I am a voracious reader of books.
Like a gregarious locust I will gobble-up any book that is well written, whose author has a passion for the subject and that I can learn something from. When travelling you will find me exploring bookstores as I await my flight connections. But that is not the only source of my good reads. Friends often suggest wonderful reads. I have been exchanging books with friends as far back as I can remember. Tsalwa, Bramwell and I exchanged comics such as African Film and Fearless Fang before graduating to Beano and Dandy.
My delight in African creative writings was fired up early in life during my days at African Union Primary School in Eldoret. We learnt to read by a series of books known as The New Oxford English Course (East Africa) by F. G. French and R. J. Mason. Book five in this series was particularly stimulating because it told the story of Mr. and Mrs Mutabingwa and their two children Kato and Kokogonza as well as their dog Jack. The family traveled from Bukoba in Western Tanganyika, through Uganda and Kenya back into Tanzania through Moshi and all the way down to the port of Dar es Salaam. Fascinating stuff for a young boy! I am eternally grateful to Mrs. Tabrotha Limo, Mrs. Chovu, Mr. Maina and Mr. Kibe for introducing me to the rich world of being able to read.
Barbara Kimenye stories made me glow. The Moses series were really excellent fodder for a young mind.Later at Hill School, Eldoret I was to meet Enid Blyton through her books and most fascinated by the adventures of the `Famous Five’ and the `Secret Seven’. I soared with the exploits of one Captain Wigglesworth created by author W. E. Jones. But I really took off when I read a book by the late Legson Kayira called I Will Try.
In 1958, inspired by the life of Abraham Lincoln and the motto of his secondary school, a 16-year-old Malawian village boy, named decided to travel on foot to America to further his education. Walking barefoot and carrying food, an axe and two books, he travelled more than 2,500 miles through the African bush crossing four countries in search of an education. Most people would have given up, but not Legson. Braving lions, hyenas, snakes, elephants and language differences, he kept going reaching Khartoum in the Sudan, where American consular officials, amazed by his remarkable walk, helped him to travel to the United States to take up a scholarship at Skagit Valley College in Washington State. What an inspiration for a young curious mind!
Then followed Peter Abrahams Mine Boy lent to me by the late `Baron’ Wagema. The rest followed in rapid succession: Facing Mount Kenya by Jomo Kenyatta, Oginga Odinga’s Not Yet Uhuru’, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s `The River Between’ etc.
This trend was interrupted when I joined Nairobi School in 1971 stumbled upon `A Lotus For Miss Quon’ by James Hardly Chase.
I could not put the electrifying book down the whole night. Steve Jaffe discovered two million dollars worth of diamonds hidden in the wall of his villa in Saigon, he had no intention of giving up the loot. All he had to do was organize an exit visa and leave, until his houseboy threatened to go to the police. Jaffe had only meant to stop him, but instead he finds himself a felon with murder on his hands. With little chance to keep his secret, Jaffe becomes a man on the run, and the only person he can trust is a beautiful woman who is prepared to do anything to save him. Wow… Wow! Then I began gobbling books by Chase. A vulture is a Patient Bird. Within the next two years I had read more than sixty. My all time favourite was and still is This Way For A Shroud. Goodreads described the book as follows:
The brutal murder of June Arnot, famous screen actress, and the massacre of all her servants is just the curtain raiser to this chill-a-page novel…. The D.A. suspects that June Arnot was the mistress of Jack Maurer, boss of a billion dollars’ worth of rackets. For fifteen years he has been trying to bring Maurer to trial. Is this the opportunity he has been waiting for? His case depends on one terrified and unwilling eye-witness, but can she survive Maurer’s vengeance and be persuaded to talk… ?
Sergeant O’Brien, a tall thin man with hard eyes and a flock of freckles, came out of the lounge. ” Found anything ? ” Bardin asked. ” Some slugs, nothing else. No finger-prints that aren’t accounted for. It’s my guess the killer just walked in, shot down everyone in sight and then walked out again without touching a thing.
That is vintage Chase at his best!
Nairobi School (Patch) had an excellent library and was the source of many excellent reads. My classmate `Hezbon’ Mudasia-Kadasia was a man of unique tastes and encouraged me to read the voluminous 1925 autobiographical book by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler known as Mein Kampf (My Struggle). Mudasia and I discovered The Guns of Navarone, a 1957 novel about the Second World War by Scottish writer Alistair MacLean that was made into a film in 1961. Wikipedia notes that in 1990 the British Crime Writers’ Association placed The Guns of Navarone 89th on its list The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time. I was soon to read MacLean’s other hits Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra.
I took English Literature in Form three and four where my mind was opened up to the works of Chinua Achebe (No Longer at Ease and Things Fall Apart) Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine as well as The Great Ponds that narrates how the Great Influenza of 1918 was perceived in an African setting. I loved Houseboy the novel in the form of a diary written by Ferdinand Oyono as well Peter Abrahams’ A Wreath for Udomo’. My school friend Prof. Khaemba Ongeti has had chance to celebrate our learning of literature under the late Prof. Symonds Kichamu Akivaga.
