Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A smorgasbord of literature!

I've been reading like a fiend! Why? Because buying books is like a drug for me but my purchase rate exceeds my reading rate so at some point I found myself staring at a pile of books I had bought but not yet read even though I longed to head straight to my favourite book store and go a little crazy. In fact, I long for my favourite book store all the time: on pay day, Sundays, Fridays, holidays, laundry days, good days and bad days. It's my happy place. I did, however, decide to be disciplined and finish reading my unread acquisitions before spending another cent on literature, for I knew that in a materialistic and consumerist society like ours, that was the right thing to do to assuage the guilt of reckless spending. So here we go! I have powered through the following books over the last 12 weeks and I am ready for my next spree!

The Haves and the Have Nots - Branko Milanovic
A brief and idiosyncratic history of global inequality
We know Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice was rich. Just how rich in today's terms? What was Tolstoy's Anna Karenina's financial gain in falling in love? Where does Obama's grandfather fall in the Kenyan income distribution? Branko Milanovic has worked it out.
The book looks at the gap between wealth and poverty, the geographical distribution of wealth and changes in inequality over time by answering questions such as for example, how the wealth of the wealthiest ancient Romans compares to the present day super rich. Inequality is a threat to the prevailing social order. It's a really big deal and this book was a good kick start for me to think about it objectively as it is something I have very strong opinions on. I'll give my analysis of Milanovic 's ideas in a later post.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The book begins enchantingly thus: I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy.
Comon! How could one not want to read further? I read this in eight hours flat and was completely won over by every single character. It's a book about a charming, intelligent girl from a poverty-stricken, unconventional, bohemian family who finds herself falling in love inappropriately - strike a chord, why don't you, Dodie? It's about a diamond in the rough, deep thinker type of person coming of age authentically and uniquely and about the ties that hold together family and friendship.

Seriously... I'm Kidding - Ellen DeGeneres

It's Ellen. Need I say more? I wish I knew a better word than funny. Funny, hilarious, side splitting, chucklesome, comedic, comic, hysterical, humorous... all vastly inadequate. I love Ellen DeGeneres and I think that she loves me too. I can feel it in the way she writes.This gem of a book radiates Ellen's kindness and warmth as she shares her life philosophy and her views on an array of issues in a manner that will make you literally laugh out loud. It's very easy, light reading and even includes a colouring section for children. I loved how she wrote a story to be read aloud to the children but just so the adults don't get bored while doing this she throws in adult level appendages to the story in parentheses. This book is full of very simply told but profound truths and came to me at a time when all I needed was a good laugh. It delivered the goods effortlessly.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett
The book is set in the deep South during the segregation era and is told through the voices of two black maids and a white woman. I didn't want to buy this book; I didn't want to enjoy it either because I have issues with just the very idea of it. I won't go into my issues here and now. I think I might touch on them a little bit later on when I discuss another one of my recent reads. So anyway, it took me a little longer than usual to get into this book, probably because I knew where it was headed and how it was going to play itself out. I crawled through the first couple of chapters, literally falling asleep after every second page or so. But then it suddenly reeled me in and got me completely caught up and engaged. My favourite character was Minny, a sassy, no-nonsense maid whose mouth has landed her in hot water too many times to count, but who for all her sass and no nonsense to white employers and other folk in general, is in an abusive relationship.

Little Liberia: An African Odyssey In New York City - Jonny Steinberg 
     This book chronicles the story of the Liberian community in Staten Island, New York by specifically tailing its two rival leaders Rufus Arkoi and Jacob Massaquoi. Steinberg shadowed the two protagonists for two years to produce this account of trauma, power-hunger, disenfranchisement and dissilusionment, and of-course that complex relationship between Africa and the West. The story of Liberia is different from other African countries that were carved out of the historical "scramble for Africa". It is a state that was founded as a new homeland for emancipated slaves from the United States of America. The 19th century arrival of these American former slaves created a new dynamic with the indigenous inhabitants in which the new settlers and their descendants for over a century were at the top of the political, social and economic hierarchy. Sergeant Samuel Doe was the first non-elite to rule the country after a military coup in 1980 and from that point the country spiralled downward into a protracted series of civil wars. During the Charles Taylor era, many Liberians fled to the US to escape the increasing violence, creating "Little Liberia" a place where the people live with horrific violence fresh on their minds and who have made only a physical break from their country but find themselves in Liberia in every other way: psychologically, spiritually and even in terms of social behaviour and orientation. 

