Book Review: The Big Picture – Douglas Kennedy

Year: 1997
Country: England
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Review: The Big Picture - Douglas Kennedy

When I picked this book from the crime fiction section, It came across as one of those unassuming novels. The cover didn’t give anything away until I read the jacket and got quite interested. Somehow, it should be thrilling enough. That’s the only explanation for all of the discomfort brought about by the weight of the book.

Ben Bradford is your regular middle – class next door neighbor with a good life. Wall Street lawyer, gorgeous wife, brilliant children. 6 figure paycheck. Big house in an affluent neighborhood. Basically a designer life. What else could he ask for? Unfortunately, he was deeply unhappy and dissatisfied with himself and his good life. This eventually seeped into his marriage and career which he absolutely hated because he had to give up his childhood dream of professional photography. Along the line, his marriage ended and he committed murder by accident. This was the beginning of the rest of his life. Of course, every single thing changed.

The Big Picture addresses sensitive issues like marriage/divorce, identity, murder/crime, passion/dreams, responsibility, grief, and my personal favorite, photography. Each of these themes made lasting impressions on me and I’m going talk about a couple of them and how they resonated with me.

  • Marriage/Divorce

Can I just say that I have a new perspective on divorce because I think people are inherently selfish? Ben clearly knew his marriage was on the verge of collapse but every single time, he reached out to his wife to talk about it, she pushed him aside, even as far as giving him the silent treatment for months. Her mind was clearly made up. I absolutely hated that they didn’t even make an attempt to fix it. Counseling, Therapy. Whatever. They didn’t even try. Instead, Beth went ahead to have an affair with their neighbor. Although, I wouldn’t blame her because she had made it clear to Ben at the onset that she wasn’t interested in marriage. But he persuaded her until she gave in and it all came crashing down like a block of bricks. I feel like I understand the current alarming divorce rate. People are selfish, lazy and are not ready to put in the work!

  • Identity/Passion/Dreams

I hate that people underrate the importance of self-discovery. Finding yourself really saves a lot of future problems especially in career and marriage. Ben knew what he wanted but still wallowed in self-pity the whole time. It’s important to know what makes you tick to avoid falling for undue pressure. This probably took a lot of convincing but I’ve learned that in order to support your dreams and passions especially if it’s in the creative industry, you would have to make sacrifices. For instance, working in the corporate world to afford gadgets and gears. There were a lot of lessons to learn from Ben especially how he managed to make so much money from writing wills and being miserable while at it. Eventually, just as he was about to become senior partner, he gave it all up. He literally gave that life up for self-fulfilment. That took a lot of gut if you ask me.

  • Photography

This was easily my favorite reference. Ben got his first camera at an early age and decided to pursue photography. But because his father wasn’t pleased with his career choice and he didn’t get his big break fast enough, he had to give it up. When he became financially buoyant, he began collecting cameras as a guilty pleasure of sorts. The Big Picture was written in the 90’s before the era of DSLRs. So, there were darkrooms and films, negatives, chemicals. It was such a thrilling experience. Even before his big break in his second life, I loved how he took photographs with so much passion as well as some of his tips and tricks he used to achieve great portraits. He reignited the fire in me and reminded me again why I want to take up photography. I literally cannot wait. It also reiterated that hard work pays. Just keep at it. Your time would come.
It was an enjoyable and well-balanced debut novel. It took me on a roller-coaster of emotions and it did not drop me for once. I absolutely loved how it put some things into perspective. The storytelling was impeccable and the transition was seamless. It left me spellbound.

When I was done, I had to put up an instastory. Truly, the best books are usually unknown.

Rating: *****

5 Practical Tricks To Reading More Books

The other day, I attended an event and one of the attendees who also happens to follow me on Twitter asked how I manage to read 50 books+ a year. I mumbled some responses and promised her that I would sleep on it and write a post subsequently. But first, I needed her to understand that I am a freelancer and I don’t have a 9 – 5. My social life is also non-existent so it is relatively easier for me to read more books because I have all the time. When I eventually get a 9 -5, it would be a different ball game entirely.

