World Book Day Recommendations: “Five Books I Am Most Grateful For” — Olakunle Ologunro
Nigerian writer, Olakunle Ologunro shares five books he is most grateful for, for Book O’Clock’s World Book Day Recommendations.
Olakunle Ologunro is a Nigerian writer. His short stories have appeared in armarolla, Lolwe, and the Gerald Kraak anthology for work that provokes thought on the topics of gender, social justice, and sexuality. Currently, he is an editor at Zikoko Magazine.
The assignment was to submit a story.
Or maybe it wasn’t a class assignment, but a self-assigned project. Whatever it was, all I needed was a story, and my plan was to copy from a storybook I’d read days before. After all, a story is a story.
My mother found me while I was doing the copying. “Despite all the storybooks you read, you mean to say you cannot produce one of your own?” She asked after I told her what I was up to. I looked up at her and back at my elaborate act of thievery, and I saw her point.
This happened many, many years ago. Since then, I have ‘produced’ short stories of my own. But whenever I think back to a definite moment in my writing, one that shaped my hunger for storytelling, it is this moment that comes to mind first, because it was when I began to pay even more attention to books and the endless possibilities they offered.
It is impossible to number all the books I have read, and even more impossible to estimate how much I will read. But I am grateful for the N50 Ghanaian storybooks I bought and devoured a lot in JSS1 or so, and for the titles published by Ochado/Platinum Books.
In the ecosystem of writing and publishing, these books could be easily dismissed as unimportant, their subject matter moralistic, trivial. And frankly, I wouldn’t disagree now as an adult. But these books laid a foundation. Like adults chewing solid food into a mash for a toothless child, they made stories accessible, brought entertainment down to my level. And in doing so, they dug in me a desire to reach out for more solid and adult renderings of the world around me. I am not entirely sure if the N50 Ghanaian storybooks still exist — I no longer see them at bus parks and bookshops, but Ochado/Platinum Books are very much in print.
American Star by Jackie Collins
American Star by Jackie Collins is another book I am immensely grateful for. It was, I remember, one of the first books I read with very detailed sex scenes. One thing comes to mind now, and it is the fact that Jackie Collins named sexual organs as they are. Not member, manhood, or any of the other names that glossed things over. Jackie was raw, honest, and encountering American Star with its glorious sex scenes was empowering. It contained the sex education I never got, the pornography I was dutifully shielded from, the heartbreak I would later come to experience as an adult. It was a preparation of sorts.
The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta
Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood showed me the need for rage. It was assigned for an English class, and I approached it expecting joy: a happy mother, dimpled babies, love. What I experienced was the opposite. The irony cut too deep. Throughout the reading, I had just one question: “Where is the joy for Nnu Ego, the daughter of Nwokocha Agbadi?” After we were done, I told my teacher, “If I were Nnu Ego’s ghost, I would cause commotion at that burial.” Clearly, the book did its work. I saw too clearly how unfair the world was (and still is) to women, and why rage is a necessary fuel for living and for writing.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie redefined storytelling for me. Here was domestic abuse, something I saw a lot of, presented afresh. Here was teenage adoration and defiance made relatable. Here was traditional religion presented truthfully. Here was an unraveling family written so honestly, I felt like a member. Purple Hibiscus was the beginning of a writing journey with certainty and confidence. She had shown me what was possible, achievable, and I didn’t want to do anything less.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies is one book I hold very dear to my heart. I was googling short story collections when I found it. A collection of 9 stories, but nothing prepared me for the lives I would encounter in the book. Interpreter of Maladies simplifies writing, but in this simplicity, you witness craft at its most polished. You witness people at their most vulnerable and honest. Interpreter of Maladies taught me the value of empathy and the power of simplicity in telling the most powerful and emotionally honest stories.
I am grateful these books exist. They presented me with a renewed hunger for life, insight with which to view the world. These books showed me the depths of possibility, presented stories to me as a fabric to cut and style whatever way I want. I approached them with curiosity and in return, I emerged with writing as a voice, an education, as activism, as entertainment, art.
World Book Day Recommendations is a series of book recommendations made by African contemporary writers to mark World Book Day, 2021 and #365DaysOfBookOclock.