Thursday, 31 December 2015

Books of 2015

Looking for Alaska
I read this book first in 2013. No exaggeration, I have gone on to read it at least another 25 times. I decided to review it this year only because it made more sense to me this year. It was written by the phenomenal John Green. It is a good story and when I get good stories, I don’t care about the writing or the techniques or any of that. Looking for Alaska is about a boy, Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter who leaves his home in Florida and attends boarding school at Culver Creek, Alabama, ‘to seek a Great Perhaps.’ He meets his roommate The Colonel, a genius, playfully enthusiastic short man. The Colonel names Miles Pudge and introduces him to one of the most phenomenal characters I have ever read, Alaska Young. Alaska is a beautiful, brilliant, unstable girl and she was fascinating while she lasted. One half of the book is intentionally, I think, dedicated to making us fall in love with Alaska Young and the idea of Alaska and Pudge as a thing, and then shatteringly, the second half of the book is dedicated to forcing us to mourn with Pudge and The Colonel, to appreciate the immense propensity of loss and the drive that loss creates. I hope I have not given away too much. Buy and Read Looking for Alaska.
Yes. You are right. I reviewed Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie last year. But I read it again this year and I also read my review of it again and it seemed like I was incredibly unfair. Americanah is a brilliant book. It was fantastically written by one of the best in the game. The only part of it I did not really like was the end where Obinze went back to Ifemelu and she accepted him. Maybe we need more stories that have sad endings. I believe Americanah would have been better than it is if it did not end that way. I mean, Obinze was a married man already and Ifemelu had survived so long without him anyway. But generally, Americanah was a greatly written story of love and success. And I feel there is a lot for every reader to learn. Buy and Read Americanah.
The Martian
The Martian was written by Andy Weir. I read this book in a very busy December period and I managed to finish it in three days. It is fantastic. It is Science Fiction but it is Science Fiction that you can enjoy thoroughly even if you are not a Science Fiction person, it was recently adapted into a movie. It is about a NASA astronaut, Mark Watney, a hilarious botanist, who was left on Mars by his team when they assumed that he had died while they were evacuating the Ares III mission. In order to survive, Mark had to rely on his experiences in Chemistry, Botany, Engineering, everything.  I am not going to spoil it for you. I felt it was very brilliant of the author to speak in Chemistry and Physics and Biology yet make it easy for the non-physicist and non-chemist and non-biologist to understand and love it. The Martian was a great story and it was definitely among one of the most impressive novels I read this year. Buy and read TheMartian.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Permit me to Laugh Out Loud! This book is hilarious. I had heard of how impressive Lola Shoneyin’s writing was but this was awesome on many levels. I decided not to expect too much when I started reading it because it did not seem like a book I would enjoy. I enjoyed every minute of it, every second. This is a classic don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover (or Its Title). The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is about Bolanle who, despite being a graduate, opted to become the fourth wife of an illiterate Baba Segi. Obviously, she could not operate on the same wavelength as the other wives, their children and her husband. We learnt later on why she chose to marry the man and the secret that lurked in the man’s house. As the book unfolded in hilarity, it also unfolded in serious life lessons. I only felt that foul language like ‘fuck’ was not really necessary especially if we consider that it was mostly a family type book. It is easy to spoil this book for anyone who has not read it and so I will not say much. Buy and read The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.
I Do Not Come To You By Chance
I Do Not Come to You By Chance was written by Adaobi Tricia Nwabuani. The book is about Kings, a brilliant Chemical Engineer who wanted to work with a petroleum company. He sent application letter after application letter, went for interviews but remained unlucky, like many ordinary Nigerians remain. When his father got sick, he had to become closer to his uncle, Cash Daddy. After his father died, Cash Daddy, who by the way is another amazing character I read this year, introduces Kings to Cyber Crime. I am saying too much. I felt the book was a good read. However, I thought it could have ended better. The same problem I had with Americanah. Books do not have to have happy endings. I felt that it would have made more sense if Kings was arrested because, even though we loved him, he was a criminal for 95% of the book. I loved Cash Daddy. Buy and read I Do NotCome to You By Chance

