Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 in Review

Source
Once again, the year has come to an end and bookish individuals will be taking stock of what transpired within the 365 days we had. But before we can conclude on whether this year has been successful, we must, as a matter of importance, relate our goals at the beginning of the year to what actually happened: Projections vs Actuals, as most Monitoring and Evaluation Officers do. However, I will first review my readings the month of December.

December in review
I read three books and suspended one in December. The objective for November was to play catch-up by reading enough books on my Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. It started well with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: a novel about race relations in America's south told from the point of view of the nine-year old Jean Louise Finch, daughter of a lawyer appointed to defend a black man - Tom Robinson - in an alleged rape case, which people know to be fault but are not prepared to pronounce one of their own guilty, which if done would be to put the slave above the master, no matter how weak the master's case is. The next book was DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little. This is a story about reality TV, teen murder, materialism, and our sense of justice. After this, I picked Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner and for more than two weeks I crawled slowly, trying to grasp Faulkner's delivery, attempting to crack it open. And still finding the doors tightly shut. At 150 pages I suspended the read and promised to pick it up in the new year. I don't easily give up on books and I have never abandoned a book so this will not be the first. The problem I had with the book is the preternaturally long sentences and the repetition of events. I picked the novella So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba. This epistolary story tells the life of a recently widowed woman, Ramatoulaye, who was rejected by his husband after about twenty-five years of marriage. In this letter to her friend, she informs her of the various problems she has gone through, pitching custom against modernity.

Projections made for 2011
In my 2011 Welcome Note, I tagged this year The Year of Reading and entreated those who are not reading-friendly as some of us are to take three books they have heard of which tickles their interest and go through them slowly. If anyone took this unasked for advice, they would have read three books this year. 

At ImageNations, though not stated, I decided to read five books per month - sixty by December 31. I also widened my reading coverage and promised to read more books from different countries in Africa through the Africa Reading Challenge. Catching up on the Top 100 Books was also mentioned.

What happened in 2011 regarding my goals
I was four short of the total number of books - I read 56 instead of 60, not counting single stories that are not part of an anthology such as the Caine Prize Shortlists. However, I am upping my determination again this year with Kinna of Kinna Reads (more of this in my 2012 Outlook). However, I read 12 single stories, making a total of 68.

The Africa Reading Challenge was very helpful. In fact I read a total of 20 books from 13 different countries including: Cote d'Ivoire (Veronique Tadjo), Kenya (Ngugi wa Thiong'o), Angola (Pepetela and Jose Eduardo Agualusa), Egypt (Alifa Rifaat), Malawi (Jack Mapanje) and Mozambique (Mia Couto and Lilia Momple). Other countries include Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Uganda, Cameroon, Namibia, Senegal and Gabon. According to geographic coordinates there were three from East Africa, one from North Africa, five from South Africa (not the country), two from Central Africa, one from South Eastern Africa and two from West Africa.

Regarding the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge, prior to 2011 I had read a total of fourteen (14) books out of the projected 100. Though the remainder is still high and would require extraordinary effort to go through them, I read a total of 15 books this year. Another reason is that about 63 percent of the books on this challenge list are books authored by non-Africans.

Details of my readings
I am using the meme I used in 2010 to summarise my readings in 2011; changes will be made where necessary to fit the year under review.

How many books did you read in 2011?
I read a total of fifty-six (56) - twenty-six more than last year - and twelve (12) single stories. Including double counting (a non-fiction could be a work of translation) the following are the categories according to the genres (in addition to the single stories): Short Story Anthologies: 4; Non-Fiction: (10); Novels - pages greater than 150: 28; Novellas - 150 pages or less: 8; Translations: 10; Plays: 2; Children Stories: 1.

How many did you review?
I reviewed all the books I read in 2011 except Weep not Child, which I've reviewed one of its theme before I read it for the third time and So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba, which I'll be reviewing in the new year.

How many of the books read were on the Top 100?
I read a total of fifteen books on my Top 100 Books reading challenge. This is about two times the number read for the combined years of 2009 and 2010.

How many fiction and non-fiction?
As already stated, my non-fiction books (10) forms 15% of the total number of books read.

Male-Female Ratio
The year began very good on this. It was almost 50-50 at a point in time. However, it has skewed again, though better than last year. Thirty-five percent (or 24 books) of all my reads (including single stories) were authored by women and sixty-three percent (or 43 books) were authored by men. One percent (1) was mixed - an anthology of both sexes.

Favourite book of 2011
I have already discussed this here.

Least favourite
Not exactly a book but some of the Caine Prize shortlists, which were in the category of single stories, did not interest me. Their subject matter were predictable and the narrator is almost always a young individual as if the recipe for a good story has just been discovered in from an Einstein-like mathematical experiments.

Any that you simply couldn't finish and why?
Perhaps Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom will fit here, though I plan to pick it up in the new year, after all it is on my list of 100 books to be read and they must all be read. The reasons for its apparent abandonment has just been given.

Oldest Novel
The oldest (in terms of publication date) was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813), this is followed by Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure (1895).

