We had a few hours to burn at Ataturk Airport, Istanbul. The chap I was travelling with, Shukri Adan of Turkish Airlines, looked at his watch and said, “I will be at the bookstore, D&R, down that way. Si you find me there when you are done?” I took off in the opposite direction to go admire Patek Philippe timepieces because a man is allowed at least one big dream a day.
“How much is that?” I asked the attendant with a ginger beard and blue eyes.
I regarded the timepiece with awe. My old self would have thought of that in terms of school fees or rent but someone, a much older man who has found success, told me never to equate the things you want with other things or you will never be able to buy anything that makes you happy. “Don’t negate your aspirations.” He said.
“What about this one?” I pointed at another.
A bored voice came out of the ginger beard: “ 815 dollars.”
Sometimes I suspect that these shop attendants just throw figures at customers they know aren’t going to buy these luxury products, just so that they can see their reactions which is shortsighted because I could be Nigerian and buy three of those watches AND leave him a tip for his beard. If I wore an $815 timepiece on my left wrist, I’d never use it for anything unworthy. In fact, I’d insure the whole hand.
I found Shukri at the bookstore. The air in the bookstore smelled of words and paragraphs. A cash register machine opened with a clang. Airport bookstores are bliss, except JKIA Terminal 1A, which is a few rows of books that don’t surprise. (Is the size of an airport’s bookstore an indicator of the reading culture of that country?)
Shukri held up a book like he was swearing under oath in court and said with glee, “I have been looking for this book for ages.” I took the book from his hand: “A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. (Best Seller). I turned the book over and read the blurb. It’s about biology and history and how those two have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be human. There were six species of humans on earth 100,000 years ago, yet today there is only one – homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And will the same fate befall us? The book seeks to answer these questions that Shukri was dying to know. Shukri wants to know what happened to the other five species. I bet it gives him sleepless nights thinking about the fate that befell homo erectus.
I make fun of him now but I was impressed by his cerebral choice of literature which compared to mine makes me look like a complete eejit.
I was embarrassed to admit my choice of literature because I would have picked The People I want To Punch In The Throat by Jen Mann or Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh over some book on the history of the China Wall. I read for knowledge like everybody else but mostly I read for entertainment and to learn as a writer. I like silly books that make me laugh out loud in the middle of the night when I lose sleep. I don’t want to read books that have footnotes and references. I don’t want to stop reading a book to let my brain cool down. I want to read with a smile or a smirk on my face or a deep frown when the heroine is sitting on the edge of a ledge contemplating suicide. I don’t want to read some erudite thing about what happened to the other five species. I obviously feel a moderate level of remorse for those five human species, I do. I empathise that they didn’t make it here to this golden age of Instagram and Tinder, but that’s life, isn’t it? Some will miss the train. Homo habilis, I’m sorry you are not here to enjoy pizza on Terrific Tuesdays.
“Do you really enjoy heavy books like these?” I asked Shukri.
“Well, yeah,” he said. “I think it’s fascinating to understand the history of mankind and what evolution means to us, because we are still evolving, I believe. I think this book is very thought provoking.”
I also think the price of a Patek Phillippe is thought provoking, I wanted to add. I pictured Shukri losing sleep at 3am and reading about the “cognitive revolution, the emergence of fictive language or the human dispersal” and enjoying it immensely in that pre-dawn silence. Oh well, to each his own.
I looked at this list he has on his phone of books he’s looking for:
The Complacent Class – By Tyler Cowen.
The Sellout – By Paul Beaty
Freakonomics- By Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
The Africans – By David Lamb (Read this one, great book)
Sapiens – By Yuval Noah (What is it with Shukri and early man?)
Republics – Plato
Capitalism and Freedom – By Milton Friedman.
“Are you looking for a book yourself?” He asked.
Was I going to admit that I might have been on the look out for You Are Only Old Once, by Dr Seuss? A book that has a blurb that reads:
“Is this a children’s book?
You buy a copy for your child now
and you give it to him on his 70th birthday.”
I wasn’t. Not to someone who reads Freakonomics.
We later strolled to our gate to wait for boarding as we talked about the speed of reading books: He’s a fast reader, he can read a book in a couple of days. I take three weeks with a book. I soak in a book, I go back to read paragraphs and chapters. I sometimes read a great paragraph and I just sit still, savouring that feeling of having consumed something magical. But I’m also easily distracted. If I want to eat a banana in the middle of a riveting story, I will stop and go look for a banana. Words are not perishable, bananas are.
Here is my (not so cerebral) reading list of the books I have consumed lately.
LUNCH WITH THE FT: 52 CLASSIC INTERVIEWS- LIONEL BARBER
The Financial Times picked 52 greatest interviews they have ever ran on ‘Lunch with the FT’ column. It’s journalism on a different scale. It’s writing like you have never read; captivating prose, cutting-edge writing and the skill to capture the essence of subjects in a way that is as far away from the financial times DNA without it being too far off. I loved it since it’s in my line of trade because I do business profile interviews weekly and every time I always ask myself, “How can I best tell this person’s story differently?” And what better way than to look for inspiration from the men and women of FT who write so beautifully?
