BOOKS AND SHORT STORIES YOU SHOULD READ BEFORE YOU TURN 25
At 25, you are assumed to be fully grown. You have learnt a lot from the university of life. You have interacted with people from different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds. You are supposed to have known more about the history of your country and the possible future in front of it.
At 25, you are beginning to put yourself in order – you have identified which dream to pursue, how to pursue it, what to prioritize and of course, which girl or boy to drag into your world. But nothing is cast in stone. You must go an extra mile to gather enough knowledge and opinions that will enable you perfectly shape your world. You should have learnt, before piling 24 years on top of your first birthday, a lot about the society you live in, so its peace and yours do not clash.
Literature teaches us that which we call mundane whenever a pastor shouts at the pulpit. It feeds us with that valuable piece of information that a friend may not put in a well-thought manner. It provokes thoughts. It advises us to avoid certain troubles. It tells us who not to trust. It gives life and pours blessings.
Here is a comprehensive list of books and short stories that I think one should go (have gone) through before turning 25.
1. MY FATHER’S HEAD – ODUOR OKWIRI
When you look at my head, you will see a tight skin, dark grass, two ears, a small mouth, two headlamps and a pointed nose. You will also be interested in the shape of my head: round, oval or a thick rectangular mass of clay? You will tell your buddies that you met a man whose forehead is bigger than what your eyes are accustomed to, or may be a man whose head is a flat terrain. But that’s not my head. It is the skull of my head.
Okwiri tells us what a human head is. Maybe I should first discuss what it is not. A human head is not the round object you see perched on one’s neck. It is not the stone that footballers use to direct the ball into the goal. It is not what pastors touch when they want Jesus to bless you. It is also not what your boyfriend strokes with his muscular fingers.
The human head, as the award winning writer describes, is that intangible product of your thinking. It is the value of your intellect. It is the sum total of what your brain has been fed with. So, it may be small or big, tribal or accommodative, a trouble or a blessing, full with knowledge or empty, a symptom of love and respect or incivility.
Click here to read the story http://www.caineprize.com/pdf/2014_Oduor.pdf
2. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – JANE AUSTEN
Do you believe in the accuracy of first impressions? Do you think all that you happen to have observed in a stranger on day one mostly like represent his potential disposition? Do you often give a chance for second, third or fourth interactions before you judge someone as liberal or measly, violent or peaceful, proud or humble, intelligent or retarded? Jane Austen advises you do, in case you hate making mistakes.
Darcy is a fairly young man. He is rich, sorry, wealthy. He inherited estates worth billions of dollars from his father. He relocates to a place where he meets Bennet’s family, an economically cursed group of two parents and three daughters. Mrs. Bennet is happy that a moneyed bachelor is within the neigbourhood, one of her daughters stands a chance to benefit. A party is organized. Darcy is there with his friend, Mr. Bingley.
When asked to dance with Elizabeth, one of Bennet’s daughters, he lifts not his body but his tongue. He describes Elizabeth as ‘handsome’ and ill-mannered. According to him, Jane is the only beautiful girl present. Elizabeth is offended. She makes out Darcy as rude, arrogant, proud and not worth her time – never.
Darcy and Elizabeth remain enemies for long. Not even the subsequent interactions make them change their minds. William, a secret admirer of Elizabeth, seizes the opportunity and corroborates her opinion on Darcy. He badmouths Darcy and describes him as a proud spoilt kid. William and Lizzy (the name Mrs. Bennet uses in place of Elizabeth) fall in love.
Years later, Lizzy realizes that she was mistaken. Darcy is a good man, only that his selection of words from the dictionary is poor. Darcy is also corrected by time. He learns that Lizzy is actually a cultured girl whose inner beauty beats his physical eyes. The two wed in a colourful ceremony as the gossiping William watches in awe.
3. TOWARDS GENOCIDE: The curse of negative ethnicity – KOIGI WA WAMWERE
You are in college. No, you must have graduated. I think you are already employed. I mean, you are married and have brought two kids to the earth. You are a couple of decades away from death. Some people call you uncle. Maybe aunty. You go to church every Sunday and shout for your God. But what do you do? At this age, with this knowledge, with a whole gunia of salvation, you still use your grandmother’s tiny brain. Nkt.
