Reading List: April 2017
Another month, another chance to expand our reading list and also to answer some of the questions that I get asked about books and reading.
So, one question that I keep getting asked is “Do you buy all your books?” Ah, the million-dollar question. My response: “Hello, my name is Jola and I spend a fortune on books”. Seriously I do. For me buying books is a more practical solution to this nice reading problem that I have. That being said, I have two local libraries near where I live and I have borrowed books from these libraries but I increasingly found that the pressure to finish the book in time is often too much to bear, especially since I am usually reading more than one book at a time (we’ll come to that in a sec), so yes, most of the books I read, I actually purchase. That being said, I took it upon myself to borrow two books from the library last month and the race to complete them before their due date is now on.
We have a reached a point in the year where I would like to pause and reflect on what I have read, tell you what I am reading, and let you know what I plan to read in the near future. I have a pile of books to read that just keeps on growing.
What I Have Read So Far in 2017.
Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo. I enjoyed it so much, I wrote a review of it. More here.
The Prayer Room by Shanthi Sekaran. Ms. Sekaran’s recently released Lucky Boy was featured on the January reading list. Curiosity led me to Google to find out more about this writer. Google led me to Amazon where I discovered her previous work – which I knew I had to read – was much more affordable if purchased as an e-version. I swore off e-readers a while ago so both of my Kindles are pretty much defunct and redundant. But the folks at Apple have an App for everything and this includes the Kindle so life had me reading this book on the iPad and what an enjoyable and inspiring read it was.
A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea by Melissa Fleming. This book is not for the fainthearted. By the time I was done reading it, I was bawling like a baby. I like that it breaks down the sequence of events that led to the conflict in Syria which many experts have concluded is the worst we have seen in the 21st century and has catalyzed the expulsion of millions leading to the most horrific humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. Reading the book, we walk through the life of one family and witness triumph in the midst of unimaginable human tragedy.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. It is interesting how I went from reading Ms. Fleming’s book to Mr. Hamid’s – both covering the same themes, with one an account of actual events and the other based on actual events but with elements of magical realism. I had really enjoyed reading Mr. Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist when I stumbled on it a few years ago during a long layover in Amsterdam airport and I keenly anticipated this new book and I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. Mr. Hamid’s has a knack for writing about the surreal and grave in a very laid-back style, that it takes a moment for the seriousness of the message he is trying to convey to hit the reader.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. For those who do not know, my favorite fictional character of all-time is the intrepid reporter – Tintin. For someone who has encountered a myriad of fictional characters, this is saying a lot. The reason I bring this up is, I am always look for new books in the bande dessinée style that Hergé used for the Tintin books. So I was super-thrilled to discover Ms. Bui. I devoured her book in a matter of days. Very heartwarming and deeply personal, it highlights the way our past (childhood, upbringing, etc.) can influence the way we raise our children.
The Refugees by Viet Than Nguyen. The first short story collection that I have read in 2017. I went straight from reading Ms. Bui’s book to this one because I was enjoying my discovery of the Vietnamese culture, which is brilliantly illustrated in this collection of stories centered around the Vietnamese immigrant experience in the United States.
Tales from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry. I have been avid admirer of Mr. Mistry’s writing since I read his novel – A Fine Balance. The subtle yet sharp wit that he adopts for his writing is endearing as it is inspiring. I make a vague reference to this in The Art of Breaking Wind. I have been quite keen to read more of his work and have had this particular one on my reading list for quite a bit. I am trying to introduce some sort of pattern to my reading so when I was done with Mr. Nguyen’s collection of short stories, I wanted to read more short fiction and this was what I picked up. What a highly engaging read it was. 11 short stories that leave you wanting more.
What I Am Currently Reading.
I am happy to report that I have not yet been cured of this malaise of reading more than one book at a time. Here are the books that are currently keeping me company: Radio Sunrise by Anietie Isong and Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran both featured on the January 2017 reading list. Draw the Circle by Mark Batterson is my inspirational reading for Lent. Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal is my mandatory foreign language reading and a re-read for pleasure – I had to read it years ago for a course I took in university. Longthroat Memoirs by Yemisi Aribisala has been in my company for several months. This is not a book that you simply zip through in a hurry. This is a book that you savor, let sink in and digest. It helps that this book is about food, to be precise Nigerian food, illustrated in a way that I have never encountered it before. It is a real discovery for me, almost like a textbook but without the academic pressure. Houseboy by Ferdinard Oyono is another re-read for pleasure, although this time I am reading it in English. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is yet another re-read. Ms. Kingsolver is one of those writers whose work serve as an inspiration for me when I am writing. I like to refer to her as the writer’s writer. Foreign Soil (and other stories) by Maxine Beneba Clarke is the third book of short stories that I am sinking myself into this year. So, that makes eight books, but who’s counting?