Newest Novel
I read four books that were published in 2011: Accra! Accra! More Poems about Modern Africans by Papa Kobina Ulzen; A Sense of Savannah: Tales of a Friendly Walk through Northern Ghana by Kofi Akpabli; Look Where You Have Gone to Sit edited by Martin Egblewogbe and Laban Carrick Hill; and Tickling the Ghanaian: Encounters with Contemporary Ghanaian Culture by Kofi Akpabli. However, if the months are taken into account the latter will be the newest.

Longest and shortest title?
Longest: Tickling the Ghanaian: Encounters with Contemporary Ghanian Culture by Kofi Akpabli.
Shortest: 1984 by George Orwell and Mema by Daniel Mengara.

Longest and shortest books?
The biggest book in terms of pages was Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (639) and the least paged book is Accra! Accra! More Poems about Modern Africans by Papa Kobina Ulzen at only 28 pages.

Most read author of the year and how many books by the read was read?
The most read author was Ngugi wa Thiong'o. I read three of his books: The River Between; A Grain of Wheat; and Weep not Child.

Any re-reads?
Yes. I read Weep not Child for the third time.

Favourite character of the year?
Though I have favourite character in my spreadsheet for every story read comparing them is a problem. It means I have to be able to recollect why each character is loved and this means I have to recall all their characteristics and actions. A difficult job. However, I will randomly select Stephen Kumalo in Cry, the Beloved Country for African books and Sethe and Denver in Beloved for non-African authored books. The least favourite characters were all in one novel: Heathcliff, Mrs Catherine Earnshaw and Mrs Dean all in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Which countries did you go to through the pages in your reading?
I went to Kenya, Angola, Egypt, Malawi, Cote d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Uganda, Zululand, Cameroon, Namibia, Gabon, Nigeria, South Africa, Britain, America, Cuba, Gabon, Kangan (fictional), and Senegal.

Which book wouldn't you have read without someone's recommendation?
Geosi of Geosi reads encouraged me to take up Benjamin Kwakye's books of which I read two this year: The Clothes of Nakedness and The Other Crucifix.

Which author was new to you in 2011 that you now want to read the entire works of?
Lewis Nkosi. His Underground People jumped onto my all-time favourite list.

Which books are you annoyed you didn't read?
A lot of them but will shift them to 2012.

Did you read any book you have always been meaning to read?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Proverb Monday, #55


Proverb: Yεnim sε nkyene yε dε; nanso yε kɔ dwa so a, yε tɔ mako
Meaning: We know that salt is sweet; yet if we go to the market we buy pepper.
Context: Functions are different and so are needs.
No. 4364 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

As Friends Share their Favourite Reads of 2011, #FavBook2011

Source
After sharing my Favourite Reads of 2011 I turned to my friends to share theirs with ImageNations through the Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus platforms. The handler on Twitter was #FavBook2011. There were no rules except that the book(s) should have been read in 2011. The following were the books shared. The objective of this sharing exercise is to encourage others to read. 
  • The first person to respond to this call was Novisi Dzitre who blogs at Novisi. He is a Blogger, Technology Geek (though he might not accept this), Writer, a Friend and a Great Controversialist.  Novisi chose Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Weep not Child and A Grain of Wheat  as his favourite books of 2011. It is not every time that an author gets to enjoy this position in a reader's life. If you haven't tried anything yet by Ngugi, you should start from the first of these books.
  • Obed Sarpong of Ready to Chew, a Radio Broadcast Journalist and Writer, selected the Karamazov Brothers by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I have not yet foraged into the world of Russo-Lit yet. Perhaps, a properly structured challenge could help remedy this.
  • Courage Ahiati blogs at Courage's Melting Pot. He describes himself as a Political Scientist by profession and a Writer by birth. As a writer Courage loves to read and he selected Benito Mussolini's biography The Duce written by Richard Collier and James Michener's The Covenant as his favourite books of 2011. 
  • Dedicated book bloggers are a few in Ghana and Kinna of Kinna Reads is one of them. She reads wide and could, if challenged, name at least a writer from every country. When asked for her favourite book(s) for 2011, the Reader, Reviewer, Feminist and Follower of African Politics, selected Cry of Winnie Mandela by Njabulo Ndebele, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna and Fly away Peter by David Malouf. 
  • Bembga Nyakuma of Renditions is one of my virtual friends, thanks to twitter just like many on this list. Bembga describes himself as an Outlier, Writer and a Gentleman, at least that is what is Twitter Page says. He chose Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin.
  • I found Shannon of Reading has a Purpose's blog on my daily blog surfing through other people's reading list - this is how I follow blogs. She loves to read and her preferred genre is non-fiction because of what knowledge and facts it ends up giving to the reader. When Shannon selected George W. Bush's Decision Points as her favourite book for 2011 she added 'seriously' to the tweet. 
  • Comrade Casca Amanquah Hackman shared his books on facebook. The first was Aminatta Forna's The Memory of Love, the only book that was selected by two different individuals, no wonder it won the Commonwealth Prize for Best Book and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Comrade's second book does not come from any Communist or Socialist country. It is Moo by Jane Smiley.
  • Ghostwritten by David Mitchell was Tendai Huchu's selection. Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser of Harare. This is one of the benefits of book blogging - getting to interact with the writers themselves. Thanks TH for your contribution.
  • If there is any blogger who keeps me from falling, it is Amy McKie of Amy Reads. Amy is a voracious reader, blogger and a member of my virtual friends. She provided me with some of the books I needed to complete my Reading Challenge. Amy selected Sarah Ladipo Manyika's In-Dependence,  Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow and African Love Stories edited by Ama Ata Aidoo.
These are the few individuals who shared their books with me. Thanks to you all for participating in this first ever 'friends share their favourite reads'. I have been reminded to read some books.
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Note: some of these links lead to amazon.com. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

