I went because I had already bought the ticket (18 Euros). Plus, I was sure some people would have made me feel lousy if I didn’t. “You went to Amsterdam and didn’t visit the Van Gogh museum?!” You know how people can get dramatic. I don’t get boners over paintings. A friend in Tuscany sent me a picture of a framed Picasso and I thought it was underwhelming – like runny eggs.


But I love art. I love, even more, the tortured look of artists who paint. I like how colours remain lodged under their nails. I love how when they explain their abstract work it doesn’t make any sense at all to me. I like how they can sit for hours painting and their backs never hurt. I like how they can wear shorts and even if their legs don’t allow for it nobody can tell them anything because they are artists! I like how they wipe their hands on their aprons when they paint, and how they choose and look at their paint brushes lovingly, as if they are their children. I like how when an artist blue-ticks you on Whatsapp the world excuses him because he’s supposed to be moody or he’s in his element or he’s battling the ogres of creation and creativity. Try that as an accountant. Until only recently when I bought an oil painting in Zanzibar, I had never owned a painting.


But this was Van Gogh, right? Even though I tremendously enjoyed Amsterdam, I’m never going to go back- not on my account at least – because there are over 42 other countries in Europe waiting to be visited. And others in Africa and Asia. So it seemed fit that since I was there I might as well see what this Van Gogh guy was all about.


For another 5 Euros you get multimedia headphones which helps you navigate the storeyed modern museum. It is beautiful and organised. Everything is clean and polished. Upstairs in the gallery it is hushed, like in a camel’s colon. People shuffle about with grim, concentrated looks. It’s like a wake. It’s like Van Gogh will be upset with us if we speak loudly. On the walls are his body of work. A pair of shoes (most likely his.) Crab. (Definitely not his). Potato eaters. A Cottage. A self-portrait with a pipe dangling from his mouth. Sunflowers. The Bedroom. It goes on and on, about 200 paintings, 500 drawings and some letters that he wrote to his brother Theo.


I felt sorry for Van Gogh. He led a measly life, a tortured life, a life of artistic and personal conflict. He also led a catastrophic love life, a life of depression, falling in love with troubled women. He fell in love with his widowed cousin who fled him, repulsed by the very idea. He fell in love with an alcoholic prostitute called Hoornik. (Not that it would have been any better to fall in love with an alcoholic prostitute called Maria.) Hoornik left him. He got depressed. At some point he cut off his own ear. I don’t know if it was his right ear or his left ear, that information wasn’t in the audio, but he cut off his ear because of an argument, which I assumed he lost because you don’t cut off your ear over an argument you won. He ate paint. Yellow paint. He moved to an asylum in some village of France after the people of the city he was living in signed a petition that he was dangerous. Shunned and alone, in the gardens of the hospital, he painted his famous painting “Irises”, which I looked at for so long but couldn’t connect with, which sold for Kshs 5 trillion. Of course he didn’t get this money, or any money that his paintings fetched because for all his body of work he never made a cent. He eventually shot himself in the chest in attempted suicide (not for another lost argument). He didn’t die. At least not immediately. He died a few days later. Only then was he hailed as an artist, a genius and an icon, the greatest Dutch painter. The world stood up and bowed at Van Gogh. Boy, isn’t this a beautiful tragedy?


Nonetheless, after only 15 minutes in the museum I was bored of looking at his impressionist paintings. Completely bored. That sounds so wrong to say, doesn’t it? It’s like saying something bad about Madiba. Or sitting in a bus while a person with physical disability stands next to you. But I was bored. I trudged along painfully. From floor to floor. From painting to painting. Looking to see what others were seeing, trying to connect.  All around, men peered at his work with fascination. I peered at the men with fascination. These are people who love museums. People who can’t wait to see the next museum. I don’t enjoy museums. I was fascinated that they truly enjoyed this process of walking, stopping, looking, walking, stopping, looking. Some took notes. Notes! Some conferred with their partners, deep hushed conversations, like they were deciding if it was time to put down their old dog.


I eventually gave up and sat on one of the chairs against the wall and just observed people walking by. Young people. Old people. People in hats. People without hats. People with hair on their legs, people with hair on their necks. People with children. People like children. Then I started doing something that might or might not have been racist; I started waiting to see how many black people would pass by (five in total). Then I started feeling like I wasn’t cultured enough, because here I was in a Van Gogh Museum yet I was bored out of my cranium. Then I said, screw it, museums are not for me, I will go eat a cupcake. So I stood up and as I walked downstairs I heard someone say, “This is truly heaven.”


As I stepped out of the museum, still thinking about the very idea of heaven I wondered if we will be allowed to carry our Kindles to heaven. I know people with hard copies won’t be able to carry all their favourite books into heaven because of the weight limit. Surely there must be a weight limit, otherwise some people might just decide to drag their pianos up, which makes no sense at all given there are harps up there. I think at the pearly gates someone will check the kind of literature you are bringing into heaven. I don’t think they will be too fussy though. To mean an angel tasked with that duty will look at your list and open a book and read out loudly – a passage from the book – for everybody in the queue to hear.


‘“Hands on your head,” he commands through gritted teeth as he kneels up, forcing my legs wider…We don’t have long. This will be quick, and it’s for me, not you. Do you understand?”’…”


You will squirm uncomfortably as people in the queue chuckle judgmentally; a knot of Catholics and some familiar faces from Parklands Baptist, those who always insisted on sitting in the front pews of church.   


“Please …don’t,” you will protest.


He will look up at you and say, “Fifty Shades of Grey is not going to get into heaven, darling. Neither will this – The Story of O, by Pauline Reage.”


“It’s your heaven,” you will say staring at your feet.


