Book Review

A peek into their reading shelf

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British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott at a past interview at the High Commissioner residence in Nairobi. NMG FILE PHOTO

Jane Marriott, British High Commissioner to Kenya

What is your earliest reading memory?

‘Pirates and Dragons’! This was a book series that is no longer available, colour-coded and you had to work your way through them, encountering the same characters with increasingly difficult language and complex tales. They had lots of pictures and great stories.

2020 will go down in history as the pandemic year, which book changed you the most?

Harvard Business Review does a series of books. It is a collection of key essays from the last 20 years. There was one on resilience which was a good 2020 read. Diane Coutu’s 2002 essay is still spotting. She said that for resilience, you need three characteristics: “a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values, that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise.” That pretty much describes my personality and it was reassuring to see it written down.

Which book(s) are you obsessed with currently?

I’m a big fan of biographies and autobiographies: you can learn a lot without feeling as though you are learning. Wangari Maathai’s Unbowed, which I read in December, taught me a lot about the history of the Green Belt Movement. I’m currently working my way through Barack Obama’s autobiographies. I worked for the US Central Command and in the US State Department from 2008 to 2009 so I know some of the characters and policies personally. My boss, Richard C. Holbrooke, used to come back to the office and give us blow-by-blow accounts of his meetings with Obama on Afghanistan — some of which are replayed in Barack Obama’s autobiography. I enjoyed the first 100 pages of Michelle Obama’s Becoming when she was talking about the socio-economic dynamics of Chicago’s South Side but then felt she (understandably) censored the rest, from when she met her husband.

The knowledge industry has moved digital. Do you subscribe to any reading apps or you’ve stuck to traditional books?

I do have a Kindle but tend to use it for page-turning novels (I have a weakness for action-thrillers) that I don’t need to remember. I’m still a traditionalist at heart and enjoy feeling the heavyweight of a book in my hand. I would never write in a book but I do think a broken book spine is a sign it has been loved and devoured.

It’s been said that readers are leaders. How can we create a thriving reading culture among the younger ones?

A love of reading is most effective when it starts young. Reading stories to children is a good, quality use of time. When you’re young, books need to capture your imagination. My mum would leave me in corner of somewhere (an event, my sister’s school, or at home) with a book and come back later. I’d still be there, engrossed in the book. Reading is fun, you are never alone if you are with a good book. They can fire your imagination. In my heart, I am still hanging out with dragons and pirates (the ‘good’ ones).

Which author or title speaks the most about your personality?

I have a (now not very) secret obsession with Anne Bronte. Her sisters — Charlotte (‘Jane Eyre’) and Emily (‘Wuthering Heights’) – get all the fame and attention but they are fundamentally writing about quite unhealthy and destructive relationships. Anne’s heroine stands on her own two feet, makes her own money, and has control over her own choices — quite a bold statement for a book written over 170 years ago.

How does reading help you keep up in the industry?

I sometimes get fed up with reading, too many hours spent on e-mails can kill one’s love of the written word. I’ll chase rabbit holes of news stories — especially ones about global politics and trends. These are vital for the job. But I made a conscious effort in November to read a book a month about nothing to do with work.

How are you helping the young, differently-abled child become better through reading?

When I was in university, I would read academic texts on to audio to help visually impaired students. I enjoy reading to my friends’ children (well, the first three times for any book, after that my enthusiasm for voicing the different characters gets more forced).

In July this year, the UK, Kenya, and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) will co-host the Global Education Summit to lead global action to ensure that every child, including children with disabilities, gets a quality education.

Inclusive education is at the heart of GPE’s work. For example, GPE’s current $9.7 million (Sh1 billion) grant for Kenya (through to 2022) includes support for competency-based assessments for students with special needs and disabilities. A further $11 million (Sh1.2 billion) grant to ensure continuity of basic education during the Covid pandemic, has included support to help Kenya adapt online-based lessons for learners with special needs —such as online lessons in sign language.

Any recommendations you can offer to our readers?

I’d recommend the Harvard Business Review series for career and personal development. I’m going to make a plug for my friend’s book entitled The Handshake by Ella al-Shamahi, due out in March. It is about the history of the handshake and how it – usually – survives pandemics. Personal touch and trust are inextricably interlinked.

And I’d have to go with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy series for sheer – yet existential – fun. I find myself quoting it regularly.

Caroline Nekesa, Manager Marketing and Customer Experience at AAR Insurance

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Caroline Nekesa, Manager Marketing and Customer Experience at AAR Insurance. PHOTO | POOL

What is your earliest reading memory?

Hallo Children. My dad also used to buy the Daily Nation newspaper, and I could go through his filled-up crossword puzzles to read the words. Later on, I graduated to reading interesting sections of the newspaper.

Which book shaped your thought the most in 2020, the year of the pandemic?

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

What book have you been reading recently that you couldn't put down?'

Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps by Allan Pease and Barbara Pease.

The knowledge industry has moved digital. Do you subscribe to any reading apps or you’ve stuck to traditional book?

I prefer hard copy because there is something special about the smell of paper, flipping of pages and getting lost in a book. You also tend to read a book for long hours without hurting your eyes. I also subscribe to audiobooks, I listen to books while walking or jogging.

Which books are on your bedside table or Kindle tab for consumption at the end of the day?

I am currently reading African and African-American Religions by Victor Anderson which highlights interesting and common religious ideas and practices among Africans, people in the Caribbean, and the US. But I have recently come across Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez and Kristin Ohlson which I am also reading.

It's been said readers are leaders. How can we create a thriving reading culture among the younger ones?

By starting early, very early. I have seen some parents read for their unborn babies, I don’t know if this works but I know that introducing them to the sound of your voice when reading and later the colourful, touch and feel books grow their interest.

Later on, they will start picking their books and areas of interest.

Which author or title speaks the most about your personality?

Malcolm Gladwell. His writing flows, giving facts and experiences you can connect with in day-to-day life.

How does reading help you keep up in your industry/trade?

I get to learn what is being practiced across the globe, I learn cultures and way of life of different people.

In Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, there was a lot of insight on influence and persuasion which is a critical skill in marketing.

Do you have a system or pattern for organising your book collection on the display shelf? And what's the size?

I used to have before I had my children. I would arrange based on size. It’s hard nowadays because we share a bookshelf. As they take books to read and return them, they create chaos and it’s a lot of work rearranging now and then.

Any recommendations you can offer to our readers?

Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps by Allan Pease and Barbara Pease. This is a book that everyone should read.