Once upon a time, there lived a sultan who was infamous for beheading his wives after the wedding night. However, when he married Scheherazade, she vowed to use all her story telling wiles to sustain her husbands’ interest. Each night, she stopped halfway through her tales and thus earned herself an extra day alive as the sultan was so caught up in the suspense of the stories he couldn’t dare murder her before hearing the rest of the tale. In this tragic yet creative way the Arabian Night Tales were born. In a similar bone, I do hope that the listed personal favorites will whet your appetite for books and more books and thus many story filled Arabian Nights. Happy Reading.
- PRIDE AND PREJUDICE BY JANE AUSTEN
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife………….. So begins this hilarious and very English tale. Austen in a tongue-in-cheek way, opens for us the kitchen door in the home of the Bennets. Mrs. Bennet , a larger than life character is determined to see her four daughters not only married off but also married well. As though in answer to her prayers, a single young man of means, Bingley, moves to their neighborhood. What then, pray, is the mother of four to do but fix up dates and give dinners in the hope of getting a well-to-do son-in-law? My favorite twist in the tale however, is when Elizabeth, the second daughter, falls for the man everybody hates. Austen crafts Mr. Darcy’s character and honor so well and so subtly I almost shouted Yes for Lizzy even before he asked for her hand.
P.S : I read elsewhere that Austen and the Bronte Sisters’ books are among the Annual Reads in England and I do understand why; for the minute I read the last sentence, I knew that I’d want to read it again and again, sometime soon.
- TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE BY MITCH ALBOM.
It is not every day that you meet your old college professor twenty years later. It is most certainly not every day that you learn that he has a terminal illness and a few months to live. But this is exactly what happens to sports Columnist Mitch Albom. In the middle of chasing his American dream and trying to accumulate as much wealth as he could, Mitch sees his old professor Morrie, on a TV channel speaking about death. He then decides to visit Morrie and say goodbye. Little does he know that this goodbye will turn into their final thesis together! Morrie, a wise and sensitive man who had lived a full life, takes his almost lost student through what really matters in life. From ageing to death to marriage and family, this book contains some of the most life changing and important lessons anyone who’d want to live a full life should read.
P.S : For a sports reporter, Mitch Albom is surprisingly subtle, tender and sensitive in his writing and the reader feels as anxious as Mitch waiting for the next Tuesday’s lesson with Morrie.
- THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS BY ARUNDHATI ROY.
This is an emotionally exhausting and very moving read. It also contains some of the most beautiful sentences and flamboyant metaphors I have encountered in my life. It is all about the politics of castes in India; how its often ignored with deeply painful fallouts. As in the saying that the death of one is a tragedy, Arundhati skillfully weaves the tale around the death of a little Asian-American girl, Sophie Mol who had come with her mother to visit her dad upon the death of her stepfather.
I am of the impression that Arundhati literally bled over this book for she creates her own world and new words that would easily form part of the dictionary. The metaphors are so real, so palpable and so original that she could have as well constructed them right from a fresh mix of concrete, sand and ballast. I wouldn’t be too surprised at this considering that she is a trained architect.
The best Asian fiction book I have read in 2014!
- BLESS ME ULTIMA BY RUDOLFO ANAYA.
If I had to choose any author to introduce me to Chicano Literature, then I would without a doubt, pick on Rudolfo Ananya. Bless Me Ultima is the sort of coming of age novel that will stop your heart with its subtle nuance and glowing description of nature’s beauty . It tells the story of seven year old Antonio whose Curandera (one who cures with herbs and magic) grandmother Ultima comes to stay with them. Antonio is drawn to the traditional healing magic and is at the same time attending catechism classes and learning his family’s deep Latin- catholic ways. The author succeeds in dissecting the very complex emotions that torment and tear the young boy. I loved the book most for its poignancy, passion and subtle brushy-like treatment of nature. The little boy Tony is as dear and as unforgettable as Paulo Coelho’s Santiago from the Alchemist.