The Whispering Trees
This book was written by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim. It was dark in a bright way, The Whispering Trees. It is a book of short stories with each story being more interesting than the last. The ones I liked the most were The Garbage Man, about a young lady who stayed home alone most of the time and fell in love with The Garbage Man. She made him give up smoking. And I liked the way it ended and I feel we need more stories to end like this, ‘Amarya, are you alright?’ Tears were streaming down her eyes now and she tried to wipe them away. ‘Please, go,’ she said softly. ‘Don’t come back here anymore.’ I also liked The Whirlwind especially at the end when Audu said to his uncle ‘She should never wake up, Uncle. She is beautiful.’ He had killed her. LOL! Just fantastic! The Whispering Trees was also a great story. Buy and read The Whispering Trees.
Paper Towns
Paper Towns was written by John Green. As all John Green novels, including the one he wrote only 50% of, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which I am currently reading, it was beautiful in ways that was not pretentious and not arrogant. I love John Green. Paper Towns is about two characters who I think have the best names for characters in the whole history of literature, MARGO ROTH SPIEGELMAN and QUENTIN ‘Q’ JACOBSEN. Margo is a larger than life, weirdly intelligent young lady much like Alaska Young in Looking for Alaska but different. Margo, a month to graduation from high school, makes Q, who she doesn’t really speak with under normal circumstance; join her in a series of missions which culminate in breaking into Sea World. They are caught but Margo is able to wriggle them out of trouble. Anyway, the day after, Margo disappears much to the heartbreak of Q who had imagined a new found relationship with Margo Roth Spiegelman. The rest of the book is Q and his friends trying to figure out where she disappeared to and then going to find her. I enjoyed every minute of it. Buy and read PaperTowns.
Why We Struck
I decided to add this non-fiction book about the Nigerian Civil war because this year, I read more non-fiction than I did fiction and so it is only fair that I review at least one of those. Why We Struck is the story of Nigeria’s first military coup. It was written by Adewale Ademoyega. The coup took place on January 15 1966 and inadvertently led to the Civil War or Biafra war. The book was okay as an account of the Civil War and kind of an autobiography. It was vivid and deep enough. Although, in some other stories by some other people, none of whom were actually connected directly with the coup, the accounts were somewhat different, but generally, it is easier to believe this one because the author had direct involvement. I liked that the author never really strayed too far from the point. If you are looking for answers about the questions of Nigeria’s past, this is a fantastic book for you. Buy and Read Why We Struck.
And The Mountains Echoed
I have now read all three of Khaled Hosseini’s books and I can conclude that the man can weave a good yarn. His stories are mostly set in at least two continents, from his country of origin, Afghanistan, to America and back. And they are absolutely fantastic reads. In And The Mountains Echoed, there were several stories within a story. The stories were so real and so emotional. If you like happy endings and flowery life, it is best not to read any of Khaled Hosseini’s books and you better not read And The Mountains Echoed. The novel begins at a place called Saboor where a farmer has to sell his little daughter to a wealthy childless couple in Kabul. This girl had a brother, Abdullah, who she calls ‘Abollah’ and it just shatters the poor boy’s heart. I can’t say more, lest I spoil it. Just know that except for the next book, The Book Thief and maybe one or two others, I have never read a more absolutely heart wrenching book in my life. Here’s the poem that begins the book:
Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.- Jelaluddin Rumi.                      

The Book Thief 
The Book Thief was written by Markus Zusak. It is about Leisel Meminger, a nine year old and also about death, who narrates the story. Yes, the story was narrated by death himself itself. Leisel lost her brother tragically and arrives at her foster parents’ home, she was there mostly around the Nazi Germany era. Also, she is a book thief. She likes the idea of books but at first she could hardly read. Her foster father, Hans Hubermann, teaches her to read in time. While political tension intensifies, her family, very good people, hides a man called Max who is Jew in their basement. So the family is in danger most of that time. A lot of stories are told by death about Leisel and even death himself itself likes her a lot. At the end, tragedy happens. No spoilers. I loved The Book Thief because it was very different from your average book and also a lot better than your average book. Also, it is a very sad story. Buy andread The Book Thief.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Twelve Paragraphs, One Year

In January, you were invincible. You had it all mapped out in your head. Finish service July 2nd, do a little marketing for your book from July through to when you’d get admitted into school, perhaps September or October. And you have to get admitted into school this year because school is important, even if the entrepreneurship institute you enrolled into last November says differently. So you would study as hard as you ever had.

In February, you were calm. You met Elnathan John for the second time, he was awesome again. You met Abubakar Adam Ibrahim; you were captivated by The Whispering Trees when you read it for the first time. You were captivated by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, too. He looked like you imagined the writer of The Whispering Trees would look. You wanted to be a writer more than ever before. In February also, you were in love with a genius who liked poetry. You felt that she intimidated you more than she loved you. You had thought you read a lot of books but compared to her, you were a novice at reading. Like your last relationship, you began to look for ways to end it before it began. In Nigeria, the elections were postponed and the political atmosphere was so tense, you were sure a military coup would happen.

