Some summer Reading

I’m not sure I’ll want to try to match an itinerary like this next summer, or perhaps even ever again. I left New York in mid-May, and I return ‘home’ on September 6, altogether ready for a spell of stillness.

During that time, I have visited (in order): Cape Town, Windhoek, Namibia, Nairobi, Juba, Nairobi, Abidjan, Lagos, Abidjan, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chengdu. Then for an extended spell by road, I toured mountainous western Sichuan, before returning to Chengdu, flying to Hong Kong again for a few days, then Shanghai again, via… Chengdu.

One source of incredible company to me was my Kindle, which I’ve really taken a liking to over the last six months. I still bring along my iPad, but it’s too big to put in small and discreet camera bag, and it adds a lot of weight for carrying around. This means that it gets left in the hotel room most of the time, and the Kindle gets read while riding in cars, trains, subways, etc., as well as during meals or waiting times. (I’m hoping for an attractive smaller iPad soon, having ogled the nicely sized Samsung tablets that are ubiquitous in East Asia.)

This wasn’t really supposed to be a post about gadgets, but rather, about books. They were my real companions on the road, and therefore I’d like to mention a few of them.

I read and reviewed for the Wall Street Journal In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner, and my piece can be found on this site, so I won’t say more here.

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For pleasure, I read two rather big biographies: Robert Caro’s latest installment on the life of Lyndon B. Johnson, The Passage of Power, and Ryszard Kapuscinski: A Life, by Artur Domoslawski. It’s way more complicated than this, but each of these books includes a degree of revealing ‘takedown’ of the subject – especially the second title.

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Each was deeply fulfilling.

For fiction, I read Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner, a quirky story of an intelligent, numb and slightly unstable young writer’s life during a fellowship in Spain. There were lots of things I liked about this book, not least the assured way that Lerner set up his unreliable narrator.

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I also read the latest novel by Paul Theroux, The Lower River, about which I have a forthcoming piece, a lengthy essay, so I won’t say more here for the time being.

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Finally, I re-read Chinua Achebe’s much overlooked and deeply rewarding novel, Anthills of the Savannah, prior to my visit to Nigeria. The book is a brilliant send-up of the West African country’s politics, and particularly of the perversions that attend military rule. Achebe has created strong female characters here, which lends particular interest to the work, and his use of pidgin English adds a great deal in terms of authenticity, contributing to a piquant evocation of Nigerian speech and thought. I’m also at work on an essay for publication about Achebe, timed to coincide with a new memoir due out this fall. More soon.

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In the realm of airport fiction, I read The Tourist, a popular spy novel by Olen Steinhauer.

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Other stuff. I read and greatly enjoyed Ghetto at the Center of the World, by Gordon Matthews, about a very particular, globalized trading culture in Hong Kong, centered around a unique building there.

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I’ve just begun, and hope to finish during the flight back: Lone Survivors: How We Came to be the Only Humans on Earth, by Chris Stringer. It’s a scientific account of man’s emergence as the only ‘Homo’ species.

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I also read a lot of stuff about Sudan and South Sudan, in preparation for my visit to the latter. In particular, I would recommend the resources of the Rift Valley Institute, and I greatly enjoyed meeting the Institute’s John Ryle, during the workshop in conducted on the Sudans in late May.

 

 

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