Oh, The Places You’ll Read! – 2017 in Books

Oh, The Places You’ll Read! – 2017 in Books

Books are my favourite things on earth. Whenever I move anywhere (and I have moved at least once every year for the past six years), I always unpack my books first. They make me feel comfortable and at home.

Of course, it is not exactly surprising to anyone that at least one of my New Year’s resolutions every year relates to books. In 2017, that resolution was to read 24 books, specifically books written by African authors and by females. If they were written by African females, even better! I was fortunate that two brilliant black South African women released books this year (because there aren’t too many black South African female authors around) and both books are absolutely stunning.

I am ecstatic that I managed to smash my goal of reading 24 books by reading the following 29 books:

For a more comprehensive breakdown, feel free to check out my Year in Books.

My five favourites are listed below in no particular order:

  1. Born a Crime – Trevor Noah:

Trevor Noah (yes, funny Trevor with the jokes) tells his life story. Most of us are familiar with parts of his life story: the Xhosa mother and Swiss father in Apartheid South Africa, but what really touched me about it is that the book is so much more than a life story. It is an indictment of society and of inherent biases, most notably touched on when Trevor talks about how he got fewer and less painful hidings than his cousins because his grandmother could not handle how easily he bruised as a lighter-skinned person.

One of the best things about the book is that it was written for an American audience (and some South Africans as well) who might not be very familiar with the history of South Africa, and so Trevor has included a page or two here and there to provide some background about South Africa and about how we came to where we are.

Lastly, this book touched me because not only is it both heart breaking and funny simultaneously, but because it is very much a love letter from Trevor to his mom. This strong, stubborn woman who decided that she wanted a baby, but not a man, and who then decided that her son would be well-read because reading breeds curiosity, this woman who ruled her household with an iron fist even though her husband shot her, this woman who made sure that Trevor rose above Alex. This story is about her and about her strength of character more than it is about Trevor himself and well, we all know that I am a complete sucker for a strong woman.

  1. My Own Liberator – Dikgang Moseneke:

One of South Africa’s former Deputy Chief Justices, Dikgang Moseneke, tells his life story. I first heard Dikgang Moseneke speak when he was the key-note speaker at my graduation in 2016 and I decided immediately that I was going to read his memoir.

A former freedom fighter in the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), Dikgang Moseneke was arrested and sentenced to ten years on Robben Island when he was only fifteen years old. Dikgang Moseneke speaks of his studies on Robben Island, his subsequent house arrest and eventually qualifying as an attorney. He was the first black person to be admitted to the bar in South Africa and has been instrumental in fighting the Apartheid justice system and then upholding the constitution of South Africa post-Apartheid.

Over the last couple of years, I have been making a concerted effort to read about South Africa’s freedom fighters as I am not South African by birth and therefore am not too familiar with the nuances of South African history. Of course this meant that I read about the ANC a lot, but very little about the PAC. For anyone who wants to learn more about the principles of the PAC, as well as get to know Dikgang Moseneke, read this and kill two birds with one stone. Not only that, but the fact that Dikgang Moseneke does not have an ANC background means that he is not afraid to criticise the ANC and because he is a former judge, he is similarly not afraid to criticise the PAC. It is refreshing to hear someone other than the EFF criticise the “Truth and Reconciliation” approach post-Apartheid and the damage that it has caused.

For a refreshing read that will challenge you, I definitely recommend this one.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood:

The only fictional read on my top five is Margaret Atwood’s cult classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. This story made a comeback when a mini-series version thereof was developed and aired by Hulu in 2017.

Set in a dystopian universe in the future, Offred is a Handmaid and her sole purpose is to breed. She may perform mundane tasks such as walking to the market with other Handmaids, but everything that she does is purely to ensure that she is healthy enough to breed a child for her Commander and his wife.

It is not difficult to see why this book is a feminist classic and it is definitely not difficult to see why it made a comeback in 2017 with the #MeToo movement, with Brock Turner’s lenient sentence in 2016 and with Donald Trump’s war on abortions. In many ways, this story is to women what Orwell’s 1984 is to every human being on earth: it is a world in which we do not wish to live, but one that we seem to be heading towards very quickly.