I want to carry my Kindle to heaven if they allow me to. Here are some of the books I have read lately in it that I wonder if might be allowed in.


The Storied Life of A.J Fikry

By Gabrielle Zevin


I kept seeing this book on the New York Times best seller list for months. That time I was in an unexciting relationship with another book called Line in The Sand; Collected Journalism by AA Gill. I wasn’t exactly sad, I just felt like I deserved better. But I stuck to Gill and his collection because he’s Gill and I have known him for ages and he has always come through, until now. Kinda. Eventually, half-way through, I told Gill, “Gill, this is not what we signed up for. You have always been great, but this one is not floating my boat and I have tried, haven’t I?” He nodded soberly as I picked my cane and my hat to leave. Then I got into this book and it started slowly like they all do but then it picked, but not enough to make you dizzy. It’s a book about books. Rather a man who sells books in the only bookshop in an island. There is a girl. There is always a girl. There is also a baby, which could refer to the girl but in this case isn’t the girl but a real baby, with diapers and all. The baby grows and the girl and the man grow until stuff happens. Things happen swiftly. Some bad, most good. But it leaves you feeling many feelings, sadness which floats to the surface for you. But then again  I read it at a time when I wasn’t very happy.


Lines in The Sand: Collected Journalism

By Adrian Gill


If you have attended my writing masterclass I must have mentioned this man. I’ve read pretty much everything he has written. He was one of the best paid journalists in the UK, writing for the Times UK until he suddenly died of cancer last year. I was devastated. I felt like I knew him, foolish, I know. I felt like he was my buddy. He was the best restaurant critic in the UK, had such beautiful turns of phrase and cheek in his writing. His mind was a whirlwind. He wrote things like, “Everybody I’ve met along the way who’s been doing excessive, obsessive things to ingredients, making restaurants, working kitchens, writing books, they are not happy. One of the great misconceptions about dinner is that nice people make good food. But it’s almost exactly the opposite.”




Pasta is eaten by happy smiley people having fun with people they love or fancy. Noodles are eaten by people who have no friends.”


A.A Gill, always cheeky and irreverent and unconventional. I read in the Sunday Times that he died on a Sunday morning. Then I started discovering some of his work that I hadn’t read and I ate it all up without chewing, wide-eyed with grief. Lines in the Sand is a collection of some of his travel pieces in The Times. The beauty is that you can always skip some if you want. They have his voice, all right, but his descriptions can sometimes tire you out. It’s a good read, this book, even though I left it sitting there to read something else because I felt it was sacrilegious to give up on his book. And that’s the thing with books, sometimes it’s a mood and moment thing. There are books you read during certain periods or moments of your life. Have a go at this.


Dreams from Bunker Hill

By John Fante


I like very simple writing. Simple small sentences. Smaller than a Panadol tablet. I love writers who don’t use words like “puissant.” Do you know what “puissant” means? It means strong, powerful. Why on earth can’t you just write: He went to become a powerful man. Instead you write: he went to become a puissant man. Why would you want to confuse us with a word so close to poussin? Why would you want to make us stop to google a word? I love writers who use very simple words and make deceptively simple, beautiful sentences with these simple words yet create such magic with them. John Fante in this book is that man. It’s a story set in the 1940s, about ayoung man who craves recognition as a writer, and commercial and artistic success. It’s a sexy book. In case you are wondering, a sexy book is a book that you think about all day when you are in the office and can’t wait to go back to at the end of the day.


The Book of Negroes

By Lawrence Hill


Senegal is on my Bucket List of countries to visit. I want to sit in their bars that play their wounding music, yes, but I also want to go see the Door of No Return, where slaves were shipped through. This book isn’t about Senegal but it’s about slavery and freedom and perseverance in between. I haven’t read it. I bought it because Amazon does this thing where it recommends books you might love based on the last purchase. So I bought it because I first loved the title. The word “Negro” leapt at me like a naked madman. Plus the whole slavery thing has always intrigued me. How people can come to your land, grab you, chain you, separate you from your children, from your people, from your heritage, put you in a ship, sail you for months while chained like a dog with rabies and take you to this strange land where they strip you of your identity and dignity and culture and use you as you would use a broom. I’m yet to read this but I’m working towards it. It’s sitting there in my Kindle, waiting to make me grit my teeth and take deep breaths.


Between The World And Me

By Ta-Nehisi Coates


This is the book I bought that prompted Amazon to recommend the Book of Negroes. In the opening scene of the movie The Equalizer-2, if you are keen, you will see Denzel Washington’s character read this book in that train rattling towards Istanbul, Turkey. It’s subtle placement and I hope people pick it out and look for the book. I hate to be those guys who say this is a book every black person should read. So I won’t. But you should. Even if you are an African from Subukia. I read it for the message but also for the language, which is rich, impassioned and fluid. It’s about race in America. About what it means to be a black man in the US. It’s about the history of a black man in America. It’s also a letter, of sorts, from Ta-Nehisi to his son. Ta-Nehisi writes things in a way that makes me stop and go back to read them again, then stop there and listen to my breath.


“I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free.”


“Race is the child of racism, not the father.”


“Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”


“To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear.”


One last one.


““America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.”


Read it. Even if you aren’t black. Read it to know.  


Born A Crime

Trevor Noah

Everything you’ve heard about this book is true. It’s also true that it will be worth your while. White father, black mother, apartheid and post-apartheid area. It’s tragicomedy. To mean, he manages to make you laugh at his tumultuous childhood.


