Reading for 2010 – a few statistics

My colleague, Nana Fredua Agyeman, adopted the Boston Bibliophile meme, on his reading for 2010, so I guess I might make a shot at it too, though I have missed out quite a few of Marie’s categories!

Books read – to time of posting:  109

Fiction vs non-fiction:  59 fiction (with the largest category being crime/mystery, 50 non-fiction (the largest category being food/cookery)

Male vs female authors:  60 male, 45 female [obviously some figures don’t add up, as I wasn’t sure of the sex of some of the authors/editors!]

Favourites:

  • The graveyard, by Neil Gaiman
  • The grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer
  • Tail of the blue bird, by Nii Ayikwei Parkes
  • The boy in the striped pajamas, by John Boyne
  • Cutting for stone, by Abraham Verghese

Least favourites:

  • Baltasar & Blimunda, by Jose Saramago
  • The sportswriter, by Richard Ford
  • Circles, by Boakyewaa Glover

Which countries did I go through in my year of reading?

Africa:  Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia

Non-African:  UK, USA, Spain, Sweden, Canada, Iran, India, Pakistan, Italy, Russia, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Poland

Any re-reads?

  • The grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer
  • The adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The clothes of nakedness, by Benjamin Kwakye

Most read authors – all except the following, were one of each: Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett and Benjamin Kwakye – all two books each

On where I got recommendations from:

  • Accra Book Club reads are a must
  • Great African Reads, from GoodReads, is a guideline, though I don’t always read the books being covered at the time but eventually maybe
  • BBC World Service’s World Book Club selections – though sometimes this may the author rather than the actual books being discussed
  • My sister
  • book reviews (mostly online but from varied sources),
  • what I see in local bookshops and others in the US

And in what format did I do my reading? So far all in physical books, as I am still getting used to my Kindle, which I do like.  But downloading books here in Ghana does have its occasional challenges!

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Two Ghanaian literary detectives!

At the last Accra Book Club meeting, a small group of us – four actually – discussed, among other things, Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ Tail of the blue bird. The group had chosen it – mainly on yours truly’s recommendation, I am proud to say – as a contemporary Ghanaian novel.   And that we all agreed, it is, despite its movement from the hussle of Accra, which resonated realistically, to the rural setting of a forest village somewhere in the Eastern Region.  The use of English interspersed with Ghanaian expressions helps to reinforce the impression of the now.

Interestingly, at least one colleague brought up the theme of the Ghanaian detective story/crime novel, and of course we did mention the recent book by Kwei Quartey, Wife of the Gods, which several of us had read.  

Although we all felt that the Parkes book was better written, this was not a condemnation of Quartey’s novel, which was readable and enjoyable.

I mention this because another literary blogger from Ghana, Nana Fredua-Agyeman, recently talked about the lack of African detective novels, and specifically mentioned Quartey’s book as being innovative in this regard.

Certainly for Ghanaian fiction I would agree, but come to think of it, the heroine of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith is of course from Botswana, even if the author isn’t.  And what about Nairobi heat, by Mukoma wa Ngugi?  And aren’t there many South Africans who write crime fiction?

Still a good topic to talk – and think about.  Thanks Nana for bringing it up!

My reading for December 2009

Since I’ve been on holiday for almost two weeks, I was able to finish a few more books than I would have done if I had been going to work.   As usual a mixture of the slightly literary with the slightly less serious…, interspersed with dipping in and out of some cookbooks, though not necessarily doing anything practical related to this.

I finally got around to reading Muriel Barbery’s The elegance of the hedgehog – in English though, unlike my ambitious sister who decided to read it in French!   I liked it, though I found the ending rather unexpected!

There are a couple of works with an African flavour:  Chris Cleave’s The other hand [also goes by the title Little Bee in the US?] and Work in progress and other stories.

Interestingly the former was a suggestion for the Accra Book Club, but one of the members had given rather negative feedback, so we didn’t add it.  I still read it though, and I can see why reactions could be ambivalent.  In a way, living in West Africa probably would tend to make me a bit more critical.  I liked the different perspectives, but I wasn’t sure that the plot really held together, though some of the individual sections were quite moving.  I somewhat resented the ending as being somewhat “colonial”.

The second work is a collection of short stories, including the five short-listed entries for the 2009 Caine Prize for African writing.  I had read a few of the stories before, and also personally know some of the authors of those who attended the 2009 workshop which was held outside Accra in April 2009.  So there was definitely an element of curiosity to see what the Ghanaian authors would produce.

