Quarantine reading


Sameera Nanji. PHOTO | COURTESY

Sameera Nanji, Head of Operations, Jubilee Life Insurance

Has it been difficult working from home?

Yes, because my work-life balance has been affected. I tend to work well into the night, which affects my life with the children. It’s difficult to distinguish between work and home life when there isn’t a clear line between the locations.

Has working from home affected your reading?

Reading has taken a back seat. Homeschooling is tough when you have a full time, demanding job, and have to help the younger ones study.

My daughter, 14, is self-sufficient and disciplined and gets things done on her own. However, my son, 9, needs a little more attention and boundaries, or else he slacks off. I think most boys are like that! After a gruelling day, I sometimes can’t keep my eyes open long enough to focus on a book.

Which book has changed you?

‘Letting Go’ by Muneeza Khimji. Perhaps I am biased because I know the author, but it has helped me form and keep a positive outlook in life. I have found, that in today’s turbulent times, having a positive attitude is half the battle. Once you do, the rest is not as insurmountable as it seems.

Has this season made you panic, especially due to the uncertainties that have come with the Covid-19 pandemic?

Yes! In the beginning, I felt total and utter helplessness at what could happen to me, my children, and the world at large. I had a mini panic attack! Somehow, reading a book helps me get into the lives of the characters. It helps me forget about the madness out there.

Any book you're reading now?

‘The In-Between World of Vikram Lall' by M. G. Vassanji, a Canadian author born in Kenya. The novel is based on colonial and post-colonial Kenya and the struggles of the protagonist, Vic, who grew up in the 50s and 60s and was exiled from Kenya. I have also picked up Michelle Obama's ‘Becoming’ and Yamini Virani’s ‘The Sales Accelerator’ which has given me some good insight into my business. I enjoy novels though, they are a form of escapism.

Book clubs are now on Zoom. Do you reckon the technology is the new way to read?

Absolutely! In the past, I would spend so much on books and have a very small selection. I was limited to what the bookshops had on their shelves, and of course my budget. However, ever since I invested in a Kindle, the possibilities are endless! Now I don't feel guilty about not finishing a book if I don’t enjoy it. My son also picked up the same reading habit and I couldn’t keep up with his demands either, as he would finish books within a day of buying them, so I bought him a Kindle as well. It the best investment for an avid reader and isn't harsh on the eyes compared to a phone or tablet.

Any author living or dead you’d like to have dinner with and why?

I am going to be a little cliché and go with Michelle Obama. I admire her. She is charismatic, driven, and such a force to reckon with. She has shown us how to balance life and career with empathy, grace, and style. Balance that not many of us have in these turbulent times. Her children are a testament to that fact.

What do you remember most about creating the reading culture growing up?

We always used to have books lying around the house. My mother loved to read novels while my dad read self-help books peppered with the occasional mystery. I remember when my mother used to take us to the used bookshop in Westlands when we were children. I loved going there on Saturdays and would spend hours combing through the shelves looking for a treasure because they were randomly stacked with no rhyme or reason. When I found any book by a favourite author which I hadn’t read, I would get so excited. Our choices were limited but we enjoyed what we could get. I read novels, comics, and magazines; anything I could get my hands on.


Mouline Akinyi PHOTO | COURTESY

What do you look forward to most post-cessation of movement?

As someone who prefers staying home, perhaps the only thing that I have not been able to do is eat out. But my wallet hasn’t been unhappy! However, I look forward to meeting my family and friends.

Mouline Akinyi, Avid reader

What type of reader are you?

Multiple books at once kind of reader. My mind wanders a lot and I have the attention span of a toddler, I can never settle on one book.

I will pick different genres at a time.

Which book(s) are you reading?

'Why Nations Fail' by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, 'The Sun Does Shine' by Anthony Ray Hinton, 'The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, 'The Dragonfly Sea' by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and 'Confessions of an Economic Hit Man' by John Perkins.

Do you bulk-buy books in advance for future reading, or have you bought new books recently?

I think I am a certified book hoarder! I buy books anywhere and anytime. My friends in the UK and the US also send me books that aren't available locally. I've not bought a book for the lockdown. I picked those I should have read years back like Chimamanda Adichie's 'Half of a Yellow Sun' to better understand the Biafran war.

I also buy books for gifting. Whenever I read a good book, I always want my friends to enjoy the story as well.

Between the traditional hard copy books and digital/ audiobooks, which are your go-to, and why?

I love the smell of libraries. All the old books! I love the smell of paper books, the feel of the pages, and the texture.

I love the smell of new paper or the image of a new cover. I love opening a new page and the excitement. Ah! I could go on and on.

Are there books that spoke to the person you are becoming?

The downside of being an avid reader is that you can go through many books without really connecting to one. It's not that you're jaded, just that at a certain point it takes more to impress you. There are, after all, only so many stories a person can tell, so plots become cliched, characters become familiar.

But every once in a while a voice comes along that makes you sit up and pay attention; Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers was a game-changer. And '48 Laws of Power' as cliché as it is has been my absolute best. Robert Greene and Malcolm Gladwell are two authors I treasure.

What are your favorite genres?

Biographies and history books. I am reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and I honestly want to understand his courage in depth.

As for history books, I didn't study history in school, so I am just compensating!

Which are your earliest reading memories?

I am convinced that every woman who started reading at a young age went through the 'Sweet Valley High' phase in their early teens and then later when the teenage drama of Elizabeth and Jessica wore out, the Danielle Steel phase began. And I am convinced that such a woman cried herself to sleep after reading 'Summer's End' and 'Palomino'...and then stopped reading romance books for a while and went through a John Grisham phase. I think every avid reader was at some point glued to John Grisham.

How else have you been passing time during this season?

Trying new recipes, failing, and trying again to perfection. Any foodie who does not come out of the lockdown a chef is an alien!