Jola Reads: July – September 2018. Discovering Audio Books
As I go over my reading adventures over the last quarter, I find it hard to believe that we have already entered the final quarter of 2018 and are coming close to the end of the year. I made some interesting reading discoveries this past quarter but I think the one thing that was the most dramatic in my reading life was my entry into the world of audio books. So as a bit of background, I have friends who ‘read’ the same books that I do, but rather than leafing through pages, they listen to their books. Those who follow this blog will have discovered that my reading taste is pretty versatile, but I could never have imagined listening to books but alas, the journey through life involves beautiful encounters of self-discovery and this is my story.
I listen to podcasts and have been listening to quite a few over the last few months because I started going to the gym and while some days, I need some upbeat music to get me through my time on the treadmill, other days, my brain needs something intellectually stimulating to get me through my work out session. A quick detour here to share two of favorite podcasts: I was introduced to Jesus & Jollof with Luvvie Ajayi and Yvonne Orji by a dear friend and it certainly speaks to my Nigerian soul, the BBC World Services Outlook series has human interest pieces that serve to inspire and inform and often restore one’s faith in humanity. In seeking out what to listen to during my workout sessions on the days (and there are many) when I felt the need to be infused with a warm dose of intellectual stimulation, the bibliophile in me decided to seek out an audio book. Full disclosure that this happened on a day when I had already listened to all of the latest episodes of my podcasts, and that was when I made this interesting discovery about myself. Listening to fiction was out of the question for the fiction writer in me, but I was opening to listening to a good piece of well-written non-fiction by a narrator with the right cadence that will keep me engaged and content that would either inform or inspire or both. I had tried listening to books once before but did not get very far and realize now that there are certain books that I can read and others that I can listen to because they are just like extended podcasts. Yay, for self-discovery.
My non-fiction piece of choice was Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward. Now will be a good time to disclose that I did not choose this book for any political reasons. I was just looking for a good writing to listen to and Mr. Woodward had earned my respect as a writer and investigative journalist years ago when I read All The President’s Men which he co-authored with Carl Bernstein and I knew to expect some solid writing and I was not disappointed.
Here are some of the other books that kept me company during this past quarter:
Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. Originally written in 2000 with a movie adaptation released the following year. This coming of age novel sheds the light on the not often talked about racial divisions in Asian communities. Covering the love and family, we have to thank Takami Nieda for this English translation that was released this year and which I read courtesy of my local library.
Rifling through the pages of the book, I said, “You’re always reading novels”. I didn’t believe in the power of the novel. A novel could entertain but couldn’t change anything. You open the book, you close it, and and it’s over. Nothing more than a tool to relieve stress. Every time I said as much, Jeong-il would say something cryptic like, “A lone person devoted to reading novels has the power equal to a hundred people gathered at a meeting”. Then he’d continue , saying, “The world would be a better place with more people like that,” and smile good-naturedly.
The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall. I got to meet the author during a reading in PA at the end of June and this past quarter, the last installment in her much-loved book series kept me company. It has been wonderfully watching these fictional characters grow up and while two of the girls get married to their beaus, it is the emerging and deepening friendships that makes this a tale for the ages.
Neither did or said anything at all, but Jane put her pins back down. Her nervousness had vanished altogether, burnt up by outrage – she was ready for battle. An angry Jane was rare, and Lydia wished more than ever that she hadn’t list the thread of this conversation.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I have to admit that when I first came across this book, I originally dismissed it as something that I would not enjoy When the trailer for the movie version came out, I realized that I needed to read the book before I saw the movie and I am so glad that I did. While the movie is great, the book is so much better and I highly recommend it. Kevin Kwan brings a potpourri of culture and elegance shining the spotlight on the excessive lifestyles of some of Asia’s spectacularly wealthy individuals.
