Tuesday, September 08, 2015

294. Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

Abracadabra! And I appeared. As suddenly as I 'disapparated'. Blogging became boring. I got other interests. I learnt (still learning) a computer language, took up some courses related to my 'profession', Kofi - my son, came along etc. But I also (re)read a few books, about which I did not blog. Hence, I will be attempting to go back in time to just talk about (not review) some of the books I read. 

Prague Cemetery falls into the kind of books that could hold your attention span for longer periods of time. Those books that are exactly as you perceived them to be. For those Dan Brown fans (of which I am not excluded), take any of Dan's books, add more intriguing plots, and crank up its literary value. To this, add the fact that almost every character in this novel has a historical counterpart, and you will get an amazing book that takes you through the historical development of conflicts, assassinations, and much more. The book sought to portray how individuals working for nations, organisations, churches, secret societies are able to conjure non-existent enemies just to justify their employ and in doing so cause mass delusion.

This is the first book I read in the year and though I have forgotten the details, I remember smiling and staying up to read it. A commercial assessment of Prague Cemetery and any of Dan Brown's novels shows how bad product can become popular through effective marketing and advertising, for there is no way the any of the latter can stand up to the latter in terms of its literary value, denseness of the plot among others.

I enjoyed this novel. Have you read it? What do you think?

Monday, September 07, 2015

Jonathan Tel Wins 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Jonathan Tel from the UK has won the 2015 Commonwealth 2015 Short Story Prize for his story The Human Phonograph. Within its short form, the story encompasses great sweeps of the world and its history – from the US moon landing to Chinese nuclear tests to reading 19th century Russian literature. The protagonist of the story is a lonely figure in this vast world.

“The Human Phonograph ranges from the personal to the universal. The resonances remained with the judges, long after the reading. As one said, we were drawn into the lonely world of the protagonist and we stayed there. It is a disconcerting, extraordinary story of an individual in search of independence and reassurance in a difficult world,” said Romesh Gunesekera, Chair of the international panel of judges.

The Human Phonograph is published by The Guardian online. Its writer, Jonathan Tel, is himself a polymath with interests as varied as those in his story. A theoretical physicist and opera librettist, he has previously published three works of fiction including Freud’s Alphabet, a novel, and a short story collection The Beijing of Possibilities.

Jonathan Tel believes that “the one thing that fiction is so wonderful about, certainly ever since the modern novel was invented, is getting inside people’s heads …. Everything I write is imagined, but I feel I’m giving it some kind of truth.”

***
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize seeks out original voices from the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. The prize is judged by a panel of five eminent writers or readers, representing each of the regions of the Commonwealth, so that stories may be considered for both their regional and international voice.

Five regional winners (receiving £2500) are selected and one of these writers is named the overall winner (receiving £5000). The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction.

The 2015 judges are Leila Aboulela (Africa), Fred D’Aguiar (Caribbean), Marina Endicott (Canada & Europe), Witi Ihimaera (Pacific), and Bina Shah (Asia). The overall Chair of the 2015 Prize is Romesh Gunesekera.

The regional winners for 2015 are Light by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria), The Umbrella Man by Siddhartha Gigoo (India), The King of Settlement 4 by Kevin Jared Hosein (Trinidad), Famished Eels by Mary Rokonadravu (Fiji) and The Human Phonograph by Jonathan Tel (UK).

The winning stories were published by The Caribbean Review of Books, The Guardian, Granta and Scroll.in and each of the winners celebrated in a local context of their own choosing. These included a bookshop in Delhi, a literary festival in Port of Spain, a university auditorium in Suva, an arts centre in Minnesota and a Chinese restaurant in central London – testifying to the global nature of the prize.

“Each year, entries to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize explore new territories in the stories they tell. This year, we received many more entries from countries not previously represented, which makes this prize a platform for less heard voices, and stories which need to be told” says Lucy Hannah, Programme Manager, Commonwealth Writers.

The 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize is part funded by the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

Commonwealth Writers also has an association with the London-based literary and media agency Blake Friedmann, which works with selected writers identified through the Prize.
_______________
Author biography: Jonathan Tel is writing a fiction book set in contemporary China. It is composed of ten chapters, each of which may be read as an independent story, but which link together to form a novel. The Human Phonograph is extracted from this work. The opening chapter, ‘The Shoe King of Shanghai’ was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Award 2014. He is also writing a book of poems about Berlin. 
 
