One of the hallmarks of summer is the “summer reading list.” Everyone seems to have a suggestion or two on the collection of words and thoughts most worthy of your spare summer hours. Ever since I got my iPad I have been reading more than I ever have during my “adult working life”. I pull out my iPad and read on the tube, in taxis, in-between meetings, on the way to pick up lunch, essentially any time I’m away from home (and my collection of physical books) I pull out my iPad and read. The convenience of the iBook means that after receiving a recommendation or hearing about a book I can usually find it and download it in seconds. After listening a TED talk in which the speaker made a reference to Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, I immediately downloaded it (for free!); instant bibliophilic gratification. The downsides of reading so much on my iPad are the headaches and what I can only describe as vertigo induced by the bright screen; my headache heightens to include nausea whenever I read in a moving car. Oh well, a girl’s gotta read!
Following on CLC’s “Top 10 songs of 2012 (so far)”, I’ve decided to collate a list comprising my top 5 reads for the summer, including some contemporary and not-so contemporary African literature, and books that have nothing to do with Africa but just float my boat. I’m always open to suggestions so let me know if you have any recommendations!
Cherchez la Curl Summer Reading List
My First Coup d’État and Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa (Bloomsbury) John Dramani Mahama
In the middle of listening to President (then Vice President) Mahama’s interview on Morning Edition, I opened my iPad and tried to download the book. When I couldn’t find it in the iBooks store, I skipped off to WH Smith to try my luck at finding a physical copy (I did. It was the only one!). The book is a collection of stories recanting Mahama’s privileged but tumultuous upbringing in post-colonial Ghana with a father serving as an MP in Kwame Nkrumah’s government. This book is filled with luscious, vivid prose that is as evocative as it is nostalgic. The book also serves as an icebreaker to the “other” Africa that has, for now, lost the PR war to famine, war and strife. Beyond the beauty of the prose, this book is a documentation of contemporary African history, shining a light on Africa’s (small but extant) middle class. Layered and textured, the book describes that facet of African life that is rarely documented in modern literature: the experience of the (upper-)middle class African straddling extreme wealth and poverty that polarizes African society.
Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria (Granta) Noo Saro-Wiwa
I’m of two minds about this book but consider it a great summer read. I read reviews of the book in the Guardian, etc. and on Mia Farra Daily, and was looking forward to reading about a Nigeria beyond my Nigeria (essentially bits of Ibadan and Lagos). The book is insightful and informative and Noo proves her courage throughout the book, pursuing Nigeria by public transportation and mostly eschewing luxuries that would have made her travels much more comfortable if not easier. I especially enjoyed reading about her travels across the northern- and south-eastern parts of Nigeria, areas I’m least familiar with. I felt a bit uneasy and disconnected with the author’s narrative on the occasions where her reconciliation of her British upbringing with her Nigerian heritage seemed rough and less nuanced than other portions of the book, but I suppose we hybrids will always reflect some amount of patchiness in the joinery stitching together our various cultural reference points. At any rate, the book documented a fascinating journey through a fascinating country.
I Feel Bad About my Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (Random House) Nora Ephron
I’ve always enjoyed short-form writing. I’m a big O Henry fan and my heart glows warm with happiness when I remember the beautiful concise prose in Chimamanda Adichie’s That Thing Around Your Neck (I also recommend Jay McInerny’s The Last Bachelor). I’d never read any of Nora Ephron’s fiction (although I’ve watched many of her movies). When she passed away last month, I decided I needed to explore the other Nora I’d never experienced: Nora the essayist. After reading Lena Dunham’s “eulogy” (if I can call it that) in the New Yorker, I Feel Bad About my Neck seemed like a great way to start to “know” Nora. The book is witty, funny and in certain ways timeless as it addresses many of the issues she faced as a young woman in the big city, as a wife, parent, etc.; issues she has explored in her various movies. Some essays reveal the Nora in me and some show Nora to be someone quite far removed from me. In either case, the book is a light, entertaining summer read.
Swimming Studies (Penguin)Leanne Shapton
I pre-ordered this book before its release on the back of coverage from W magazine and my love of the water. Leanne Shapton is an artist, writer, swimmer; a swimmer who went as far as Canada’s Olympic trials, and went on to enjoy a successful literary/artistic career at the New York Times and as a published author. The book recants stories/experiences from her life as a swimmer: that dedication to competition, time, technique, rhythm and solitude that comes with swimming competitively. The book comprises a collection of stories/thoughts on swimming and is accompanied by lovely illustrations by the author; a sort of pean to swimming by a a former competitive swimmer. I “learned” to swim before my age hit double digits, but my fear of the water didn’t allow me to take full advantage of any “sporting prowess” I may possess in the pool. Swimming was a key part of my childhood and, even now, swimming-related memories are a fixture in my gallery of childhood nostalgia. However, it wasn’t until I hit my 20s that I decided I MUST “learn” to swim and fell in love with the sport of swimming (and not just the leisure of floating about in hotel pools, etc.). The book is a great read for anyone whose interest in swimming extends beyond Ryan Lochte
The Cairo Trilogy (Everyman’s Library) Naguib Mahfouz
My last choice is actually cheating a bit as it is three books in one: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. This is one of Africa’s seminal pieces of literature, by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz. The trilogy follows the evolution of an Egyptian family over a time horizon spanning Egypt’s fight for emancipation from British colonial rule through the end of World War II, telling the story of the family members in a way that reveals an evolution in Egyptian culture as much as an evolution in statehood/politics of Egypt. I have to admit, The Cairo Trilogy is, for me, that one book that you start reading and then stop, then start, then stop, without ever making significant progress. I’m slightly tempted to think my lack of progress is because I bought a beautiful hardbound, linen-covered version of the book, which while pretty to look at is a bit of a pain to haul around. However, book dimensions be damned; this is my summer for Cairo!