For those who despise the thought of reading, watch the series instead. It is scary, but important.

  1. Always Another Country – Sisonke Msimang:

Sisonke Msimang grew up in a house of freedom fighters, but they were in exile. In this book, she chronicles her life in Zambia, Kenya, Canada, as a student in America and eventually as a career woman and mother back in South Africa.

Sisonke speaks of race from the perspective of the exiled in exile, where she never quite fit in, then as a black female at a liberal college in America, where she was angry and abrasive, to eventually returning to her beloved South Africa and the disillusionment that followed after the elation of Apartheid’s end, after freedom was finally attained. She speaks of the illusion of the Rainbow Nation, she speaks of life from the perspective of the ‘privileged black’.

My favourite chapter is entitled ‘Why I Write’ and it speaks to me because I sometimes, very seldom, think of myself as a writer. Of course I know that I am in no way a writer, but it sometimes sits in the back of my head and I entertain the title – Danielle Sauls, author of Awesome Book That Changed the Perspectives of the Privileged’. ‘Why I Write’ was a late addition to the book and I am so grateful that she added this chapter because why Sisonke writes is in many ways why we all write.

“I write for myself because women seldom have spaces for themselves and writing is space… I write because writing is solitary and women are seldom just alone with their thoughts… I write because South Africa was liberated and she is not yet free. I write because I have been let down and sometimes I write because I do not know the answer and I am hoping that someone might search with me.” – Sisonke Msimang

  1. Khwezi – Redi Tlhabi:

While reading this book, I often joked about having to find less emotionally taxing books to read because this one and Always Another Country above had me tearing up on public transport and in coffee shops on a daily basis (and crying in public is a little bit sad).

Khwezi is the story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, a woman who was forced into exile for accusing Jacob Zuma of raping her. This book is more than just a chronological account of Fezekile’s life, however. It is an indictment of the patriarchal society in which women are forced to survive, it is an indictment of our court system and it is an indictment of Jacob Zuma’s and his supporters’ arrogance and remorselessness in the face of a rape accusation.

Above all, however, it is about a woman who reclaims her name and her life. It is about no longer being Khwezi, Zuma’s victim, but about being Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo again.

I cannot say much about Khwezi, but I do know that the rape statistics in South Africa are scary. An article in the Mail & Guardian’s Bheksisa has done a study on rape culture in Diepsloot and the information derived from this study leaves my blood cold:

Rape Stats

To read the article, please follow the link: http://bhekisisa.org/article/2017-07-20-diepsloot-i-will-rape-them-personally-those-drunkard-women-in-the-short-dresses

Khwezi is an instrumental book in looking at rape culture and its pervasiveness in society and especially in our justice system.

Special Mention: Oh, The Places You’ll Go! – Dr Seuss:

I discovered this book (it was recommended to me by a dear person) towards the end of 2017 when a difficult year was winding down and I was getting ready to try again and attempt new challenges.

This beautiful children’s book, after which this blog post has been named, is a wonderful reminder to adults and children that we have great potential. Written in Dr Seuss’s classic poetic style, it speaks of dreams, hopes, adventure, but also pain and loss.

As we head into 2018, I would encourage you to buy a copy and to read it regularly as a reminder that:

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself

Any direction you choose.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know.

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

May 2018 be filled with books, curiosity and learning.


Twenty Sixteen in 5 personally significant books

Twenty Sixteen in 5 personally significant books

I ended up reading the following 26 books in 2016 (not counting textbooks, legislation and other academic reading):

[From Goodreads – Danielle’s Year in Books]

Twenty Sixteen has been my year of reading, so to speak. I wanted to read one book a month, but I ended up finding some beautiful feminist and cultural novels and biographies which I could not put down. Most of these books have changed my way of thinking in some or other way, but in the interest of time and space, I have chosen 5 books which have truly, TRULY spoken to me.

