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For Anthony, and Dali…

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

On social media, that means on Facebook, there is running a challenge. On books. People are nominated.For seven days, they post a book cover a day, andnominate another. The rule, they say, is to say nothing about that book. Just the cover.

The cheeky side of me thinks this was driven by people who just love being associated with books. Those people whom when you are talking about a book they interrupt to ask ‘is it in soft copy?’ and before you answer, they give you their WhatsApp number or email address – never to open the message if you send the book?

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Because, what is the purpose of just sharing a cover, aren’t books streets full of stories – long and complicated – that yearn and demand to be told? In telling a story of a book, does one not write a new book altogether, recreate conversations and rewrite stories as well as arguments?

I might just be salty. Disappointed that there are piles of books that I always wish to read but lack the time. So, I might have misspoke – or, aptly, miswrote.

But, I have my own books. Seven. For the challenge which Anthony and Dali nominated me.

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Lately, I have been going back to re-read books, just to reminisce. Days ago, I was on George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, the classic. I was enthralled by its applicability to all political currents and situations. Squealer, that sleazy pig, aptly fits the role of any information minister and press officers you can think of – from any epoch.

In Animal Farm, one does not only encounter ‘talking animals’ – as one on social media once bellowed under the weight of knowledge from motivational books. You experience human conditions. You understand better revolutions and why they always tank or, kindlier, sink into resolutions of naught.

That last line leads me to the next book I would recommend. No big stories whatsoever. Also, not just a title and moving on. Students of literature, and social thought, might be familiar to it. Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth’. It has been re-read too, about a month ago.

This time, there were newer insights from the 1961 book. If you read with a post-colonial lens, or anything that posits reality within its relationship to colonialism, you might miss out how much the book is not just about colonialism and the beyond of it. Rather, it is about our realities. As now. As they will be. It is, in another words, a distant cousin of Animal Farm.

And, it is a heavy read. With little pleasure in the beauty of the writing although there is so much beauty in the thought. For beauty in writing, take my third, and there might be two here, but I keep the other one out: Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’.

Of stories and books – not stories in books. There used to be a bookshop in the Trade fair Grounds. A DAPP bookshop. Books were sold for a song. Back then, I would go there and look for new authors. It was then that I personally encountered The Kite Runner. From it, I stole my favourite quote: “there is a chance to be good again”.

There is a movie that accompanies the book but, as usual, I recommend watching it after reading the book. Then, in watching the movie one finds their sense of imagination either massaged or assaulted.

And, on movies and books. It leads me to the fourth. James Baldwin. If Beale Street Could Talk.

It could have been the first, only that these books are not in any order. Baldwin combines the beauty of a story with beauty in the telling. And, he provokes with a subtle quality. The movie focuses on the love that carries the bigger story so it is not something I can speak of highly. It is a beautiful picture, of course, but it waters down the story. So, I am here for the book.

If it were those early days of a Peter Mutharika presidency, I would start with a disclaimer: the fifth is not just about supporting the ‘buy Malawian campaign’. It is, because it is good. Ken Lipenga’s ‘Waiting for a Turn’.

There are other good collections of Malawian writers. Stanley Onjezani Kenani’s‘For Honour and Other Stories’. Or, maybe, the books on the syllabus: The unsung song (the actual story together with Zabeta, or Fragments are my favourites) or Smouldering Charcoal. However, for its provocative nostalgia and its social function of reminding us how much our society has not changed, I maintain Waiting for a Turn for fifth.

The sixth has been a tough call to make because, again, I realise that there are so many books that I have read and fell in love with. The Nigerian scholar, Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí’s ‘The invention of women’, however, takes this after some pondering.

It is a scholarly book that challenges ‘popular’ permutations on gender while at the same time inviting the reader to a critical thought process. It is laced with cross-referencing as are typical of scholarly books, but it is written with more of a lecture ease. The cross-referencing is even kind, and less.

My seventh is the one that I generally consider my first. Because it is the book that I read first and saw a violation of norms. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. The River Between. For me, it has a sentimental value – aside the writing and story. It is my first serious non-textbook I read at a young age and got lost in the wonder of words. It would be a disservice for it not to make the list.

There are a lot of books that have not appeared, a lot with stories. But, somehow, I hope I have responded to the demands of Mr. Chingu and ‘Dr’ Chindipha. Now, to my own nominations.

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