The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

By Lola Shoneyin


A friend of mine who loves reading books like Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike and Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Sirleaf Johnson (I read a sample, it’s brilliant. My next read) always urged me to read this book. She was always going Baba Segi this, Baba Segi that. She swore it was funny and she loved it even though she isn’t big on fiction. I postponed it for so long and she kept asking “Have you read it? Have you read it?” until I said “Oh, eff it, let me read it.” Then I read it. Sort of.


I have this theory about life that I also apply on books; I won’t struggle with something that I don’t enjoy. If a party sucks I will leave. If I don’t like a meal in a restaurant I will send it back. If I don’t want to do a favour I will say it. If I’ve had enough in a bar and it might seem rude to leave everybody else there, I will leave. I will be where I want to be, doing what I want to do. So a quarter-way through this book I stopped reading it. Because I wasn’t enjoying it and life is short. It’s about a polygamous man with a number of women, one who is educated and seems to be rocking the status quo in his home. I was promised that it would be “hilarious” but when I was giving it up I hadn’t chuckled.


Of course I haven’t told her that I didn’t enjoy this book, but now she will know after reading this and she will feel disappointed because people get disappointed when you don’t enjoy the books they enjoyed and they thought you would enjoy too. It’s almost like a personal failure for them. They look at you like they don’t know you anymore.


It wasn’t the book though, it was me. Because it has rave reviews and enjoyed some critical success. It’s just not the kind of animal that I could climb.


The Fight

By Norman Mailer


He is touted as one of the most powerful writers of the 20th century. Together with chaps like Hunter S Thompson and Tom Wolfe he was considered the innovator of a genre of writing that I employ here called Creative Non-fiction, which uses the style of literary fiction in fact-based journalism. I discovered him in Esquire magazine years ago. I bought this book when Mohammed Ali died. It’s a book about the legendary Rumble In The Jungle fight in Kinshasa between Ali and Foreman. The book, like an old steam engine, chugs along in some parts, is a bit verbose in others, but is overall a good read. Mailer reveals the devil in the details, the minutiae of it all. Mailer is good with the art of observation and description. He delves into character. It’s also not a very long read.


I Can’t Make This Up

By Kevin Hart


Because it’s Kevin Hart. Because when you read it you read it in his voice and dramatics. Because when you read it you have to sit down, to be at his height. Because it’s a funny read. It’s a Kevin Hart read.


No Country For Old Men

Cormac McCarthy


There are people who read The Road and found it lacking. These are the same people you give your phone to look at ONE picture and they start scrolling. I loved The Road. Maybe it’s because I’m a father, maybe it’s because I’m adventist, but I loved it. It was desolate and despairing, hurtling towards this big black void of nothingness. Then I learnt that the movie No Country For Old Men was actually based on another book by Cormac, so I bought it. It’s a book about a psychotic killer who hunts down a man across Texas because the hunted man has something that belongs to some bad drug dealers. (There are no good drug dealers). It’s written very well. It’s written in a Cormac way. Incredible book.


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

By Gail Honeymoon


New York Times bestseller. Number 20 most sold on Amazon. If you go on holiday and plan to spend a lot of time ignoring all your emails and work phone calls and lie comatose by the swimming pool only opening your eyes a slit to tell the waiter standing in your sun, “Another daiquiri, please. Thanks, Martin,” then roll over and get unconscious, then this is the book to carry with you there. Or if you are on maternity leave and you are lucky to have gotten those babies who sleep constantly. Or if you are on paternity leave but you feel lost in the house, roaming around your cage, eating everything in the fridge, liking formula milk…this is your book. It’s funny. It’s refreshing. It’s also a bit quirky.


Let The World Spin

Colum McCann


I started it and then stopped after five chapters. Then I started it again and stopped after two chapters. Tell me how it ends.


The Most Beautiful Woman in Town

Charles Bukoswki


If you are a feminist don’t read it (unless you are Wendy). His stories are mostly set around alcohol and sex in bars and dingy apartments. He wrote at a time when the conversation about gender was tens of years away. Most of his characters are struggling, slightly towards the bottom rung. He obviously battled with alcohol and sex addiction. He often fought. He calls himself “ugly”, with “a face only a mother would love”. His work is desperate and astonishing. His sentences make me grin. I also bought three of his other books that I intend to read soon; Post Office, Hollywood and Love is a Dog From Hell, which is a collection of his poetry. He has published 45 books of poetry.


Nora Ephron

There is a lady called Nora Ephron. She died. She was a writer and filmmaker. She wrote a movie called Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. She’s funny as hell. An astonishing writer. Read ALL her books because they are all good; cheeky, witty, funny and revealing. Start with Heartburn. But before you do that, check out some of her stories below to see if her style is your cup of tea.


So, what have you read lately that shook your pants?


PS: Final call for registration of the Writing Masterclass. Email [email protected] for details.

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  1. I love how you were true to yourself about not connecting at the museum. But you still delivered a good description of Van Gogh for me who just learnt about him. Baba Segi’s wives looks like a book I’d enjoy

  2. I cant believe you didn’t like The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives.well yes I can,you liked Kevin Hart .
    I am currently re -reading the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townstead .Thank you for the recommendations .

  3. My cousin gave me two books: The Secret Lives of baba Segi’s Wives and I do not come to you by Chance. She promised they are funny as hell. I guess I should be grateful I started with the second one. I should also say it’s what she told me it would be. Maybe it’s you Biko.

    I recently read Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo, given to me by the same person. She said it would break me and it did. I carried it everywhere I went. I’m still nursing the hangie it gave me. And I finished it two weeks ago.

    1. Reading is fun and better still is being a member of a book club, we exchange many books. I have started reading Stay With Me, I can’t wait for what’s in store.

  4. Only seems fair to admit that I also don’t ever see myself getting teary over the beauty of a painting. But I could get emotional over the story of the painter. For a moment I empathised with Van Gogh, who I have never heard of, and his troubled times in exile.