ImageNations' Favourite Books of 2011

Source: Penguin
The year 2011 saw me read more more than twice the total number of books and single stories I read in 2010 (the actual review of the year's activities will be published on this blog somewhere on 31st December or early January, 2012). This post presents some of my favourite books read in 2011 and not necessarily books published in 2011. I usually don't get that kind of luxury embedded in reading books just as they are published. 

Reading a large number of books presents one major problem: choosing the favourite ones. To avoid this problem I decided to settle on six for each of the two categories: African-authored books and Non-African-authored books. No further classification such as fiction, non-fiction, poetry and others were considered as not enough books were read in some of these and would endanger this exercise.

African-authored Books: This blog is mostly about promoting African Literature. African Literature here is defined as any literary output written by an African and the African is somewhat loosely defined. I am yet to face some difficulty in its use. For instance, I consider all the works Coetzee produced pre-migration as African books. Perhaps, I might consider is post-migration books as Australian. Like I said, I'm yet to face such a difficulty.
  • A Question of Power by Bessie Head. This is a book that can confuse the reader. It reflects the author's state of mind at the time of her writing and all through her life. It's a difficult read and trying to figure out all that happened requires careful reading. The margin between reality and dream or visions or the surreal is very thin and Bessie did a good job confusing the reader. This book is almost autobiographical. No author I've read investigates the ticking of the mind as Bessie Head has done in this book. This will be a good introduction for those who haven't yet read her.
  • Underground People by Lewis Nkosi. Underground People satirises one-man's fight against Apartheid in South Africa. It does so by keeping the struggle serious but finding within it some elements that provide good laughter. This is what I said about the novel: "The uniqueness of Lewis Nkosi's Underground People lies in its beautiful, fast-reading, tension-building prose. And his ability to satirise South Africa's apartheid system whilst keeping its seriousness, its human suffering closer to the reader.
  • A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o.  A Grain of Wheat has been noted as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's best novel. It was voted as one of the Best 100 African Books in the Twentieth Century by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. As the third published novel, A Grain of Wheat embodies distillates from Ngũgĩ's two previous novels: Weep Not Child (1964) and The River Between (1965). In this story, the fight for independence, started in Weep not Child and The River Between converges and hints of elitism, greed, and discrimination against the independence fighters that blossomed into the novel Matigari had just begun. 
  • The Clothes of Nakedness by Benjamin Kwakye. Benjamin Kwakye's novel The Clothes of Nakedness is a compelling narrative directed at a Ghanaian audience, in particular. It reveals the economic hardships existing in our society; it also reveals the intricately woven relationships between the rich and the poor and how the 'seemingly' rich manipulate the poor to further that wealth-dom in this dual economic society where absolute riches exist side by side with abject poverty. The latter scenario is even more stark and pathetic if one knows that Nima and Kanda Estates, two neighbourhoods presented in the story, are real and not just fictional representation made concrete by Kwakye's brilliant mind.
  • Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe.  In this very unique novel, Achebe treats the issue of despots, male chauvinism and power from a rather different and unexpected perspective. He opens up the struggles that goes on behind the power scenes and how easily an innocent, generally good individual could easily transmogrify into an absolutely demented despot.
  • Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism by Kwame Nkrumah. Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism is a step by step guide to unveiling, exposing, denuding, the factors, individuals, countries, and corporations working against Africa's development and unity. From chapters such as Africa's Resources, Obstacles to Economic Progress, Imperialist Finance, Monopoly Capitalism and the American Dollar, The Truth Behind the Headlines, The Oppenheimer Empire, The Diamond Groups, Mining Interests in Central Africa, Union Miniere du Haut Katanga, Economic Pressures in the Congo Republic, The Mechanisms of Neo-Colonialism, among others, Nkrumah sought to make the world know the kind of forces we are facing as Africans (and non-Africans) on the path towards development (and the people that rule our world).
Non-African Authored Book: Most of the non-African-authored books were mostly on my Top 100 Reading Challenge. Though this blog is mainly for the Promotion of African Literature I do read wider. This list is not in any particular order.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is a story set in the early nineteenth England in the town of Hertfordshire where five sisters lived, each with a different aspiration and disposition. Jane is servile, humble, quick to agree and forgive and almost never judges. Elizabeth, around whom the majority of the story is told is the thinking and cautious type. She does not easily submit to rules without questioning them. Mary is almost a recluse and played a minor role in the novel. Always learning, one can easily judge her to be suffering from an inferiority complex. The two others: Lydia and Catherine (or Kitty) are frivolous - acting without thinking of the effects of their actions.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison. In Beloved Toni Morrison expanded the possibilities of the fiction genre from that which she created in Song of Solomon. She redefined the boundaries, broadening the horizon so as to write a story of stellar attribute with depth, passion, and a sensibility no other writer can express except Morrison. It is as if the words, scenes, sentences, speech and sense-making were being drawn from a well she only could see the bottom
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid's Tale is an imaginative dystopian about a fictional world; a place where all rhetorics about women's place in the world are realised. It is also a world that has been lived before. In this novel, Atwood relied on all that had been said and is being said about women and what they should and shouldn't do. In the fictional world of Gilead, the constitutional government of the United States had been overthrown; its place place taken by Gilead, a state based on the Christian teachings and its purpose for women.
  • 1984 by George Orwell. 1984 is perhaps the greatest work of English Author, Essayist, Journalist and Political and Literary Critic, Eric Arthur Blair, writing under the pseudonym George Orwell. This 'futuristic' dystopian book is more of a prophecy than a novel. It is everything but fiction.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite Runner could easily pass as the best non-African authored book I've read this year, if not for 1984. The novel tracks the life and friendship of two individuals, Amir - the son of a Kabul merchant - and Hassan, the child of their servant, Ali as they grow in the affluent suburb of Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul. As their friendship unfolds, the history of a land that has been plagued by local and international wars unfolds. In fact, it is this very wars, leading to the overthrow of monarchs and governments, that dictated how the friendship between these two individuals went. Yet, the precursor of all the events is the age old tradition or practice of discrimination based on physical features.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautiful and innocent book that mirrors the conscience of a people. It belongs to the group of a few books, including Morrison's Beloved and Song of Solomon, that investigate our common mentality, query our attitudes and unapologetically point to our internal failings as humanity. Those books that slowly furl man's animalistic masque, a masque that creates a dissociation between thought and words so that we could think one thing and act entirely in the opposite direction or even a dichotomy of thoughts - one for the thinker and his or her coterie and the other for the Others, masques which further create a diametric self in an already dual personality. One might say a Jekyll and Hyde personality, had it not been described as a cliched phrase. However, what makes Harper Lee's book different from these few others in this sub-genre is the protagonist, nine-year old Jean Louise Finch or Scout. A young precocious girl who doesn't take everything as given but who asks questions, demands answers and ask further questions where issues are not clearer to her.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Introducing Fred McBagonluri's New Book, Harvest of Jenes

