From the books I read selecting my top seven books was difficult. There are definitely books that would not have made even the top 15 but over half the books I read were memorable in their own right. It all came down to which books entertained, motivated, upset or educated me and then which books will I remember five years from today. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my top seven reads of 2017.
7. It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong
When I heard that this book had been banned in Kenya during Mwai Kibaki’s administration it tickled my interest. One of the blurbs for the book says, “Wrong tells a tale that is in parts biographical, spy story, memoir and contemporary political history…” and the book does not disappoint. This book could be the plot of any John Grisham, Jeffrey Archer novel, but it was no fiction. John Githongo who was appointed to lead the anti-corruption agenda found that the people who appointed him were actually at the forefront of looting state resources. This book charts his journey towards exposing the corruption in the Kenyan government. It tips with him secretly recording ministers talking about their corrupt activities. Even though Wrong is telling John’s story, she does her own additional research that adds a whole new dimension to this book. Why this book mattered to me was because I saw parallels with Zambia, from the corruption, to the politics and the part tribalism plays in society. It also shows the price you should be willing to pay when you try to take on the system.
6. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Heartbreaking. There is no other way to begin this review than getting that out the way first. We read Ishmael Beah’s debut fiction book 'Radiance of Tomorrow' at the Lusaka Book Club. As I read the novel, it was as if the author was leaving something out. There was a part to the story he did not want to step into. The novel felt guarded. I wanted to know more about the author. This prompted me to get a hold of A Long Way Gone, and then I understood why. Beah had his childhood snatched from him when he was 12 years old during the Sierra Leone civil war in which he lost his entire family. He was later captured by the rebels and turned into a child soldier who killed civilians while high on drugs. This is his account of that period in his life where after having experienced such a great loss, he finds redemption even though it is scarred. This book shows that in a war no one wins, but it leaves a trail of loss, pain, destruction, and wounds that may never heal.
5. Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo
I know that I am late to the party on this book because it has been out since 2009. However, I have a very good explanation why I did not read it sooner. The book was everywhere; it made such a splash that everyone was talking about it-even Bill Gates, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs got into the fray calling the book evil. It worked out rather well that I have read it now because so much has happened since its release. Zambia entered the capital markets; we are back at the knees of the IMF asking for a bailout, and the poverty levels still remain the same. Between the two camps of aid or no aid, I am with Dambisa on this one. Even though in the short run it might be painful for countries to wean themselves off aid but the accountability, strengthening of institutions and focus on trade that it creates can make the difference we need. She cites examples where this has happened. This book is a good starting point for any debate on whether Africa needs more aid.
4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I have already explained why The Color Purple was my top fiction read in 2017. You can read about it at My Year in 36 Books- Top 3 Fiction Reads of 2017. Therefore, for this part I will just add the synopsis of the book. "Set in the deep American South between the wars, THE COLOR PURPLE is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls 'father', she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker - a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves".
3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
What do you expect when your career has begun the upward trajectory, you are winning the highest awards in your field, and you have the passion for what you do? Normally, you would expect a glorious full life, but what happens when you discover that you have cancer. Paul Kalanithi went ahead and blessed us with the book that is When Breath Becomes Air. Paul was a neurosurgeon who graduated from Stanford University, who also happened to have studied philosophy and literature at Cambridge University. When he discovers that he has lung cancer and may not have much time left he pens a book about the meaning of life and death. Seeing it explained in Paul’s words is something special. One striking thing is where in such a situation, he would be forgiven for blaming God, the devil, karma or even the tree in the back yard, he does not do that. He accepts his diagnosis bravely. Even though we know how this story ends from the first page it is the journey of how we get there that is valuable. It is beautifully summed up by his wife Lucy, “Paul confronted death, examined it, wrestled with it, accepted it, as a physician and a patient.” There is a reason why this book was a worldwide bestseller and made Bill Gates cry.
2. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Once again, I have already praised this book in a previous post. You can read why this made my top seven list at My Year in 36 Books- The Heroes I Met. Here I will leave you with the synopsis of the book. "The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. One in every 15 people born there today is expected to go to prison. For black men this figure rises to one in 3. And Death Row is disproportionately black too. Bryan Stevenson grew up poor in the racially segregated South. His innate sense of justice made him a brilliant young lawyer, and one of his first defendants was Walter McMillian, a black man sentenced to die for the murder of a white woman- a crime he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, startling racial inequality, and legal brinkmanship and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever".
1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
This doesn’t need a drum roll it deserves a full orchestra ensemble playing like their ticket to heaven depended on it (ok I am exaggerating here). Ladies and gentlemen, my top read for 2017 without an ounce of doubt is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. This book was so good that not only did I read it but also went ahead and listened to the audiobook (who does that?). I have been a speaking billboard for this book to the tune of over 20 copies sold based on my recommendation. This book is ridiculously funny, it will leave you in stitches; yet it is also an intelligent one with its social commentary that will leave you wiser. He tackles subjects of racism, poverty, gender-based violence, or single parenthood in such a blasé fashion yet he provides a sucker punch that gets you thinking that things should not be this way. Even though this book is about Trevor the real hero is the mother. She has been the anchor throughout his life, and that comes across in the book. The topping on the dessert is that Trevor Noah narrates the audio version which is brilliant. If you haven’t yet read Born a Crime, treat yourself to a little goodness and get your hands on it.
At the beginning of 2017, I challenged myself to read 36 books across fiction and non-fiction. A large proportion of the books I read were from the Lusaka Book Club and Butali House Book Club reading lists while the rest were selected out of interest. I did read 36 books with a few days to spare. In the My Year in 36 Books, I give a review of some of the books I read.
1. It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong
2. The Shack by Paul Young
3. Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah
4. The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
6. Good Morning Holy Spirit by Benny Hinn
7. Dust by Yvonne Owuor
8. Things to Remember Not to Forget by Francis Kaunda
9. Originals by Adam Grant
10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie
11. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
12. Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
13. The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis
14. On Writing by Stephen King
15. Zero to One by Peter Thiel
16. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
17. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
18. The Children Act by Ian McEwan
19. Tried and Tested My First Fifty Years by Maureen Nkandu
20. Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
21. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
22. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
23. China’s Second Continent by Howard French
24. The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Poole
25. The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories by Etgar Keret
26. Good to Great by Jim Collins
27. The Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers
28. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
29. Michael Chilufya Sata by Kasonde Mwenda and Mubanga Sata
30. Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John
31. Born to Win by Antonia Mwanamuke
32. Start-up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer
33. Tram 83 by Fiston Mujila
34. Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo
35. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
36. The Sellout by Paul Beatty