    I am in a tumultuous relationship with books right now. I have been reading Losing My Virginity, Book Thief and Dead Aid concurrently but i feel like I am running on fumes. So much to read and so little time. Or maybe I’ve lost my grip on reading. It is easier to just slouch on a friends couch on weekends and bitch about the economy.

    Definitely getting Born a Crime and Dreams from Bunker Hill.

    1. I teach some college kids someplace…..and I make them read “Dead Aid”. And they hate me for it. But I ignore them….and drown them to sleep with how Dambisa Moto is epic in her thinking…

    2. I have not been able to get past the 2nd Chapter of the Book Thief. I have had the book for 5 years now. I can’t. Not my cup of tea, clearly. But give it a go!

  5. I recently read, And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, it was like listening to one instrument at a time, and when the book ends the orchestra starts playing and the pieces all comes back to a convergent. Never read short stories that lead to one complete Story!!!! His best book yet…

      1. Is it me or Khaled’s stories pile distress to one character to the end.I love his stories but i hate to imagine one person can be so unfortunate; I need hope.

        1. I have just finished reading Trevor Noah. I think I was not in a funny place but I loved loved the book. I recently read Salt by Nayyirah Waheed. Nice read I recommend to anyone who loves poetry.

    1. Please read a thousand splendid suns by Khaled. Oh my! I still hold onto it like a hidden treasure and just smile at it.
      Not given out to ANYBODY!!!

      1. I read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini before proceeding to the rest of his books and I couldn’t cry at all while reading the rest of them. The Kite Runner drained me of all tears. I’m feeling despondent just thinking about it. I swear I cried like a child through the night, swallowing my tears and shedding a bucketload more. The rest of his books were good, but they were just there emotionally for me, especially A Thousand Splendid Suns. It was too many characters. Probably should have taken a break and gotten back to my receptive mood before loading up on the rest of them.

  6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is an absolutely awesome read !!!! I’ll recommend it to anyone and everyone. It’s about race revolving around the Black Panthers legacies, Tupac and his acronyms, king and queens of the hood and more importantly how kids are raised in such an environment.

  7. Everytime i am looking for something new to read i ask myself WWBR?( what would Biko read) this list will push me till the end of the year and probably into next year. Thank you.

  8. Woow. I lived in libraries and museums. I ever fell into the seng’enge fence outside Reinsurance plaza walking to work whilst reading. Thanks for taking me to another place another time. Now I read Ellen G White books because they are always about Another place in a time to come. Thanks Biko.

  9. just finished Winnie Mandela: A Life: Anne Mare du Preez Bezdrob….very very sad…thanks for the books will definitely read them, not all at once.

  10. just finished Winnie Mandela: A Life: Anne Mare du Preez Bezdrob….very very sad…thanks for the books will definitely read them, not all at once!

  11. currently reading ‘wizard of the craw’. I would love to read, I Can’t Make This Up and Born A Crime. Biko, do you lend?

  12. Am commenting to show my appreciation for your efforts Brother Jackshon. I can only get me, Born a Crime and that other book with sex escapades, ..(I know, please don’t look at me like that), but the rest sioni nikipita first page…. But i know , to be a Leader, you have to be a Reader…

  13. I love CORMARC MCCARTHY. No country for old men & The road are very good books. I am currently reading his other book All the pretty horses.

  14. I have a case of Tsundoku. Gathering books, read them a little, and let them be. So they are all half-read; Gladwell’s “David and Goliath”, Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo, “I know why the caged bird sings” Maya Angelou, etc..
    Two weeks ago, read Americanah for the 3rd time. Chimamanda gets so much of our varying immigrant experiences (the good, bad and the ugly) and deftly weaves the stories and neatly packages them in that book. She throws so much shade though, in subtle yet not so subtle ways at various characters throughout her book, making me chuckle and in stitches as I turn page after page.
    I recently completed “The last black unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish which left me laughing..she’s raw and honest about her life experiences, and “You’re going to need more wine” Gabrielle Union.
    I’m now going through Obama’s “Dreams from my father.” ..I know, so belatedly..when likely the whole world has read the book ages ago.

  15. Well,
    I was at the point of ditching this article until I saw the list of titles you’ve found worth mentioning.

    1. Born A Crime is such a piece! So relatable especially if you were brought up with a tough, strong-willed, self-less and ardent Christ believer single mum like me.
    2. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is a good read. Broaden one’s perspective of life. As most good reads do. What stands out is the how the author plays around with words. Thought you would love it for that.
    3. Biko, Khaleed Hossein deserve a mention. If you really enjoyed writing the article about the refugee lady then A Thousand Splendid Suns will surely float your boat. The Kite Runner is another.
    4. And The Mountains Echoed. What a book! Such a literary gem!
    5. Granted not all of us may have been as naive as Ugwu acclimatizing with the urban life, but we all love beautiful ladies with beautiful hearts like Ollana. Or rebellious characters that God didnt give much of a beautiful body as he gave them witty sarcasm ! HALF OF A YELLOW SUN is nothing but captivating!

    Good day y’all!

  16. I am not an ardent reader for novels, but from the intro in Nora Ephron’s story from the link above, I guess I need to get myself a few books. For a long time all I have been reading is blogs(3 actually, this being my best) and short stories. (Drunk is a short story,right?) Good stuff Biko.

  17. Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don’t think there has ever been a book that made me feel so unsettled and made me question the level of callousness that human beings can display towards one another. It took me a few days to get over the shock.

  18. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I don’t think there has ever been a book that made me feel so unsettled and made me question the level of callousness that human beings can display towards one another. It took me a few days to get over the shock.