If you’ve also been wondering how to squeeze in more books into your routine, these should help.

  1. Read ebooks.

This is obviously a no-brainer. I mean, ebooks are the condensed versions of paperbacks which make it even more convenient to read and carry about. Usually, all things being equal, I finish an ebook in 48 hours or less depending on the number of pages. Whereas, it might take me 72 hours+ to read the same number of pages on a paperback. It’s science. If you want to cover more books, stick to ebooks.

2. Be open to diverse genres, it keeps things exciting.

One of the things you can do to kill your reading morale is sticking to one genre for a long period. I get that some people like to dedicate their time to one genre at a time but it gets monotonous after a while and slows you down in the long run. Even if you want to read one genre, alternate it with other sub-genres. Again, it keeps things exciting and you have something to look forward to.

3. Choose a convenient reader.

There’s nothing more annoying than having to make adjustments every now and then. Whether it’s a Kindle or a Tablet, make sure it’s convenient to use in terms of battery life and screen size. I have a 7″ tablet that I use solely for reading. It’s decent and gets me by. In fact, last year, I read 80% of my books on it until it crashed. So, earlier this year, I reverted to paperbacks until I got a new tablet.

4. Have paperbacks available.

I know what I said about ebooks. The thing is, whatever device you’re using, the battery will drain eventually. So, it’s safer to have an extra paperback by the side to keep the momentum going. This means you would be reading about two or more books at a time which is perfectly fine.

5. Set a reading goal and be intentional about it. 

Apart from the obvious bragging rights, it keeps you accountable. Every time, I log into my Goodreads page to enter a book, there’s almost always something or someone to spur me on. I’ve had a reading goal for about three years now and I’ve read more books in those years than in my entire life. That’s how serious it is. So, start from somewhere. Say 20 books a year. I started with 40 and I haven’t read anything less since then. Start small and just grow from there. You might surprise yourself. If you can’t stick to a reading goal, join a book club.

 

Book Review: The Surrender – Mabel Segun

Genre: African Fiction

Year: 1995

Country: Nigeria

Quick observation: Why do short story writers like to merge underwhelming stories with fantastic pieces especially in their anthologies? Is there like a standard word count? Does it necessarily have to be more than 100 pages before they are approved to be published? Because I don’t get it. Left to me, if I have 7 brilliant stories for instance, I would rather publish those 7 than 15 just to fill a vacuum. I would rather have a masterpiece than a ‘great’ book. Just like Jumpha Lahiri, this is probably my biggest issue with this book.

 

 

The Surrender is a short story collection of 15 STORIES which seeks to address the Nigerian woman’s struggle against age-long traditional beliefs and practices which discriminate against their sex. Given the current wave of the feminist movement. this is such a timely book and I’m glad I got to read it. It gave me some background knowledge of some of the complexities Nigerian women have had to contend with overtime. Frankly, I’m all for feminism and gender equality with this one but that doesn’t necessarily make me a feminist or a women’s rights activist. Just saying.

A quick background check on Mabel Segun shows that she’s a Writer, Poet, Lecturer and Broadcaster. A fellow of the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany who isn’t exactly renowned. She is pretty much just your regular author living a lowkey life faraway from the spotlight. Apparently, she was an ex-classmate of the late Chinua Achebe which sort of made them buddies. 

The Surrender is a short, fast paced and vivid book with just the right dose of literary elements. It can be finished in one sitting even though I have a thing for dragging short books over a couple of days especially if it touched me in the right places. Book withdrawal is actually a thing.

