Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Books That Have Challenged Me Over The Years

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them." Mark Twain

I have devoured many books over the years, and the following is a list of some of them. The list is not exhaustive, and I've picked the ones that struck a chord with me and left a lasting impression. Before we get to that, let me go off on a tangent and tell you how I pick my reads.

How I select books to read.
When they tell you, a book is judged by its cover, believe them. Upon entering a shop, the first thing I do is walk over to the shelves marked according to genre and scan for the covers that catch my eye, assuming I have not predetermined the novel I want to read. Call me superficial, but jackets have a knack for drawing me in. For me, less is more. I like to be intrigued. Challenged. Give me a puzzle to put together as I unravel the tale.

Once I spot the one, I zoom in on the title, flip the book over and read the blurb. It is true what they say about the hook. I’m always looking for that thing that arouses my curiosity and piques my interest. The promise of what's inside and the reason to keep reading.
Reviews make or break an author. You better believe it. Some reviewers do know how to spoil it for everybody. Some are fair, some, well, darn obnoxious. I am sympathetic when it comes to reviews because I know how it feels to be told your writing is a dud. 

The author’s use of language is of great importance to me. I flip through random pages, poring over the author's writing style. By doing this I'm trying to see if I resonate with the author's voice. The author and I need to have that chemistry. I love books that are simple and yet sophisticated. I don't want the kind of distraction that comes with trying to decipher the author's intended meaning (Ernest Hemmingway will be spinning in his grave). Just write what you mean, and I will thank you for it. 

Then there is word of mouth. That book on everyone’s lips. The hype on social media, radio and television. All these channels guide me to my next read.

I am drawn to stories that challenge my emotions. I am a sucker for love, a good murder and a cry, stories that make me want to explore what I don't know and what thought I knew already. Also, stories that make me uncomfortable and enable me to view the world from a different perspective. Sometimes I crave for tales that inject in me, some degree of nostalgia.
1. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Recommended by my daughter, this novel had me at ‘nurse.’ Where do I even begin? Critics refer to it as the To Kill a Mocking Bird of the 21st century. I agree 100 %. The story about a nurse (midwife to be exact) who could not carry out her sacred duties due to prejudice. Imagine wanting to save a child but you couldn’t because you are not allowed by the parents of that child. The nurse's only 'sin' is that she is black! The story is emotional I read it with tears rolling down my cheeks. I am a nurse so you can imagine my horror. The author, though white, did her research well. The way she addresses black people issues, her use of language. It was as if I was reading a book written by a black person. Some may feel such a story should have been written by a black person. Perhaps. But I have no doubt Jodi wrote the story that chose her. The author finishes by giving a heartrending commentary about race and our society today which meant more tears for me. I was emotionally exhausted by the time I finished reading Small Great Things. But reader, do not despair. The ending is quite encouraging.

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
The story that had me at the edge of my seat. Quite a thriller. The suspense in this story, how twisted things get, is what keeps you flicking through the pages. A woman vanishes, and the husband’s life spirals out of control. Throughout the novel which is told by Nick and Amy's perspectives, we are left wondering if it really is Amy playing mind tricks on her husband. It appears she is, but why? How? At one point, I thought Nick Dunne was the one framing his own wife. Again, it’s about relationships. In this instance, marriage. How certain things we do and say affect our partner. Beware. You have been warned. Gone Girl is what I call a What the heck kinda story.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A great read, but not for the faint-hearted. There are challenging themes and some PI words. The storyteller is inquisitive. She is one of the Finch children who is intrigued by a strange man who lives next door. Then there is Atticus, the lawyer who faces the onerous task of defending an innocent ‘nigga’ in court. Because of this, he is dubbed a Nigga Lover. You can't help but feel for Atticus, and for Tom Robinson, of course. He has been wrongly accused after all. A great read, but difficult to swallow. The author shows a great deal of courage in telling her story, and I am not surprised it took Harper Lee a while for her book see the light of day. 

4. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Another gripping, emotional read. A story about marriage. Love and lies. There is a lot of pain in this book. But then again many great books draw from pain, tragedy and deceit. A lot draw from the African experience. The desperation that comes with wanting a child. The need to uphold certain expectations and sacrificing one's happiness along the way. Everyone is talking about this book, so, I had to discover for myself. I’m glad I did. 

5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I saw this on my Twitter timeline and found myself on Amazon clicking buy. This is a story of slavery. Of broken relationships. Societal prejudices. And more. A simple read. Fast-paced and the author seems to cram a few generations into one book. An emotional read I find, but then again, who isn’t touched by the evil of slavery. I have to say though that the ending was rather abrupt for me. I was left wanting more, hoping for more. I needed closure, perhaps. Oh, well. *sighs* 

6. The Power by Naomi Alderman
I stumbled upon this title when I searched best sellers on Amazon. Men are in trouble and guess who the troublemakers are. Women. You guessed right. They have mysterious powers that kill men and boys, and it is scaring the living daylights out of them. A certain reporter is on the case. There is some weird shite going on in this book one has no choice but to discover how it all ends. Is it any wonder Barack Obama endorsed this literary masterpiece?! Loved it.

7. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
I could identify with most themes in this book. The hope that all economic migrants carry when they move to another country. The disappointments they face when they realise that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. In the end, most long for home. Home is where the heart is. The immigrant realises that they do not have to be scared to return home. That if they try hard enough, they can dream again and make it in their own country. The main character in this book does just that. They go back home, eventually, after years of trying to make it in America. I wanted the protagonists to dream big. To have more ambition. To swing for the fence. I wanted more conflict. Stakes to rise a little higher. I craved for more drama. 

8. Under the Udala Trees by Chimelo Okparanta
It's possible this book would have eventually found its way into my hands had a friend not recommended it to me. A story about two girls who fall for each other. Unheard of during the time and place the author describes. I managed to finish the book as it addresses some real issues in our society today. Mother-daughter relationships, sexuality, sacrifice, religion and love. I am always drawn to themes that tug at my emotions. I learnt that you cannot sacrifice your happiness or change who you are to please others. You will regret, and it will haunt you until you develop the courage and resilience to go after what you want.

9. Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
I found this book, again, when I searched for best selling novels. Read the blurb, and I was hooked. A heart-warming story about lost objects that need rescuing. Each object has a story behind it. Interesting read. Kept me going as I wanted to know if the storyteller fulfilled her promise to return the lost things to their rightful owners. 

10. The Letter by Kathryn Hughes
A story about an abusive husband. About a letter that lost its way and was found years later. Love. A light read. One of those books I read when I need something to lighten my mood. Perhaps one cliché too many for me. But then again, some readers thrive on those. Just goes to show, the book business is subjective.

11. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Another literary champion. A story about the experience of interracial couples. The relationship between two girls who come from different backgrounds and who view the world through different eyes. The author gives a realistic portrayal of Britain as a society. There are some lighter moments, but overall, I found the story somewhat depressing. Rather grim. I tend to navigate towards hope. But Zadie is undoubtedly a tremendous literary writer. 

12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
You may be surprised I had not read this classic yet. Well, it was always at the back of my mind, and I kept putting it off for other reads. Eventually, I came around and read the novel. The author’s use of language is embellished, of course, but not in a discombobulating way. The author explores the society of the wealthy. Philandering husbands. Dreams. Tragedy. Love and complexities of relationships.

Besides the books I've listed above, I read I See You by Clare Mackintosh, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Together by Julie Cohen and the short story The Arrangements and the novella Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 

If one of your favourites is not on my list, why don't you pick a title from my list and give it a try? You never know, it may be the book that opens your eyes and grows you. 

Happy Holidays! 

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