Last year, I introduced to you Fred McBagonluri. In an interview he granted ImageNations he stated that his books - Harvest of Jenes and  Flames of Will - were in advanced stages of completion. In fact, the former was schedule for release in December 2010; unfortunately, this was not to be. I am, however, happy to inform you that Harvest of Jenes has been published and available for purchase on amazon.

Dr. McBagonluri was a former employee of Siemens Hearing Solutions and headed the Research and Development department of the company. He was voted in 2008 as the Most Promising Black Engineer of the Year and in that same year won the New Jersey State Healthcare Business Innovator Hero Award. He is a co-inventor for three issued US patents. Currently, he is a Sloan Fellow at MIT. (Continue reading here)

About Harvest of Jenes (from Amazon): The encounter was brief and at first benign. It portended some sort of effortless bliss. The repercussions, however, lasted a lifetime. Indeed, when our principles encounter reality, the confluence of that encounter remains fuzzy. It was lust the first time, love the second time and lies forever. Her succulence found potential in the curls of his muscular arms. To encounter Haile is to embrace ill-will but to reject her is to leave behind wealth. Harvest of Jenes is whirlpool of intrigue, suspense, soul-numbing thrill.
___________________________
Note: Fred has given ImageNations a copy of this book and so better watch this space for a review next year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Proverb Monday, #53

Proverb: Animguase mfata ɔkanni ba.
Meaning: The Akan does not deserve shame.
Context: Shame is worth than death. The Akans say they fear being disgraced more than dying.
No. 4397 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Quotes for Friday from DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little

Under my grief glows a serenity that comes from knowing the truth always wins in the end. Why do movies end happy? Because they imitate life. You know it, I know it. But my ole lady lacks that fucken knowledge, big time. [8]

You don't know how bad I want to be Jean-Claude Van Damme. Ram her fucken gun up her ass, and run away with a panty model. But just look at me: clump of lawless brown hair, the eyelashes of a camel. Big ole puppy-dog features like God made me through a fucken magnifying glass. You know right away my movie's the one where I puke on my legs, and they send a nurse to interview me instead. [8/9]

What I'm learning is the world laughs through its ass every day, then just lies double-time when shit goes down. [28]

The learning jumps to mind, that once you plan to do something, and figure how long it'll take, that's exactly how long Fate gives you before the next thing comes along to do. [28]

Silence fills the forty years Fate gives me to recognize the import of things. This would never happen to Van Damme. Heroes never shit. They only fuck and kill. [68]

I should jam a table-leg through his fucken eye, make him grunt like a tied hog. Jean-Claude would do it. James Bond would do it with a fucken cocktail in his hand. Me, I just squeak like a brownie. [70]

What I'm starting to think is maybe only the dumb are safe in this world, the ones who roam with the herd, without thinking about every little thing. But see me? I have to think about every little fucken thing. [71]

