My Books of 2017

This post should have come in the last days of 2017 before the curtains came down. But a combination of too little good internet and too much Christmas partying did not let me flourish. Anyway, like they say, never say never.

2017 was a good year for me in books, the best so far since I started taking note of the books I read from 2015 and 2016 — I read 14 books across different themes: foreign and Nigerian fiction, Nigerian politics, international politics, football, feminism, etc.

[This number is pretty small compared to some people who read up to 42 books in same year — I wonder if he has an unseen second head].

My initial strategy was to read two fiction and then two non-fiction books, but at some point, it was not working anymore.

Anyway, in chronological order of being read:

  1. Association of Small Bombs — Karan Mahajan

Islamic extremism. Terrorism. Bomb blasts. Shabby investigation and prosecution.

Do all of these sound familiar? No, it is not Boko Haram I am talking about. Karan Mahajan’s book is set in India against the background of terrorist attacks by Kashmir separatists and Islamic extremists. The focus is on how a family is changed when they lose two of their sons in a bomb blast in a crowded market.

This book made me see how India is so much like Nigeria in many ways. Quite a nice read.

2. The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead

This book about a slave who escaped from a farm in slavery-era America to join a group of escaped slaves who help others get free through an underground railroad.

The book follows them through their battles and challenges with slave owners and slave chasers and will have you rooting for the escaped slaves at every twist and turn.

A pretty amazing book, and it created such vivid imaginations in my head. Maybe a movie can come out of it soon.

3. Prisoners of Geography — Tim Marshall

If you love geopolitics and international affairs, you will love this book. It explains how geography influences nations in their dealings with each other and how they develop: why the US has a good advantage militarily & economically, why Russia badly wanted Crimea, how vulnerable South Korea is to North Korea and why China still consorts with North Korea, etc, etc.

It is un-put-down-able.

4. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind — Yuval Harari

This was by far my best book of 2017: it explained everything from the start of humanity to how humans spread, formed societies, developed religion, how patriarchy became what it is today and so on up to present-day and a projection into the future.

This book was first written in Hebrew in 2011 before published in English in 2014 and quickly became a bestseller.

That says a lot.

5. The Sun Is Also A Star — Nicole Yoon

I like to be surprised, and this is one book that surprised me. If I had known that it was a romance novel, I likely would not have read it as I am not a fan of the genre.

But I did, and it was so beautiful, and I think I shed a tear at the end — or maybe the sun was just in my eye.

Now I am open-minded about romance books — not the Mills & Boon type though.

6. The Vegetarian — Han Kang

This is some kind of dark novel that you will keep saying you will drop, but yet you won’t. It is like watching a thrilling horror movie — you are kept on the edge of your seat.

Again, it was nice to dive into another culture (Korean) and learn so much about it.

7. Against the Run of Play — Olusegun Adeniyi

One of my reading goals is to read every book I can find about contemporary Nigerian history and politics. This is because there is so much about Nigeria that goes unnoticed or unrecorded and we need more people to write about it — local and foreign.

Adeniyi’s book about how former President Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 elections is a must-read. While a lot of it is already in the public domain, the level of detailing brought to light what would have remained within a small circle and become only the stuff of beer-parlor gist.

8. The Mixer — Michael Cox

I have been following Michael Cox on Twitter via his account, @Zonal_Marking since 2011 and his analysis of football strategy and tactics has been nothing short of impressive. His book on the evolution of the English Premier League from a tactical angle has been the same.

I am yet to decide which of the chapters is my favorite: is it the one on tiki-taka and Pep, or the one on Leicester City’s historic upset to win the title?

If you are a football lover, you will totally love this book.

9. Eat the Heart of the Infidel — Andrew Walker

Confession: When I first saw this book, I underestimated how good it will be. In my mind, I felt there was hardly anything new I was going to learn about Boko Haram, particularly from a foreign journalist.

I was wrong. This is an amazing book.

Andrew did an excellent job going back in time to the Fulani jihad of Shehu Othman dan Fodio through colonialism and these shaped Northern Nigeria all the way to Boko Haram.

My favorite chapter: the second to the last one where he dissected the Nigerian media and how it adds to the confusion over the insurgency.

10. Born A Crime — Trevor Noah

Again, another book I underestimated.

It is not just funny, but also thought-provoking. Like many other people, I always thought of Trevor Noah as an ‘ajebo’ kid from South Africa who then made it to the comedy big leagues in the US.

So wrong. Mans life is a story of many struggles: from being born literally a crime in apartheid South Africa to the many hustles and challenges his family had, and to the incredible strength of his mother — her influence in his life is so clear.

There are also so many quotable quotes in the book, such as:

We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.

And this:

The traditional man wants a woman to be subservient, but he never falls in love in with subservient women. He’s attracted to independent women…..He is like an exotic bird collector. He only wants a woman who is free because his dream is to put her in a cage.”

11. Narconomics — Tom Wainwright

What do you get when you apply conventional business management principles to drug trafficking?

The result is what Narconomics is about: the economics of the drug trade.

Wainwright looked at all aspects of the industry, from supply to demand, distribution to human resource management, etc.

With each chapter, he offered suggestions on how governments can fight the drug industry rather than the conventional ban and use of military force.

12. Hymens and Headscarves — Mona El-Tahawy

The fierce feminism of Mona El-Tahawy, each page dripping with passion and righteous indignation.

She looked at how women were being treated in the Middle East, oppressed through a cocktail mix of culture and religion, and how these beliefs did not hold any logical sense.

I kept seeing similarities between what El-Tahawy spoke about and Northern Nigeria.

P.S: I think I have also found a name for my second daughter :D

13. Love Does Not Win Elections — Ayisha Osori

Ayisha Osori’s book on her sadly unsuccessful attempt to run for the House of Representatives in the Federal Capital Territory on the platform of the now-opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party lifted the veil on how brutal and rough Nigerian politics is for many of us that are on the outside.

The cocktail of ethnic/religious sentiments, influence of money, patronage networks and patriarchy is so disheartening.

If you intend to run for office someday, reading this book will do you a lot of good.

Hopefully, other future aspirants will also document their experiences in Nigerian politics. There can’t be too much knowledge out there.

14. All That Was Bright and Ugly — Mitterand Okorie

Buying this book was one of my impulsive buying decisions of last year, a habit I picked up towards the year-end. It is a quite interesting novel about a young man’s love life spanning three countries with plenty drama and intrigues.

In many ways, it read like a personal story especially considering the fact that the author had lived in those three countries.

What Am I Reading this Year

One book that I am dying to lay my hands on is Alex Thurston’s Salafism in Nigeria: Islam, Preaching and Politics. I have read an article of his and I follow him on Twitter. I believe this will be an absolute page-turner, but the cost is prohibitive :’(

I also want to read more Nigerian literature: books such as Under the Udala Tree by Chinelo Okparanta, Fine Boys by Eghosa Imasuen, Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, On Black Sisters’ Street by Chika Unigwe and the list goes on and on.

Years ago, I made an attempt to start reading books by Nobel Prize for Literature winners. I got 7 books by Kazuo Ishiguro who won the prize last year, but I am yet to finish even one. I intend to fix that.

I also want to read books like Unlikely Partners by Julian Gerwitz on how China became the economic miracle it is, How Everything Became War and War Became Everything by Rosa Brooks on how the American military is involved in virtually everything, Who Gets What and Why by Nobel Laureate in Economics Alvin Roth on the how stuff that is not commodity, such as talent is priced, etc.

If you have any suggestions of what books you think will interest me, please drop it in the comments.

The target this year? Let us aim for 3 books per month.

Here is to a great reading year.

Cheers.

MA.