I had a fulfilling reading experiene in 2017, and this is my account of the notable reads.
My reading regret for 2017 is that I read little poetry. Nonetheless, it was without doubt a satisfying reading year, during which I did not indulge in any sort of adventurousness that would have led me to read any book I did not already have an inclination of its quality. From the enlightening to the ambitious to the arrogantly brilliant; authors like Francine Prose, Sándor Márai, Naomi Alderman, Zoe Heller, Wells Tower, Agate Nesaule, Zadie Smith, and Elizabeth Strout have tampered with my sensibilities during the year, ruffled me up, and left me, many times, splendidly discomforted.
All the books I’d set out to read this year had some measure of prior recommendation by colleagues. While it is near-impossible to say with authority that one book is better than another, the books listed here are those that were, in no particular order, most rewarding to me in…
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My birthdays had always seemed like a foredoom. It’d start with the winding down of December, then the new year would barge in, startling me into a depressing realization of my new age. Adding one would feel like I’d added five. I would somnambulate through January. Every one of my inadequacies would be its own fire, everything I had not achieved would grow convoluted thorns, scorching and jabbing, everything peaking just before the 29th day into the new year.
It is usually an unremarkable day, the 29th of January. It had served only to remind me of, not who I am, but who I have failed to become. A heavy cloud that is a culmination of my perceived mediocrities keeps the sun at bay, like exposure to sunshine is a privilege I’d not merited. I’d find myself retreating more into the only safety I know – the abyss of myself. In these days, I’d fail to see anything of merit in the backlog of lived years, I’d roll everything into a ball and toss it out the window, over the fence. I’d let the days slither away uncontested.
But the mind always finds itself threading the path to comfort. In recent years, it had always been family, a few friends, and books. But since I am predisposed to avoid human companionship during these times, my most trusted solace has been in books. Literature, good literature, has never failed me. It is the one place where I am energized; when, after dropping a book, I could walk the length of countries and climb the height of mountains and still have energy yet untapped.
This time around, it has been a disoriented experience. The gloom had been heightened by the stark reality of my unemployment, made worse by the knowledge that the few jobs I can imagine taking without sinking into paralyzing dissatisfaction are like sprinkles of mist against a sea. There are only few friends who have not condemned me to absolute abandon. An undeserved privilege still, considering the meagreness of my contribution to our association. Then there is a new friend who I’ve known for a short while, and whom I know I should be in touch with more often, considering the unsaid but generally acknowledged terms of our friendship. This new friend may not know how much delight it has been; how much cobweb, however little, our friendship is melting away from what I’d since accepted as my normalcy.
Today, I’ll go to the library and continue reading Marilynne Robinson’s Home. Maybe I can even read Lila before the week drains away. Then maybe I’d walk, listen to the rhythm of things, stride against the wind and let it wash over my face, the dryness scurrying up my nose, settling into my lung; watch as the day yawns into sunset and promise myself to live as much as I can, fill the overlarge stillness with an unforced gratitude, for despite it all, there is always something worthy of unreserved gratitude; let myself “open like the love of a child*”.
* A line from Open, a poem by Gbenga Adesina
A woman pulls over hastily in her respectable car and stops a yam hawker – a girl of about thirteen years old. Two girls I presume to be the woman’s daughter – the younger being about the hawker’s age – lounge on the backseat. The hawker, considering the looming dusk and the many tubers still unsold, quickly puts her wares down from her head for the obviously impatient woman to examine, (the woman wasn’t properly parked). Two tubers skid off the tray in mid-air and breaks on hitting the ground, one breakaway part rolls off with determination until it winds up inside a drain.
The woman asks the price of four tubers grouped together.
800, the girl replied. Her eyes assess her loss with the broken tubers (one of which is particularly big and would have been of significant market value), her tense hands gathering the damaged yams.
No o! This one is 500. The woman stretches her neck from her seat and raises her nose as though she could sniff the tubers from her seatbelt restrain.
You can take them for 700, ma. The hawker’s eyes plead. The woman’s presumed daughters look on. One of them loses interest and busies herself with a smartphone.
- The woman starts her car as she says this, an indication of a final offer.
Please ma, yam is now expensive, help me buy, ma. The hawker curtsies, her face contorts in a desperate plea. The car begins to slither away.
Okay ma, come and take them for 650. The woman hesitates, then shakes her head and drives off.
A passerby who heard the concluding part of the negotiation reprimands the hawker’s poor marketing. She should have accepted the 600. Can’t she see it’ll be dark soon and she’ll have to carry all those tubers back home unsold?
The car cruises off into a bend and I begin to wonder what kind of world it is where a woman in a respectable car who gives off an aura of one who would drive to a shopping mall and shop away for obviously overpriced goods would refuse to patronize a juvenile yam hawker because of 50 Naira for yams she obviously wants, especially when she knows the hawker damaged her goods and is certain of a loss, and, perhaps, a reprimand from an furious mother, while trying to satisfy her.
