I was reading the various end-of-year book lists (and updating my Amazon wishlists, thinking one day … but also mindful of the tyranny of pile of unread books) when I saw an article by Nairobi columnist and writer Sunny Bindra on reading 50 books in a year. Looking at the bookshelves I reckon over the past 5 years that I am on that level in physical books.
So I thought that I would try to keep a log on my reading during 2016; fiction and non-fiction, physical and e-books, new reads and re-reads alike. The starting line is pushed back to the start of the Christmas hols.
Obliquity, John Kay (2010). I discovered John Kay in 1998 when I bought a copy of “The Business of Economics” at Heathrow en route to Central America to carry out a consultancy on forest user groups in Olancho, Honduras. I have been an avid reader ever since. Obliquity reminded me that:
The world is complex, imperfectly known, and our knowledge of it is incomplete, and these things will remain true however much we learn and however much we analyse it.
Absalom, Absalom, William Faulkner (1936). Reading a 1951 edition, a second-hand hardback copy, in which a previous owner (or reader) had left a newspaper clipping (The Observer or Sunday Times) reviewing “The Sound and the Fury” which I used as a bookmark. In common with my experience of Faulkner’s other novels I spend a lot of time quite lost and hanging on to the threads of the story and characters, and the slow disintegration of the doomed and damned Sutpen and Compson families. Great novel and great author.
Changing my Mind, Zadie Smith (2009). Another great writer. I picked this up in Bookstop to read her piece One Week in Liberia (also published in the Observer) which was written in 2007 when I was working in the country. But I think that her memories of her father stand out in this lovely collection.
Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (2013) has lots of good and well-deserved reviews – for example Taiye Selasi in the New York Times -but I still found it to be hard work: too many coincidences and characters present at the turning points in Kenyan history, and a lazy ending sweeping everything away in a biblical flood. But I am looking forward to her next novel.
In contrast Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread (2015) traces four generations of family history tied together by a house and home in Baltimore simply through their characters. It’ s an absorbing slow page-turner.
Anything We love Can Be Saved, Alice Walker (1997). Long after her 1982 novel The Color Purple (which I admittedly haven’t read, but rather saw the movie … nominated for 10 Oscars, won none, so again not much has changed) this collection on writing and activism was a revelation for me. Her southern sharecropping parents were I guess just one generation away from Faulkner’s slave-owning protagonists.
Ethnicity, Nationhood and Pluralism: Kenyan Perspectives, Yash Pal Ghai and Jill Cottrell Ghai (ed) (2013). This is an interesting commentary on constitutionalism, and Kenya’s recent political experience, plus some thoughts on citizenship, freedom, religion and the state which are pertinent in the US and Europe too.
Together Kenyan Perspectives and Dust took me back to the Waki Commission Report (download), and then I re-read Darkness At Noon (1940) by Arthur Koestler. The 2005 Vintage Classic edition starts with a quote from Machiavelli:
He who establishes a dictatorship and does not kill Brutus, or he who founds a republic and does not kill the sons of Brutus, will only reign a short time.
Update (March 2016): There is an interesting article in the NYRB on the finding of a copy of Darkness At Noon in the original German.