Thursday, 29 May 2014

Maya Angelou


A truly great and gifted person passed away yesterday: Maya Angelou.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was on my school syllabus, alongside Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird.

Later in life I discovered her poem Still I Rise, which I still think is one of the best poems I've ever read. Sassy, hard-hitting and thought-provoking. Originally I was going to include a picture with a quote, but Angelou uttered so many deeply profound thoughts, it's best to read through them yourself.

I learned of her death on the TV screen of a hotel in Kigali, and raised my drink in a silent toast.

Still I Rise 
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise. 
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room. 
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise. 
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries. 
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard. 
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise. 
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs? 
Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore


Just finished reading an absolutely excellent book: Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

A friend introduced me to it whilst I was visiting Kenya. I haven't read a book that quickly in quite a while, it's extremely easy going and engaging - plus I like the trippy cover.

Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a Web-design drone and serendipity coupled with sheer curiosity has landed him a new job working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. And it doesn't take long for Clay to realize that the quiet, dusty book emporium is even more curious than the name suggests. 
There are only a few fanatically committed customers, but they never seem to actually buy anything, instead they simply borrow impossibly obscure volumes perched on dangerously high shelves, all according to some elaborate arrangement with the eccentric proprietor. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has plugged in his laptop, roped in his friends (and a cute girl who works for Google) and embarked on a high-tech analysis of the customers' behaviour. What they discover is an ancient secret that can only be solved by modern means, and a global-conspiracy guarded by Mr. Penumbra himself... who has mysteriously disappeared.

It's a delightful mixture of modern age technology meets ancient secret society in order to crack a centuries-old conundrum. It rather makes you appreciate 'the Venice of our age.'

You also learn quite a bit about the inner workings of Google, which is fairly fascinating. I also had no idea about Mechanical Turk, which outsources data jobs to millions of - mostly Easter European - online workers. This might not sound enthralling, but in the context of the book, it really is quite impressive.

As they say: stuff that used to be hard just isn't hard anymore.

I strongly empathised with Kat, a wonderful character who epitomises the panic of mortality. Perfectly put, and poorly paraphrased: Every day there is something new to see, new discoveries to make, new things you learn - just think what could be achieved if you could preserve someone for a thousand years, how evolved they would become, what else they might be able to achieve and contribute to human progress.

She is desperately looking for immortality in a painfully recognisable way.

Lots of very interesting brain teasers, such as how far into the future can you imagine? So, you get to Star Trek in a couple of hundred years (or maybe sooner) - then what? The future will inevitably happen (bar mass unforeseen disaster), but there is a finite limit to what you can imagine in that future, based on what exists in your present and your history. It seems so obvious when you say it, but I'd never really noticed that before.

So, yes - I really enjoyed this book.

There are some great quotes on GoodReads and ShinyQuote.

There's also an e-mail at the back, which I'm going to contact.

The Order of the Unbroken Spine is looking for new members...

Festina Lente

Monday, 26 May 2014

Book Exchange Global


So good to see this Second Hand Book Exchange at Spinners Web in Nairobi. Book Crossing truly is a global phenomenon. If you want to add an extra dimension of fun to it, check out the Book Crossing Starter Kit and track your second hand books as they travel the world. Spread the word(s).

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Silence is a Woman


Went to see an incredible performance last Saturday at the Goethe Institute in Nairobi. It was a theatrical poetry recital called Silence is a Woman, written and performed by Sitawa Namwalie. Feisty, sassy, challenging and daring. It was absolutely brilliant. They're touring in Kenya at the moment. If you get the chance to see them, do! And if you run an international cultural or drama event, I would urge you to invite them. There's an excellent write-up online.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Fun and Frolics in Laos


Sorry about the silence, dear readers. I have been gallivanting around Laos. You can read all about my explorations on my travel blog.

I leave for Kenya tomorrow, but I will have some exciting news about my new novel shortly. Ghostwoods Books are doing a fabulous job, and I'm extremely excited about this one. Once we're a little further along, I'll finish up the Novel Idea series by explaining how I tackled the submissions process.

Until then, polish your reading specs and get ready for a dark adventure.