American dream. Jende arrived first, being sponsored by his cousin Winston, an established lawyer in America, then Jende scraps enough to bring his Neni and his son Loimi to join him in New York. Like all migrants their outlook is optimistic. They look back at the destitution they left behind in Cameroon and her propelled forward by the promises of a better life in America. There is an individual optimism that each of them espouses and there is the communal optimism that they share as a couple.  The life of a migrant is often one of faith – dreaming of great achievements while not yet having a legal stay or not being welcome by natives. How far each migrant is willing and able to exercise this faith differs and for a couple the moment one person loses hope and the faith dies, a dislocation is birthed in their domestic life. They suddenly stop pulling in one direction, like the ancient prophet Amos once said, can two walk together, except they be agreed? For the Jongas, their union suffers when one of them realises that the odds were stacked against them to the point that it did not make survival in America worthwhile. The frustration and desperation escalated to the point where each of them did something despicable. The juxtaposition of the story of the Edwardes (Jende’s employers) and the Jongas is very critical. It is easy to be blinded by privilege and consider the Jongas too desperate in their pursuit of their American dream. Most of what they had to grapple with made little sense to the Edward family, the same way the Jongas felt the Edward family had no reason to experience misery of any sort.

Reading Behold the Dreamers, I am once again reminded of that Twitter exchange where two readers were arguing about whether a particular writer was a good writer or a good storyteller. Behold the Dreamers is a relatively basic narrative, one not uncommon in the Japa fiction subgenre. However, what makes it a page-turner is Imbolo Mbue’s exquisite storytelling skills. In very simple and seemingly unspectacular prose she keeps the story flowing and keeps the reader glued like a long-lost friend updating you on stories you had missed out on. The storytelling is excellent, the characters are emphatically well drawn out. Jende seemed a bit subservient but his ability to see the best in everyone else and extend care to others even when drowning is admirable. I was rooting for him until he did the unspeakable. Neni seemed more goal-oriented and willing to bulldoze any obstacle in the way of her American dream. Her desperation is palpable but understandable. Interestingly, my favourite character in the book was Natasha, the pastor of the American church that Neni approached in her most desperate moments. Behold the Dreamers is an excellent read and highly recommended.

4/5

Behold the Dreamers 1Behold the Dreamers 2Behold the Dreamers 3Behold the Dreamers 4

1. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts

The interesting fact about choosing TBR lists randomly from the shelves is that you are as likely to get a great read as you are to get a not-so-great read. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts is firmly in one of those two groups. For a while, I have been intrigued by the destructive impact of social media. By destructive, I mean how it sucks you in, brings out the worst in even the best of humans, spreads misinformation, creates echo chambers and exacerbates hate. More importantly, I have always been intrigued by how social media enables seemingly well-adjusted humans to crave validation and attention to an unhealthy level. In a bid to understand all these, I got a recommendation to read  Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts. It has been my first read of 2024.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts is a book written by a Silicon Valley scientist who has grown disillusioned with the intrusive processes that social media use in managing users’ data. While the title is melodramatic, the crux of the short book is about highlighting how social media giants manipulate users’ data and rent it out to 3rd parties whose desires are not aligned with the user. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts explores how the behaviour of users is modified and made into empires for rent, and how it negates empathy, obfuscates the truth, creates assholes and makes users unhappy.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts has a noble premise but the delivery is pretty poor. What I needed and still need is an exploration of the subject matter from a psychological perspective; Why do humans behave the way they do on social media? Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts reads like a long blog post with an amusingly clumsy tone. The writing style and structure are pedestrian at best and it is not engaging for what should be a vital topic. Even for a slim volume, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts is not what the doctor prescribed. For anyone interested in such topics, The Attention Merchants is a much better book and a better investment of the reader’s time. I remain on the lookout for a worthy addition to it.

2.3/5Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts 1Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts 2Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts 3Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts 4

Best of 2023

One good thing about finding solace in books is that no matter how bad the year is, you are destined to have highs in the pages of the printed words. 2023 was not the best of years for me but I can look back with fondness on most, if not all the books I read. Looking back, I may not have enjoyed the 2023 TBR list as much as I anticipated when I settled on the list; mostly due to external factors and not necessarily based on the quality of the reads. However, it was a good year with books. Doing this a bit differently this year, I have chosen the following 5 books that I enjoyed the most. 3 of them are fiction and the remainder are non-fiction.

 

The Color of Water

Despite having read only one book by James McBride before this year, I consider him one of my favourite novelists. I was completely blown away by Deacon King Kong  when I read it a few years ago. Now reading his memoir based on the life of his mother, his position in my rank of writers is further cemented. It is storytelling at its best, as James McBride makes both the sublime and mundane resound in exquisite prose. The Color of Water is easily one of the best memoirs I have read in the last few years.

 

Family Matters

Rohinton Mistry’s Fine Balance is one of the most impactful works of fiction that I have ever read. It is one of those books you read and conclude that the author will never come so close again. Not because you doubt his ability and craft, but because the work is so close to perfection that it can’t be equalled or bettered. This was the context in which I approached Family Matters this year. It did not match up to Fine Balance but almost no other book would. However, Family Matters is proof that Rohinton Mistry is the master of the subgenre of family saga fiction. Very few writers can write a compelling tale out of mundane family sagas and everyday life. Family Matters is an excellent specimen of that.