I walk past the drain later where the mischievous yam piece lies in tranquillity. I assure myself I would have treated the hawker differently.
But then, we humans are forged in the same template, and I must consider my history of perpetually overestimating my own capacity for empathy.
Here’s a link to my story currently on the long list of the AMAB-HBF Flash Fiction Competition.
Do read, enjoy, share.
A brilliant essay by Alexis Okeowo, viewing Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria (if not the entire Africa) in its totality. Landscape, governance, history.
It is utterly impressive how Okeowo, in this essay, gives us a Lagos that is a collage of voices from diverse social and political classes.
The essay is about a year old, but still worthy of reading.
How Our Delusions Keep Us Sane: The Psychology of Our Essential Self-Enhancement Bias | Brain Pickings
It is argued here why we must, at varying degrees be deluded.
His work shed was the last among the rows of makeshift sheds that lined themselves along the road bringing Isale-Osun to complete a four-way junction at Olaiya. He laid down on a bench and jolted up when we stopped in front of his shed and peered inside.
‘I think he’s a mute.’ The lady said and turned to return to her mother’s shop. I murmured a ‘thank you’ after her. My tailor’s shop was also on the same side of the road and when I asked if there was a cobbler around there, she asked her daughter to take me to the one at the end of the road.
I was, to confess, a little annoyed that she had brought upon me a burden of having to communicate with a mute. But I was desperate, and the mute had a good smile. He motioned for me to sit on a bench and, as I sat down, I removed my backpack and hand it to him, I pointed at the torn strap I wanted fixed. He examined it and, with his right index finger, he traced ‘100’ on his left palm. I shook my head and traced ‘70’ on my own palm. Pity restrained me from offering him 50 Naira, which was what I would have agreed to pay anywhere else. He agreed to the price and went to work. I watched him work the needle and brown thread and marveled at his dexterity. He had the distinctive look of a northerner. He was light-skinned and he bore a smile that gave his face a warm, crude handsomeness. He wore a faded shirt, black trousers, and slippers. He was in his mid-twenties, that I was sure.
When he finished, he pointed at a different tear on the other strap to me and I nodded that he should fix it as well. He worked with a swift calmness that felt strange in a pleasant way.
I quickly recalled the beggars I had encountered on my way there. Half of them had no physical disability; and more than half, have their faces memorized in my brain, after seeing them for years. It is more than seeking alms to them; it is a job. Something they wake up in the morning and look forward to doing. I had stopped giving beggars money when, years ago, one of them rejected my money for being ‘too small’. He said I was ‘a big man’ and could do better than 20 Naira.
He pulled the straps to test the strength of his repair. Satisfied, he handed me my backpack. I examined it, awed by how neat his work was. There was no wayward thread hanging loosely about, or squeezed patch; and he managed to keep each strap at the same length. I stood up and gave him One Hundred Naira. He searched his pocket for change, but I gestured for him to keep it. He frowned and shook his head. He handed me my change but I refused to collect it from him. We continued like this – he, insisting I collect the change, and I, insisting he kept it – for a moment. I walked out and heard him made a strange sound. I turned around and he had placed his palms together, bowing a little. I did the same and said my first and only words to him: Thank you.
Here are three of my poems published on Kalahari Review.
Read. Enjoy. Or detest.
I wondered, after reading this story, why I’m just hearing the name Paul Ugbeche for the first time.
My maths teacher hates me. He asked me to find y. I mean, how can I find y, something missing a long time ago? My brother and sister had tried to find it. Uwodi had searched for it when she was in class six. Then Atadoga also searched for it during his time in class six. My siblings, very brilliant, top of their classes, those children. But they are children no longer. Uwodi works in the bank at Kaduna and Atadoga is in the Army, a colonel now. They have both found happiness, but they couldn’t find y.
My maths teacher, he came to class yesterday very angry.
‘x2+3y =1. Find y’
I was not surprised. This had been the question for many years, the question that defeated my siblings in their respective class six. I had memorised it. I had waited for it. And it came…
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The vigor of a recounted experience can never make up for the memory of the actual experience.
Hey, you know about Niyi Osundare? He is one of Nigeria’s finest poets and someone whom we have sipped many creative thoughts from. Well, the news is he is going to be reading at ARTMOSPHERE in Ibadan by 3pm on Saturday, June 20, 2015. The venue is at the NuStreams Conference Centre, KM 110, Iyagunku Road, off Alalubosa GRA, Ibadan, Nigeria.
But let me tell you a bit more about Professor Osundare…
Poet, dramatist, critic, essayist, and media columnist, Niyi Osundare is a Professor of English at the University of New Orleans, USA. He has authored over ten volumes of poetry, two books of selected poems, four plays, a book of essays, and numerous articles on literature, language, culture, and society. His works of published poetry includeSongs of the Marketplace (1983), Village Voices (1984), A Nib in the Pond (1986), The Eye of the Earth (1986),which won…
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