What I Plan to Read.
In the very near future, the following books (in no particular order) will be making their way to the top of my ever-growing pile of books to read: The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso, Rest in Power by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo.
On that note, *drum roll please* let’s see what new books released in April 2017 will be making their way to my endless reading list.
This month’s list features a book of short stories by a female Nigerian writer, whom I have recently discovered (let’s just call this the year of discovering new writers from Nigeria, shall we); a somewhat dark yet enticing story set in rural America; a story (reminiscent of the Madoff scandal) which serves up deceit, scandal and guilt in equal measure; a story which highlights the strength of the American Dream and the sacrifices people make in pursuit of it; yet another story follows one woman’s journey from America back to her heritage in Cambodia seeking answers for the questions held in her heart; and finally, set in Pakistan, a story about loss and religious intolerance.
What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah. The stories in this collection explore the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and the places they call home. Ms. Arimah was born in the UK and grew up wherever her father was stationed for work, which included Nigeria. With an amazing background like that, I imagine her writing must be a captivating potpourri of cultural nuances with a Nigerian flavor.
Marlena by Julie Buntin. Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat’s new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbor, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection is quickly lured into Marlena’s orbit. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a litany of firsts. Within the year, Marlena is dead, drowned in six inches of icy water in the woods nearby. Now decades later, when a ghost from that pivotal year surfaces unexpectedly, Cat must try to forgive herself and move on, even as the memory of Marlena keeps her tangled in the past.
The Widow of Wall Street by Randy Susan Meyers. Phoebe sees the fire in Jack Pierce’s belly from the moment when they meet as teenagers in Brooklyn. He eventually creates a financial dynasty and she places her unwavering trust in him – unaware that underneath his hunger for success hides a dark talent for deception. When she learns – along with the rest of the world – that her husband’s triumphs are the result of an elaborate Ponzi scheme, her world unravels. Lies underpin her life and marriage. As Jack crime is uncovered, the world obsesses about Phoebe. Did she know her life was fabricated by fraud? Did she partner with her husband in hustling billions from pensioners, charities, and CEOs? Was she an accomplice in stealing from their family and neighbors? From Brooklyn to Greenwich to Manhattan, from penthouse to prison, with tragic consequences rippling beyond Wall Street, The Widow of Wall Street is an illustration of a woman struggling to redefine her life and marriage as everything she thought she knew crumbles around her.
Border Child by Michel Stone. Young lovers Hector and Lilia dreamed of a brighter future for their family in the United States. Hector left Mexico first, to secure work and housing but when Lilia desperate to be with him, impetuously crossed the border with their infant daughter Alejandra, mother and child are separated. Now four years later, the family has a chance to reunite, but the trauma of the past may well be permanent. Back in their hometown of Oaxaca, the couple enjoys a semblance of a normal life, with a toddler son and another baby on the way. Then they receive an unexpected tip that might lead them to Alejandra, and both agree they must seize this chance, at whatever cost. An interesting insight into the whirlwind of the contemporary immigrant experience, where a marriage is strained to the breaking point by the consequences of wanting more for the next generation.
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner. Teera leaves America to return to Cambodia for the first time since leaving as a child refugee. She carries with her a letter from a man who mysteriously signs his name as “the Old Musician” and claims to have known her father in prison in Khmer Rouge where he disappeared twenty-five years before. In Phnom Penh, Teera finds a society that is still in turmoil, where perpetrators and survivors live side by side, striving to mend their beloved country. She meets a young doctor who begins to open her heart, immerses herself in long-buried memories and prepares to learn of her father’s fate. Meanwhile, the Old Musician earns his modest keep playing ceremonial music at a temple, awaiting Teera’s visit with great trepidation. He will have to confess the bonds he shares with her parents, the passion with which they all embraced the Khmer Rouge’s illusory promise of a democratic society, and the truth about her father’s end.
The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam. When Nargis’ husband is killed in a cross-fire on the Grand Trunk Road, she regrets not being able to confess her greatest secret to him. Now under threat from a powerful military intelligence officer, who demands that she pardon her husband’s American killer, Nargis fears that the truth about her past will soon be exposed. For weeks, someone has been broadcasting people’s secrets from the minaret of the local mosque, and, in a country where even the accusation of blasphemy is a currency to be bartered, the mysterious broadcasts have struck fear in Christians and Muslims alike. When the loudspeakers reveal a forbidden romance between a Muslim cleric’s daughter and Nargis’ Christian neighbor, she finds herself trapped in the center of a chaos tearing their community apart. This lionhearted novel reflects Pakistan’s past and present in a single mirror, a story of corruption, resilience, and the disguises that are sometimes necessary for survival.