 

 

Rotten Row

While I have had a couple of  Petina Gappah’s books on the shelves, Rotten Row is the first of her works that I got to read. Like most collections, there are hits and misses, but the hits far outnumber the misses. I particularly enjoyed Copacabana, Copacabana, Copacabana and In The Matter Between Goto and Goto. The former is set in the city centre and mostly in a public transport bus. That is a setting that contains a recipe for excellent short stories. The latter is odd, creative and very thoughtful.

 

 

The Son of Good Fortune

I have a thing for migration tales. They reveal a lot about the human condition. I have read a few good ones in the last few years and this year I read The Son of Good Fortune. I consider it the best of all novels I read in 2023. While the writing is not the best, the story, the pacing and the subtle hints in the storyline leave for a very impacting experience. It explores the human condition exceptionally well and at the end, one is forced to ponder for a bit. The themes of belonging, definition of home and survival are all explored in this relatively short volume.

 

 

A Good Provider Is One who Leaves

Ever since I read this book, I think about its content often. I refer to it in conversations and it has provided an extra lens to view 21st-century migration. It is creative non-fiction at its best; exploring the path of several generations of a Filipino family as they seek opportunities abroad to better the lot of their family.  A most excellent read it was.

 

 

As usual, in all the books I have read this year some quotes, phrases and paragraphs have resonated with me this year. These paragraphs are not limited to these top 5 books. Below are 5 of the best paragraphs from the books I read.

A Burning 2Family Matters 1Football in Sun and Shadow 5How To Be A Revolutionary 4The Son of Good Fortune (5)

25. Nigthcrawling

Last year’s Booker Prize longlist nominee, Nigthcrawling, is a meditation on the powerless and a study of compulsive maternal instinct where the protagonist attempts to save every swimming person around her while drowning herself. 17-year-old Kiara grows up in the projects of Oakland, Her family life is as broken as can be. Her father, an ex-Panther and ex-convict, has passed away, her mother is in a halfway house on her way to parole after a stint in jail and her beloved brother Marcus is refusing to live in the real world while convinced that his way out of poverty is the lottery of a rap music career. Thrust into the role of a provider, not just for herself but also for her elder brother Marcus and the abandoned kid, Trevor, in her building, Kiara opts to sell the only thing that seems available to her; her body.

Nigthcrawling is an exploration of misogyny, poverty, exploitation and abuse. The exploitation in it often felt too raw and the poverty in your face and almost traumatic but when you align to the fact that as fictional as it is, this is the reality of some people, it is humbling. Nigthcrawling is based on a real-life story where a group of police officers were investigated for exploiting underage girls. While the plot is striking and concerning, the writing strikes the opposite tone. It is problematic since the protagonist is a 17 year old and the tone is expected to be generic and street-savvy. The problem is that for the kind of topics it treats, Kiara’s voice in Nigthcrawling is generic and devoid of passion. In general, the writing is clunky and too descriptive. It made poignant highlights not stand out and made it hard for the reader to feel the emotion of the relatively difficult topic. There is so much to like about Nigthcrawling but for a Booker Prize longlist, one expected a whole lot more.

3/5 Nightcrawling 2Nightcrawling 1

24. The Black Church

I found The Black Church by Henry Louis Gate Jr. soon after reading  The Cross and The Lynching Tree a few years ago. It is an interesting read, particularly considering my Anabaptist inclination. I say that because The Black Church is a historical survey of the African-American church, which means that it covers a wide range of the African-American religious experience, mainly the Christian faith and how the church intersects with the political, as well as the cultural and social spheres of the emancipation and beyond. It explores the evolution of the Christian faith within the black community in America starting from the times of slavery till the Obama presidency until the Coronavirus pandemic. It surveys the impact of the Christian faith on the social, political and cultural lives of the black people over the past 2 centuries. Socially, the impact of slavery impacted how the black community evaluated the Christian faith and embraced it. Politically, the segregation that the black community experienced ensured that the equality of all men that black Americans saw in the bible was a hopeful aspiration that contradicted their lived experience but gave them a reference with which to fight for change. Culturally, they reshaped the gospel they were given by infusing their aspects of the black culture from their African ancestry. The Black Church highlights how the black culture has fed the music and dance worship experiences of the black church. As a person for whom the Negro Spirituals have had a profound meaning, the ability to infuse hope into a bleak situation is captured in tracks like Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. After Emancipation, the Black church retained its importance in nurturing Black culture and helped to foster political action. The pulpit became an extension of the campaign arena as Black Americans sought not just the end of slavery but sought the vote, an end to segregation and even an end to police brutality in the present day. The Black Church highlights the pivotal role that the church has played for black Americans.

The Black Church like The Cross and The Lynching Tree highlights the social impact of the Christian faith in the context of black American society, it also raises many questions about the complicity of the church outside the black church then and now. In bringing it home, while I am unequivocal about my belief that the church and the state should be separated, it is obvious the role the black church has played in the emancipation of the black man in the American polity, it then begs the question the dubious role that a large portion of the Nigerian church keeps playing in perpetuating evil within the Nigerian polity and propping up wicked political leaders.

The Black Church is excellently structured and paced. It may be lacking in depth and overly reliant on the works of W. E. B. Du Bois, and being a companion of a TV documentary, it is quote-heavy, it is a good introduction to a very important and illuminating topic. Very good read.

3.6/5The Black Church 1The Black Church 2The Black Church 3The Black Church 4The Black Church 5The Black Church 6