With the exception of editor Ivor Agyeman-Duah’s An economic history of Ghana: reflections on a

half century of challenges and progress, and Pierre Bayard’s How to talk about books you haven’t read, both of which were books which I dipped into rather than read at a go, the rest of my reading for December 2009 was what most would call genre reading.

There were three crime/thriller novels, one science fiction/fantasy blockbuster and one slim volume which I had been unable to resist buying because it brought back memories of childhood.

David Baldacci’s The whole truth:  enjoyable and shall I sadly admit forgettable?

Stieg Larsson’s The girl who played with fire:  the second volume of the Swedish Millennium series.  Actually the Accra Book Club is reading the first volume as our January selection, which should be fun.  Some reviews were not so positive but I enjoyed this second volume, and the especially the focus on Lisbeth Salander.

Last of the crime/thriller trio is Colin Cotterill’s Disco for the departed:  Not heavy reading, with some comic elements.  Admittedly there was one strand in this book that didn’t relate too much to the main story, but even that was fun, in a slightly macabre sort of way.

I did finish Neal Stephenson’s tome, Anathem, which a colleague lent to me – with a warning that it really was a doorstopper!  Definitely not something one could read in bed!  It wasn’t easy; I realised rather too late that there was actually a glossary, which would have been a bit more useful had I noticed it earlier.  Although I enjoyed it, I wondered if it was too complex and too long…

And finally there was a return to childhood, with a paperback edition of Antoine Saint-Exupery’s The little prince, though regrettably I didn’t buy the colour edition.  😦  I wonder how much I got out of this book as a child, which I am sure I first read in French.

November 2009 reading

I think I need to remember to take a photo of each of the books I read, mainly because I feel slightly odd about linking to a site such as Amazon all the time.  After all how many of us in Ghana are buying our books from there?

So here goes for the month of November 2009:

I do not  come to you by chance, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani.  The story of a young Nigerian graduate who is frustrated in finding a job, keeping his girlfriend, and living up to the standards that his family expect of him.  So what does he end up doing?  Joining the black sheep of the family, and becoming quite expert at 419s!  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was both fun, and at times sad, and yet rang horribly true.

The Jane Austen book club, by Karen Jay Fowler.  I think it was the title that attracted me, already being a fan of Jane Austen.  Did it live up to the promise?  Not sure.  For me it was OK, but not very exciting, or even particularly inspiring.

A beautiful place to die, by Malla Nunn.    Here the attraction was definitely the cover, and a niggling feeling that I had read a good review of this detective story set in the early 1950s in South Africa.    It was quite atmospheric, with lots of tension, yet still the complexity of several of the characters did come through.  I really liked it, and look forward to reading her future work.

Wife of the gods, by Kwei Quartey.  A detective story set in Ghana, with a Ghanaian detective!  How could I resist?  Since I first heard of it, it had been on a wish list, and I even went to the extent of talking to the author on his website – basically asking when there would be copies available here in Ghana.   Didn’t get an overly satisfactory answer though.   A fellow Accra Book Club member had bought a copy and lent me hers, so I quickly read it.   Verdict:  OK, in my view quite a few loose ends, or inconsistencies.  Not bad on descriptions, but did it have atmosphere?  Not really.   But I’ll probably look out for his next work.

Garlic and sapphires: the secret life of a critic in disguise, by Ruth Reichl.  I am not a foodie – though I like eating, and sometimes cooking – but I enjoy reading cookbooks, and about cooking.  The author writes very entertainingly about her “disguises” and visits to New York restaurants while she was a critic for the New York Times. Light reading, but I enjoyed it, especially as her relationship with her mother is recalled.

Of course, I started some other books, which are still ongoing…  And one of them has over 900 pages and even thought it is a paperback – is HEAVY!

Science fiction

Not long ago I was browsing in the Silverbird bookshop, which is actually called Silverbird Lifestyle (or something like that) when I came across a real classic in the science fiction section:   William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer.  Looked at the blurb and realised that I had never actually read it – somehow there wasn’t very much SF in either Ghana Library Board or British Council in Kumasi during the 1980s.  Yet here was the book that was known to have brought to the fore a term such as cyberspace – where some of us spend a large percentage of our working time.   

I haven’t finished it yet, but it is curiously contemporary in the way good SF can be.  One can also see the influence it had on some SF/fantasy films which have come out in the last twenty-five years.  

I did check for some background info from Wikipedia (where else?) though I will look in a few other places as well.

I do have to admit that it is a little strange reading SF after so many years of very little of it.   I have to ask around to see if I can find some more to either buy or borrow.