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Book Review

Quarantine reading

From left, Wanjiru Gaitho, Hellen Ndirangu, and
From left, Wanjiru Gaitho, Hellen Ndirangu, and Raphael Obonyo. The ardent book lovers share their reading lists. PHOTOS | COURTESY  

Anna Quindlen wrote, “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” What have you been reading? Ardent book lovers share their reading lists.

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WANJIRU GAITHO, Communications Manager, Global Health Strategies

What book(s) are you reading?

I just finished Allah Is Not Obliged, by Ah- madou Kouruma. I’ve been reading it slowly, but spending more time at home gave me the chance to finish it. I’m also reading The Sweetness of Tears, by Nafisa Haji. I’m reading this on an app I subscribed to last year called Scribd. It’s actually quite good!

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Have you bought new books?

I’ve found myself buying fewer physical books since I started using Scribd. But I still love the smell of books and there’s nothing quite like turning pages. I was recently gifted a book I read about 10 years ago, I Do Not Come To You By Chance, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. I plan to treat myself to a quick book store run this weekend though.

Which is your favourite genre, and why?

I love African fiction and find myself gravitating towards West African writers. I also enjoy criminal and legal thrillers by the likes of James Patterson and David Baldacci.

Is reading for leisure only or to add to your work?

It’s mostly for leisure, a way to unwind. But I’m trying to get myself to read a bit more non-fiction too, so I can learn from some of today’s business greats and broaden my knowledge. I recently read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.

What do you make of reading and mental health during this global pandemic?

It’s a great way to give yourself a break from the madness around us. While it’s good to be informed, sometimes it’s important to take a step back and retreat into a safe, quiet space where you don’t have to think about everything that's wrong with the world right now.

What book is on your bedside table?Was it a recommendation and by who?

I got my husband to buy me Michelle Obama’s Becoming. It’s been on my nightstand for more than six months now and I’m not even a quarter of the way in. I got the book because there was so much hype about it, but I’ve had a hard time finishing the book to be honest. Maybe one day I’ll pick it up and it’ll speak to me, and finish it. For now, it makes a great accessory!

HELLEN NDIRANGU, HR Consultant & Coach

What book(s) are you currently reading?

An Attitude of Excellence by Dr Willey Jolley, Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold, Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur’s Tale of the World’s Richest Princesses by Jane Amelia Larson, and In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney.

Have you bought new books recently?

I stopped buying physical books last year as I maxed out my storage space. I prefer e-books because it’s easier to have many books in a compact gadget. I am in a book club called the 254 Book club, and do have my own blog for book reviews.

Do you have a favourite genre?

Historical fiction because it allows my imagination to go to a place I have never been to. Motivational genre too, because other people’s stories have a way of encouraging you to keep going especially when facing obstacles.

Is reading for leisure only or to add to your work?

Initially, it was mostly for leisure but in the last two years that has changed. I want to enjoy a fictional read, and I want to gain the knowledge and skill in line with my profession.

What do you make of reading and mental health during this global pandemic?

Reading is important but it also depends on what one is reading. In my case, I picked Pandemic 1918, because I wanted to understand the effects of the Spanish flu and how it relates to the current situation. On mental health, if you are reading the right things, it becomes easier to stay calm and know the next course of action.

What’s the book on your bedside table? Was it a recommendation and by who?

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Biss Eula, came highly recommended by a friend who is also in my book club.

RAPHAEL OBONYO a public policy analyst, UN adviser

What are reading? Is it a recent buy or from your old stock?

I am reading two books: Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book Talking to Strangers where he dissects why we’re bad at judging others and what to do about it. Also, I am reading For the Record, a memoir by the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

How many books do you have? How long have you taken to build the collection?

I have so many. I read at least three books a month. However, my aim is never to quickly finish reading a certain number of books, but to gain knowledge. It has taken me about 10 years to build my collection. While studying at the Duke University, I bought a number of books online. Also, I have membership with Text Book Centre, BookStop and Prestige bookstores, which recommend books and offer good discounts. Whenever I travel out of the country, I buy books. I prefer hard copies.

Do you organise your books in a particular style/way?

I organise them in a way that makes it easier to find any book especially whenever I want to re-read or make some reference. I organise them by genre or subject, and then by height and size. So I know exactly where to look when I need them.

Do you have a favourite genre?

Biographies and autobiographies provide valuable lessons and wisdom for personal and development. For example, they allow you to stand on the shoulders of giants, discover, learn from history and from others, and see the world and my world in new ways. Memoirs give you the chance to jump into another life and live someone else’s story, at least for a little while. They can also make you experience just about any emotion imaginable. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

I also prefer behavioural economics books– they discuss economic decision making processes that are based on psychology and human behaviour. They show how economics plays a huge part in our lives. One of my personal favourites is the Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. Also, I enjoy reading books on politics and international affairs. I have enjoyed reading Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World by Ian Bremmer. My other favourite author is Dambisa Moyo, and I enjoyed her book Dead Aid.

Which three books have shaped your life?

A Prisoner in the Garden: Photos, Letters, and Notes by Nelson Mandela

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice by Mary Robinson

How did you develop a reading culture?

I have been an avid reader since high school. Every year, I set reading goals. I read for about two hours every night and one hour in the morning and whenever I have sometime during the day. When not working on weekend, I sit alone and make do with the company of books.

Why do you read?

Walt Disney said and it is true, “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” Reading helps me to think critically, be creative and grow my understanding of different issues. As Theodore Geisel rightly remarked “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

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