What are you currently reading? Many of you have asked, so instead of simply telling you what my current reads are – The 8th Habit by Stephen Covey and The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss – I’ll do you one better and provide an entire list of books and audiobooks I’ve indulged in recently and highly recommend; as well as some books I’m anticipating and excited about getting into.
I say ‘indulged in’ because, honestly, the struggle is still very real: I’m not reading as much as I used to and definitely not in the same way. For instance, I read multiple books at a time at a much slower pace than I used to. Besides listening to podcasts which are a key part of my morning fitness routine, I’ve gotten into audiobooks; they are a life-saver in helping me reclaim my ‘bookworm’ status! So yeah, ‘reading’ or ‘listening to’ books are a real treat.
Anyway – let’s get right to it: my list of recommended reads by African and non-African writers alike, and on everything from personal growth to business, spirituality, marketing, comedy, afro-futurism.
Books Read & Recommended
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist is probably my favourite book of all time and one I have referenced numerous times in my book suggestions, writings on this site and social media. It’s the kind of book I feel everyone must already know about, but as I’ve found out this year, that’s not the case. So I’m putting it on this list so those of you who haven’t yet done so, will do yourselves a huge favour and read it. The Alchemist is a very simple, but profound story by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho about a boy who sets out to find his path, purpose, destiny. It’s a quintessential “hero’s journey” story and one that is very well-written and well worth coming back to. I use it as a reference book and guide for those times I doubt my path or need a bit of motivation to keep going. It has literally permeated my life in many ways and Coelho is a writer I look up to for his ability to capture the profound in simple language and depth . “Fun” facts:
- At 17 years, Paulo Coelho was committed to a mental institution by his parents because he wanted to be a writer (they disagreed). He escaped the asylum thrice, eventually starting his writing career. His book Veronika Decides to Die explores mental health.
- Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist in two weeks.
- The Alchemist was initially published in 1988 by a small Brazilian firm and only sold 900 copies. It wasn’t until after 1994 that it became a best seller. It has since been on the New York Times Best Selling List 424 times (and counting).
- Paulo Coelho is an avid internet user – and also encourages people to share his work in all formats. You can download a PDF version of The Alchemist here or here – or just do a Google Search.
Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller
As a writer, one of the things I struggle with it getting critical constructive feedback on my work – the kind of feedback that pushes me to improve my writing and get better (because there’s always more learning and growing to do). I found this book after I decided to sign up to Audible Books to enable me “read” while working out. The book does a great job of helping you figure out how to cut out all the fluff in your communication – in my case, writing and creating digital content – and to get to the essence of what you’re trying to communicate. It’s a relatively easy read, but with enough substance to get you started on improving your communication and branding. I ended up getting the Kindle Version of Building A StoryBrand as well, because I know I’ll be using it more as a reference book. I definitely recommend this if you are looking to communicate better or if you are a small business looking to hone your brand.
If you’re a fan of TV shows, you’ve probably heard of Shonda Rhimes of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder and Private Practice fame, among others. If you haven’t – definitely check out her shows! Although I’ve been watching Scandal since it started and Grey’s Anatomy since college, I didn’t actually know much about Rhimes herself until a few years ago. “Rhimes’ book Year of Yes gives a candid account of many of the things women (and people in general) struggle with and found me earlier this year when I was doubting my creative path and entrepreneurship. Her narration of her book is very well done and endearing – felt more like a conversation with a friend – and in a way, she gave me the permission to go ahead and organize the 2018 Sisterhood Matters main event in April this year. I have more admiration for Rhimes now that I’ve gotten a sense of her story and she’s an even bigger source of inspiration for me on multiple fronts: as a writer, creator, black woman, unapologetic nerd. This is a must read for all women, and I also recommend it to anyone who is unsure of their journey and path in life.
Before getting into audio books, podcasts were a big part of my morning routine. I’d listen to them while getting ready for the day, and later during my workouts. I soon latched onto the Tim Ferriss Podcast which features interviews and conversations with some of the world’s brightest minds, creative entrepreneurs and interesting doers. Eventually, I realised I had to read The 4-Hour WorkWeek; Tim Ferriss and his guests make so many references to it during the show. Can I just pause and say that some books find you when you most need it? I felt that way about The Alchemist when I first encountered Paulo Coelho’s writing, and The 4-Hour WorkWeek holds the same significance for me in the creative / career realm. I got the Kindle version early on in my freelancer / solopreneur career and soon after I left my 9-5 job and it literally illuminated my path in so many ways. Granted, a lot of the things Ferriss talks about and suggests might not be exactly applicable to Ghana or other African countries, but for the most part the principles ring true. This is the book you should read if you are considering making your side gig your main gig – he even provides email drafts for resigning! – or if you’re looking to go off the beaten path career-wise.