  19. Thank you for the list. I also always imagine what Biko could be reading before buying a book. I have rekindled my reading culture and I am getting hold of myself again. I read The Godfather because of the descrition you gave…”The best book ever written after the Bible..”. Currently reading The Long Walk to Freedom. Thank you for the list

  20. Nadia knows best, Jill Mansell
    Sometimes I lie by Alice Feeney
    Bring me back, by BA Paris, so thrilling led me to my current read: Behind closed doors

  21. I love paintings and whenever I see one I try to decipher their meanings but I also love stories of the artists and Van Gogh’s is one of a kind. You made me google the museum and I love its sunflowers. For that and the book recommendations, thank you so much.

  22. Van Gogh is one of my favourite artists. He ate yellow paint to feel happy inside coz he was deeply sad. Les Mangeurs de Pommes de Terre is one that I love.

    Just finished And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin. Currently in the middle of Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari. I want everyone to read this book. So fascinating. Also reading the collection of the Whispers columns. Kinda funny read.

  23. In the last week i’ve read ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn and ‘The Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak. All through i kept thinking how much Biko would enjoy them, or maybe you already have?

  24. What do I think? I think I am delighted that my church, Parklands Baptist Church (you left church out), was mentioned!

  25. When you mentioned heartburn, all I could picture was Avoc and a pinch of Ndunya with Red, Red beans in a plate somewhere near the equator.

  26. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

    Books Mentioned at the beginning of each chapter with a note from A.J.:

    Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
    The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    The Luck of Roaring Camp by Bret Harte
    What Feels Like the World by Richard Bausch
    A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
    The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain
    The Girls in Their Summer Dresses by Irwin Shaw
    A Conversation with My Father by Grace Paley
    A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
    The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
    Ironhead by Aimee Bender
    What We Talk about When We Talk about Love by Raymond Carver
    The Bookseller by Roald Dahl
    Other stories, books, & plays mentioned:
    The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
    Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    The Crucible by Arthur Miller
    Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
    The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
    A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
    American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
    The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone
    Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
    Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
    Book Review by Jenny Clark:
    The Late Bloomer by Leon Friedman (Made-up)
    Moby Dick by Herman Melville
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
    The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
    The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris
    Children in the Apple Tree by Daniel Parish (Made-up)
    The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
    Caligula by Anthony A. Barrett
    The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg
    Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
    Song of Soloman by Toni Morrison
    The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
    The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by Matthew Tobin Anderson
    The Awakening by Kate Chopin
    The Beauties by Anton Chekov
    The Doll’s House by Katherine Mansfield
    Brownies by Z.Z. Packer
    Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer
    In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel
    Fat by Raymond Carver
    Indian Camp by Ernest Hemingway
    Our Town by Thornton Wilder
    Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
    Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
    A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
    A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
    Silas Marner by George Eliot
    Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
    I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
    Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
    Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
    The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

  27. I just read a sample of ‘Children of blood and bone’ by Tomi Adeyemi. Intriguing, vivid, breathtaking. You realize you were in another world, holding breath when you stop

  28. i must say i found Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me very revealing. i appreciate the introduction to further good reads

  29. I’m currently reading John Grisham’s “Playing for Pizza”. A story of renewed hope, resilience and triumph. Definitely worthwhile!

  30. i cant remember last i read. i actually binge read like five books in a spsn of 2 months and that was it, Back in 2016. I even left the whatsapp book club… my reading bug just left. Thtas when i read the secret lives of baba segis wives, americanah, half of a yellow sun the wife, the maid… and someone else… now i just float around the net reading from blogs. i need to get lost in a book or to travel… motherhood and business have taken their toll.

    1. Motherhood,school, work. They happened and then the reading bug just died. I see a book and i want to read it ,pick it up but i just cant read.

  31. I read Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike – Phil Knight last weekend and its one of the best memoir I’ve ever read by a business person. Quoting from the book he says:

    “I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”

  32. I’m rusted out, hanged over…. Book Reading wise
    Two weeks ago I read ‘A grain of wheat’ by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Its quit a rich read
    Best read of all times is The Persifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum.
    ….am back to licking the milk formula….

  33. Biko, I will forever remember you for having introduced me to Juno’s Diaz, for which I am eternally grateful. I’ll be sure to check out the books on this list. FYI I loved Baba Segis wives, it’s one of those books which, if read in the wrong frame of mind, can seem boring. It cannot be enjoyed if there are other more exciting books waiting by your bedside table.

  34. I am reading In pursuit of the green lion b Judith Merkle Riley. Reading also Love without Fear by Eustace Chesser which is a book about sex and how to go about it written in an academic and dispassionate manner such that I always read it with Ochillo Ayako’s voice in my head. Got Drunk (the book) and read that too.

  35. Nora Ephron…. I think I like her. You have have definitely borrowed a lot from her writing style.

    I will start with the Heartburn…

  36. A book I have to recommend for you to understand a bit about Van Gogh(spellings dont matter right now) is Jeffrey Archer’s House of Thieves interesting read by the way couldn’t keep it down. Artists are just so peculiar Biko they just have a weird feeling about them that makes you want to hug them and tell that everything will be well….. Oh and Biko stop disappearing its not cool(inserts laugh emoji)

  37. Currently reading Born A Crime such a painful but has humour in it. Baba Segi wives will be a book for the next month read

  38. Amsterdam is cool,you don’t want to try London.Oops I forgot.Next time you are in Amsterdam,send us a shout,would love to host you,take you to Red Light radio,see some culture etc. Coates is phenomenal…Lovely read.
    Peace&love from Amsterdam

  39. Bikozulu, I have read the Book of Negroes and unlike you, it didn’t make me feel like going to Senegal, it made me feel like going back in time. I loved the simplicity of the story and at the end of it I wondered who gave white man the idea that their purpose on the earth was to fix what is not broke (read Africans)…oh, you poor African, your hair is wool. Here! Some chemicals to straighten it up! Crazy!

