Twenty Good Books To Read

Twenty Good Books To Read

Thursday, April 27, 2017 12:53 pm

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi

April 23rd is International Book Day. For those who are always ‘too busy’, ‘too tired’, or ‘too distracted’ to read a book from page one to the end, this is a time for you to reflect on what you are missing. To mark International Book Day last year, I wrote about ‘Thirty of my faovurite books’. This year I present some more books with the hope that you might be interested in a few of them. Some of the books were published recently, some are old, but their message is not. Last year I got feedback that I should have written something about each book. I have tried to do it this time, but it means I don’t have space for more than twenty.I have checked and almost all ofthese books are available through online bookstores.

These are some books I have read recently:

1. The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, Little, Brown and Company, 2015
An award-winning, hauntingly captivating story about four brotherswhose lives and fortunes can be read as a metaphor for their country Nigeria. Chigozie tells a story of the dangers of what happens when oversight lapses, even for a short while.

2. What is Not Yours is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeyemi, 2016
This collection of short stories which vary in theme, depth and location is a strong showing from a talented British-Nigerian writer. Look out for the story ‘Books and Roses’.

3. The Chibok Girls, The Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria, Helon Habila, Columbia Global Reports, 2016

The acclaimed writer Helon Habila takes on the responsibility of weaving a coherent and credible narrative about the Boko Haram insurgency and the fate of the missing Chibok girls. A must read for anyone who needs an understanding of the complex issues involved in the crisis.

4. ‘I’m Judging You’: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi, 2016
This is one book you need to read, no matter how lazy or book-averse you are.Those who are habitually late to events, the skin bleaching addicts with their ‘Coke and Fanta complexions’, the body shaming brigade, the never mind your own business army, those who did not get the memo that love is not blind, Luvvy Ajayi is judging you!

5. Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, by Shonda Rhimes, published by Simon and Schuster, 2015
Shonda Rhimes is the awesome writer and showrunner of the US hit shows Greys Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. This book is about the one year Shonda decided to say Yes to herself and no to denial, procrastination and avoidance, with thrilling results.

6. Power, Politics and Death: Segun Adeniyi, 2011
This book is a gripping account of what transpired, mostly behind the scenes during the rule and final months of President Umaru Musa Yaradua of Nigeria. Forget the beer parlour gossip you heard during that time. This honest and sometimes heartbreaking account is a critical part of our recent history

For those of you wondering why Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie keeps winning all those international honours:
7. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, HarperCollins, UK 2015
This was originally a TEDx Talk that Chimamanda gave in 2012. It was such a hit that not only was it turned into a short book, it became a recommended text for all sixteen year olds in Sweden. This is the one Beyonce included in her album Flawless.

8. Iweajele: A Feminist Manifesto in 15 Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Knopf, 2017
If you give birth to a baby of any gender, do not ask someone like Chimamanda to give you advice. By the time she has finished you will find yourself reading a book. A very good one though.

9. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013
If you have not read Americanah by now, it is time to crawl out of the cave you have been hibernating in. You are out? Good. Now do these three things, 1) Don’t tell anyone you have not read it yet, 2) read it and 3)read the ones before it like Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sunand the exquisite short story collection That Thing Round Your Neck.

Recently someone I was having a conversation with lamented the lack of autobiographies written African women. I agreed with her but pointed out that there are some interesting autobiographies out there and I am not sure enough people are reading them or have access. Here are a few:

10. This Child Will be Great, by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 2009
This is the story of the first democratically elected African female President. She was not a political heiress or proxy of a political icon. Let us just say that her life of being a survivor of abuse, mother, political activist, prisoner and leader has not been an easy one. The word ‘Great’ does not begin to describe her.

11. Unbowed, A Memoir by Wangari Maathai
Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) was the ‘Iron Lady’ of Kenya. A scholar, environmentalist, community mobiliser and later on in life, a politician, Wangari won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her outstanding work on environmental issues.

12. Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee
This book by Leymah Gbowee, 2011 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is about the role women in Liberia played during the years of the civil war in that country. Leymah tells the fascinating story of how women in Liberia built movements across religious and ethnic differences, to mobilise, pray and advocate together to force an end to the war.

13. Love and Courage; A Story of Insubordination by Pregs Govender, Jacana Life, 2007
Pregs Govender is a South African political activist, feminist, trade unionist and politician. This is the story of a politician with integrity, something that is a bit of an oxymoron.

Last year I was with a group of young women talking about African women and writing. One of them declared that she has never come across a compilation of writings of African women. I told her about a project I am familiar with, the Women Writing Africa (WWA) project which started in the 1990s. She had never heard of it. The books were compiled over a period of at least ten years, with scholars and writers from several African countries working in collaboration. In the interests of space I am listing them as a single entry, but please note that each volume is at least 400 pages.

14. Women Writing Africa, The Southern Africa Region ( Volume 1, 2003) Women Writing Africa, West Africa and the Sahel (Volume 2, 2005) Women Writing Africa The Eastern Region (Volume 3, 2007) and Women Writing Africa, The Northern Region (Volume 4, 2009). All of them were published by the Feminist Press.

The WWA books painstakingly record the words of African women from ancient times to the present, using poetry, wise sayings, songs, colonial documents, diary entries, court papers, prose, and private correspondence.

15. Daughters of Africa, Margaret Busby, Jonathan Cape Publishers, 1992.
This is an international anthology of writings by women of African descent, a great collection by the trail-blazing Ghanaian-British writer and publisher Margaret Busby. I will never forget how I felt when I held my first copy of this magnificent book just after it was launched in London in 1992, it was such a great feeling. Over the years, people would give me the book as a birthday or Christmas present and I never told anyone that I already had it. I did what you always have to do when you have more than you need – I give it to someone else who deserves it.

Other books which I would like to recommend are:

16.The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin, 2010
A funny, yet profound story of survival, deceit and the predictable pitfalls of polygamy.

17. Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures) True Stories From a War Zone by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson, Miramax Books, 2004.

Well, I did buy thebook wanting to know what ‘Emergency Sex’ was only to find out that the title was a ruse. There was some sex alright, but it was mostly about something most people do not pay attention to. It was about the real-life stories of Aid workers serving in dangerous war zones around the world. Their names are not in headlines neither do they feature in glossy magazines. Yet their courage and sacrifices make the world so much safer for millions.

18. Jailed for Life, a Reporter’s Prison Notes by Kunle Ajibade, Heinemann Educational Books, 2003

From 1995-1998, Kunle Ajibade, a top reporter and journalist was imprisoned alongside
military and civilian personnel, accused of plotting a coup against the then military administration. Kunle’s notes of his arrest, torture and years of incarceration serve as a reminder that some people sacrificed more than they should have, for the benefits of democracy we enjoy today in Nigeria.

19. Conversations With My Sons and Daughters by Mamphela Ramphele, Penguin Books 2012.
A passionate, inter-generational commentary from one of the most brilliant African women of her generation. If you don’t know who she is please Google her. You will be amazed.

20. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, Picador, 1999.
This is a work of non-fiction and is one of the most powerful narratives about the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Recommended for anyone who thinks ethnic jingoism or xenophobia of any kind is not a problem.

So this is my list for this year. I hope you will find time to read a few of them. Let us read as often as we can brothers and sisters. We should never be too tired, too busy or too distracted. The Facebook, Twitter and Instagram ‘warriors’ are never too tired.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of, an online community for women. She can be reached at

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