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words). Regional winners receive £2,500 and the Overall Winner receives £5,000. Short stories translated into English from other languages are also eligible. Translators receive additional prize money. The 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize is now open for entry, closing date 1 November 2015.
 
Commonwealth Writers is the cultural initiative of the Commonwealth Foundation. Commonwealth Writer inspires, develops and connects writers in a range of disciplines. Our activities take place in Commonwealth countries, but our community is global (www.commonwealthwriters.org).
 
The Commonwealth Foundation is a development organisation with an international remit and reach, uniquely situated at the interface between government and civil society. It develops the capacity of civil society to act together and learn from each other to engage with the institutions that shape people’s lives. It strives for more effective, responsive and accountable governance with civil society participation, which contributes to improved development outcomes (www.commonwealthfoundation.com). 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Saraba Magazine Issue 17: SURVIVAL

Saraba is pleased to announce the publication of its seventeenth issue on the theme of “Survival.” A word from the 1590s, “survival” implies the “act of surviving,” of “continuation after some event.” To “survive” suggests to outlive, and to continue in existence after the death of another. From Latin supervivere, “live beyond, live longer than”; from super “over, beyond” + vivere “to live.”

In our recent issue, we put together poems, stories and portraits that articulate the nature and expediency of survival. The issue includes the poetry of Kelechi Nwaike, Tonye Willie-Pepple, Adeyinka Elujoba, Paul Wairia, Aisha Nelson, Jen Thorpe, Kate Hampton, Sarah Haughn, and Omukuvah Otido. It includes fiction by Damilola Yakubu, Glendaliz Camacho, and Alexander Ikawah, and non-fiction by Kabu Okai-Davies, Hal O’Leary, and Itoro Udofia. The portraits are by Nigerian photographer Logor’ Muyiwa Adeyemi. Our contributors are from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, the United Kingdom, and U.S.A.

As always, the magazine is available for free download on our website. Visit here to download a copy of the issue, and do not hesitate to spread the word.

Enquiries about our next issue, reproduction, and collaboration can be sent to the attention of our Managing Editor, editor@sarabamag.com.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

First Set of Books in 2015

I love books. I can spend hours in a bookshop. Unfortunately, Ghanaian bookshops don't offer much in terms of titles and sometimes the attendants could be so arrogant. They come directly to you demanding what you want, as if you should want a title or two and just walk out like a student in search of a text book. To all you bookshop attendants, this is the 'wrongest' way to treat a bibliophile. It is more painful than a womaniser on the verge of losing his member. It denigrates us. It demeans us.

This class of Mammals, referred to as Bibliophiles, make life so simple. Their Christmas and birthday wishes are the same: books. If they begin to talk about books, their eyes twinkle and bulge out, their mouths move faster than Twista and drops of saliva could be seen leaking out from the corners, and their face is set in perpetual laughter.

However, getting new titles in bookshops in Ghana is more difficult than putting man on Mars. After all, NASA has started with Curiosity. And this is where friends come in. And this is where I have been very fortunate. I have had friends who know that books are to me what a voluptuous woman is to an African man. Not that I don't like them, I mean the voluptuous species; but to get to me entirely, don't get through my stomach, as they say, go through books. 

Over the years, I have received gifts of books from several friends and I have talked about each one of them here on this blog, except the last two other books I received in the latter part of of last year, which included Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery which I am currently reading. 