In March, you were disappointed. Your book was billed to come out that month but it did not. And so you were disappointed. It was not just the fact that people were not trustworthy that disappointed you. You realized also that no matter how hard you tried you were more tilted towards introversion than extroversion. This broke your heart into a million pieces every single time you thought about it. You wanted to be more outgoing. Your 2012 nightmare came back. Your ankles got red again.

In April, you were defiant. Your book came out online but since only a few people could access Amazon kindle, you did not say much about it. You started writing your second book; you titled it HOW TO BE A PERSON: A BOOK OF SHORT STORIES.  You loved the stories you were writing and you had a plan. When you finished the book, it would not be published in Nigeria and even if it would, it had to be a reputable publishing firm. The Nigerian elections came by and Nigeria won.

In May, you were relieved. Your genius girlfriend broke up with you and you were relieved. She loved Robert Frost more than she loved you; the only thing worse than competing with a poet for the love of a lady is competing with a dead poet for the love of a lady. We remain friends. You were relieved also because Muhammadu Buhari won in an election that was mostly peaceful. There were no backlashes. You found poetry more than ever before.

In June, you were humble. Your book of short stories was going better than you expected. You saw a theme playing out, and for the first time, you realized why you were writing How to Be a Person: you wanted to relive your Secondary School life, this time, as your characters; people who were more vociferous and overwhelming than you could ever be. You finished Looking for Alaska for the seventeenth time this year. You travelled home for your birthday and scaled the Mount Patti again as you decided you would the first time you did it in December of last year. You began to study in earnest for the entrance exam.

In July, you were happy. You passed out of NYSC. It was a hell of an experience. You loved every other second of it. You met people: smart, stupid, silly and serious. You made friends. You lived. You also passed the entrance exam you wrote and you were invited for an interview. You learnt that life is short.

In August, you were bored. After the interview in the first week of the month, which you thought you aced, you came back home and you were bored for most of the time. You continued How to Be a Person but you got stuck on many of the new stories. You tried to write poems but you realized the not so surprising fact that you were bad at it.

In September, you were confident. You had an entrance exam for anther school around the middle of the month and you were confident because you expected that there was no way it could be difficult for you. It was an English Proficiency Test and you decided that you were sufficiently okay in the English Language to score nothing less than an 80%. You did not work nearly hard enough for an 80% so your disappointment at scoring less than that when the results came out was surprising. But it was not really a bad result, you comforted yourself.

In October, you were worried. Based on precedents from past years, the school year was supposed to have begun in the first school and so when the month rolled through and you did not hear anything from them, you were worried. Your book of short stories could not have been going better so you drowned yourself in writing and intentionally locked away the thoughts of failing to get admitted.

In November, you were sanctified. You found religion more interesting than ever and so you studied the Bible and Googled about some other religions and decided that religion was fantastic opium. Indeed way better than ignorance. You got the admission in November and you were surprised by how, for some reason, it seemed not to matter that much anymore. November taught you all over again that life is short.

In December, you were peaceful. School resumed and so you were back to studying for the first time in years. You thought about your book of short stories a lot but you did not write anything significant. December is not over yet so you still look forward to the remaining few days, but so far, you feel that the year has not been too bad. The only disappointment was in your book release date being shifted and you got over that long ago. Next year will be better for you. Amen!     

*Thank you for reading my blog this year. You will be better than you are.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Thinking on Paper

I was thinking about being a good person. I conclude that I am not a good person because I do not know how to be one. But I am not a bad person either because... I have never killed anybody before. I have only ever blocked one person on Twitter. I used to think if a person could block another person on Twitter then he or she could kill that person. I don't think so anymore. That's quite a stupid thought. I have never even seen the person I blocked before, I blocked her because I was tired of seeing her nonsense tweets about how poor people deserved their poverty and how everybody that is poor is hopelessly lazy. And how she scored 406 in JAMB. And how she forgot serious money inside her bag. I felt bad for blocking her but only at that instant. I wonder how I would feel about her if I know her in real life. I'm just grateful I don't. I had blocked her before her rape story came up. (Just to clear this up, I believe the rape story).

I've been thinking about loyalty too, and how complex a subject matter loyalty is. Loyalty is an extremely complex thing. It is unfair to try and measure loyalty because measuring loyalty is like measuring kindness. It is not impossible, it is unkind. Loyalty is a kind of faith. I think It is wrong to try and measure these things because measuring them means comparing the measurement of one to another.