I studied in Fergusson College, India in late 70’s and early 80s majoring in Zoology. It is here that I met a Godfrey Oduor Atudo. Godfrey and I have much in common. We like to read. It is while studying at University of Pune that I got read books books that describe how big cats convert to become deadly man-eaters. I took time to read a really fabulous book called Man-Eaters of Kumaon. This book published in 1944 was written by hunter-naturalist Jim Corbett. It details the experiences that Corbett had in the Kumaon region of India from the 1900s to the 1930s, while hunting man-eating Bengal tigers and Indian leopards. One tiger for example, is said to have been responsible for over 400 human deaths.
Earlier in `Patch’ I had read with interest the history of one Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson of the `Man Eaters of Tsavo’ fame. Wikipedia records that in 1898, Patterson was commissioned by the Uganda Railway committee in London to oversee the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya. He arrived at the site in March of that year. The man-eating behaviour was considered highly unusual for lions and was eventually confirmed to be the work of a pair of rogue males, who were believed to be responsible for as many as 140 deaths. With his reputation, livelihood, and safety at stake, Patterson, an experienced tiger hunter from his military service in India, undertook an extensive effort to deal with the crisis. After months of attempts and near misses, he finally killed the first lion on the night of 9 December 1898 and the second one on the morning of 29 December (narrowly escaping death when the wounded animal charged him). The lions had no mane like many others in the Tsavo area, and both were exceptionally large. Each lion was over nine feet long from nose to tip of tail and required at least eight men to carry it back to the camp.
Overtime my reading has broadened to encompass other writers. I particularly loved reading the tragedy captured in the The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon. I was riveted by the conniving and betrayal so well portrayed of the Greek. The Coma happened. Doctor and author, Cook is widely credited with infusing the word `medical’ to the popular thriller. To date he has written 32 books and I have read most. You need to read Chromosome 6 to get to know what Bonobos are.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King is a vampire horror that chills to the bone. Goodreads summarizes that `Thousands of miles away from the small township of ‘Salem’s Lot, two terrified people, a man and a boy, still share the secrets of those clapboard houses and tree-lined streets. They must return to ‘Salem’s Lot for a final confrontation with the unspeakable evil that lives on in the town.’ I have read and re-read this book many a times.
I began my research career in 1982, the same year that Kenya has an attempted military coup d’etat. I was employed as a Animal Husbandry Officer II and worked at the National Beekeeping Station under my late mentor and friend Prof. Isaac Kirea Kigatiira whom I have written about. It is here that I got to meet a fascinating colleague called Bosco Ngetich Ole Sambu from Maralal in Samburu County. We fondly salute to each other as N’tawuo! Bosco is captivating storyteller who has taught me much about the Maasai nation. It is Bosco that introduced me the sensational bestseller Shibumi by Trevanian (Rodney Whitaker, a writer best known by one of his many pen names). The book is ecstatic.
Nicholai Hel is the world’s most wanted man. Born in Shanghai during the chaos of World War I, he is the son of an aristocratic Russian mother and a mysterious German father and is the protégé of a Japanese Go master. Hel survived the destruction of Hiroshima to emerge as the world’s most artful lover and its most accomplished—and well-paid—assassin. Hel is a genius, a mystic, and a master of language and culture, and his secret is his determination to attain a rare kind of personal excellence, a state of effortless perfection known only as shibumi.
Ole Sambu and I often consider we have come of age and matured to be men of Shibumi! It Is Ole Sambu who told me of a great explorer the late Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger (Mzee Juu). He is best remembered for his Arabian expeditions. In 1945, an entomologist, O.B. Lean, acting on behalf of the Middle East Anti Locust Unit (MEALU), hired Thesiger to search for locust breeding grounds in southern Arabia. This led to two crossings of the great Arabian desert.
An author who caught my attention is Michael Crichton who wrote Jurassic Park. But it is Airframe that jolted me. Crichton brings to life the issues that haunt us whenever we take a flight. Flight 545 has just landed with three dead and more than fifty injured passengers. This book taught me myriads about aircraft design and the art of flying which my good friend Capt. James Ouma former Chief Pilot of Kenya Airways confirms as we sip a beer at his excellent pub known as `Sippers.’ It is this subject that my fellow blogger Owaahh has so eloquently recalled a Kenyan air tragedy.
Of late, real life stories have a special attraction to me. Maybe because I have crossed the median of my years on earth or it is because most of what is written as biographies that catch my eye is about people I know, knew or know of. They have made their mark in a very special way during my lifetime. Dr. Martin Oduor-Otieno has this to say on this body of writing:
Everyone has a story; everyone has moments they wish they could have captured to relive years down the line. Hilarious moments you can’t believe you survived, saddening moments you weren’t too sure you would. Long and short of it all, most of us wish we could have those moments stored away somewhere that we could easily glimpse back through and rekindle long after they are gone.