4. ANIMAL FARM – GEORGE ORWELL
In a class, a youth group, a community organization or a church committee are animals of different kinds. There is Major, the boar, who initiates revolution but who will not enjoy the fruits of the struggle. May be he will die before freedom hatches out. Perhaps he will be expelled before that lazy lecturer is interdicted. You must have read about Dedan Kimathi or South Africa’s Steve Biko. There is Mollie, the white mare, who asks stupid questions whenever a meeting is convened to discuss strategy for the revolution. She will want to know where the class will get another lecturer after the rebellion. She will ask why the church opposes the leadership of Bishop John yet he slept with a widow and not anybody’s wife. There are two boars − Napoleon and Snowball, may be the Chairman and the Secretary General – who are locked in unending arguments. One aims to belittle the other, and of course cut short that other’s reign. There is Squealer, an intelligent pig, who speaks fluently and persuasively. His work is to clean the table after the leader has eaten that which was supposed to be shared among all committee members. He is so articulate nobody doubts his lies. He is responsible for secret editing of laws to cover his master’s misdeeds. There is Boxer, the donkey. He does all the energy-draining works but never complaints. He even turns up for work on a day he is unwell. There are dogs who protect the dictator. There are hens who confess to having dreamt that the chairman should be opposed. They are slaughtered. There are also cows who confess to having urinated in the pond. They are killed and buried.
5. AMERICANAH – CHIMAMANDA ADICHIE
Race. Identity. Bad governance. Love − how it sinks and floats and sink again before eventually resurfacing, never to sink again. In one of her seminal talks, Chimamanda discusses the danger of a single story, which is somewhat related to the race and ethnicity questions. Your grandmother told you all church-going girls are good. You rely on that single story only to encounter adultery before your very naïve eyes. Because you’ve never been close to someone who professes the Muslim faith, your grandmother narrates to your small school head how inhuman Muslims are. They are terrorists. You believe it. You are an idiot. You are a curse to the society. But all is not lost. Start listening to as many stories as you can.
On marriage, Chimamanda writes that a woman marries not the man she loves but he who can take care of her. According to the acclaimed author, a man marries not the woman he loves but she who is around when he wants to settle down. Undoubtedly true.
6. THE CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE – BERTOIT BRECHT
It is as simple as this: you give birth to a boy, routinely breastfeeds for only ten minutes, you don’t touch him till the next day, and the nanny does the rest of the nursing and teaches him to eat, to sit, to walk and to speak. The court poses a question: who is his real mother? He chooses the nanny. The judge agrees with him.
Think about it. The tree you planted is not yours unless you water it.
7. DREAMS FROM MY FATHER – BARACK OBAMA
Dream’s From my Father is an inspiring autobiography – simple, insightful and genuine. Obama plainly describes his journey from birth to adulthood. He discusses the challenges he encountered, how he overcame them and the lessons he learnt.
The book teaches us the importance of family and identity. Obama emotionally writes how he traced his paternal family members. Around six chapters discuss his relations with his father and other Kenyan relatives. I want to believe someone must have told you that you should amend the broken ties you have with your family members before you celebrate your 25th birthday. Your adolescent sins will not be forgiven unless you repent.
Obama confirms two things. One, life is tough. He was jobless for quite some time and went without lunch meals. Two, which can be summarized by Martin Luther’s, quote ‘judge someone not by the colour of his skin or ethnic background but by the content of his character’.
8. MORISON OKOLI (1955-2010) – JEKWU ANYAEGBUNI
You went to study in America but instead of coming back with something good, you land back home accompanied by your fine wife, a stupid dog. Us you left in the village are married and have sired children to inherit our stupidity. You have no one to call you father. You will die a poor death. Not even your wife will be given a chance to eulogize you because she might bark on the microphone.
But Morison Okoli is not the only member of this gang. Many Kenyans are also married to dogs. They will leave no child behind; they inspire no one. Tribal, capitalistic and immoral. They are nobody’s hero(ine). We are hoping they won’t change their minds − from tails to bums. We don’t need their young ones. Kenya can only grow in some people’s total absence.
9. DEN OF INEQUITIES – KINYANJUI KOMBANI
This novel raises many issues. One, weighing the danger police officers are exposed to when fighting crime against human rights issues, especially with regards to the debate on extrajudicial killing. Two, to the ladies, dig that boy’s life before you allow him into your kingdom. Kinyanjui Kombani tells a story of a beautiful university girl who left her rich, proud and unfaithful boyfriend for a student who was from a poor background and whom she thought humble, kind and more caring. Little she knew her new boyfriend was a criminal who was recruiting students into an oath-taking gang. The gang’s sole business was to ensure the girl’s father wins all his political battles. Three, the wide gap between the rich and the poor is extensively and insightfully explored by the young writer. Please, go and bookshop.
It does no harm if you read all the books that have been selected as study literature in secondary schools. They have something to offer. Entrepreneurs are advised to look at Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place is a must read for all Kenyans. Let’s Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga, winner of 2014 Commonwealth short story prize is a good read. I haven’t read Mukoma wa Ngugi’s Mrs. Shaw but I am told it is worth your weekend.
Making good use of the alphabet