After a difficult year for everyone, the holiday time is looking harder than before. A time to normally spend with family and relaxation has become one of stress and uncertainty. However, we hope that the holidays can still be a time to catch up on the ever-growing pile of books that you have been meaning to get to throughout the year, even if this year is a little different. Because of this, we have collected a list from our team of their picks to read over this season. We hope we can provide you some inspiration to read and escape from our world into another, even if just for a moment…
There are more good books to read every new year, and yet there remain only 24 hours and 7 days in each day and week! How does one choose?! My most trusted filter for the last five or so years has been recommendations from friends with similar tastes in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read even one fifth of the number of books I usually read in a year. Audio books have just made more sense; I’ve listened to Camus’ The Stranger at least thrice! Such has been the bizarreness of this year; it’s made doing things that have always come easy to me very difficult. The books that I started, I’m yet to finish. When I did manage to read books to the end, it was often when I was re-reading rather than starting something new altogether; these have been small, smartphone- or tab-sized books (Eileen Chang’s Red Rose, White Rose and Melissa Kiguwa’s Reveries of Longing are examples).
I’ve been thinking a lot about short fiction, therefore: short short stories and short novels. How maybe a time like this is their time.
With all the anti-brutality protests this year, #BlackLivesMatter in the US, #EndSars in Nigeria, and #PeoplePower here in Uganda, I’ve also been thinking about violence. Fatima Asghar’s poems about the partition of India and Pakistan in If They Come For Us have spurred me to rethink [what I know about] the partition of Africa. One of my favourite poems, They Asked for a Map, opens like this:
& so I drew them a line. what does it mean, to partition earth? to cut the ocean? all the fish wear flags on their fins. the flies pledge allegiance to which bodies, rotting in the street, are theirs to nibble. (p 66)
My friends and I discuss partitioning frequently; the arbitrariness of the Uganda-Kenya, Kenya-Tanzania, and Uganda-Tanzania border lines that run through Lake Victoria, for instance; how one group of people become different people – Ugandans, Congolese, Rwandans:
cousins partitioned from cousins, mothers partitioned from child, neighbors spearing neighbors, women, virgins, jumping into wells so full with people they can’t find water to drown. (p 67)
So, during the holiday season I will be reading Concerning Violence by Frantz Fanon, and Colonialism and the Colonized: Violence and Counter-violence by Tsenay Serequeberhan.
“Given the violence of Africa’s encounter with Europe through which the “dark” continent was introduced into the modern world, the question of violence should have a central importance for the discourse of contemporary African philosophy. And yet, to date, African philosophers have not properly dealt with or even engaged the question.” — Tsenay Serequeberhan.
I hope to follow those up with other writers’ reflections on violence. Not very holiday-season-ish, I admit. But, again, it’s been that kind of year!
My task, come 2021, will be to read all the recommendations patiently waiting on my to-read list (How to Love a Jamaican, Manchester Happened, Black Rain Falling, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, The First Woman, and Girl, Woman, Other are a few examples)!
Le Triangle et l’Hexagone: Réflections sur une identité noire (The Triangle and the Hexagon: Reflections on a Black Identity) (La Découverte, 2020).
This essay by Maboula Soumahoro, professor at the University of Tours, is both academic and personal. Raised in France by parents from Côte d’Ivoire, Soumahoro also spent many years in US universities completing her doctoral work in African American and diaspora studies, and teaching. The reader follows her education and personal experiences as a Black woman, particularly in academic spaces that are often hostile both to students from outside of a privileged socio-economic class, and to the rigorous study of cultural production from Africa and the diaspora. An interesting read for thinking through the articulations of race and diaspora on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in university life and research.
Over the festive period this year, I’ll be reading Joburg Noir, a new collection of short stories edited by Niq Mhlongo and published by Jacana Media in October. Featuring writing such as Fred Khumalo, Sibongile Fisher, Nedine Moonsamy, Keletso Mopai, Yewande Omotoso and 17 more South African authors, Joburg Noir promises a varied portrayal of Johannesburg. I look forward to reading the city through the mix of genres this book presents.
I’ll also be jumping into “the extraordinary universe of African street art”. I was delighted to see Street Art Africa on my doorstep this week – I ordered it a while ago, hoping it would arrive in time for the Christmas break. This beautiful book by South African creative Cale Waddacor showcases works of art by over 200 street artists across the continent and is accompanied by rich interview material.
In the New Year, I intend to finish reading Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. And when I can get a hold of copies, I’m excited to read Mia Arderne’s Mermaid Fillet and Bakwa’s Your Feet Will Lead You Where Your Heart Is.
This Christmas I am still spending my time dipping through Myriad Editions’s paperback version of New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby. Throughout the last few months, I have been picking it up now and then and flicking through to whatever catches my fancy – it’s such a large anthology that reading it this way makes it manageable and keeps it as something to always return to. The book celebrates the work of 200 women writers of African descent, including Leila Aboulela, Sefi Atta, Namwali Serpell, Jesmyn Ward, and Nawal El Saadawi. I hope to make more of a dent in the collection this holiday!
Continuing my trend of reading shorter fiction and writing in snippets and snatches, on my bedside table to read is Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie (Dialogue Books), a collection of short stories. Nudibranch ventures into the surreal, following offbeat characters caught up in extraordinary situations and includes Okojie’s AKO Caine Prize-winning story, ‘Grace Jones’. I loved Okojie’s appearance at Hay Festival’s Winter Weekend at the end of November and bought my copy off the back of that. As restrictions tighten where I live, a little escapism into an unusual world apart from our own is much needed over this break, and I am sure Nudibranch will deliver!
The books at the top of my bed-side table to read this year over the Christmas break are:
Part of their brilliant #Twentyin2020 publishing initiative, Jacaranda describe this as a ‘decadent queer literary debut’ that ‘immerses readers in the pursuit of aesthetics and beauty, while interrogating the removal and obscurement of Black figures from history’. I can’t wait!
I’ve heard so many good things about this new collection of short stories published together in English and French from Bakwa Books and am excited about being taken across its ‘stories of star-crossed lovers, mental health, dark fantasy, displacement, speculative futures to radicalicalization’.
Finally I’m super intrigued to get to spend some time with this new experimental novel in verse from Ngugi wa Thiong’o, first published in Gĩkũyũ and now available in English, bringing a feminist lens to the Gĩkũyũ origin story.
Finally, there is just time to say the most important bit of all: thank you to our readers this past year who have loved and shared, in the thousands, the work we do at Africa in Words. We are sending you our best wishes of health, safety and love. Thanks for sticking with us. Let’s hope the new year brings new hope and optimism, full of books, ideas, and interesting conversation.