2022 proved to be the year when I genuinely felt I reached the zenith of my reading potential. Perhaps describing myself as an avid reader is not as accurate as I would have imagined. Bibliophile seems to suit me better, and it rolls off the tongue just right. After a slow and steady slog that lasted two years, I picked up the pace the previous year and gratefully checked off a number of books I desired to read from my list.
Surprisingly, since the momentum kicked in, I rarely feel sorry for myself when I cannot finish a book I started. I do not just want to read aimlessly for the sake of it.
To me, reading is akin to taking an adventure; exploring the minds of creatives, learning about the intricate workings of the world, appreciating the complexity of the human experience and understanding that we all have stories to tell. It becomes a chance for me to expand my mind (and my vocabulary, believe me!) and memorialize deep-seated virtues and values. Through reading, I have come to accept principles such as stoicism as much-needed in our generation. I have grown more empathetic to the struggles of those who view freedoms of speech and expression as far-fetched fanciful reveries. I have marveled at the extent that the human brain can contort fictional feats. There is more to it, evidently, than just turning and earmarking book pages.
So you can understand that reading is not just a hobby for me, it’s the sun around which my life revolves. It informs my writing and directs my vision.
Concerning the sui generis of words, author E.W Kenyon says, “Words are more dangerous than bricks or stones. They are more potent than pen or brush. Bones they break not, but hearts they crush.”
My hope is that you can also fall in love with the art of reading, for it is an art, a forgotten and less-revered one at that. In the current age of technological advancement, it feels as though the books have been trivialized over other cheap dopamine-chasing, Internet-driven exploits.
Enough of my commiserating over technology (many have become gurus at this) and allow me to reveal to you five books that captivated me in 2022. As goes with these reviews, I shall give a concise summary, a rating and, where possible, a downloadable link so that you can also peruse at your own time.
One bad day does not make you a bad person. It makes you human.Quote of the day
IKIGAI: THE JAPANESE SECRET TO A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles.
I was reluctant, at first, to read this book and I wondered whether anything it would offer would be genuinely actionable. I have been a victim of consuming self-help “garbage” before. How many times has a book made you feel less, smaller than who you really are? The kind of ideals that such motivational books proffer, even the most discipline person on earth would not dare actualize. I detest the standards that such books set, specifically preying upon the desperation of depressed youth by offering quick-fixes over long-term solutions.
But here is a book that essentially dumbs down the necessities of living a meaningful life – one of longevity and happiness. Now, I know the word ‘happiness’ has been getting a lot of hate lately, and I concede that it is a fickle concept. Perhaps fulfilment strikes the nerve and I would be welcome to the idea that it trumps happiness any day.
In Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, the authors, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, put forward cogent arguments proposing the concept of Ikigai as “the happiness of always being busy” and “the raison d’etre” of every person. With eye-opening examples drawn from the people of Okinawa, Japan, they go ahead and unravel the workings of this concept among these extraordinary human beings. I say this because Okinawa boasts the largest number of people over the age of 100 years in the world, and Ikigai is what has shaped their lives as so.
Studying the secrets behind the longevity of Japanese centenarians will definitely put to perspective the errors of Western philosophy that have permeated our thinking as inhabitants of the Motherland. The usual dross of nerve-wracking exercising, ambitious corporate drive and religious indoctrination is replaced with easy, priceless lessons such as finding flow in everything we do, building and cherishing community, and a constant engagement of the body and mind.
Two memorable concepts stand out as you read through; Ichi-go ichi-e as focusing on the present and enjoying each moment that life brings. How important would this tenet of life be in the lives of anxious individuals? The second one is Wabi-sabi: it insists on finding beauty in imperfection and recognizing that the world we live in is fleeting, impermanent and imperfect. The wonders that this truth would effect on minds that are obsessed with idealism!
I presume it would do each of us a world of good if we took to these values – and more that are presented – as our guiding lights. I sure benefited from them. To cap it off, here is a snippet of a poem from the book just to glance at the centenarian attitude toward life.
A Declaration from the Town Where People Live Longest
At 80 I am still a child.
When I come to see you at 90,
send me away to wait until I’m 100.
The older, the stronger;
let us not depend too much on our children as we age.
If you seek long life and health, you are welcome in our village,
where you will be blessed by nature,
and together we will discover the secret to longevity.
April 23, 1993
Ogimi Federation of Senior Citizen Club
Where can I get this book? Download HERE.
GOOD TO GREAT by Jim Collins
I believe that when Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Built to Last, sat down to write this book he had in mind the motive to disprove much of the hoopla that surrounds the art of management. And disprove he does! In fact, not only does Jim Collins present his work as fodder for growth in managerial prowess but he also builds a concrete case for each of his concepts.
Much of the book revolves around case studies of good-to-great companies and comparison companies. With an in-depth analysis of company sales, leadership styles, industry progress and market share, a clear picture of what it really takes to dominate the ranks is drawn. Now, as someone who took Business Studies in high school, I will proudly be the first to admit it is nothing like I ever sat at my teachers’ feet to learn.
School curricula impose upon young minds the idea that the business world is composed of aggressive money-chasers who are walking around with superabundant industry knowledge. Good to Great begs to differ! Here are a few lessons I gleaned from the book:
- The type of leadership required for turning a good company to a great one is one that mixes personal humility and professional will. In fact, it is the self-effacing and reserved managers that make the best CEO’s.