Anyways, you can tell that she’s such a skilled short story writer. Some of the issues raised ranged from domestic violence to barrenness, suicide, poverty, hardships and so on. You’re guaranteed to feel an interplay of emotions from the first page to the last. As I mentioned earlier, the number of brilliant evoking stories were few and far between. The rest were just there to fill the blank pages. I needed the depth and tempo to be sustained throughout the book. I didn’t need to be underwhelmed on more than one occasion. I thought some of the stories were unnecessary and below par. Although, the book spans a writing period of 40 years, I wish she actually did more research and covered the major cultures in Nigeria. It would have been explosive. Notwithstanding, it is a good book so much that it won the 1954 National Festival of Arts Literature Prize. It definitely made an impression.

 

Rating: ***

 

Reading For The Right Reasons

The first time I heard that people read 100 books a year, I was gobsmacked. It was such a mind blowing information that I began to question everything I was doing with my life. Of course, along the line it unconsciously became a milestone of sorts – something that I aspired to tick of my bucket list. So, I began building momentum and took my Goodreads a bit more seriously. In 2014, I started with a goal of 40 and ended with 45, 2015 – 50 finished with 61. This year, it’s 60 and so far, I’ve read 27. Apart from the obvious bragging rights, it’s important to know why exactly you’re reading and not just get overwhelmed with that Goodreads badge.

Which is why this post on Medium Why I Don’t Read 100 Books a Year brought a few things back into perspective.

So, why as I reading? Why am I a tad obsessed with books and idea of books and libraries? Why do I desire to read 100 books a year and books from every country in the world?

First of all, books are incredibly addictive. Once the habit of voracious reading is formed, you need to continually feed it or you might just go insane. That’s why I’m not limited by any medium. I read every and anything on any platform. (I feel like I might need reading glasses soonish.) Classics, Junk, Ratchet, Earth shattering, Life changing, Bestsellers. That way I know how to differentiate good writing from downright horrible writings and what not to learn from them.

The day I decided that I wanted to be a writer was the day I knew that I had a lot of work to do. I had to find my voice. The only way I can do that is to read as wide and as deep as possible. My voice is the sum total of all of the my literary influences. It’s a unique mashup of all of the authors and books that influence me. Which is why I’m very open minded when it comes to books. I try as much as possible not to put myself in a box. Some people prefer to read solely African Fiction for instance, I can’t do that. It means that all of my thinking processes and writings will be one – dimensional. So far, I’ve read French Literature, German Literature, a bit of British Literature here and there, Afghanistan Fiction and a host of Immigrant Literature. Currently, my booklist consists predominantly of American Fiction  which I try as much as possible to regulate because diversity is key.

It’s probably cliché but brilliant writers are readers. I don’t just want beautiful writing, I want brilliant writing and that can only happen if I’m well read. So far, my writing has definitely improved but it’s not even close. Another thing is reading the popular books. Usually, when you read what everyone reads, you begin to think like every other person. I’ve discovered that a lot of books are diamonds in the rough. These don’t get any recognition. They aren’t even bestsellers. For instance, Imagined Love by Diamond Drake. Mahn, that book is vivid but literally unknown.

Apart from my obvious reasons for reading, I’ve also discovered that I’m learning a whole lot of things. I’m more aware and less judgy. I’m always looking forward to that single thing that I would take away from a book even if it’s a phrase. For instance, I’m currently reading The Lover by Marguerite Duras and this sentence came up at the beginning which has stuck: She’s become just something you write without difficulty, cursive writing. Best believe, I’m taking that away even if I don’t learn any other thing. From the beginning of the year till date, I’ve been schooled on a myriad of topics. From mental health to the publishing industry to human anatomy and memoires to the Ina vampires and whatnot. No one teaches you these things. I think it’s a privilege to read and be exposed to the world and I do not take that for granted.

There’s also the issue of finding time. Reading is time consuming no doubt but you just have to find a way around it. During your commute. Less TV. Less Twitter. Less Instagram. Less Turn ups.The other day, my mum was asking about something on the news. I just kept staring at her. I wasn’t listening. I was busy reading. My social life is currently nonexistent but due to my personality, I can bounce back even though I’d rather not at the moment. Because books > friends. Reading has become a habit so much that every idle time matters. During Laundry. When cooking. In the restroom. I read in the weirdest places sometimes.