- C.S LEWIS’ READINGS.
I read a bit of Lewis, the most quoted Atheist–turned- Christian apologist after purchasing half a dozen of his books at a yard sale sometime in April. Lewis’s essays are quite reflective and scholarly and I have to confess to reading some of the pieces twice or even thrice before I understood them! I’d recommend him for any skeptic and any Christian who’d like to build their faith for Lewis doesn’t shy away from the tough philosophical questions but tackles them. He also does his best to explain his understanding of God through great metaphors and everyday analogies.
The English professor at Oxford and Cambridge reminds me a lot of Apostle Paul in his zeal and fervor to bring God to those who do not know him. No wonder he is called the Apostle to the Skeptics.
Some of his amazing books are: Mere Christianity; The Screwtape Letters; The Problem of Pain; The Four Loves; Miracles; The Abolition of Man and of Course the very wonderful Chronicles of Narnia!
- JOY AND C.S LEWIS…The Story of an Extraordinary Marriage BY LYLE DORSETT.
They say, ‘Marry someone you love to talk to because when the sight fades and the skin fades in old age and you can no longer behold their breathtaking beauty, you can still listen to them, converse and enjoy your moments together.
This, I suspect, is the reason I turned a little green with envy on reading of Hellen Joy in C. S’ The Four Loves. For he says… ‘ for the few yars of our marriage, Helen Joy and I feasted on love, every mode of it, solemn and merry, romantic and realistic…no cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied.’
Now, many women would agree with me (in their hearts not publicly of course!) that feasting on a diet containing every mode of love with your better half is something we’ll be too glad to do……back to Helen Joy , I became a bit curious about this lady who’d captured the middle aged Oxford Don’s heart (he was past fifty five when they married.)
Helen Joy however, Just like Zelda, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, was lost in the shadow of her more famous husband. So, when I picked up the book, I was more than ready to discover the woman who swept the skeptic off his feet and straight down the aisle.
Dorsett does not disappoint, he collects letters and interviews Hellen’s family and friends until the bits and pieces fit perfectly and form a patchwork of the American Divorcee who was fiercely intelligent yet impetuous and headstrong. We learn of Hellen’s Jewish background, her atheism then dedication to communism. Interestingly, Lewis’ works are among the literature that made Helen convert to Christianity and her innocent fan mail to Lewis would lead brew a love between the two kindred souls, one in the USA and the other in England.
However, it is not happily ever after for Helen is diagnosed with a terminal illness and Lewis is forced to face his feelings for her and define the relationship before it is too late (seriously, do we always have to ask for them to DTR, even Lewis, really???) .
P.S She is partly the reason why C.S Lewis’ autobiography was titled SURPRISED BY JOY (sweet, right?)
- AMERICANAH BY CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE.
She calls it her version of Mills and Boons and I couldn’t agree more. I’d only add that it is also a story of Hair and Immigration and the politics of race. It is about a Nigerian Young Woman Ifemelu (Ifemsco to those who’ve read it) and how she looks for and finds her voice. Ifemelu leaves Nigeria for greener pastures in the United States but soon realizes that this isn’t very easy. She then takes up different jobs, writes a popular blog and tries to get over her high school sweetheart Obinze. In the end, as in real life, Ifemelu finally achieves success then goes back to Nigeria to face the niggling demon of her first love Obinze.
In my opinion, this wasn’t an easy book to write considering the wide time span covered therein and the fact that it was set in three continents. However, Adichie does a good job at it . However, I find the rather soapy ending a bit wanting. I’d have preferred a suspense or surprising ending like the one in Half of A Yellow Sun but then again, who am I to stand in the way of Love?