My 2015 began on a very bright note when a dear friend - any friend who do this should be dear - gifted me not one, not two, but three of my most sought-after books.
  • Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Exactly two years ago (2013), I made a list of books I wish to read. In November of 2012, I had decided on some books already, which led to this 2013 wish list. On the list were three of Umberto Eco's books including The Prague Cemetery and Foucault Pendulum. This shows the length of time I have been wishing for this book. And what do you say when a friend quenches your two-year old thirst?
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book was also on both lists. It is pathetic that no bookshop in this country stocks any of his book. Books by such laureates should be found everywhere. They should be mandatory reading in secondary schools. Not even his death and that of Nadine Gordimer, two Nobel Laureates in Literature, could spur these 'comatose' bookshops to stock their books. In a country, where a lot of noise can be made about almost everything, it's a pity books don't make news, unless they are authored by politicians; even then only to score political points. People become what they interact with. If booksellers decide to sell books, people will buy.
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. If I read this, it would be the most voluminous book I would have read. I don't know how it compares with Dostoevsky's War and Peace in terms of number of words, etc; but it definitely wins on the number of pages indicator and it seems daunting. I bought two of Hugos books - this and The Hunchback of Notre Dame - two years ago, only to discover that they were abridged versions. They were supposed to be my introduction to French Literature. I was so peeved! Who wants an abridged version? You either read the thing or you don't. Will you consider a book read when all you've done is read an abridged version? I cannot. So I am happy to have this book.
Which of these have you read and what are your impressions about them? 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Books Read in 2014

A lot of things might have happened in the previous year to make it an unforgettable year. There definitely were some positive events and an equally high dose of negative events. After all, who can forget the turbulence that hit the aviation industry. I have dreamt more than two occasions on avoiding to travel by air, and have actually implemented it once. Yet, this is not what defined my year. Several things did though. However, what is germane to this blog will have to do with books and reading.

Ever since I reactivated my reading passion and began blogging in 2009, 2014 was the year I read the least amount of books. At 20 books, the average of was less 2 per month, though I went several months without reading a book. This amount of books in 2012 or 2013 would have been swallowed up in about two and half months of reading. But then again, this was 2014 where a lot of things happened. Below is a list of books I read in 2014, where a review is available I have linked it.

Books Read and Reviewed
  1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: This was the first book I read in 2014. In fact, it was carried over from 2013. It was a selection of the Writers Project of Ghana's Book and Discussion Club. This could easily be considered the most arresting and suspenseful story I read in that year; though I read so few that every book could easily qualify as 'the most...'. 
  2. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie: I had anticipated reading this book that I couldn't believe I finally got to read it. I have heard of its density of language and of symbols. These things nearly prevented me from opening it but the satisfaction I got when I did is more than a young man's expectations on his first night of whatever. Apart from the furore its publication generated, the book itself is a socio-religio-cultural trip through time. This and Midnight's Children define Rushdie.
  3. The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche Contra Wagner and Selected Aphorisms by Friedrich Nietzsche: What can I say about this book. Okay, it is the book that Nietzsche damned Wagner for producing bad music and talked about what his likes are. It is a book for people interested in that subject matter. I read it basically because I wanted to read Nietzsche; or, more specifically, I wanted an introduction to Nietzsche.
  4. Lord of the Rings (I. Fellowship of the Ring, II. The Two Towers, & III. The Return of the King) by J.R.R. Tolkien: This was a reread of the Book I and a reading of the Book II & III. There is nothing to be said about Tolkien that has not been said already. These books are more than just stories. They are examples of creativity of language and truly define what the novel was meant for: to be novel. The only thing is that the story is short.
  5. Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie: This is Chimamanda's third published novel and fourth book. I have decided to read all of her books and I am on course. However, this book did not engage me as much as the others, with about two-thirds of the book written as a flashback. 
  6. How to Spell Naija in Hundred Short Stories by Chuma Nwokolo: Chuma's voice is one that is unique and interesting to hear. His stories are filled with laughter and realities. He has a keen insight in life and presents it in a way that makes the reader goes 'aha!'. He turns small 'insignificant' events into great stories. If you have not read him do.
  7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle: I had always thought this was a complete novel only to discover it was a collection of short stories. I wonder the place of the movie adaptations in Doyle's short stories collections.
  8. Testament of the Season by Mawuli Adzei: Mawuli Adzei is the author of Taboo, a novel I read and truly enjoyed that addressed a lot of things in one sweep of the pen. This however is a collection of poems and in this the author sort to stay relevant. The subjects he addresses cover the entire world. The Writers Project of Ghana got him to read this at our monthly book discussion. 
  9. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: This book had been on my shelf for several years. I had reacted negatively to Faulks James Bond novel and was afraid to open this. However, when I did, Faulks showed me the beauty of his writing, his ability to control the reader's emotions, and, more importantly, the uselessness of war; something I strongly believe in. The images Faulks conjures in this book about war is so realistic that the reader will forever be averse to wars.