After reading, especially a very good book, I allow my thoughts to flow and then form personal opinions thereafter. The results are usually in the form of book reviews. I realised that the sooner I write them after reading, the better they generally are.

So, it’s pretty important to read as long as you’re doing it for all the right reasons.

Then again, I don’t think it’s bad thing to desire to read 100 books a year because it takes a whole lot of guts and discipline.

Book Review : The Sense Of An Ending | Julian Barnes

Genre: British Literature
Year: 2011
Country: UK

This is one of those books that seeks to address the human/emotional anatomy – how unreliable and imperfect our memoires usually are and generally the consequences of our actions. It’s the kind that gets under your skin whilst questioning everything you know about life. But before I continue, there so many profound quotes that this review will be basic and incomplete without them.

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‘History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.’

Which I added, “Probably what’s happening with Nigeria’s history. A lot of things are not documented. Hence it clashes with the memories. The point where documentation meets memoires is probably what we know as history. But what if doesn’t? What if there’s no correlation? Do we discard it as a figment of our imagination? “

“It had seemed to us philosophically self-evident that suicide was every free person’s right: a logical act when faced with terminal illness or senility, a heroic one when faced with torture or the avoidable deaths of others; a glamorous one in the fury of disappointed love.”

“I eventually find myself thinking straight. That’s to say, understanding Adrian’s reasons, respecting them and admiring him. He had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me; he thought logically and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: We make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.”

“We live with such easy assumptions, don’t we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it’s all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we’d forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn’t act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it’s not convenient – It’s not useful – to believe this; it doesn’t help is get on with our lives; so we ignore it.”

“Margaret used to say that there were two sorts of women: those with clear edges to them, and those who implied mystery. And that this was the first thing a man sensed, and the first thing that attracted him, or not. Some men are drawn to one type, some to the other.”

“I don’t want you to be a woman of mystery. I think I’d hate it. Either it’s just a façade, a game, a technique for ensnaring men, or else the woman of mystery is a mystery even to herself, and that’s the worst of all.”

“Two other things she said over the years: that there were some women who aren’t at all mysterious but are only made so by man’s inability to understand them.

“It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others.”

“Though why should we expect age to mellow us? If it isn’t life’s business to give us warm, comfortable feelings towards its end? What possible evolutionary purpose could nostalgia serve? “

” The more you learn, the less you fear. “Learn” not in the sense of academic study but in the practical understanding of life.”

“But time…how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time…give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.”

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around yo challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but mainly to ourselves.”

“For instance: that when we are young and sensitive, we are also at our most hurtful; whereas when the blood begins to slow, when we feel less sharply, when we are more armoured and have learnt how to bear hurt, we tread more carefully.”

I think I should stop now before I write out the entire novella. Clearly, the philosophical aspect of the book, although embedded in the story got to me than the story itself.

Let’s not totally ignore the story. The Sense Of An Ending is basically a story about sixtyish divorced retired man, Tony Webster who had lived a rather average/complacent life. He literally couldn’t hurt a fly or he thought so. As a result of that, he had too much time on his hands until one day, a letter from his solicitor shook his world and got him pretty much occupied. The result was a trip down an uncertain and inaccurate memory lane. Safe to say that he spent his last days in a permanent state of remorse.

This is the kind of book that leaves you out of sorts and for Pete’s sake, it a novella and not a Proust novel. The good thing is, after shaking your core and giving a few seconds to catch your breath, it allows you come to terms with so many things – hence, the quotes above. It was absolutely necessary – like how
actions have consequences not necessarily immediate. You might be making or marring someone’s life. Also, learn to take responsibility for your actions and not shift blames.

you should never – ever –  act on your emotions else you’ll spend your lifetime in a state of remorse as too much time would have passed to make amends. . I know women are victims. Men are also guilty of this. But if you can, before it’s too late, do something about it.