There used to be a horse that could do math on stage. Everybody thought the horse was so fucken smart, he would tap the answer to math questions with his hoof, and always get it right. Turns out the horse couldn't do math at all, could he fuck. He just kept tapping until he felt the tension in the audience break. Everybody relaxed when he'd tapped the right number, and he felt it, and just stopped tapping. [79]

A TV scientist wouldn't give great odds of a college girl running away in the heat of the moment with a fifteen-year-old slimeball like me, not after a relationship spanning twenty-nine words. But that's fucken TV scientists for you. Next thing they'll be telling you not to eat meat. [83/4]

The day he got his first thousand dollars, the neighbors must've got ten. Aim for a million bucks, you suddenly need a billion. I upgraded my computer, but it wasn't enough. No matter what, it ain't fucken enough in life, that's what I learned. [87]

She leaves me with a kiss, then sashays east up the stalls, dragging my soul in the dust behind her. [91]

As we walk, I remember I have to keep enough trouble around me to not give a shit how I act with her. You can only really be yourself when you have nothing left to lose, see? That's a learning I made. Take note, you can feel jerksville lurking in back. And as we know, just by thinking it, you suffer it worse. The learning: potential assholeness when a dream comes true is relative to the amount of time you spent working up the dream. A = DT^2. It means I could even fucken puke. [192]

Mom once said Palmyra was into food because it was the only thing she could control in her life. It wouldn't run from the plate, or stand up to her. [264]
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

123. Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

Anyone who read and loved The Catcher in the Rye will love DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little (Harcourt; 2003; 277), winner of the 2003 Man Booker Prize. It contains the teenage hormonal angst, the classic misunderstanding, and a heavy dose of teen-lingo and more. The more in DBC Pierre's book - a pseudonym that is almost eponymous to the names of several of the entities in the industry he satirised - is the 'provocatively satirical, riotously funny look at violence, materialism, and the American media' that were the major concern of the this book.

In the town of Martirio, sixteen students have been killed. And the town's police officers are working hard to get a culprit by all means necessary, even though the murderer - the Mexican Jesus Navarro - had committed suicide after his slaughter. Enter Vernon Gregory Little, a misunderstood boy of almost-sixteen from a single-parent family and the only friend of Jesus. Vernon's appearance (unshaved hair), Nike boots, dressing and lingo fit the crime and could be the accessory the police officer Vaine Gurie, charged to improve upon her appalling prosecution statistics or be demoted, is looking for. And this is where the drama begins.

Vernon narrates the story, telling it in a language that all teens are familiar with, filled with teen-inspired words similar to Caufield but more caustic, if one does the mathematics: fifty-eight years between the publication of both books, and none is futuristic in its settings. Vernon begins with his first 'hold-up' and interview by Vaine and his subsequent rescue by Palmyra, a woman fattened on Prittikin diet from Bar-B-Chew Barn and a friend of his mother, Doris. Yet, later the police and prosecutor would agree that he escaped detention. As the town mourns its losses, a mysterious man - Eulalio Ledesma, Lally for short, would appear. Lally would befriend Doris and and her coterie of friends, thinly 'fall' in love with Doris, a widow and an obese - surpassed only by her closest friend Pam. Through tricks and plain deceit, Lally would gain control of Doris's life and Vernon's case and Doris, having found 'love' would inadvertently 'sell' her son's problem to him. He would establish a TV Reality show out of it, which would broadcast live the lives of Vern and his family and would follow him wherever he went. Angered by Lally, Vernon would show several times that Lally was a liar and an impostor seeking to capitalise on her mother's ignorance for personal gain, but what are the words of an accused 'murderer' to that of a lover if not utter nonsense. Lally, with the corporations behind him, would sponsor the investigation that would lead to uncovering the truth, his truth - which means the arrest and sentence of Vernon. Vernon, a boy of little experience in life, with several incriminating evidences against him: fingerprints on a second gun the police and the SWAT team are looking for, faecal matter he wouldn't disclose, a stash of drugs (hemp and LSD), finally decided that he would crossover to Mexico. Again, his complete ignorance of his situation mixed with that adolescence illusion that bundle love, lust and sex into a veritable Elysium that must be sought- and here Holden Caufield's call to Sally Hayes when he decided to run away comes to mind - caused him to call Taylor Figueroa, a lady whose cousin is the new woman Lally is going out with in Doris's coterie, to run away with him. This adolescence illusion is reflected in Vernon's own statement:
A TV scientist wouldn't give great odds of a college girl running away in the heat of the moment with a fifteen-year-old slimeball like me, not after a relationship spanning twenty-nine words. But that's fucken TV scientists for you. Next thing they'll be telling you not to eat meat.
Taylor would entertain him, and corner him in Mexico to achieve her own dream of working in the media.