    And thanks for the review about Baba Segi’s wives. It seems like everywhere I turn there are Baba Segi’s wives ready to invite you into their secret lives. I have always been cautious about that book especially coz the first sentence of the first page did not make the book seem like a good read. Yes! That is how I get hooked on a book, the first sentence. If it doesn’t intrigue me then I will not buy the book.

    Gosh. I could go on and on. I have said all this to say, thank you for the list.


    1. …To what I am currently reading; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (for the second time). Once I am done, I will start to read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

  40. Nice read Biko. Currently, I’m reading the sun does shine by Anthony Ray Hinton and went through 3 boxes of tissue before chapter 5!!,,,, so I put it aside to reread the Americanah…..

  41. To accompany The Book of Negroes, have a look at The Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, very sobering account of the slave trade perpetuated in Ghana..when it was known as the Gold Coast… tracing the journey of one family’s lineage from the 18th century to present day in both America and Ghana….unputdownable…(sic)

  42. I have Trevor Noah’s book but I was postponing getting to it but now I will.
    I am in love with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher’s character and Vin Flynn’s Mitch Rapp. I am currently on the hunt for books by the two that I haven’t read yet.
    Also I just finished The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and it was such a beautiful read. Took me through a wide range of emotions, some of which I have never tapped into before.

    Great read as usual.

    1. Judith I want to tap into those emotions too. We can swap The Wife between Us with one you’d like from my stash.

    2. Thats an amazing book. Its like 900 plus pages and i read it in2 days. Youll love it. And i havr it in softcopy.

  43. You read Fifty Shades of Grey?
    Baba Segi’s Wives was a good read Biko.
    You should read Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter

  44. Seems your cousin and I have the same taste in books.The secret life of Baba Segi’s wives won’t disappoint.Please look for Homegoing- Yaa Gyasi.

  45. It is as if my destiny calls me to books. And Words. Something to do with books, and writing. I often feel insufficient looking at the comments some of you write casually, yet masterfully. Cheers gang! People say I write well; but I am enslaved to doubtful thoughts. Well, writing is not necessarily a problem for me. Creativity is. How do you guys become creative? How do you harness the power of creativity in you? How do you stretch your imagination to capture the ordinary and extraordinary events of life?

    I am currently reading “A brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking. Before I read the book I checked its review on Good Reads. Some people believe the book can make you a dumper ass after reading than before reading it. Some people read it to feel smart, even. In fact, Stephen Hawking, one of his interview acknowledged that it cannot be denied that it is a record best seller, but the number of people who have completed reading is probably very small. Worse still, those who have read and understood it.The book had to be edited severally to make it readable and understandable by simpletons, the ordinary person. Although Stephen Hawking along with his editors tried to make it simple for the ordinary person, he shifts to scientific theories (say the theory of relativity, mentioning things like black holes) so abruptly that one can easily get lost. What is more, despite Hawking’s professed atheism he does not come across as totally in denial of a higher power. Some people are in the habit of saying such a book should not be found in a religious person’s book shelf. On the contrary, the book increases my faith even more. Looking at the idea that it analyzes the laws that govern the universe, the rotation of earth on its on axis, its revolution around the sun in an elliptical orbit, and why heavenly bodies such as the sun and moon never move out of their sockets in a manner that can be expressed in a mathematical formula endears me to see how intelligent and all-powerful the God I serve is.

    Essentially, the book will let your mind and imagination drift beyond life on earth. The galaxies, and how many they potentially are according to physicists.This is one of the books that takes pain to churn through the content particularly if you are not into science, and how far science has come.

    I am intending to join Biko’s masterclass just to see what color creative people are made of, how they smell, how they dress, how they laugh, how they breathe, and how they hold a book while reading. I want to see what fabric the minds of the likes of Biko are made of. Whether they sleep and dream of stories they write. And if they see person with a big forehead or a pregnant woman with an inflamed nose and decide “oh, that is my starting sentence to this story.” Did they struggle with writing the first time they set their sight into writing? Always enjoying your work Biko, keep them rolling in as usual.

  46. Hey, Am envious of your reading culture. I want! I hope you pick me for your MasterClass which i have longed to do since last year. I even wrote to you last year inquiring about it but got zero response, sadly. Hope am lucky this time.

    I will read these books starting with the one by Gail Honeymoon because lately am finding myself feeling like am on paternity leave …. lost in the house, roaming around your cage, eating everything in the fridge …. lol. Funny indeed.

  47. Though a 2008 book, i enjoyed reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave. he tells a story of a desperate Nigerian girl in an asylum center in England, her escape to the streets of London and how she finds herself back in Nigeria. Sounds basic but for me, it was how the story was told, so vivid and captivating!

    1. Did you mean the “Other Hand”.

      Put it down a couple of times because I could not bear to read what was coming next but picked it up immediately as I could not stand not knowing. It’s been 7 years since I read it but the after taste of bravery and cowardice is still in my mouth.

      I myself prefer crime detective fiction any time.
      Donna Leon/Elizabeth George/Ann Cleeves/Barbara Nadel/Ruth Rendell/P D James/Ann McDermid/Minette Walters/Mo Hayder/Martha Grimes/Stephen Boooth.
      Last but not least Agartha Christie.

      Give me a book over a movie /Plug in earphones(not necessarily to listen to music or podcasts)block mechanism for team mafisi & strangers who love striking up conversations with readers/Look for a seat at the back of the bus/train/restaurant. And get transported to another world.

