A little while after I graduated from university I found that I was averse to reading. Ok, averse sounds a little extreme because I would still read newspapers and magazines whenever I got my hands on them. In fact I have cat like curiosity as far as written materials are concerned. I read matatu stickers, bumper stickers on vehicles, bill boards, labels on products especially food items like chocolate and biscuits. I even read labels on spices specifically to find out what kinds of foods go with those spices and last but not least I am one of those creepy people who reads a newspaper over my fellow matatu passenger’s shoulder. I have even read pages of books though I have trouble keeping pace with the original reader so I only get bits and pieces but it doesn’t matter because I got to read something any way. It’s therefore not surprising that I like to read books too. As much as I like to read books I feel that education, strike that, schooling ruined book reading for me. When I was in the university I had such a hunger for books that I would borrow as many as my library cards would allow but I would end up returning them almost unread. At the time I really wanted to read widely so my book choices were not restricted to course work. I would have a pile of books sitting on my desk and not enough time to read. The poor books had to compete with an active social life, my course work assignments, series and movies. Considering the number of books I returned to the library barely read I am surprised that I think I was averse to reading after finishing my studies. The reason I thought that was because I had such trouble finishing books whenever I picked them up, now I know the problem was there all along. There is a book I read for more than a year and I gave up and decided finishing it would not contribute to world peace. I am happy to report that, that has somewhat changed. However, I cannot say I now inhale books as quickly as someone would when they get out of a stuffy room but I can say I have revisited my love for reading for pleasure. Way before I graduated I chanced upon an article that highlighted a speech read to graduates of Havard University on things they never teach you in university which you should know. Reading for pleasure was one of those things that we should do. I could go on and on about reading books but then I would miss out on telling you about a most phenomenal book I read.
A little background information on how I got the book: I got my current job through a colleague whom I went to university with. When we were in university I knew he liked poetry but I had no idea he loved books. Turns out, he loves books like the Vatican loves the Pope. As far as my revisiting my love for reading for pleasure, he was the ghost of reading past to my Ebenezer Scrooge. He got a copy of a book by Binyavanga Wanaina called “One Day I Will Write About This Place”. I had already read some titbits about it from a previous book he wrote which I read for a literature class I took, and I knew it was going to be interesting. I also read that the book was selected as an Oprah book club read and that is amazing. The feeling derived from knowing that the book would land on my laps was not as much kid in a candy store as it was; shoe addict receiving an anonymous cheque of a generous value in the mail and finding herself in a street with Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Salvatore Ferragamo and Jimmy Choo stores. When the book did get to me, I read it slowly and I would even go days without reading the book. This is not because the book was a cold egg. Far from it, it was so good I wanted to delay the inevitable: the end.
I will try not to give too much detail so as not to ruin the surprise and now you will have no choice but to get the book for yourself. The book was a memoir. He told stories of his childhood, a bit about his time in high school, his time in the university and how he ended up winning a Caine Orange Prize for writing. So unique is his style of writing that I found myself having conversations in my head (before you say aaiihh! who doesn’t have mental conversations with him/herself) and the sentences were structured the way he structured his. So short were his sentences that bits of his book read like poetry. The way he structures his sentences and the way I structure mine would make for an opposite attracts affair because my sentences tend to snake like a TGV minus the speed. He is also super talented at talking about nothing and for pages and pages and I have to say I came so short of exclaiming brilliant out loud on my many bus/matatu rides with my book companion.
Finally the reason the book won me over: the story of his life in university. I know I promised not to go into details but please forgive me if I do. At some point during his university tenure Binyavanga went through what I can only call a depression. His relationship with class was strained to say the least; he wanted a divorce. He came back to Kenya at a time when his mother’s family was going to have a reunion in Uganda and told his parents as much. When they came back from the reunion he stayed in Kenya for a bit and he felt a little better and decided to try and work things out with class. When he went back he said his new confidence lasted all but a week. He went back to hibernating in his room though unlike hibernating insects he had not gathered his food for the summer. At this point I desist from going into further details but all in all his story was appalling especially for those who stick to the straight and narrow as far as going to school and putting in some effort if for nothing else’ sake, to please your parents. A majority of Kenyan parents would have labelled their child useless. His own dad came close to calling him that but his mum shot him a warning look.
He had no idea what he wanted to do with his life but what he knew was he liked to read and he liked to write. He read all day and wrote most of the night. He shared his writing with other people he met online. Then one day he got a letter informing him that his story had been short-listed for a Caine Orange Prize and he was invited to the House of Lords for dinner. One minute he was Turkana District, semi-arid and no water despite having a lake and the next minute he was Turkana district with oil deposits. The rest as they say is history. That was his story but what’s your story? Have you been dismissed? Do you constantly feel like you’re a disappointment and your life will not amount to much? Well, figure out what you like and direct your energies into it, whatever it is, work on it consistently and it will pay off. Now go get the book and let me know if it’s something to write home about.