Whilst on the trip to Mexico, unbeknownst to him, several deaths would occur, some farther from his route, but all would be attributed to this fifteen-year old boy whose only weapon, a twenty dollar bill, was robbed off him by a security guard at the Mexican border post. Back home, in metal cage, his trial would begin and after several cross-examination and the prosecutor's inability to 'prove beyond all reasonable doubt' that Vernon committed the murders both at home and away from home, he was charged with murder for the sixteen school children and innocent for the eighteen others. And again, this mistrial filled with an objective of getting someone pay for a crime - regardless of his innocence - was similar to what faced Atticus Finch in his defense of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird.
I get an enlightenment about the ten years it feels like I've been listening to this whole crowd of powerdime spinners, with their industry of carpet-fiber experts, and shrinks and all, who finish me off with their goddam blah, blah, blah. And you know the State ain't flying any experts down for me. What I learned is you need that industry, big time. Because, although you ain't allowed to say it, and I hope I ain't doing The Devil's Work by saying it myself - Reasonable Doubt just don't apply anymore. Not in practice, don't try and tell me it does. Maybe if your cat bit a neighbor's hamster, like with Judge Judy or something. But once they ship in extra patrol cars, and build a zoo cage in court, forget it. You have to come up with simple, honest-to-goodness proof of innocence, that anybody can tell just bey watching TV. Otherwise they hammer through nine centuries of technical evidence, like a millennium of back-to-back math classes, and it's up in there that they wipe out Reasonable Doubt.
All these were shown live on Ledesma (or Lally's) new TV reality show; Ledesma, a Service Technician working in his blind mother's room, had risen to riches and fame.

Sentence to death by lethal injection, Vernon would come to understand his position and all anger would fly away; his language would change from those teen-inspired jargons to those that reflected this understanding. Having matured overtime and having accepted his fate, Vernon was prepared to die but after meeting a strange black man in prison he knew he would not go down without a fight if only he would just stop been 'too darn embarrased to play God' and  'give the people what they want'.

In the end, a series of revelations would show how much there is to life in Martirio, how much everybody played a part in the massacre of the school children, including the school children themselves who ceaselessly taunted Jesus Navarro, Dr Goosens - a psychiatrist who did more than his profession dictates, Mr Nuckles the class teacher, Doris who put love of self above love of his son and many others. 

From Vernon's narrative we see that though he was immature he was also perceptive of events around him. He knew that his friend Jesus Navarro needed a role model but not the kind that Mr Nuckles provided:
[He] needed a different role model, but nobody was there for him. Our teacher Mr. Nuckles spent all kinds of time with him after school, bu I ain't sure ole powder-puff Nuckles and his circus of fancy words really count. 
In Vernon God Little, DBC had shown that teenage violence, like the Columbine Massacre, don't just spring up but has roots and is a consequence of several factors. But are we listening? so that we stopped being symptom managers to root-cause solvers. The humorous part of the story revolves around the media's role in the unfolding event when almost everybody was eager either to appear on TV - including Doris or to be part of the reporting crew and when the town's people and the law enforcers want to punish someone at all cost. In fact, Lally instituted a voting system in addition to his Reality TV where the public vote for the next inmate on Death Row to be executed. So much was the media's vulturing of news about the murders that the small town of Martirio, in the state of Texas, overnight became a commercial town booming with activities. Again, through this novel, DBC provided a commentary on the disintegration of (American) families, the quest for riches and fame and that consumerism that had swallowed this current generation. And later Vernon would himself enjoy from his troubles, courtesy a book deal. 

This book reminded me of several books and movies that franchise American prisons; the likes of The Condemned (starring Stone Cold Steve Austin) and Death Race (Starring Jason Statham). This novel is necessary and has come at an appropriate time where findings of improper trials that wrongly landed several people in jail keep increasing.

Note: This book was read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

122. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960; 284) - read for the Top 100 Books Reading Challenge - is a beautiful and innocent book that mirrors the conscience of a people. It belongs to the group of a few books, including Morrison's Beloved and Song of Solomon, that investigate our common mentality, query our attitudes and unapologetically point to our internal failings as humanity. Those books that slowly furl man's animalistic masque, a masque that creates a dissociation between thought and words so that we could think one thing and act entirely in the opposite direction or even a dichotomy of thoughts - one for the thinker and his or her coterie and the other for the Others, masques which further create a diametric self in an already dual personality. One might say a Jekyll and Hyde personality, had it not been described as a cliched phrase. However, what makes Harper Lee's book different from these few others in this sub-genre is the protagonist, nine-year old Jean Louise Finch or Scout. A young precocious girl who doesn't take everything as given but who asks questions, demands answers and ask further questions where issues are not clearer to her. Her observations of the people around her, her teachers, her father, Maycomb's neighbours, bring out the beauty of Lee's work. In fact, the paragraph 
Well, coming out of the courthouse that night Miss Gates was - she was going down the steps in front of us, you musta not seen her - she was talking with Miss Stephanie Crawford. I heard her say it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us. Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home -
by the main narrator, Scout, on her teacher's double-standards regarding her hatred towards Hitler's persecution of Jews and her support for Maycomb County's persecution of blacks summarises Harper Lee's love story which became an American Literary masterpiece. That statement becomes even more revealing and meaningful, if one realises that prior to this the teacher had used the word 'persecution' and 'democracy' to distinguish between America and Germany. She says
Over here we don't believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. ... There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn't think so is a mystery to me.
Set in the Southern town of Maycomb, To Kill a Mockingbird, described as both Southern Gothic and Bildungsroman, is about human relationships, humanity, race, morality, conscience, childhood and growing up. Scout and Jem are the children of Atticus Finch, a lawyer and a legislature for the Maycomb County - a man whose self-respect is synonymous with his respect towards the other; a man who would first want to be a living example of what his children should be. In the world that nine-year old Scout describes, Maycomb County is full of castes so that people are known for certain behaviours; for instance it is known and accepted that the Finches are Noble, the Ewells are thieves and blacks are servants. As the story unfolds Scout tells of life in Maycomb, its people and especially of her relationship with her brother Jem and the obscure and enigmatic Dill. Life for the trio was pleasant and more so under a liberal father whose preferred choice of correcting a child is the threat of punishment that never materialises and even though people, including Aunt Alexandra (Atticus's sister), complained of Scout's tomboyish behaviour, her wont to move with the boys and wear breeches instead of flowery dresses and necklaces, her nonconformity to the behavioural dictates established for girls, Atticus only glanced over it; seeing beyond the outward development into the development of their moral aptitude, courage and ability to stand for what is right, and respect everybody irrespective of their colour, religion and others.

