Since moving back to Finland from Ethiopia last September, I’ve been reading a lot of Finnish books, a nice change after being married to my Kindle for two years. However, I still read a lot in English. This time my book tips offer a mix of fiction and non-fiction, old and new.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. The winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, this giant piece of work is not an easy read. Jamaica, 1970s, turbulent times: tension is rising in the streets as a general election is approaching. Bob Marley, referred to as The Singer in the book, is about to play a free-for-all concert to ease the tensions. Before the concert, his house is stormed by gunmen and after nearly being killed, he leaves the country and doesn’t return until two years later. The book is fiction but offers a realistic glance to a precarious time in Jamaica when everything was politics, the CIA was heavily present and the streets were ruled by notorious gang leaders. The stories are told by several characters and you learn to love and hate them. So much killing, violence, sex and drugs in this book. I think I fell in love with this piece of work slowly. The characters will stay with you even after you finish the 700 pages. And you feel an obsessive need to listen to Bob Marley as his lyrics suddenly make more sense.
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. A disaster happens. A devastating fire destroys a house and takes the lives of June Reid’s entire family – her daughter, her daughter’s husband-to-be, her ex-husband and her boyfriend. And so the aftermath begins. How can one survive such a tragedy? June decides to leave the scene and drive halfway across the country to pull herself together. What does she regret? What would she have done and said differently had she known this was coming? This is a solid, easy-read book about family and how we never know when we might be saying goodbye for the last time. A message also comes through: no families are free of burdens.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Thank you Your Excellency Ambassador Sirpa Mäenpää for recommending this book to me! Not only did I fall in love with Kingsolver’s writing style, but this book also helped me in processing my thoughts about the whole Ethiopian experience. The book tells the story of an American missionary family in Belgian Congo. They set foot in the country in 1959 and stay for a long time. Told by Orleanna, the mother, and her four daughters, the story is as captivating as it is tragic and frustrating. Coming to the country with big expectations about curing the savage black pagans with religion is all too a familiar story, and you know it can’t end well. But this is also a book about how resilient women are, everywhere in the world. I wholeheartedly loved this reading experience.
We should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Based on her TedX talk on the same topic, this should be a must-read for all men and women, boys and girls. Self-explanatory, inspiring and pertinent – written by a highly talented Nigerian author. Give it try. It is not a long read: you will finish it in 20 minutes.
Slouching Towards Betlehem by Joan Didion. Joan Didion is a legend in the writing world, I had to read her work. A collection of essays, this book offers a sneak peak into the 1960s counterculture movements in the United States. For a millennial like myself, it shed light on the generational experiences of the youth of this era. It also paints a very non-flattering image of hippies, suggesting it was drugs and anxiety, not just peace and love. The book made me miss the wide tree-lined streets of suburban America and its endless highways. From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters, this land was made for you and me.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This one deserves all possible praise for taking the creative nonfiction genre to another level. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, the woman behind the so called HeLa cells which have been maintained in tissue culture since 1951 and used in research ever since. Who was the woman behind the cells? Rebecca Skloot paints the image of Henrietta, a descendant of slaves in the South of the United States, a woman who carried many children and died of cervic cancer at a young age. During one of her routine visits to the doctor the doctor took a cell sample which was then used in research without her permission. This was a controversial time in medicine as black people were used as research objects most often without their consent. The book circulates around Henrietta’s children and relatives who have been struggling their whole life and never received any compensation for their mother’s contribution to science. It is a statement on the ethics of science and the importance of acknowledging the worth of a every single human being.
Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? by Alan Weisman. Weisman’s book The World Without Us (2007) was a bestseller and an applauded nonfiction book. I didn’t read it, but jumped straight into his newest one, a massive piece of work dealing with nothing less than the fate of the human civilization. It is above all a book about people – the world’s population which is ever expanding and thus requires more and more food, land, water and energy. Weisman approaches these huge themes by traveling around the world meeting people and listening to their answers on the critical question: how many people can the earth support? Population growth is often not a very popular theme in intergovernmental discussions and treaties as it touches a very fundamental, sensitive part of our lives. But this is exactly want Weisman wants to address. He states very clearly in his book that slowing the rate of our procreation is the only means to live on this planet without going towards a future which is doomed. Sound gloomy? It is gloomy, it is touchy. You should read it anyhow.
How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Privacy by Stephen Witt. When was your first encounter with mp3 downloads? I was 13 years old and my cousin sent me some music, maybe Eminem, maybe Limp Bizkit (obviously). It was harmless, it was innocent, it felt powerful – music was free. Except that it wasn’t. Most of those songs we downloaded (the word ‘steal’ is not preferred) were leaked by an organized group of people who smuggled pre-release albums out of record manufacturing plants in the U.S. The ‘Scene’ had sources inside various plants: music, movies, games, everything was leaked. FBI tried to find these guys for years until they were finally caught. But was that the end of the story (nope)?Are big record label bosses still filthy rich (spoiler alert: hell yes). And who are the real losers in the game (spoiler alert: artists!)? A fascinating read for all music lovers.
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. This is non-fiction book written by American historians of science. It’s become so popular it was made into a documentary some years after its release in 2010. Merchants of Doubt are in the book described as a handful of people who have been instrumental in creating confusion about issues on which scientific consensus has already been reached. By doing this they been effective in halting common action towards pressing issues. The book sheds light on how controversy on tobacco smoking, acid rain, DDT and the hole in the ozone layer was kept alive by a handful of scientists (joining hands with corporations and conservative think tanks). This same tactique is now used in the ‘debate’ about climate change. This is a very powerful – and scary – book, a must-read during these times when anyone is able to manifest their opinions online. In that jungle of opinions the role of media as the defender of factual information becomes even more important.