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okarofor
I chanced upon Nnedi Okarofor’s book Who Fears Death while browsing through the Terra Kulture gift shop / book store in December 2017 and decided to try it out. As I soon found out, Okarofor is an amazing writer who not only explores Nigerian culture but also reimagines its elements through time. Her writing fits squarely into mystical realism, science fantasy and the somewhat new (?) genre of ‘AfroFuturism’. The book is about Onyesonwu (which means ‘Who Fears Death’), a child of rape born in a post-apocalyptic Africa. Okarofor’s writing grabs you from the very beginning till the end as she weaves a story of suffering, self-awareness, triumph, and mysticism. I had many moments where I really saw the world she describes and felt the emotions she evoked, and can’t wait to make my way through the rest of her books. If you’re looking to be transported to another realm, this is a book to read. Also, look out for more from Okarofor – Who Fears Death is being made into an HBO TV series and she’s also working on a comic series on Shuri from Marvel’s Black Panther.
I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual by Luvvie Adjayi
Luvvie Adjayi – or Awesomely Luvvie, as her blog name goes – is a Nigerian-American blogger and socio-political commentator who I’ve been following on and off for a number of years. But she’s not just any kind of socio-political commentator – she’s the kind who will leave you in stitches and then some with her humorously accurate take on everything from race and politics in the United States, throwing shade, and of course, being Nigerian (which she unapologetically is). She keeps things real and says the things you’re probably thinking but are too afraid or shy or self-conscious to say. Her debut book and NYT Bestseller I’m Judging You throws shade of epic proportions on the things we know we shouldn’t be doing, but do anyway. Adjayi also has a good laugh at herself. Besides the great content she offers, I was drawn to her because she’s a professional blogger who has steadily built her brand and audience over the years and who is quite open about her journey and not afraid to talk about the hard (read, political) stuff. If you’re looking for an unconventional ‘self-help’ book or dose of realness with some Naija swag, this is the book to pick up. You should also check out Luvvie’s “Rant and Randomness” podcast, which features prominently on my morning walk podcast rotation. I’ve also heard good things about her newer podcast “Jesus and Jollof” with ‘Insecure’ actress Yvonne Orji . You know, just in case you need more troublemaking Awesomely Luvvie after “I’m Judging You”.
Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
I just finished listening to Trevor Noah’s audiobook, and wow. This is one of the best autobiographical works I’ve encountered in a while. I heard about the book while watching a video snippet of a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Trevor Noah about the Black Tax, and decided to try the audio book. Besides his expert narration of his book, Noah’s weaves depth and simplicity, character and humour into his insights on complex issues like race and discrimination, adult relationships, domestic abuse, South Africa’s political trajectory and economic dynamics, the importance of language, being “in-between” worlds, religion, pirated music, prison, the informal economy and his relationship with his mother, among others. I literally did not want this (audio) book to end and found myself laughing or exclaiming out loud at various points – thank you for making me look crazy, Trevor. On a more serious note though, I have a ton load more respect for the The Daily Show host after reading his book. So much such that, I’m already excited about what Noah does after The Daily Show – never mind that he just got started with it. Noah’s story is one of creativity, knowing how to roll with the punches and make the most of situation, and of course, humour. As mixed media artist Afroscope on Instagram put it after I expressed my approval of Born a Crime: “This is one of those books that MUST be listened to”. All I’ll add there: ‘must’ is an understatement.
Lusaka Punk & Other Stories by The Caine Prize for African Writing
If you’re the type who likes your stories from Africa with the stereotypical safari, antelopes, sun-burned skies, and traditional village settings, I’m afraid to say the 2015 Caine Prize anthology Lusaka Punk may not be for you. The book which features a collection of 17 short stories from talented writers and authors from across Africa is anything but conventional, both in terms of themes and writing styles. One one page you’re exploring punk culture in Lusaka and in another, you’re witness to the highs and lows of loving the same woman. Lusaka Punk is daring especially in how its stories defy stereotypes and provide a glimpse, however brief, of contemporary lives and living across Africa. I should add that my short story #Yennenga which I wrote while participating in the Caine Prize 2015 Writing Workshop in Ghana is featured in the book. Aside from being exposed to a relatively new way of writing, I also got a chance to interact with some of the other writers at the workshop and gained an appreciation for the work, creativity, and to a degree vulnerability it takes to write a short story. So this book is on the list for those of you looking to check out new African writers or hear different narratives from Ghana, South Africa, Zambia, Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent.
