What a time to be alive! As we come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it’s making on the world as we know it, there’s cause for reflection. Books are a great vehicle for this, as they have the capacity to influence our way of thinking by challenging our ideas and exposing us to new ones. To reinforce this, I asked a couple of fascinating thinkers to recommend some texts to help us through the lockdown and explain their choices.
Aanu Adeoye| @AanuAdeoye
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed- Jon Ronson
I can’t think of a better book to read when we’re all stuck at home and perpetually on the internet. It’s an important read on what happens to the lives of people we call out on the internet, long after the crowd goes home. When you’re done with this book, you realize how horrible we all are on the internet-mean for no good reason beyond the performative nature of the internet that rewards our worst tendencies. You ask yourself if it’s worth piling on someone who’s already being told to go to hell by hundreds and thousands of others. It’s not that people shouldn’t be called out on the internet but it’s important to ask why. And does this individual have any power such that calling them out is worth the effort? A lot of ordinary people have had their lives upturned because of a stupid joke they made when they barely had any audience listening to them. If none of these words convince you of the need to be kinder and more reflective on the internet, perhaps these two will: Justine Sacco.
Wale Lawal | @WalleLawal
The Source of Self-Regard- Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison once said, ‘The future is not yours,’ and this is precisely why she’s the author we should be reading at this moment. If there’s anything we’re learning from the pandemic, it is the indifference of the present and the fragility of the future. In the past year, I’ve grown fond of speeches, the ability to persuade, what makes a sentence more powerful than another—the art (and practice) of rhetoric. And so, I’ve been reading a collection of Toni Morrison’s essays and speeches titled The Source of Self-Regard. Toni Morrison gave incredible speeches, life lessons that did what life lessons are supposed to do—not distract you with dollar-denominated aspirations but leave you with a better understanding of exactly where in life you are. In the book, it is her ‘Sarah Lawrence Commencement Address’ I keep returning to. For its galvanizing reassurance, captured in these lines:
You will be in positions that matter. Positions in which you can decide the nature and quality of other people’s lives. Your errors may be irrevocable. So when you enter those places of trust, or power, dream a little before you think, so your thoughts, your solutions, your directions, your choices about who lives and who doesn’t, about who flourishes and who doesn’t will be worth the very sacred life you have chosen to live. You are not helpless. You are not heartless. And you have time.
This is a speech all leaders, or anyone in whom many have placed a great deal of trust, should read. In the coming weeks, months (who knows?), such people will have to make difficult decisions; decisions that will, without question, ‘decide the nature and quality of other people’s lives.’ We must be prepared and must find ways to inspire and stay inspired. This helps.
I’m also reading, but very slowly, Albert Camus’ The Plague. For obvious reasons. Lines such as: ‘There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise,’ make it very appropriate for our times. And I keep remembering this from Teju Cole’s Open City: ‘We are the first humans who are completely unprepared for disaster. It is dangerous to live in a secure world.’ I haven’t read Open City this year and should read it again.
Mayowa Omogbenigun| Mayowa Reads
Sister, Outside- Audre Lorde
Self-isolation is tough. Humans are communal beings, we survive off each other and need communication, touch, sunlight. While this period is anxiety-inducing and lonely, it offers a unique benefit in that we can reconnect with ourselves, relax and mother ourselves in ways capitalist life denies us. As an introvert, I’ve used this time to do exactly that. A book that I will always recommend during tough times is Sister, Outsider, a collection of essays by Audre Lorde.
One of Lorde’s greatest contributions to the world in my view is her radical understanding of the self and the militancy in caring for oneself especially for marginalized populations like women. According to Lorde, ‘caring for [oneself] is not self-indulgent, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare’. This quote alone has given me a lot of comfort and has given me the resolve to take care of myself in the ways that I can. In this collection of essays, Lorde writes about activism, feminism, structural oppression and welfare with a level of nuance and intellect that takes my breath away every time. Sister, Outsider is a masterpiece and what better time to challenge your mind and feed your soul than now?
Kayode Adegbola| @kayodea
The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
For me, The Alchemist is a navigatory tool. The story of Santiago is full of life lessons. In these uncertain times, I recommend this book for finding hope, inspiration, and regaining the ability to dream.
Oniye Okolo| Onniixx
Travelers- Helon Habila
In Travelers, Helon Habila looks at the complexities of living not only in a foreign land but of migration – its risks and perceived rewards all the while critiquing our concept of ‘home’. This book follows different characters navigating Europe and is set against the historical drowning of African migrants who were caught up in the refugee crisis of 2013.
Highlighting different characters – the Nigerian academic, a Libyan doctor, and a Malawian transgender film student, Travelers is a story of fear, hope, heartbreak, and family loss. The seeming ordinary lives of the characters makes for an intense storytelling session with Habila expertly humanizing the themes of displacement and migration from angles that are too often ignored.
Romoke Akiyode| RomokeA
Anthills of the Savannah- Chinua Achebe