Every summer when Dill came visiting, they would act from stories and Dill would tell them several stories. However, when Dill was introduced to the Radley Place, a house inhabited by a recluse and enigmatic Arthur Radley (or Boo Radley), Dill quickly made the wooing out of Boo from his seclusion as the trio's latest adventure. The children had heard and added onto the stories surrounding Boo so much so that it became scarier and Boo took on preternatural abilities, making him a fearful figure to the children. And though Boo surprised them with gifts of gum and watch they never saw him in person. But he would later save Jem and Scout from being killed.

Their life was mostly devoid of problems until Tom Robinson, a black man living in the quarters, was accused of raping Mayella Ewell by Mr. Ewell and Atticus was nominated to defend him. Though the people of Maycomb knew the Ewells to be liars and thieves, they still disapproved of Atticus who made it his personal duty to defend Tom Robinson. According to Atticus, this was a test of his moral aptitude and should he fail he 
couldn't even tell [Scout] or Jem not to do something again. 
This is the central plot of the story. And Harper expertly handled Jem and Scout as they went were taunted by Maycomb's children and adults alike and labelled 'nigger-lovers' even when Scout Finch did not understand what the term meant and had to fight those who called Atticus by that name because she read the  the derogatory import it carried. When she asked Atticus what it means, he said
'nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything - like snot-nose. It's hard to explain - ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody."
To Kill a Mockingbird  is a book that shows how people would always want to be associated with the majority; how people are afraid of standing for what is right but would sacrifice what is right in order to gain acceptance, for what we saw in the end is that though many of Maycomb's inhabitants were against the bad treatment of Tom Robinson, knew that he was innocent, none was willing to stand up against the system. Each want to preserve the status quo, afraid of disturbing the hornets' nest. It also shows that we need not the majority for major changes to be done and though Atticus might not have achieved what he intended to, in the end he was respected by all for the stance he took.

I conclude with this quote from which the title was taken:
I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. ... Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Proverb Monday, #52


Proverb: Nimyε di bi.
Meaning: He who knows how to do it is entitled to his share.
Context: The labourer is worthy of his hire.
No. 4404 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Quotes for Friday from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. [34]

It's against the law, all right ... and it's certainly bad, but when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey his children have a way of crying from hunger pains. I don't know of any landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their father can hit. [35]

Finders were keepers unless title was proven. [39]

There are just some kind of men who - who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results. [50]

Had I ever harbored the mystical notions about mountains that seem to obsess lawyers and judges, Aunt Alexandra would have been analogous to Mount Everest: throughout my early life, she was cold and there.

I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want,  if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. [94]

People in their right minds never take pride in their talents. [102]

They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions ... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience. [109]

I'm hard put, sometimes - baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you. [113]

I wanted you to see something about her - I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. [116]

[H]ow can you hate Hitler so bad an' then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home - [249/250]

Mr. Finch, there's just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to 'em. Even then, they ain't worth the bullet it takes to shoot 'em. [272]

[Y]ou never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. [282]

[N]othin's real scary except in books. [283]
____________________
Read the review here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Granta Book of the African Short Story - Edited by Helon Habila

The short story is now in vogue and as Africa goes through a Literary Renaissance, it is expected that the short story will play a major role. Consequently, many awards schemes have been put in place to encourage is genre form. There is the Caine Prize for African Writing and the reformed Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize. It is therefore unavoidable that there is going to be several anthologies of such stories.