      Someone on this platform please tell me if Audible works for you. When I read I have voices and looks all set up in my head for the characters in my novels. God forbid it turns out to be like the Mexican telenovelas that recycle whining voiceovers in their different characters.

  48. The thing around your neck by Chimamanda Adichie. A collection of 10 or so short stories. This woman is an epic storyteller. She would be amazing near a fireplace.

    Steve Job’s autobiography by Walter Isaacson. You’ll get to know why Apple is Apple, and it knows and doesn’t give a hoot. Did you know there was a time when IPhone users couldn’t access pornographic sites!? This man Jobs!

  49. Oh yes. Nora Ephron is very much my cup of tea. Its a bit like being an avid fan of sports always from the comfort of my couch.

  50. “I eventually gave up and sat on one of the chairs against the wall and just observed people walking by….” why do I identify with this statement? Coz that would be me. Museums are certainly not my thing.

    And yes, fifty shades of Grey will not be allowed into heaven …hahahahahahahahaha

  51. Encouraging to know to know (from you Biko) that it is okay to start a book keep it away after some several pages, pick it up again and not get to finish it. Currently reading Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts.

  52. I love the article by Nora Ephron. Definitely getting her books. Thanks for the recommendation.
    I loved Born a crime by Trevor Noah too. Beyond the humor it had many lessons around parenting and apartheid.
    I’ve just finished reading ‘Year of yes’ by Shonda Rhimes which is really good and Maya Angelou’s Mum &Me & Mum which also had some good lessons on parenting for success and resilience. I’m about to start on Steve Jobs autobiography and Kevin Hart’s ‘ I can’t make this up’

  53. I was minding my business, reading the blog post, some Lingala playing in the background, not noticing the biological process of saliva accumulating idly in my mouth, as you do/n’t, until I choked on the quarter liter of it when I saw you didn’t enjoy The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives [and if you say pronounce it as ‘Segi’ and not ‘Shegi’ we can’t be friends (No, I have not confirmed that it is ‘Shegi’ from any Nigerian but I know instinctively that it’s ‘Shegi’ because I know things)]. Why on earth did you give that whole story about the non-fiction reader who loved it if you didn’t. I feel cheated. I’m now skeptical about all the books you liked/loved.

  54. Thanks Biko, I think I sent you/your team an email a while back requesting for book suggestions, thanks for coming through. I read Trevor Noah and it didn’t disappoint, I am currently struggling with A short history of nearly everything by Bill Bryson what’s motivating me to finish is Drunk which i recently purchased online from Textbook Centre…its my next read.

  55. I have enjoyed reading We need new names by Noviolet Bulawayo. Took time to ease into it but ended up loving it.

    I dislike Museums as well, I went into MET museum one time and wanted to slip under a side table and take a nap.

  56. No comments???? But how is this possible??
    That Baba Segi book was a hilarious journey of peculiarity in culture, the power of deception and the ultimate unfairness (according to the chapter of life called Karma) of being good. I am saddened that you didn’t enjoy it or finish it 🙁

  57. I just started on Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’. Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ also had a significant impact in my life.

  58. Looking for Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime. That is going to be my next read. Thank you for the recommendations Biko.

  59. I love this piece because it’s about books and I love books, currently I’m reading Bamboo & Lace by Lori Wick and it’s a very exciting book right from the beginning. I love witty and cheeky writers; so I think I’m definitely going to look up Nora Ephron.

  60. Now. Who else is obsessed with Sydney Sheldon! I get angry at him every time he takes me through a maze of dramatical twists and turns, marvels me with the deep research he does on his novels, leaves me smiling admiringly at his mastery of story telling and when I’m done, I’m extending my hand like a sanguinary vampire for his next title. I recently closed the covers of “Bloodline”, after ” Wrath of Angels”

  61. Born a crime by trevor noah,i know why the caged bird sings by maya angelou and i can’t make things by Kevin Hart ,all of these are good books i haven’t completed that have taken me longer than they should.but all of them are awesome reads.

  62. Born a crime by trevor noah,i know why the caged bird sings by maya angelou and i can’t make things by Kevin Hart ,all of these are good books i haven’t completed that have taken me longer than they should.but all of them are awesome reads.I’m judging you by luvvie ajayi,the subtle act of not giving a fuck,too.i hope i finish them before the year ends though.

  63. Your experience at the Van Gogh Museum is exactly what i went through when i visited The Louvre in Abu Dhabi about one month ago. I was bored to the core i wanted to scream, so i left and went to take photos outside.

    Thank you for the book recommendations. Born a Crime is up next on my reading list!

  64. I enjoyed The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives, but wasn’t obsessed, as in I could leave it unread for three days. After that I read ‘Americannah’ and I could not put it down. Also enjoyed DRUNK but it was brief.
    Biko, you once recommended ‘The Goldfinch” by Dona Tartt. So I ran and bought it. I read 40% of it and I haven’t opened it in 6 months. Is there something earthshaking lurking around the 60% left? From the comments my next read is ‘ Stay with Me’

    1. Sophie afadhali wewe you got to 40%. The way Biko went on and on about it. Goldfinch this, Goldfinch that, I bit the bullet and got it.

      12% down I came to a struggling halt. Icould not move on. I was not having an affair with another book. I just got bored.
      Leaving books unfinished bothers a small part of me. So several times I picked it up but got distracted after 3 sentences.
      It has been taking up space in my iBook reader from Feb 2017, I cannot bring myself to hit the delete button.
      But I have to take Biko’s advice and make room for things that move me.
      Anyway I thoroughly enjoyed The Book Thief a book that came highly recommended by him.