The Worst Date Ever - Jane Bussman

If you are interested in getting to the bottom of the story of Joseph Kony, the Lord's Resistance Army and the interplay between poorly targeted "aid", corruption and the unchecked continuation of crimes against humanity in East and Central Africa then you need to read this book. If you are interested in a new take on the West's penchant for "poverty pornography" you should definitely read this book. If you are interested in discovering the religious philosophy of Ashton Kutcher and how his relationship with Demi Moore took off then you simply must read this book. If you are interested in discovering how a comedy writer ended up exposing a  three decade old story about a delusional terrorist and his rag tag army of abducted children and how the world has largely turned a blind eye to them then for the love of all that is good you need to read this book. Also, if you want to laugh, feel terrible that you are laughing but find yourself actually laughing out loud in spite of yourself then I can't tell you how good this book will be for you to read. Read this book. It will raise the hairs on the back of your neck in its descriptions of mutilations and other horrific crimes. It will make you angry at African leaders, world leaders, the United Nations and other aid organisations. It will leave a bitter taste in your mouth. You will feel used, cheated, trapped, exhausted, hopeless and un-valued... if you are a black African. You may find yourself wondering why it always takes a white person to tell the story of black people and why this couldn't have been an exposition written by say, a black woman from Uganda. My mind turns here to "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,"  "Little Liberia," "Bite of the Mango" and "The Help," just a few of the countless stories about black people written by white people. You will feel like you are just "so over it all." It will bother you to realise that for whatever reasons African and black people in general are unable to narrate their own stories and that there is less respect for, and acceptance of black writing; and that due to the nature of market demands opportunities for black writing to be mainstreamed are few. People prefer things this way. If the book had been written by a young black woman, who knows if it would ever have even been published and if it had, I would wager that it would have been poorly received by non blacks and that it would have been met with indignation and resentment among her own. "Who does she think she is?"  Yes. You know what I'm talking about, you sufferers of crabs in the bucket syndrome. For this as well as the status quo on your continent, you will also feel immensely guilty. And you are.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

A fascinating foray into the Dominican American life. Fascinating. Tragic and also humorous.

The Somnambulist - Jonathan Barnes

Hmmm... a dark, funny, Sherlock Holmesy whodunit recommended by my boss. Not bad.

Miral - Rula Jebreal

I struggled with this one. I was just hoping for so much more in terms of the actual quality of the writing. I am sure the story in and of itself is worthwhile but I thought the strength of the writing did not match up to the potential magnitude of the events portrayed. I failed to fully engage emotionally with any of the characters so I think I will rent the movie and see if that helps. 

Aspirin: The remarkable story of a wonder drug - Diarmuid Jeffreys

I loved, loved this book! It traces the roots of the use of salicylates from willow bark for therapeutic purposes all the way back to ancient Egyptian times and details the documentation of their usefulness as antipyretic, or fever reducing agents in England. It is the story of the birth of acetyl salicylic acid, better known as Aspirin, in a long and winding journey involving serendipity, the dye industry, entrepreneurship, professional rivalry and sabotage, Nazi Germany, the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 - 1919 which wiped out 20 - 40 million people taking us all the way to the discovery of the drug's usefulness in preventing myocardial infarctions or heart attacks. It chronicles the ends that the pharmaceutical manufacturers would go to in order to protect their patents and how they found stealthy ways to circumvent patents and get a piece of the billion dollar action that is Aspirin. Riveting! This may very well be my favourite read of the year!

I am currently reading:

Democracy Kills: What's so good about having the vote? - Humphrey Hawksley

Thursday, November 17, 2011

There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man...I mean, heal a broken heart