ME BEFORE YOU, BY JOJO MOYES
This book kept popping up in various articles I was reading online. Amazon kept telling me, “You might also like this,” or “The customers who bought this book you have just bought also bought this book!” It seemed like a love story and I’m averse to love stories because people always end up together forever and there is nothing more boring than knowing the end of a story. Anyway I bought it and it wasn’t too bad because there was a guy on a wheelchair, paralysed neck down and the girl who he fell in love with, she had a lousy fashion sense but made up for it with her brilliant wit. So wit and wheelchair. Witchair. Decent story.
Quote:“… if you’re going to wear a dress like that you need to wear it with confidence. You need to fill it out mentally as well as physically.”
A MOVEABLE FEAST, BY ERNEST HEMINGWAY
Recommended by my friend PG because any “self respecting writer has to have read Hemingway.” This was before Hemingway made it, when he was in France, drinking wine and whisky, cultivating his budding arrogance and artistic aloofness and loving his then new wife while living in the shadow of a persisting struggle and the grit that comes with fighting the ensuing indignity. The book didn’t go anywhere though, it felt like watching a dog race. Read it only because Hemingway invented the turn of phrase.
Quote: “You should only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad.”
MY GRANDMOTHER SENDS HER REGARDS AND APOLOGIES, BY FREDRIK BACKMAN
I read his earlier book A Man Called Ove because Kindle was flogging it for a song. It was like eating funeral food. I read three chapters and tossed it out the window because life sometimes is too short to read a book you don’t connect with. It has not too shabby reviews on Amazon, though.
ROGUE LAWYER- JOHN GRISHAM
For the longest time I thought Grisham was the holy grail. Then I outgrew him. After many years I went back and gave this one a crack and it felt like sitting with someone who starts their stories with, “Let me me tell you something that will make you laugh…”
Quote: “…everything is carefully designed to make people crave the food that looks far more delicious on the walls than on the tables.”
GIRL ON THE TRAIN- PAULA HAWKINS
The heroine drinks. And forgets things. She wakes up with a hangover and the taste of sickness at the back of her throat. There is a manipulative man and a house that overlooks the railway tracks. There is blood and romance – sometimes at the same time. People beg. Some die. A kind-hearted roommate presides over this tale without being a part of it. It rains often.
Quote: “Life is not a paragraph, and death is no parenthesis.”
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL- ANTHONY BOURDAIN
Wonderful book even if you don’t care too much about restaurants and food. Fast paced and full of texture and aroma. Bourdain gives everybody who struggles hope. He doesn’t care because there are a lot curse words. It’s a great book. Also try his other book, Medium Raw, also a good read full of pace and literal panache. His books have done very well.
Quote: “Writing anything is a treason of sorts.”
HOW TO BE A HUSBAND- TIM DOWLING
I discovered Tim in The Guardian. He writes a weekly family column, quite eccentric, self deprecating. His writing is deceptively simple. His wife is the heroine in his stories by her relentless capacity to be mean and nasty towards him. She’s British, he’s American, so I guess he deserves it a little. I read all his old articles then I was left with that feeling when you don’t know what to do with your life when you have read a writer’s every work. When you vaguely recall how you you used to fill your time before your started reading them. Then I discovered he had written a book, I bought that also. It starts great until he starts feeling like a handbook. Towards the end I couldn’t wait to finish it so that I could read something else. You might like it, he’s funny and a bit of a coward. Plus he plays the goddamn banjo. In real life. Like I said, he deserves a nasty wife.
AN EDUCATION- LYNN BARBER
She’s over 70, Lynn. Writes for the Sunday Times and has written for the Guardian and a bunch of other publications. She’s been interviewing celebrities close to four decades now. A real pro. She is unconventional, has no sense of filter, asks rude questions in interviews, writes honestly and without favour. She’s a brutal and honest writer. Smokes a lot. I just bought two of her books; this one and A Curious Career. I don’t know which one to start with. It’s like deciding between fish and chicken. I just finished Dowling’s book and now I’m preparing to dive into one of Lynn’s books. There is a sense of anticipation and excitement.
Tonight I will start with one after I have done pinki-pinki-ponky. I will pick one when I’m showered and it’s quiet and the sheets are clean against my skin. I hope it rains. It’s nice when it’s raining and you are reading a book you love.
Very quickly, this is my editor, Yvonne’s, list:
The Ghosts of 1894- Oduor Jagero
Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese
Born a Crime – Trevor Noah (Everybody says this book is a hoot).
When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
The River and The Source – Margaret Ogola
The Man Without a Face, The unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin – Masha Gessen. (I’m a Putin fan, I have to read this).
There, what are have you been reading lately? Please share it here with a para about why we should read it?