Books are like wine... they say

Edna Odhiambo, Country Lead, Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). PHOTO | POOL

Edna Odhiambo , Country Lead, Climate and Development Knowledge Network

What kind of reader are you?

I am an emotional reader; I tend to personalise the characters and see myself in the story.

My last read was ‘I Eugenia' by F. W. Kenyon, a book on Emperor Napoleon III’s wife. She was depicted as brave and vain in equal measure. I admired how she elbowed her way to have some of her opinions considered, in an age where women spoke little and wore crinolines. I mulled over the level of discomfort we women are willing to bear to look good. Perhaps, high heels may be our modern-day crinolines!

What’s your book collection like?

Fictional paperbacks sum up my bookshelf. My collection ranges from young adult novels to books I bought because they were popular reads. My biggest collection is borrowed books. Friends, have no fear, I shall return your books!

Given your different life roles, how do you carve off time to read?

Friday evenings when I want to unwind, and lazy Sunday afternoons are my favourite reading times. I am striking a balance between becoming purposeful about finding time for leisure reading but being very relaxed about how I go about it. After all, for me, the pleasure I derive is the goal and not so much as a chore.

How have books helped you become a better professional, and human being?

Think about the entire act of reading a book from start to finish. At a basic level, it takes commitment and discipline to carve off time to enjoy and finish a book. The powerlessness you have while reading a story and allowing yourself to be led by the author’s creativity builds a level of vulnerability.

And most of all, the privilege of enjoying the creative gifts endowed to others and the humility to recognise them. These traits help me to be a better person. If you are a blessing in the lives of others, you are definitely a better professional.

What do you make of the Kenyan reading culture, how this contrasts with other societies, and to seasoned readers like yourself?

I do not know about being a seasoned reader, but I enjoy my fictional books. There are many Kenyans that we give credit to, who love to read and will show you all the spots to buy used books at a steal! I have noticed an increasing number of book clubs, and this is such a fun way of getting more Kenyans to enjoy books with their friends while enjoying social interaction. If you pop into many European bookstores, you get a sense of a degree of appreciation for local writers. I would encourage us to support upcoming, young African writers. Fifty years from now, who will read of our culture and tales, if we do not support local writers?

Is there any book on your shelf that speaks to your personality, the woman you're becoming?

The Prodigal Daughter’ by Jeffrey Archer. I read this book in my early 20s and I personalised so deeply with Florentina Rovnoski, in particular, her "will of steel." She was like a train that just kept moving to reach her desires. I resonated with her headstrongness and one of my mantras is 'just keep moving'!

Which books have been pivotal in your career ascension?

My Bible, wisdom for all ages. This book never grows old! I increasingly find daily wisdom to navigate everyday situations from being positive, accepting correction, rebuking gently, whether in personal or professional situations. One of my greatest revelations is that we have no business being in authority if we cannot come under authority. Good leaders are those with the humility to be led.

Me and My Big Mouth’ by Joyce Meyer. So much of life is attitude and the words we speak into our lives and learning how to master our emotions. As one gets more responsibility in life, you realise that your words can empower, or disempower others. This book has taught me to be more conscious about speaking with purpose and to jealously guard my peace.

Which books would you recommend to our readers to read at least once in their lifetime?

Animal Farm’ by George Orwell: It's an emotional satire on equality, freedom and happiness that leaves one with a lot of introspection on the elusive ideals that human societies fight for. ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Adichie: Good read in today's globalised society where so many people are tackling their identity, culture and pride in their heritage.

Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders’ by Gyles Brandreth: if you love mysteries and some romance, this is the book for you, and you are so lucky there's a series of them!

To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, classic book for young readers. Narrated by a young girl, yet aptly tackles heavy matters of racism, empathy and poverty.

Nerima Wanyama, a communications consultant. PHOTO | POOL

Nerima Wanyama, Communications Consultant.

What kind of reader are you?

A neurotic reader. I am one of those people with a book list of 100 books to read (I’m currently at book 47), and I religiously go through with it and tick off whatever book I have read so far. I also aim to finish a book the moment I start it. If I am unable to finish it, I must at least finish the chapter I am on, bookmark it and continue at my earliest opportunity. Books, just like bottles of wine, must never be left halfway.

What's your book collection like?

A few years ago, perhaps seven or eight, my collection consisted of all these "must-read books" and authors. I would often read a book, finish it, place it on the shelf and promptly forget about it. The only book that stood out for me during this period was Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’; I remember feeling a strange mix of loss and triumph when I read the last page. Lately, however, I am heavily invested in books that I truly love and enjoy; books that I will read over and over again, and learn new things that I may have missed on the first, second or third read. As for the genre of books; you'd be surprised at how eclectic that collection is.

What do you make of the Kenyan reading culture?

A coffee shop with a book segment is a rare find, out of the hundreds of coffee shops and restaurants in Nairobi. Park benches or public sitting areas where people can sit and enjoy a book are equally rare. The nation has 60 public libraries, which, I am willing to bet, less than 20 percent of the total population know about. There are hardly any book fairs or reading forums for adults, young adults, teenagers, and children. Book clubs are usually an excuse to get the gang together for a few drinks, not to discuss and dissect a book (which is okay, if you think about it). Even when intellectual arguments are held on digital platforms, you will find the vast majority of those who participate in them lack critical thinking skills, are acutely ignorant (of the glaringly obvious, most - if not all - of the time) and poorly informed on the topic.

When my son asked for the complete Harry Potter book series, it was a moment of pride, because for me, reading is innate. If we could inculcate a more robust reading culture, a culture that encourages the continued search for knowledge in our generation and those to come, oh, what a world we would create!

Which is your favourite book and why?

I neither have one single favourite book nor author; I have several, based on what I have learned from them. From Niccolo Machiavelli's ‘The Prince’ I have learned shrewdness and strategic leadership, from Tomi Adeyemi's ‘Children of Blood and Bone’ and ‘Children of Virtue and Vengeance’ I have learned the magic deeply embedded in West African culture, traditions and religion, from Caroline Elkin's ‘Britain's Gulag’, I have learned the dreadfully painful parts of Kenyan colonial history that was destroyed, and never made it to the school syllabus, from Dami Ajayi's ‘A Woman’s Body Is A Country’ I have learned to profoundly interrogate words, relationships, the concept of time, bodies and their burdens. As such, I don’t have one single favourite book.

Do you have a philosophy on books?

I read what aligns with my spiritual, cultural and intellectual needs. My current book list is populated by a lot of African literature because I am keen on decolonising my mind and learning more of the truth about my continent, my identity, my culture and my roots; African feminist literature to better understand my goals and my roles in feminist theory.

Would you write a book? If so, what would it be about?

I have written and self-published two books on Amazon. La Déesse, which is French for ‘The Goddess’, a short autobiography, and ‘The Magnificent Whore Life’ which is a body of work that focuses female African sexuality, based on my interactions and experiences with sex in casual relationships, marriage and parenting. Hard copies of both books will be available soon.

Which books would you recommend to our readers to read at least once in their lifetime?

I won't name any titles, but every reader should at least, once in their life, read books on the unwritten and untold history of their country and continent, especially African readers. So much of our history got lost in the colonial era, and we have been subjected to learn very little about who we are as a people. Africans suffer a collective identity crisis, and a lot of us are either ignorant to, uninterested in or afraid to deconstruct colonisation. Imagine not knowing your true origins. Imagine not knowing what your true culture and religion is like. Imagine not knowing the truth of your purpose at it's core, as an African. What a tragic way to exist!

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