– being philosophically sound is such an attractive trait, quite alright but don’t let it get into your head. Breathe! Don’t take life too serious.

– most importantly, the human memory is unreliable. During the course of our lives, we spend so much time fabricating our past just to suit the narrative. A lot of times, our memoires fails us and we’re left with figments of our imagination. So, yeah a lot of things might not have taken place but because our memoires convinces us so, it might as well have. It’s such a complex theory.

I loved how easy yet complex it was to read. It was one writing style laced with precision,  brevity and wit. I think I sensed some humour here and there. You had the most complicated human emotions written in simple sentences. It doesn’t get any more genius than that. Apparently, this won a Man Booker Prize. Some people think it wasn’t deserved like some actors don’t deserve Oscars. I think it was brilliant. Not necessarily award-winning. He actually reminds me of the French writer, Samuel Beckett.

When I start building my book collection, this will definitely have a spot on my shelf.

Rating:****

Book Review: It’s Kind Of A Funny Story | Ned Vizzini

Genre: Young Adult
Year: 2006
Country: USA

Teenagers. Ugh.

The best thing about coming-of-age YA books is the ability to see from a different perspective. This time, from a 15yo’s. I’ve always shied away from sensitive subjects such as mental health. In my head, they’re rather inconsequential as long as you’re not having sucidial thoughts, you’ll be fine. I think it has a lot to do growing up in an African setting where mental illness is attributed to a Western thing. Because, to be frank, everyone has problems. Some just do a better job of hiding them.

HELLO!, it’s real! People get (clinically) depressed and end up living on antidepressants. It’s not something you can just snap out of like a bad mood.

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The author, who was previously hospitalized briefly in a psychactric hospital, does a fine job of addressing the issue of sucidial depression from a teenage perspective in a whimsical manner. Basically, the book was inspired by his experiences. Really, that is the only way to aptly depict it else it might have come across as been forced or made up.

How a number of symptoms including – school and peer pressure, bullima, insomnia, stress and general restlessness and lethargy – led to the Craig Gilder’s near suicide and voluntary 5-day admission into a psychiatric hospital. This gave me chills. Eventually, the change of environment is what he needed to pull through and focus on his anchors rather than tentacles. God forbid, he was based in Africa. He would have been long gone.

The point is, everyone is messed up in more ways than none. Some us have found a way to deal with it without affecting our lives, others, not so much. We can’t deny the fact that mental illness – which includes depression, dementia, schizophrenia – is a thing and if not treated, it can get way out of hand and lead to suicide and other life-threatening illnesses.

So, what are we doing about it? Are psychologists, therapists and psychopharmacologists readily available? Are there hospitals with psychiatric wings and resources available to cater to and accommodate them for as long as possible? Are the members of staff willing to put up with psychotic patients? Are the necessary meditation – Zoloft, Paxil – available? These are pertinent questions.

I loved how easy it was to read. The language and YA lingo ticked all the right boxes which made it even more enjoyable. I loved how it was divided into brief chapters. This appealed to people with short attention spans – basically all millennials. Also, the idea of brain maps was fascinating. It’s amazing how maps can be used to depict the activities of the brain. I thought it was brilliant.

At some point, I was frightened by how much teenagers are exposed to. From drugs to sex and whatnot. It’s terrifying coming from someone who had a pretty sane and basic adolescence.

What then do we do?  We need to raise awareness especially in this part of the world. Mental illness is a thing. Instead of judging them, get them treated. Let them find help. The author has done his part by being writing about it. The rest is up to us. If we see any seemingly conspicuous signs, don’t diminish them.

The book has been adapted into a 2010 movie. Looks like fun! Meanwhile, what’s with the title? It was funny. I had a few laugh-out-loud moments but it wasn’t hilarious. The book was too sensitive to be taken as a joke.

Apparently, the author who had been suffering from severe clinical depression committed suicide in 2013. Plot twist!

Rating:****