It is for this very reason that I decided to create the Yor Oguyo platform.
From my perspective, I believe that every sane person needs to read Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. It is important for one to read Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold by Njenga Karume and Mutu wa Gethoi. In this autobiography, Njenga traces his early life right from birth in 1929, and takes the reader through the various spheres of his life. Born into poverty with minimal education Njenga ventured into business during one of the toughest times in Kenya’s colonial history becoming a respected politician and Cabinet Minister who interacted intimately with all the first three Presidents of independent Kenya.
I also strongly recommend that one reads the very well written autobiography by Martin Oduor-Otieno called Beyond the Shadows of My Dream. It describes Martin’s career successes that put his name in the spotlight unknowingly and sparked an interest in Dr. Richard Leaky during his hunt for the pieces that would successful build the Dream Team. Here you discover a life of risk, fear and deceit as you journey through a path that was secretly set-up for failure; explore the upheavals that the led to the end of the Dream Team and uncover the secrets that brought about the fall of the country’s economic evolution through the eyes of Martin who weathered the political and economic storm of the ex-President Moi’s iron fist rule.
You must also read the remarkable autobiography Fan into Flame by late Very Rev. Dr. John G. Gatu that traces his remarkable life as a born-again Christian and the impact of the revival movement in Kenya. The chapter on how he and others such as Rev. Obadiah Kariuki confronted the late President Jomo Kenyatta regarding oath taking shortly after Tom Mboya was assassinated is powerful to say the least.
In my more recent years I have had occasion to dialogue with my friend Chairman Kigara on books that describe modern organizational management. I have had occasion to enjoy the delights of reading and learning from organizational gurus such Charles Handy and my bookshelf has copies of The Empty Raincoat(1994); The Age of Unreason (1989) and The Hungry Spirit (1998). Kigara keeps me updated on books that matter in life. If you have not read Eight Days in September then you cannot possibly comprehend what political drama is all about. Frank Chikane’s book only deals with the last eight days of Thabo Mbeki’s reign as the President of South Africa during when the African National Congress (ANC) made the decision to `recall’ Mbeki. Daily Maverick has this to say of the book:
`Eight Days’ is worth reading for what it purports to be, and the thoughts of its author are worth considering for what they are – a rare and intimate insight into the astoundingly cloak-and-dagger world of Luthuli House and Union Buildings politics.
I guess that since Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma has also suffered a similar fate we should expect yet another book on the subject. From South Africa we also get Good Morning, Mr. Mandela. This book is by Zelda la Grange who is an Afrikaaner woman and former supporter of apartheid who became private secretary to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. A unique relationship indeed!
Many other writers have caught my attention. For example:
- Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. with his fascinating 2002 book titled Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: How I Turned Around IBM.
- The Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman is a must with his Thinking, Fast And Slow (2011).
- So is the provocative 1998 book Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,00 years by Jared Diamond.
- Malcolm Gladwell is incredible in his 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success as well as the 2000 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
- You may wish to throw in Dr. Spence Johnson’s 1998 book Who Moved My Cheese?
- See mastery of the English language in In the Footsteps of my Father by Joseph Amolo Aluoch, MD.
- No reading is complete without savouring Berry Gordy’s autobiography titled To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown’. Google says: `From the streets of Detroit to the hills of Hollywood, Gordy tells of all the people who have influenced his life and rebuts the gossip, rumors and myths that have surrounded him and his legendary company. Here is the personal story of the man behind the Motown Sound who changed American music with such artists as Diana Ross, The Jackson 5, and Smokey Robinson.’
All these are fine books and give you a glimpse of what needs to be done in order to achieve success. However, I find myself returning back to Professors Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein book titled Nudge: Improving Decisions About health, wealth and happiness. A reviewer has this to say of this 2008 publication by Penguin Books: `Nudge is the book that changes the way we think about choice, showing how we can influence people, improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. Thaler and Sunstein offer a groundbreaking discussion of how to apply the science of choice to nudge people toward decisions that can improve their lives without restricting their freedom of choice’.
According to Wikipedia, Nudge discusses how public and private organizations can help people make better choices in their daily lives. Thaler and Sunstein argue that people often make poor choices – and look back at them with bafflement! We do this because as human beings, we all are susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of embarrassing blunders in education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, happiness, and even the planet itself. The ideas in the book proved popular with politicians such as Barrack Obama and David Cameron.
In Bryson’s biggest book, he confronts his greatest challenge: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves…
Just what the doctor ordered, don’t you think?
Man! I eat books, sleep books and wake books.
At any one-time you will find me with three or four books by my bedside. It is part of my life.