I've been thinking about failure. It seems like suddenly everybody has decided that failure is not really a bad thing. That's what I also thought. One is a failure only at the point of capitulation. But now I have reason to disagree with that. Failure teaches us lessons, agreed. But not everything that teaches a lesson is a good thing. Here's an analogy: The cactus plant is beautiful, everybody agrees. But it is only beautiful to the eyes, it is not so beautiful that we should start touching it. The first time I touched a cactus plant, I learnt the bitter lesson. It's spore (not really spore but that's the best name I have for it at the moment) entered into my thumb and for days, it caused me tremendous pain and itching. I learnt a lesson by touching a cactus plant but just because it is a lesson doesn't mean it is a good one. Not all lessons are good. Failure is an example of a bad lesson. No matter how much we coat failure with bright colours and call it success in disguise and call it an opportunity, it is still failure and nobody truly wants to be associated with it. I hope we never find a way to make failure seem like a rad thing the way we've converted the word bad into excellent. Failure teaches you how not to fail again, but it is still a bad thing.

Going back to the earlier thought about whether or not I'm a good or bad person, I do not think any human being can be intrinsically bad or even intrinsically good for that matter. I think they are very relative, these terms. A bad person is bad to you because he wants the opposite of the things you want. Say you want world peace or an end to communism, for example; the fact that you want that does not necessarily make you a good person, in fact, it actually makes you a bad person to the communist or the terrorist, because he wants communism, he believes communism is the right way to go. And because he believes his own God will be ashamed of him if he does not kill infidels and people who do not reason like him, respectively. Do you understand? This is kind of complicated, I have never really thought about it. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Of Red Roads and Replica Streets

For the last 12 days, I have been in the Nigerian city called Ilorin the capital of Kwara state. I intend to spend the next few years of my life there. Incidentally, I was born in Ilorin. It is an interesting place, this city. Mostly due, as far as I'm concerned anyway, to the fact that there are lots of people who speak Yoruba. I've found that there's always liveliness wherever a group of Yoruba people are situated. Take Ibadan and a little bit of Lagos for instances. Maybe it has to do with how little Yoruba people think of themselves. It is a fantastic thing to think little of yourself and not take everything so seriously. Of course they fight sometimes, as they do in every big city, but they laugh at each other way more than they fight with each other and that makes things a whole lot more interesting.
The houses, most of them, are old settlements that have existed for many, many decades. The roofs are not as red as the roofs at Ibadan though, but they're red enough to certify the city as an ancient one. A little history tells that the city was discovered by the Yorubas as early as in 1450. it went on to become a northern Nigeria protectorate when a descendant of Usman Dan fodio took control of the city through the spread of the Islamic religion.
I was fascinated by the way many of the streets were exact replicas of themselves. It is very easy for me to get lost under normal circumstances, but it is even easier for me to get lost in Ilorin, and the replicate streets do not make it any better. I love the weather as well. It remindes me of schooling during my undergraduate days when in the harmattan seasons, pullovers were not thick enough but then during the heat season, simple Ts were hardly simple enough. Weather is something I hardly consider anymore, however. I've lived most of my life in an environment that has perhaps one of the harshest weather conditions in Nigeria. It is inhumanly hot most of the time. So I feel like I've earned an immunity to any variant of Nigerian weather by virtue of my being bred in Lokoja.
Another interesting thing is the traffic holdup which probably thickened the last few weeks due to general fuel scarcity. There's a difference between traffic holdup in Ilorin and traffic holdup in Abuja. The one in Ilorin is more peaceful. The horn honking is present of course but not in the loud irreverence that applies in Abuja and Lagos. When cars are stuck in traffic in Ilorin they stay stuck until the congestion reduces and movement is possible. Very unlike Abuja where drivers try to take advantage of tiny spaces to further compound the problem. Even the honking is less and you can think during traffic jams. The driver in front of you expects that you are sane enough to understand that there is no where for him to go, therefore there is no need to honk your horn and disturb the quiet and sanctity of the whole world. I love that about them.
Finally, in order for you not to get too bored, I find it very interesting and mildly amusing how there is always a tinge of red on the tarred roads. It is a signature, I believe. I know nowhere else in the world, on TV and in real life, where there is red on the black tarred roads. Although, you need to look a little carefully but it's not hard to spot. The roads have the color red in it, for some utterly inexplicable reasons. It is like something red is mixed with the solution that forms the tar that is poured over graded ways. Even if the tar is so extremely black that it shines in the sun, you would still find that redness that just sits and waits for you to spot it.
There is a lot I'm looking forward to in Ilorin. And I believe my stay would be pretty exciting. I like the way it is both a big city and a peaceful city at the same time. Usually, most big cities tend to lose their tranquility and placidity with time. It would appear however that Ilorin is different. If Lagos is like Abuja on Steroids, then Ilorin, from the little I've observed, is like Abuja on Ambien.