Books Read but not Reviewed
  1. Eugenics and Other Evils by G.K. Chesterson: In this book Chesterson discussed certain scientific or pseudo-scientific propositions that tended to discriminate against the poor and sought to give power to a few scientist who actually do not understand what they were about and yet had placed themselves above society. They had given themselves the privilege to determine who is fit to marry and what constitute that fitness. This is an eye-opening book. Shows you that the world has not changed that much and that there are people who will not succumb to 'science says...' but will analyse and criticise to put society on its toes.
  2. The Psychology of Nations by G.E. Partridge: This book analyses war, its causes and effects, from different perspectives. It is an interesting essay.
  3. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: What an imagination. How could one come up with such a story of a time travelling man in a relationship with a 'normal' girl. The pains, the fears, the aspirations... what will happen if his daughter adopts the gene but a breakthrough in technology could help her to control her talent? This is such a nice story.
  4. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell: Well this is one of the book I reread in the year, courtesy the Book and Discussion Club. I first reviewed this book on ImageNations on July 21, 2011. A reread was important as the book revealed more of its secrets. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a book that everyone should read. What are you waiting for, if you have not read it?
  5. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk: I bought this book because it is one of my desires, or reading goals, to read at least a book by a Nobel Laureate in Literature. And Orhan Pamuk is one of them. This book is a motley of things I can properly articulate until I read again. However, it tracks the history of the Ottoman empire, or I think it did, and the transformations or growth in its literature and arts. Or more specifically, the latter was used as a symbol of that history.
  6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: Why did I read this children story? I did because I have seen this on several lists and it has also been adapted into a movie (I think it has). Secondly, I never got to read a lot of these popular books. Like all children's book, it preaches virtues, in this case the importance of friendship and loyalty and the need to respect all regardless of features.
  7. Lord of the Flies by William Golding: This was also a reread (I first reviewed it on November 24, 2010).  and I did not complete it. Again, courtesy of my book club.
  8. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky: A selection of the book club, this is a small but dense book about a man and his love and his psyche. 
  9. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: Once again, a selection of the book club, which I could not finish reading, and which I regret. And which I will read again! The language in this book is marvelous, which compensates for the unsettling subject matter. I now understand why this is one of the most banned books.
This is my appalling 2014 reading. Share your reading with me; perhaps you will give ideas for reading in 2015. I am yet to make any reading resolution except to improve on my 2014 performance. Happy New Year to you all.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

There and Back Again

First, let me say I plagiarised the words in this title. But this is not the reason why I am here. After all, I read that trilogy in 2014. I am here to apologise for my long absence from blogging. And definitely from reading. What makes book blogging different from all other blogging is that, to blog one must undertake another long activity: reading. Unless one wants to be a blogger of bookish events. But creating contents for book blogs require a lot. And I have been at it consistently, or so I would like to think (don't count my other absences), since 2009. And it has immensely benefitted my reading; and possibly my writing.

My last post on this blog was on September 11, 2014. The ones before that were on July 18 and 19, 2014; and the last one before these was on June 25, 2015. There is a reason why I am going back to June. In the beginning of June 2014 I got a new job. And like most of my jobs have been this position is different from the previous one. It therefore required a lot of learning on the job. Thus, though I was reading, the materials weren't those that I could review. They were quasi-academic. By the way, I only consider peer-reviewed journals as academic readings. Forgive my bias. Yet, this was not the reason why I couldn't continue creating content for this blog.

The most important reason is that this job was farther from where I stay; though I don't have to brace the traffic some others do. The environment too is different. Instead of the seclusion I enjoyed in my previous job, where I shared office with one or two, here I have a desk in a space shared with a lot of people. Thus, in addition to not been able to come to work very early, even when I manage to do so I meet others at their desks making reading difficult. Work starts the moment you arrive, not the specified time work is supposed to start. Hence, my entire reading pattern has been affected. I read less and less and have almost lost out. This has affected me, as any true reader knows. However, I managed to read a score or so books in the previous year. I will blog about these in the coming days.

This blog post is to inform my readers that I have not stopped blogging; I am still defining ways to come back to this interest of mine, whilst still working to feed myself and the family. To start the year, I am reading Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery. What are you reading in the new year? Expect a full report of books read and my expectations for 2015 in upcoming posts.
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