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Book Review

What they're reading

Samuel Njuguna
Samuel Njuguna. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Elizabeth Ann Bucchianeri, an author said: “You can’t enjoy art or books in a hurry.” In a society that prides itself in all things instant, rushing through a book might not necessarily leave the right taste notes. This week, we talk to BDLife readers on how they read.

Samuel Njuguna

Founder, Weza.io

What is your earliest reading memory?

My interest in non-fiction reading grew when I started my start-ups weza.io and chura.co.ke. Building products forces you to learn to reduce your error rate and accelerate progress.

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Which books have changed you the most and why?

‘Man's Search for Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl. It is a book about hope when it is fading away. The fear of losing it all or venturing into new seas becomes palatable in a space of hope.

Another one is ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder’ by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It is about taking risks and operating in a space of uncertainty. This aligns with what I do which is building startups, a high-risk, and uncertain venture. The book also compares a risk-taker who is directly in line to be harmed by the risk versus a passive risk-taker.

‘The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So ...’ by William Easterly is a book on developmental economics. It talks about poverty eradication in developing countries.

‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries shares a methodology of testing your ideas and learning from them. It is about what works and where to make changes without necessarily implementing a lot of resources to the idea itself.

In which order would you say you love art, music, literature, and film? Is reading a habit or it has just been an escape during the Covid pandemic?

I would say literature, arts, film, and then music. Literature comes first because it’s a way of exercising my imagination, learning new words.

For film, it is to understand the creative process, what the themes are, and what the artists tried to convey. And, I love the behind the scenes story.

Books have gone digital. Do you subscribe to any reading apps or you have stuck to the traditional book flipping?

I have a Kindle for my reads, Calibre programme for reading on my laptop, and Aldiko for my mobile reading. If I like a book, I buy a hardcover to give to friends and also a copy for my shelf. Nothing beats the smell of a new book!

Which books do you have on your bedside table or Kindle tab for consumption when the day permits?

My day starts with a book. The books I have right now are in economics. If money makes the world go round, then we need to understand the driver which in my view is economics.

‘The Wealth of Nation’ by Adam Smith, for instance, is a foundational book on economics. A must read and reread for anyone who wants to understand money incentives.

Another one is ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman is a book on behavioural economics. It is about how decision making influences our economic decisions.

Why is it important to instil reading culture in children?

Books are the only way to teleport to a past point in time, it’s a way to have a view of different cultures, and most of all a curation of knowledge by others. It's through books that you get new ideas to make money and entertain yourself while at it.

Books also enable you to have an understanding and empathy of people of different backgrounds.

Which books have moved you the most? Books that made you laugh or cry?

‘When Breath Becomes Air’ by Paul Kalanithi. It is such a poignant book with a rich lesson on immediacy and uncertainty of life. Through it, we learn what matters the most. The book illuminates the need to care for those who matter to us most today for tomorrow is not promised.

‘Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman’ by Richard Feynman made me laugh. Richard Feynaman a top-notch scientist who got a Nobel Prize in Physics. He communicates his ideas and drives with an unparalleled rich sense of humour.

Which author or book speaks the most about your personality?

‘Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike’ by Phil Knight. In it, there is a character who likes reading and starting businesses. You are either producing or consuming but the best approach is where you manage to do both.

Do you have a system or pattern of organising your books?

I have books from different disciplines to enable me to get diverse viewpoints on topics. I hide my books the way I hide my money: Tucked in a box under my bed. I used to display them on the shelf but my friends would pick them with little chance of the books being returned.

What are your top recommendations?

‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide’ by Nicholas Kristof. It is about empowering girls and what that means to the greater society. The discussions range from girl-child trafficking, how they take place, and what the society can do about it or has done about it in some societies.

Another one is ‘Poor Economics’ by Abhijit and Esther Duflo. The book discusses fighting poverty, especially in developing countries through tested methods. It has studies of India to Kenya on the use of contraceptives on how to incentivise people to buy mosquito nets and what has worked in all these studies.

Nyambura Grace Njoki,

Nyambura Grace Njoki. PHOTO | COURTESY

Nyambura Grace Njoki,

Associate At Ogejo, Omboto & Kijala Advocates Llp

Why do you turn to books? Is it for intellectual stimulation, emotional comfort, or do you have a music playlist/Netflix for that?

A little bit of both. In my profession, things change quite fast. You have to keep reading to remain abreast of these changes. However, I mostly read for emotional comfort and relaxation at the end of a long day. I do watch series as well for the same reason, it all depends on the type of mood I am in.

What are you reading now?

'Becoming' by Michelle Obama. Although late to the bandwagon, I believe that it is important to read and learn from this great woman's journey.

What genres do you find yourself constantly gravitating towards?

Fiction, romance, and self –motivation/improvement.

How do books help you navigate gatekeeping and crisis communications for your clients?

Books offer various perspectives and situations whether fictional or non-fictional. Therefore when dealing with clients you can place yourself in your client's position and try to see the situation from their point of view whilst still applying your legal knowledge.

It has been said words have power. What book do you reckon has changed you? And how did you discover it?

One book that I can say has changed me is '30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know By The Time She's 30' by Pamela Redmond Satran. It is a collection of essays, some quite hilarious by successful women advising women on every aspect of life from career to love and even wardrobe. For me, it helped me believe that as challenging as life is, our experiences are not unique and we can learn something no matter how small from each of them.

A friend gifted me.

Do you re-read books?

Rarely. However, when it comes to motivational books you may have to go back and relearn some of the lessons therein.

Zoom is playing host to book clubs these days and there are audiobooks for the picking too. Do you reckon the technology is the future of literature consumption?

Unfortunately, yes. Everything that can go digital is going digital especially in this time of Covid – 19 so Zoom book clubs and audiobooks are the future. However, I say unfortunately because

I am the old-school type that enjoys turning a page and keeping a physical copy of a book. I'm hoping to have a huge library in old age and I am worried that physical books may soon become extinct.

What do you remember most about creating a reading culture growing up? And how can we nurture this in the young ones?

My mother always read to me as a toddler and when I learned to read I had an endless supply of books and I loved it. I would always hang back at the book section in the supermarket in search of new storybooks. It's the one thing she never said no to. I think I was a better reader then than I am now.

Nowadays, there is a lot of emphasis on online entertainment for children than making them look forward to reading books.

The lockdown helped many people shift priorities and create new habits such as reading to pass time. Do you think it's merely a form of escapism and that this will fizzle out soon?

I think for our generation and those older than I forgot how important reading is. The long periods of staying at home have reminded people what a joy it is to be lost in a good book.

Any recommendations?

'Mary Magdalene' by Angela Hunt. I also really enjoyed ''The Legacy' and its sequel 'The Talisman' by Lynda La Plante.

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