Let's say I know someone who found herself deep in the throes of an little bit of an unrequited love situation for, oh let's say the greater part of the year. This mostly bitter and only occasionally tantalizingly sweet ordeal was punctuated by melodrama and much, much agonizing (because we all know love is the purest form of agony) with friends, family, colleagues and strangers in strange places, and eventually culminated in a resolute declaration that the smithereens that her heart had broken into would never be reconstituted again. Well, it is my pleasure to write that this hapless young woman's heart has in fact reconstituted itself and is well and truly recovered from what can only be described as a highly emotionally taxing situation no human being deserves to endure. There are so many reasons why she has recovered and so many contributory factors to her arrival at the place of sanity and wellness that it would easily take me months to chronicle them all. I can however, quite confidently say that a very large role was played by the music industry, for it was in music that she came to the realisation of the (rather obvious) fact that hers was not the first situation of this type and if simple, ordinary people like multi-platinum recording artists could seemingly experience and overcome these things to the extent that they could even use them to earn a living, well then surely, a bright young fox like me (I mean, this young woman) could do likewise and come out on top? The following is a taste, a mere sample, of the soundtrack of an eclectic muso's journey out of the mire of ill-fated love. You could also think of it as a five step algorithm to getting over a broken heart. If you get stuck on any step go back to the one before. The fact that I can blog about this without being reduced to a heap of incoherent, jumbled up emotions is proof that it works!

Lesson 1: Hey, it happens to the best of us...

Daniel Bedingfield: If you're not the one.

Angie Stone: Snowflakes.

Dela: Lucy's and Loose Leafs.

Gabrielle: Out of reach

Juanes and Nelly Furtado: Fotografia

Lea Salonga - On my own (Les Miserables)
Diam's: SOS

Love is coming undone and hearts are breaking all over the world in different ways, for different reasons and in different languages. Who are you but a mere mortal to expect to be exempt from these things?

Lesson 2: Shake it off, champ. Just keep walking...

Madonna: Power of goodbye

Dido: Hunter
Maxwell: Pretty Wings:

Lupe Fiasco: The show goes on
Coolio: See you when you get there
Joss Stone: Could have been you

Coldplay: Paradise

Tough break, Johnny; just keep walking ..

Lesson 3: Don't just walk around in circles. You need to be walking AWAY from the object of your unrequited limerence and TOWARDS the person you used to be before you lost yourself. The old you was doing just fine before this whole debacle; the old you was aces...Even better if you can walk towards an even better version of yourself the world has never seen: wiser, stronger, better, more sympathetic with your audience, as it were..:-)

Enigma: Return to innocence
...if you want, then start to laugh, if you must then start to cry...
Lupe Fiasco: Beautiful lasers (2 ways)
...find a reason...simplest things, you really like summer, you really like music, you really like reading...
R. Kelly: The storm is over now
... I can see the sunshine (somewhere beyond the clouds)...

Oren Lavie: Her morning elegance
...and she fights for her life...

Common: Blue sky
...this is my Inception, I'm writing my dreams...immortal view of a star doing what I'm born to do...

U2 - Walk on So go on then. Time to do all those things you failed to do because you were busy wallowing in the sea of cathexis!

Lesson 4: if the darkness tries to creep up on you again assault it with positive self talk and think happy thoughts. The following music never fails to put a smile on my face.

Bobby McFerrin: Don't worry be happy
...don't bring everybody down!

Lupe Fiasco: Just might be OK
...affirmative, no further furnishing is needed...I believe we are completed...

OMC: How bizarre
...ooh baby, it's making me crazy...

Cornershop: Brimful of Asha
...she's the one that keeps the dream alive, from the morning, past the evening, til the end of the night...

Jimmy Cliff: I can see clearly now
...all of the bad feelings have disappeared, here is the rainbow I've been praying for, it's gonna be a bright, sunshiney day...

Queen: We are the champions

We are the champions, 
we are the champions, 
no time for losers,
 cause we are the champions... of the world! 

That's right. Not the room, office, city or country. We are the champions of the WORLD!
Don't be choosy. Take your happy fix however you can get it: a funny joke, a funny friend, an uplifting book, song or activity. Lap it up! And don't be afraid to exaggerate your self efficacy and play up your awesomeness. If you're feeling down and out then chances are you're underestimating it already so you'll just about hit the mark if you go a little overboard with the positive self talk. 

Lesson 5: Keep hope alive! No one likes a bitter, jaded, sourpuss so expect better, expect more and be ready for it. 
Rachel's: Water from the same source
Just pure instrumental genius that inspires and reinvigorates me!

I for one, am an insatiable optimist and fully expect this fantastic young lady to look back on this past year one day and throw her head back in laughter as she rides into the sunset with James Franco/ Michael Ealy/ Thierry Henry/ John Legend/ Jared Leto/ Common/ Ryan Reynolds/ Columbus Short/ Lupe Fiasco... the possibilities are without end!