And that was just in Singapore. There were land holdings in Malaysia; a flat in London that Charlie Wu had secretly bought for her; a house in Sydney’s exclusive Point Piper and another in Diamond Head, Honolulu; and recently, her mother had mentioned picking up a penthouse in some new tower in Shanghai under her name. (“I saw the special computer mirror in the closet that remembers everything you wear and immediately knew that this place was for you,” Felicity had excitedly informed her.) Quite frankly, Astrid didn’t even bother trying to remember it all; there were too many properties to keep track of.
The Gospel of Trees by Apricot Irving. Continuing the trajectory that I have inadvertently created for myself this year with reading memoirs, I was enthralled by this deeply personal tale told from the perspective of a young woman whose father’s altruistic vision for Haitian agronomy takes the family on an adventure as missionaries in Haiti in the late 1980s and 1990s. As their time in the country ultimately shapes them as the family, each member of the family forms an inextricable bond with the country even when they leave and Ms. Irving shares this amazing story that takes us through a sequence of events leading up to the 2010 earthquake and beyond and weaves into this historical anecdotes that are illuminating in their revelation.
The rock in the water doesn’t know the misery of the rock in the sun.
This is one of the best books that I have read this year and while I had borrowed a copy from my local library, I promptly returned it realizing that this was a book to own.
Ayiti’s soil was thick with the blood: slave, colonizers, Taínos, missionaries, all heaped together in their torment. The land was torn apart by their suffering, Hills, topsoil, forests gone washed out to sea or burned until nothing remained but charcoal. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Christian conquest of the New World had accomplished a desecration so profound that five centuries would be insufficient to heal the scars.
Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was how the author was able to weave the complexity of human nature into a seemingly mundane and ordinary setting where people are connected as neighbors and coordinating car pols for their children to go to school. Curiosity led me to this book which I was introduced to via my subscription to the Book of the Month club. I have said before, that the prospect of discovering new authors is what had led me to BOTM and Abbi Waxman has certainly joined the list of authors that I will be looking out for.
“Anyway, then you have real, actual friends like Sam and Cory, or Mark and Dana, who we became friends with when the kids were at preschool, and are still friends with Not friends we see all the time, but friends we hug and love and are always pleased to see. And, more importantly, friends we would call in the middle of the night with our asses on fire and they’d run get a bucket of water without asking questions. Friends where you could pull up in front of their house, dump the kids, and know they’d mind them no problem until you got back from evading the authorities or whatever.”
Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko. Towards the end of the quarter as we approached October 1 and the day that Nigeria’s independence is celebrated, I made a conscious effort to only read Nigerian authors. I did not know how far I would go and Ms. Kilanko’s book had been on my reading list for nearly two years and was long overdue for a read. It is always interesting when you are reading a book whose author you have met.
I squirmed in my seat as waves of hot air fanned my face from the open window. There was a traffic jam in front of Bodija Market. Several cows, swished their tails from side to side, walking majestically across the road. Car horns blared as one of the cows slowly lowered herself to the ground in the middle of the road. After a few minutes of being prodded by the cowherds’ long wooden sticks, the beast rose awkwardly to her feet and ambled to the side of the road to chew the long grass on the verge.
Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. This book was a stunning surprise and one that I highly recommend. There is so much culture to be discovered in literature and in Mr. Ibrahim’s profoundly illuminating oeuvre, I found myself immersed in the culture of Northern Nigeria. A startling revelation of the depth of diversity that exists in the country of my heritage. The author astutely uses his narrative to explore female sexuality among the deeply conservative Muslim population. He does something bold and daring here, addressing something that is not openly discussed and distinguishing himself by delivering a narrative in a beautiful, easy-going cadence. I really appreciated that each chapter in this book was preceded by a wise saying, among my favorites are:
No matter how far up a stone is thrown, it will certainly fall back to the earth
An elephant’s tusks are never too heavy for it to carry
The search for a black goat should start way before nightfall
An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb
If nothing touches the palm leaves, they do not rustle
The sight of dark clouds should not make one throw away the water in the pitcher