The latest to hit the shelves is The Granta Book of African Short Story edited by Helon Habila, author of Oil on Water. Here is a brief review of the book at Africa Book Club. Follow to read the full review.
“But I grope after language to describe the feeling I experience on my evening walks, the light in the air and on the sea. This pleases me: that some things remain beyond my grasp…” thus muses the jogger in Henrietta Rose-Innes’ Promenade about a significant encounter between him, a middle-aged unassuming copy writer, and a young ambitious boxer. The sense of enjoying “things remaining beyond (our) grasp” could be a leitmotiv for many of the stories in the The Granta Book of the African Short Story, encouraging us to read with open eyes, mind and heart. Collected and introduced by award winning Nigerian author, Helon Habila, this new anthology is an outstanding and wide-ranging rich smorgasbord of stories by twenty six writers from nineteen countries all across Africa – stories written in English or translated from French, Portuguese or Arabic.
Click here to read the full review.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Proverb Monday, #51


Proverb: Nimdeε firi obi ano.
Meaning: Knowledge (or understanding) are from someone's mouth.
Context: We learn from others
No. 4395 in Bu me Bε by Peggy Appiah et al.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Library Additions

Quotes for Friday will be back next week; haven't marked enough lines for a serving this week. In its place, I would want to share my newly acquired books with you instead.

It has been a month since I shared my list of acquired books on this blog. The reason for the time lag being that I have acquired fewer books over this period. However, there is a person out there who has been sending me some of the books on my challenge list. And I have recently some books from her. Thanks very much for your kindness.
  • Mad Libs by Roger Price and Leonard Stern. This is a workbook of grammar. After having the fun, I'd work it out with my son. Don't you just love it when a child you don't know send you a book? This is why I am against any sort of book burning. I am beginning of forming an online movement (if one has not already been formed) about Bloggers Against Book Burning. Let me know what you think.
  • The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer. This book is on the list of Top 100 Books Reading Challenge.
  • The Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This is also my my Top 100 Books Reading Challenge. Gordimer is one I have read only in short stories. I am therefore happy to have received two of her most sought after books. She will be the fourth Nobelist I would read after Soyinka, Morrison and Coetzee.
  • Sula by Toni Morrison. It looks like I am an aficionado of Morrison even if I am yet to read her entire Oeuvre. I started collecting her books after I read Beloved and Song of Solomon.
I also picked up a book and had it autographed at the Writers Project of Ghana's last book reading for the year:
  • Journey by G.A. Agambila. I don't know when I am going to read this book. The way I see it, it might take a while or perhaps Kinna would once again rescue me with her Ghanaian Literature Week.
My new job sometimes take me to other African countries. Late October I was in Zambia and I have decided to pick a book or two from every country I visit, if possible by authors in that country. However, the ones I picked in Zambia were not written by Zambians. I discovered that local or African-Books are expensive than foreign ones:
  • Speeches that Changed the World by Cathy Lowne (Compiler). This book contains speeches since the days of Julius Caesar that have shaped the world; or changed it.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This is not strictly on any challenge list; though the book is one I have been looking out for after reading Orwell's 1984 and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
In effect, these are all the books I have received or purchased since October 18, 2011. Have you read any? What is your opinion?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

November in Review, Projections for December

November could be termed Ghana Reading Month here on ImageNations. Most of the books I read went into the Ghanaian Literature Week organised by Kinna at Kinna Reads. Of the five books I planned reading, three were read, I am reading the fourth, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the fifth, A Place of Beautiful Nonsense, has been postponed. I also reviewed Tail of the Blue Bird as part of the GLW celebrations.
  • Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes. This a book about a young man Kayo trying to crack a case of seeming murder in a village of Sonokrom. The book highlights the science versus tradition (spirituality) tango. Depiction of Ghanaian living was palpable and true. This book was read in October but reviewed in November for reasons already stated.
  • The Other Crucifix by Benjamin Kwakye. This book is about identity, culture shock, home and more. It follows Jojo Badu as he finds his way into the US and the trappings of living in such society which makes one forgetful of home or makes one question what home is and where it could be found.
  • Tickling the Ghanaian by Kofi Akpabli. Kofi's works ask questions and explore topics in a way that people have never really done in a very long while. In fact his work is destined to be important for many years to come especially as we refuse to let our older generation teach us the importance of every traditional belief, traditional item and more. What is the importance of the cloth to the Ghanaian, or the Schnapps, or Akpeteshie (local gin)? Kofi's writing is funny and probing. In this book we encounter contemporary Ghanaian culture.
  • The Imported Ghanaian by Alba Kunadu Sumprim. Alba's work is a somewhat antithesis of Kofi's work. Whereas Alba's seemingly also want to ask questions, it was more judgmental than exploratory. Picking on certain experiences and observations, the author provided scathing discussions of these issues, providing what in her mind was to be done. The tone was acerbic and vituperative at several points. However, there were some funny moments in the book. To know that the author had just arrived from the UK, where she was born, is important in appreciating this work. I am eager to read what she has to say 10 years later.
I managed to read one Caine Prize 2011 Shortlist:
  • Butterfly Dreams by Beatrice Lamwaka. This is a story about child soldiers, rape, conflict, survival, trauma and more. And it is a short story.
In December, there are no specific titles but there is a specific objective: to read only books that are on my challenge list. My Top 100 Books Reading Challenge is only two years to the end and I am not even a quarter through the list. Fortunately, with the help of some friends, both home and abroad, known and unknown, I have managed to obtain some of the books on the list. Thus, I would be focusing mainly on these books. The implication is that few, if any, of African-authored books will be read this month, except if it is on the list and I have it. Also, if things go through well with my reading objective, I will be joining Iris on Books in her Advent with Austen which began on November 27, and ends on December 24.

My plans for next year will come out soon.
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