  1. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

I don’t even know where to start when it comes to Chimamanda. A friend recommended this novel, her first one, to me and I could not put it down. I think in hindsight I prefer Half of a Yellow Sun to this one, but Purple Hibiscus definitely is a very very close second.

Having grown up in a severely restrictive and sexist religion myself for a number of years, this story really resonated with me. The overly religious father and his ideologies, the church’s treatment of women and children (especially girls), the abuse of women by their husbands, these are all things which made this novel very difficult to deal with.

My favourite books have always been the ones that made me so angry that I could hardly breathe and this was definitely one of those. It is perfect for any teenager – male or female – because ‘we should all be feminists’ (10 points to the person who knows why that quote is significant!)

2. 1984 – George Orwell:

I know that many people struggle to read the classics, but if I were to recommend one (and I have read quite a few), it would be this one.

Orwell was years ahead of his time when he wrote this dystopian novel about a world in which Big Brother is always watching. Where one’s every move, every facial expression, every action is watched and analysed, where free thought is not permitted and any dissenting views are immediately squashed. This novel reminded me of religion, the CIA and The Taliban all in one.

Again, I was both infuriated and fascinated by this novel. If I were to choose a favourite classic, it would definitely be this one, with To Kill a Mockingbird in second place.

3. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe:

I have been trying to read more writers whose stories show different perspectives, with a specific focus on African writers. Chinua Achebe, being the master of African writing, thus had to be read.

This was a significant read because it shows the many different facets of colonisation. Most stories either depict colonists as savages or as saints, with no in between. Regardless of what one’s views on colonisation are, this novel shows more than one side to it. Where colonists brought war and racism, they also brought with them the knowledge to know that twins are not cursed and therefore should not be murdered upon birth and that girls and boys should both be allowed to go to school.

This was indeed a thought-provoking read, with my allegiances shifting often between the protagonist (or antagonist, I still cannot decide) and the other people in the village. Every African should read this. If you can read Shakespeare, you can make the effort to read Achebe.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini:

I genuinely believed that Khaled Hosseini would never be able to top The Kite Runner, but he did. (By the way, The Kite Runner is another must-read, or at least watch the movie).

Set in Afghanistan across two different generations, two women face their own battles until they are eventually thrust into a situation together by a cruel twist of fate. Facing sexism, abuse, grief and the loss of dreams and hope, these women show the strength of women who have had to endure such pain for years and sometimes even lifetimes.

At times I was angry enough to put the book down and take a walk to chill out. It upset me that many women are still oppressed in this way because of extreme religious ideologies. It also gave me hope. It gave me hope that there are open-minded people in the world, it gave me hope that I have freedoms which my mother and her mother before her did not have (just being able to write a blog post is one of those freedoms), it gave me hope for the future of women around the world.

5. Dreams From My Father – Barack Obama:

I thoroughly enjoyed this autobiography. It chronicles the life of Barack Obama up until his entry into Law School. The writing is beautiful! I found the imagery and the symbolism fascinating and what made it even more amazing is the fact that it was written by a lawyer, not a poet.

Obama chronicles his early childhood, teenage years, young adult years and finally his visit to Nigeria like a novelist would write a novel. I tend to struggle to read biographies (although I still love them) because they aren’t as riveting as novels, but this one was different. It reads like a novel and the beauty of its prose had me hooked from the word ‘go’. Of the books I managed to read this year, this was the best written one in terms of language, punctuation and prose.

I found Obama’s identity struggles as a black man somewhat disconcerting – I think I had always just known that he is a remarkable black man without really realising that as a child and a young adult he too struggled with his identity, with belonging. I found this odd, but also very comforting. For anyone who has struggled with their identity, this is definitely worth reading.

I am looking forward to more reading during 2017. I am especially excited to read the following five books:

  • And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini (in progress)
  • The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo – Amy Schumer (it is supposed to be very funny)
  • The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
  • Hard Choices – Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service – Laura Kaplan

Here’s to another year of books and expanded horizons in 2017!