Books I’m Looking Forward To
Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha) by Tomi Adeyemi
I chanced upon Tomi Adeyemi’s book Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha), while looking up some of Nnedi Okarafor’s work on Amazon. As I soon found out, Adeyemi is an amazing writer who explores West African mythology and culture in her work. Her book Children of Blood and Bone falls under the ‘young adult fantasy’ genre, and is apparently the debut novel for the 24-year old Nigerian American author. And yet, it’s already being made into a movie! I’m sure you’d agree with me that impressive is the only appropriate word to describe this rising author. This one is very high up on my must-read list and if what I’ve read and heard about it is any indication, Adeyemi’s forthcoming second book Children of Virtue and Vengeance will create equal waves. Get your hands on both if you can.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
It goes without saying that the former US First Lady’s memoir is one of the most highly anticipated books of the year. And for good reason: Michelle Obama is a force to reckon with. The book promises to give personal insight into one of the most inspiring and powerful women of our time, with anecdotes from her past, her time in the White House, her advocacy on health, women and girls empowerment, and more. I’m particularly interested in hearing how Michelle Obama has dealt with challenges and struggles throughout her life, especially after watching Southside with You – a 2016 movie and biographical romantic drama on the Obamas’ courtship. I’m also curious about her next steps beyond the White House. Becoming is due for release on November 13, 2018, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Haruna-Attah
I’m currently visiting the US, and for whatever reason, questions and conversations around Africa’s history with slavery, Africans in the Diaspora, and African-American history and culture keeps popping up, so much such that you might think I planned an entire expedition into these topics. Prior to all that though, I’d had a conversation with Ayesha Harruna Attah en route to Accra on a work trip. The topic: 19th century history and slavery in Ghana’s North and the stories of women who lived in that era. Our airplane conversation also centred a lot on the missing stories and narratives from Ghana’s three Northern regions, something I also tried to address in my short story Yennenga. I’m particularly excited to see how Ayesha weaves all these complex narratives in her latest book The Hundred Wells of Salaga. Known for her debut book Harmattan Rain, Ayesha does a very good job at developing interesting female leads and capturing the nuances of life in Ghana’s yesteryears, so that’s also something to look forward to. From the reviews and excerpt I’ve read so far, it seems like a great novel to look out for. So, if you’re curious about the relatively little known narratives from Ghana’s North; want a glimpse at internal slavery in the former Gold Coast; or looking to encounter the work of a compelling, award-winning Ghanaian author, The Hundred Wells of Salaga is one to get. In Accra? Attend the Book Launch on September 2 and grab yourself a signed copy!
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Before it even came out, Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater was making waves. Pun intended. The book chronicles the life of Ada from a troubled childhood in Nigeria to a confusing young adulthood in America with danger lurking in her vestiges of self. Emezi’s first book is a bold exploration of identity, mental health, self and be-ing which is wrapped up in discourse and imaginings rooted in Igbo spirituality. Freshwater may be the first time many are encountering Emezi’s work, but the author already had a track record of powerful writing and social commentary leading up to her debut novel. As many reviews point out, Emezi’s writing style is refreshing in its ability to evoke imagery as it is in its poetic elements. Beyond Freshwater, Emezi weaves an important narrative through her social media channels on what it means to be a writer, the highs and lows of getting published, and questions on identity and sexuality in African contexts and beyond. I started listening to the audiobook, and have already had many moments of pause to reflect on what we consider to be real and true in our unique and common experiences of life. Already read Freshwater? Look out for Emezi’s second novel The Death of Vivek Oji.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
Ayobami Adebayo’s book Stay With Me has been dropping hints for at least a year, that it’s one I need to read. It found its way into conversations I’ve had on Twitter and Instagram, eventually staring me defiantly in the face at Terra Kulture in Lagos, after I picked up Who Fears Death. And so, I obliged, picked it up, paid for it, and now it’s on my lineup on books to read in 2018. Like many of the books on this list, Stay With Me is a first for its author Adebayo and has made a formidable showing since its release in June 2017. A story about pride and betrayal in a contemporary marriage, the author has been compared to some of her compatriots Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie. Aside touching on marriage, it also addresses questions around polygamy and infertility – topics which many will agree are deeply personal, but which society seems to have a say in regardless. Stay with Me has a long list of accolades, including being chosen as ‘A Best Book’ 2017 by The Guardian, Wallstreet Journal, NPR and the Economist to mention a few. I’m looking forward to digging in and seeing more from this Nigerian native!
Hippie by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho has shared elements of his life story through his books – the quest for a purpose in the Alchemist; the question of insanity and societal expectations in Veronika Decides to Die; and the importance of travel, solitude and reflection in the The Manuscript of Accra. But his latest book Hippie looks like it might be the most autobiographical and personal yet as he recounts his days as a hippie – yes, you read right – travelling from Amsterdam to Kathmandu by bus back in 1970. Besides being a fan, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this book will most likely be inspiring – as most of his others have been – and will give you the nudge you need to chart your own course. For me, I’m just here for the writer notes. Look out for it next month.
The Binti Trilogy by Nnedi Okarofor
Wrapping up my list of books to read is Nnedi Okarofor’s Binti Trilogy. If it wasn’t clear form my brief review of her book above, I’m quite intrigued by this writer and the characters she weaves. I will likely read everything she produces – and maybe watch too, since she’s venturing into television and film – so it only makes sense to catch up on with Binti, a young girl who has the chance to attend a university galaxies away (it is set in space). The Binti Trilogy is a sci-fi novella series compromised of three books: Binti, Binti Home and Binti: The Night Masquerade. My lovely friend Edward got me a signed copy of Binti: The Night Masquerade, which my other friend Kobby Graham has taken hostage, so I’m on a quest to get and read the first two in order to free the third. Get yourself friends who motivate you to read, LOL!
Alors, how’s that for a reading list for the next few months to a year? Read any of the books I mentioned or have others you think I must absolutely read? Leave a comment or tweet at me and let me know! Thanks for reading.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.