P.S I do hope that the upcoming movie on Americanah will be much better than the Half of a Yellow Sun Movie that was released in 2013
- THERE WAS A COUNTRY – A PERSONAL HISTORY OF BIAFRA BY CHINUA ACHEBE
Achebe’s biography. It is a well written, shockingly brief (considering just how much he achieved in his long academic and writing career) and a very intellectually and stimulating read. In it, Achebe talks of his life; how he started writing and his involvement in the Biafra war. He also looks at what ails Nigeria specifically and African States in general. Another bonus would be how he informs us about his fellow writers from Soyinka to J.P Clarke and Chris Okigbo. It is one of those books which any book lover would like to go back to from time to time as its tone is so conversational Achebe could as well be sitting across the table and narrating it himself.
- UNBOWED: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF WANGARI MAATHAI
One of the earliest books I read in 2014, Maathai’s story is quite inspirational and a very easy read.
From the start, Maathai is clearly in love with her culture and the beauty of her home. She skillfully narrates the myths of kikuyu origin , Mt. Kenya’s significance and the way in which the colonialists mistreated the Africans; grabbing land, renaming whatever they came across and confining them in native reserves.
In a very interesting almost Achebean style, Maathai tackles the politics of colonization, its ups and downs, the Mau Mau emergence and the newly independent euphoric Kenya and its dissapointmeents. I particularly enjoyed this rich historical perspective.
Maathai’s years as a don in the university of Nairobi in the Swinging Sixties are also quite reflective but it is her ferocious love for nature and her deep-seated passion for trees that challenged me most. All through, her activist’s voice can be heard reverberating in the flip of each page leaf.
- THE OTHER SIDE OF ME…SYDNEY SHELDON’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
I practically fed off this guy during my high school days and his heroines were models to me. (there is always a similarity in them, always so passionate, so focused so surreal ………but that’s a story for another day).
The highlight of this particular book was that it dealt with the man himself . Yet Sydney’s life is just as colorful, his achievements just as numerous as those of the characters in his novels. It is well written, fast paced and full of lessons on failure, success and career development. I was so inspired after I was through reading that I vowed to buy all his books and re-read, for old time’s sake.
- ‘Cemetery of the Mind’
This is a collection of poems by Dambudzo Marechera, the late Zimbabwean genius writer. His language is so strong yet so real that he is referred to as the prophet of the modern day Zimbabwe. This collection of poems was published after his death by Amelia, his official biographer and secret lover.
It is a mixed bag with poems of varying themes from hopelessness and politics to love. On reading it, one will without a doubt meet Marechera the dissent and disturbed writer. However, it is impossible to miss the stroke of genius that brushes through the pages in the very beautiful or very disturbing imagery. I can’t get enough of Marechera’s poetry.
- T.S ELIOT SELECTED POEMS.
This collection brings together some of Eliots’ best pieces. It is carefully selected and hence makes for a great read. Eliot’s poems are rich and terribly beautiful you could weep.
- MOVING HOUSE: SHORT STORIES BY PAWEL HUELLE
He is a Polish journalist. His short stories are well crafted and so awesomely political as to be compared to Coetzees’. In The Table,a polish family is almost split asunder by the political implications of its German dining table. In another story, Uncle Jim, Huelle shows how war takes a toll on ordinary citizens and how, long after the physical wounds are healed, emotional ones are still there. The stories are full of adventures,cath family,catholism and brittle dreams that break hearts. A lovely read.
- AN EXCERPT FROM VANITY FAIR BY WILLIAM M. THACKERAY.
Thackerey is obscenely talented and unfairly witty. He is so good I find it impossible to compare him to any other writer. His descriptions are unmatched, his heroine(Rebecca Sharpe)unforgettable and his tone so conversational that you’d think he is taking you(the reader) for granted.
The extract I read made me vow to look for the book. Luckily, I got a copy of it and I can’t wait to start reading.
P.S.A close friend of Charlotte Bronte, Thackeray’s heroine, Rebecca is so similar to Charlotte’s Jane Eyre(she dedicated her book by the same title to Thackeray).
Happy reading year!