Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Booker Prize shortlist

Went to my local Waterstone's at the weekend to check out the books on the 2005 Booker shortlist. I'm really looking forward to reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let me Go and Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown. Ali Smith's The Accidental is a possibility, as is Julian Barnes' Arthur and George but I must confess that John Banville's The Sea and Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way didn't catch my interest at all. Which is not a judgement on their literary merit, just my personal feeling.

These days I feel less and less obliged to read "worthy" books that do not capture my interest. But then I find that my tastes also change and a book that I felt I couldn't read last year may become one of my favourites the year after. I think it's a complex mixture of where I am geographically and mentally at a particular moment....

Leaders squabbling with their "vices"

Tony Blair is on all the front pages today having delivered a rousing speech at the Labour party conference indicating that he intends to push forward with every aspect of his agenda which has been interpreted as a snub to Gordon Brown, his Chancellor of the Exchequer and heir presumptive whose speech the previous day had been interpreted as a pre anointing speech. Cherie, Tone's wife rubs it in with her comment to a BBC reporter that leaving Downing Street is still a loooong time away.

I find the parallels funny as Nigeria's president is at this moment embroiled in a row with his Vice President and it is turning nasty with veiled threats on both sides to release dirty facts on the other party. While the instability might not augur well for the country generally, I do wish that they would both go public so that we would know what they'd both been up to. Because I'm sure they know what funny deals they all have been up to. Sadly, there's not much chance of that happening as with most Nigerian political quarrels it will all be probably settled "as a family matter" which simply means they'll both realize that it is best for them both to keep their skeletons firmly in the cupboards

An interesting aspect of all these squabbles is how the wives get drawn in.... Piers Morgan suggests that Cherie Blair and Sara Brown are barely civil; and in Nigeria it has long been common knowledge that Mrs Abubakar and Mrs Obasanjo can hardly sit in the same room. The most amusing bit was when Atiku Abubakar, the Nigerian vice president took a new wife a couple of years ago (as a Muslim, he's entitled to four wives- although eyebrows were raised as he was alleged to have divorced one of his already full complement of four wives to marry this one)..... Anyway, new wife decides to make her presence felt by launching a new foundation to tackle health problems.....(it's what the wives of Nigeria's leaders do...they all have pet projects ostensibly funded privately) in an ostentatious ceremony in faraway Washington and Mrs Obasanjo, in a vital snub to the first Mrs Abubakar is pictured smilingly presiding over the event.

What am I reading?

I've just gone through a whole slew of books.... I had a bit of holiday so had the chance to catch up on my reading. I enjoyed A History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewyczka which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize this year. I thought it was well-written and I particularly enjoyed the whole immigrant in the UK thing, even though Ukraine is as far from Nigeria as can be, but it's interesting to see that the general nosiness of the immigrant communities and the attempt to show up who is doing better than whom is constant. I suppose it's all about trying to convince each other (and ourselves) that the journey has been worth it.

Perhaps for similar reasons I'm enjoying Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni, an Iranian American talking about living as an Iranian in America and as an American in Iran. In her book, as she describes the difficulty of explaining to her Western media colleagues that the political situation in Iran is much more complex than simply classifying the reformists as the good guys and the more conservative ayatollahs as the bad guys, I am struck by the similarities with Nigeria. Our presidents tend to be type cast as either good guys or bad guys and it is difficult to explain why, for instance, the public isn't particularly enamoured of the current president, Olusegun Obasanjo despite his supposedly reformist anti corruption stance, to the bemusement of the Western media.

I also read the Jealous Ghost by A N Wilson, whose books I have generally enjoyed even if I do not always agree with his politics. It is apparently a homage to Henry James' A Turn of the Screw and reinvents James' story of a young woman who goes to a large country house to look after two children with tragic consequences in contemporary times. While I enjoyed the book, I must say (at the risk of being denounced by the literati) that I do not enjoy James.

I tried reading Washington Square many years ago and found it difficult and abandoned it. I thought that might have been because of my relative youth- I was about 10 then- but even now I have struggled with The Wings of a Dove. And I found Colm Toibin's much acclaimed The Master, the Booker shortlisted homage to James, the Toibin book I liked the least.

On a lighter and perhaps more frivolous note I have enjoyed Piers Morgan's account of his years as editor of The Mirror, one of the UK tabloid newspapers which like all the tabloids has a less than savoury reputation. I was quite surprised at the amount of alcohol he seemed to put away in the course of his editorial duties and the seemingly light hearted way in which he was appointed to his initial job by Rupert Murdoch.

I'm looking forward to October as there are a series of African literary events including a rare appearance in London by Chinua Achebe and a tour in which Chimamanda Adichie, Binyavanga Wainana , Alex Agyei-Agyiri and Lindsey Collen appear at various venues across the UK. Unfortunately because of work commitments I'm not sure if I will actually be able to attend any of the events which is a shame....

This blog thing is even more difficult than I imagined

Here I am, back again...many days after my last post. I had obviously misunderestimated (to paraphrase Dubya) how much effort it takes to keep a blog going.

I actually had one e mail from someone who said they had enjoyed the previous posts (which was very encouraging), and it's largely because of that one person that I feel I ought to drop a few more lines.

So what's new? The weather in my part of the United Kingdom has turned in the past week, that night time chill that presages the autumn and winter has appeared and I have begun to shiver in my flimsy summer shirts....

I have generally found the winter less harsh than I had expected, perhaps because I was prepared for the worst by the time that I arrived in the UK. Other Nigerian friends complain about how dreary the weather is but four years on I, used to scorching sun, am still relishing the difference and am fascinated by darkness falling in the middle of the day pretty much....

One thing that bugs me though is the wahala (Nigerian pidgin for trouble) that goes with winter dressing. I'll soon have to dig out my warm coat, the gloves, the hat and the scarf from where I stored them at the onset of summer. And that's the problem. I wouldn't mind if , once I had wrapped myself in these many items of clothing, I left them on and went about my business, but no. You enter a house or an office and immediately you are too warm and so you strip off your outer gear and feel better. And then your meeting or social visit is over and then you put it all back on as you step back into the freezing cold outside. Then you arrive at your next destination, which again is nicely heated, so you divest yourself again of your gear. This constant putting on and taking off and putting on and taking off is one of the big downsides of winter as far as I'm concerned..... Perhaps we should just abolish central heating and go about our business permanently wrapped up till the summer when we can throw it all off again. We'd save lots of energy too.....very green