      I don’t know if it’s me or Biko but I’m taking his reviews with a pinch of salt. And I have a sneaky feeling I might like “Baba Segis wives”.

      Here I am with pen and paper creating a booklist from people’s comments.
      This post and “A letter to my 20year old self” have been bookmarked for future reference. Great blog and comments..

  65. Funny how most of the books recommended here you have little or no personal liking. More like “try out and see if you get bored too”. Why then?

  66. Now I don’t wanna read, “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives”.
    There;s a book Biko suggested ages ago – The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger. Saying I enjoyed reading it is an understatement. It is a masterpiece.

    The Looting Machine by Tom Burgis is my most recent read. Totally changed my perception about Africa resources. The plunder. Warlords. Tycoons. Smugglers. Africa’s wealth is being auctioned to the lowest bidder in the global economy. Shame on us and our leaders. Mostly shame on us for electing them (except of course the military governments).

  67. “people get disappointed when you don’t enjoy the books they enjoyed and they thought you would enjoy too. It’s almost like a personal failure for them. They look at you like they don’t know you anymore.” I relate. I am that person.
    I have on my bookshelf 3 books that i have not finished reading;
    1. The Book Thief (because i just do not enjoy it past a certain point).
    2. Room (because i don’t handle sad stories, especially ‘based on a true story’ well).
    3. The Art of War (boring).
    I am more of a James Patterson, John Grisham and Robert Ludlum fan. Thriller and fast action.

  68. I read Born a Crime on my way to Heathrow (But i don’t say), that book was too hilarious. My seatmate, a tall huge pointy man was so amazed at how i enjoyed the book because i kept bursting into laughter while people were sleeping. When we landed, i had finished and he asked that i sell it to him. Ahem-the way Kenya is broke now, i sold that book for 35 pounds. Man must live (hehehehe)

  69. The secret lives of Baba Segi’s wives was hilarious and captivating. My favorite character was Bonanle-the 4th wife.Despite all she took from the wives still kept her composure and calmness.Baba Segi horrified me, reminded me of those pot-bellied village me with sweaty fat fingers…quite a devoted family and provider though. It was a good read for me. I’m currently reading the’The subtle art of not giving a fork ‘by Mark Manson. Quite a refreshing book and talks about how to lead a more contented and grounded lives by choosing our forks wisely. ‘Stay with me’ is next.

  70. Biko, it’s hard to believe that art doesn’t move your needle.

    I visited the Van Gogh Museum 9 days ago. I have visited many museums, it’s mostly all I do when I visit Europe. I find it fascinating how they have they have preserved their medieval architecture, culture, history & above all art … the Van Gogh Museum made me weep… it’s the most emotive museum I have ever been to…. I empathized with his struggles and his passion for painting … the only thing that brought him solace. I also loved that he captured all his emotions not only in art but also in words, with the letters to Theo.

    What also made the experience stand out for me was that I could relate most of the places &/or the artists that he had met on his journey…you see I had been on a European tour that took me to the places where most these artists converged and/or had their art work (museums/former residences etc ) in Florence, Rome, Paris, Antwerp, Vienna etc … by the time I went to the Van Gogh Museum not only did I not appreciate his art, I could clearly visualize where he had been and what the influences from his surrounding, artistic period or other artists were …the visit to this museum felt like a culmination of my tour and a confirmation that weather we are aware of it or not … we all have genius within us and if we tapped into what we are passionate about we could be less conflicted with our lives.

    By the way… Vincet cut off his right ear. There was a portrait painting of himself with his right ear bandaged 🙂

  71. Biko, it’s hard to believe that art doesn’t move your needle.

    I visited the Van Gogh Museum 9 days ago. I have visited many museums, it’s mostly all I do when I visit Europe. I find it fascinating how they have they have preserved their medieval architecture, culture, history & above all art … the Van Gogh Museum made me weep… it’s the most emotive museum I have ever been to…. I empathized with his struggles and his passion for painting … the only thing that brought him solace. I also loved that he captured all his emotions not only in art but also in words, with the letters to Theo.

    What also made the experience stand out for me was that I could relate most of the places &/or the artists that he had met on his journey…you see I had been on a European tour that took me to the places where most these artists converged and/or had their art work (museums/former residences etc ) in Florence, Rome, Paris, Antwerp, Vienna etc … by the time I went to the Van Gogh Museum not only did I not appreciate his art, I could clearly visualize where he had been and what the influences from his surrounding, artistic period or other artists were …the visit to this museum felt like a culmination of my tour and a confirmation that weather we are aware of it or not … we all have genius within us and if we tapped into what we are passionate about we could be less conflicted with our lives.

    By the way… Vincent cut off his right ear. There was a portrait painting of himself with his right ear bandaged 🙂

  72. I can’t believe I’m only reading this now!!How did I miss it?? quoted Fifty-Freaking Shades Wow!!
    Thanks Biko.Great piece ❣️

  73. YOU ALL MUST READ THE COLOR PURPLE by ALICE WALKER. I DON’T HAVE THE VOCABULARY TO DESCRIBE IT IN A WAY THAT SERVES IT JUSTICE, BUT I’VE READ IT 5 TIMES. i apologize for the all caps, by the time i looked up i had typed too much to delete everything. i’m lazy like that.

  74. A very late comment but my favorite reads 2020 have been; Under a sky on fire by Suzanne Kelman, Blue castle by Maud Montgomery, Girl in the blue coat by Monicca Hesse, Daddy-long-legs by Jean Webster and finally the one that topped it all,’ Fountains of silence by Ruta Sepetys or simply just read everything she has written…..its not a lot.