- Executives who ignite transformations in companies first get the right people on their team before they figure out where they will lead them. Great vision without great people is irrelevant (pg.42).
- Leadership is about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted. Having the humility to face the facts while keeping the faith that you will prevail is a lesson that transcends management, and one I felt strongly convicted by in my reading.
- A good-to-great company builds a culture of freedom and responsibility. Then it gets self-disciplined people wielding disciplined thoughts and are ready to take disciplined action. Comparison companies, on the other hand, rely on discipline by itself and march right into disaster.
- Good-to-great companies think about technology differently. Technology is an accelerator of momentum and not the means of igniting a transformation in the company.
It doesn’t take a business studies student to realize that Good to Great gives glimpses of the alternate knowledge that much of our educational institutions fail to disseminate. Jim Collins and his team has done an impressive work at expounding the mechanisms of managerial domination with provable cases to back it up.
Where can I get this book? Download HERE.
HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There is an ethereal touch that is steeped in West African literature that is unmatchable. In the arena of creativity, I will gladly put my pride aside and tip my hat to the West African writers who, by far, trump any other regional writers in their expression. Nothing comes close to their writing systems; their ubiquitous use of local dialect, involving the reader in their heritage, and engrossing the mind with a vast array of subject matters is undeniably impressive.
Chimamanda Adichie deserves her place in the West African hall of fame writers for her account of passionate and unrequited love, national loyalty, and ignoble politics amid an unsparing Nigerian civil war. She writes with boldness, often leaving the reader with an almost tangible fear and fervor after every scene. The characters jump off the page and enthrall the senses; Ugwu’s innocence, Master’s charisma, Olanna’s naivete and Kainene’s tart sarcasm are not a matter of happenstance – Chimamanda’s gifted pen conspires to bring them out as so.
If there was ever a book so vividly written that it evokes a spectrum of emotions, it would be Half of a Yellow Sun. Honestly, Chimamanda is a worthy role model to the Afrocentric writer who desires to shed light upon the stories of the dark continent. This book was definitely not a waste of my time!
Where can I get this book? Download HERE.
FINDING ME by Viola Davis
This was the first book I picked up in the beginning of 2022 (Shout out to Nuria Store in Kenya, where I bought it) and for good reason. It’s Viola Davis, people! She is famously known as the EGOT winner – bagging an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award in a career spanning almost thirty years. I know I do not need to belabor the facts, but what an inspiration she is!
In this autobiographical account, Viola unveils her childhood in the state of South Carolina in the USA, introducing us to her family; her lovable ‘MaMama’, her scarily abusive father and her siblings and making it known to the reader how fond a familial connection she had as she grew up. What stands out is her rise to fame, and the struggles she faced as an African-American actor desperate to break even. She takes the reader through her ups-and-downs, finding solace in ‘The Sisterhood’ and finding her voice and ultimate expression of self in the classic series, How to Get Away With Murder.
In her own words:
‘If I were to mark the first time I fully used my voice it was in How to Get Away with Murder. Shonda Rhimes; Betsy Beers; my manager, Estelle; and Pete Nowalk were all on the phone making the offer. I listened to them pitch this character who was complicated: married but had a lover, could or could not be sociopathic. Her name at the time was Annalise DeWitt. I thought, That doesn’t sound like a Black woman’s name. I knew that it hadn’t been written specifically for any ethnicity. It was the one time where the enormity of the job didn’t restrict my voice or my needs.’
Her self-awareness is laid bare in Finding Me and proves to the reader that indeed even the famous celebrity is still human in nature, desiring ‘something more’, battling with doubt and depression and seeking to be understood. I don’t know about you, but I would concede to believe so only because it’s Viola Davis, really.
Where can I get this book? Download HERE.
CROSSFIRE by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
As far as fictional writers, save for John Grisham and James Patterson, I would read anything that the Francis’ boys put out. Honestly, it’s the pacing of the writing in Crossfire that places it as my favorite fictional read of 2022. The storyline is easy to understand, the mystery is dangled before your eyes all throughout and the resolution is satisfactory insofar as resolutions go.
The cherry on the icing on the cake is the development of the main character, Captain Thomas Forsyth. The authors do not shy away from presenting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as one of the sorely misunderstood mental health problems. The statistics are damning, really: about 10% of male veterans and about 1% of female veterans suffer from PTSD, out of the six million that served in 2021. Amongst the treatments available for these veterans, very few yield successful results and symptoms tend to persist.
Throughout the story, it is evident that the main character suffers from terrifying nightmares and chronic depression due to his amputated leg. The authors ensure that the sense of loss and uncertainty of the future is palpable to the reader. However, the main character is just as sharp as any other human being, using his military training to resolve the dilemma of the story. I commend such representation of people suffering mental health even though it does not compare to the real experiences that so many veterans face. We all need to acknowledge that victims of mental health problems are firstly human, and to accord them respect.
Where can I get this book? Buy on Amazon. (oops)
Thank you for taking the time to read this review! Share it with your network and enjoy your reading.
Books on my watch list for 2023: The Sex Lives of African Women, Sula by Toni Morrison, November 9th by Colleen Hoover, The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy (already finished!) and Letters to My Son by Joan Thatiah.