It’s almost two in the morning and I’ve spent almost half an hour going through my 2013 books. I couldn’t pick a favorite, each book I read was a favorite in its own special way. I’m the kind of reader who develops a bond with whatever it is am reading. I’ve discovered over the years that I choose what to read depending on the mood am in at that particular time. If am in the mood for something intellectually stimulating and fun at the same time then I opt for the politics and any serious reads covering politics. As a student of comparative politics; most of my choices tend to lean that way. I’ve discovered that it’s the only way to stay informed and relevant in the field.
So what did I read this year that’s worth sharing? I was going through my 2013 reads and am extremely disappointed as I write this. I didn’t get to read as much as I would have loved to. I’ll be very honest and admit that I’ve only read eleven books so far (half read books don’t count; neither do school books). Having a fulltime job and being a fulltime student has made it difficult for me to read as much as I would have loved to.
For some reason, my choice of books this year kept taking me to the Middle East; a region I’ve been obsessed with ever since I read about Pharaoh’s dreams and the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt in the bible. Queen Noor of Jordan, Khaled Hosseini and Atiq Rahimi made me feel like I had been to Jordan, Iran and Afghanistan.
Leap of Faith by Queen Noor
I bought Queen Noor’s Leap of Faith by accident after getting lost in Palma de Majorca’s narrow streets and ending up in a second hand English book store. I must have spent an hour there going through the wide selections of books. I was spoilt for choices and I reluctantly picked Queen Noor’s book because the old store owner wanted to close the store for his siesta.
I started reading the book the same day and I just couldn’t put it down. I fell in love with the journey she took me on. From her childhood as Arab-American Lisa Halaby, growing up in affluent parts of LA and New York, her years at Princeton, to meeting King Hussein of Jordan and becoming Queen Noor of Jordan. The emotions she put into her memoir said it all; she had found her way into the heart of the King and his people.
The Queen not only tells her love story but that of the Jordanian people too. Their search for peace among Arab states; their struggles and all the fascinating things that made her fall in love with Jordan and its people. For those interested in the Middle East, I’d highly recommend this book. It’s a highly informative book that gives the reader a clear understanding of Jordanian politics, Jordanian struggles and various Middle Eastern issues. The private discussions she held with her late husband made me understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even better, and why no solution has worked since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
You’d be surprised at how connected to the Middle East you’ll feel after reading Queen Noor’s memoir. I was checking out tickets to Amman even before I was done reading the book; only to realize that getting a visa to Jordan was a nightmare. I guess it’s the Queens description of the exotic and fascinating kingdom that aroused some wanderlust in me. Am yet to visit Jordan, and if I ever do, I’ll definitely visit all the beautiful landmarks she described in her memoir.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Ever read a book that left you confused? That’s how I felt while reading Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. I had read Hosseini’s first two works and I couldn’t wait to read his third. His two previous books had created pictures for me. I felt like I had been to Afghanistan after reading The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I learnt quite a bit from his first two works. Hosseini told his country’s beautiful history through the characters in his books; from the times of King Amanullah Khan, to Zahir Shah, to life under the dreaded Taliban.
For some reason, I thought his third book would take me from where A Thousand Splendid Suns had left off. It did in a way but not entirely. The book begins in 1952, with the tale of a man on a long journey across the Afghan dessert to Kabul with his son and daughter. The man has taken the journey to Kabul in order to sell off his daughter to a wealthy couple. It is the separation of the man’s children’s that starts of a complex tale.
Unlike his previous two books, I found it hard to be emotionally involved with the characters in this book. The characters kept changing and I really had a hard time keeping up with the constant plot turns. On one chapter Hosseini has you in Kabul, Paris in the next one, and on to some Greek island in the next. The start was really good but the complex plot twists had me struggling to finish it. This is a book that requires total focus if one is to understand the entire plot. I’m actually considering reading it one more time.
Peace from Broken Pieces by Iyanla Vanzant
I hate to admit it, but I read this book in 2012 and read it two more times this year. If you are struggling to find yourself, this is the book for you. Vanzant begins her story by narrating how she lost her daughter to cancer. She then takes the reader back to her childhood, struggling to raise her children as a single mother while working her way through college, to finally making it as a New York Times best-selling author.
Just when the reader thinks Vanzant has finally found peace, the story takes a different turn. Her marriage ends in divorce by email, she ends up flat broke, her million-dollar home facing foreclosure and contemplating suicide. It’s from Vanzant’s loss that the reader gets taken on a journey through self-awareness and spirituality. I loved the book because it felt like an inspiring lesson about rising from the ashes of our past. If you’ve ever been to some dark places in your life; this is the book for you. It will make you reflect, cry and inspire you.
A Journey Through Darkness by Margareth Maganga
I was lucky to receive A Journey Through Darkness from the author herself, during the LetsRead launch that was held in Dar es Salaam in October. I had flown to Dar es Salaam to attend the launch and I could tell Miss Maganga was an inspiration the minute we started talking. We had a few minutes to chitchat before the ceremony begun and it was then that I knew I would enjoy reading her book. She gave me a signed copy which I begun reading the same day but had to stop because I didn’t want my sister to see me crying all the time.
I resumed my reading on the flight home, and it was then that I understood the message Miss Maganga had written on my copy. “Life has a way of throwing curve balls at us, but it’s for you to grab the ball and throw it in the direction you want.” Miss Maganga went to bed and woke up blind five years ago. She could have given up that day; instead she held on to her dreams, went on to partially recover her sight and got herself a law degree. I’d highly recommend her book. It’s a fun and familiar read, describing places that are familiar to us. If you are thinking of supporting our own authors; Miss Maganga’s book would be a great start.
So, what else did I read in 2013 and which books were a total bore? Fifty Shades of Grey takes the number one spot. Why did I waste my money on buying it? I’ll share all the other titles in part two of this aticle. I’ll also share the books that I didn’t get to finish, why I didn’t finish them and what I’m planning to read this year. I’ve already started working on my 2014 reads, and most of them happen to be recommendations from friends. I’m curious to find out whether they are my kind of books. If there’s one thing I know for sure; then it’s the fact that books have taken me places and they will keep taking me places. Knowing that makes me open a book even after a 16-hour long day!