Right Steps & Poui Trees


8 Books I Plan To Reread This Year

three-booksWhen I think about it, there are not that many books that I have reread over the years, though there have always been some books that I have intended to reread. So this year, I’m going to do some intentional rereading and here are eight books on my list.

1. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

I read this when I was 12 or 13 and it consumed me for a couple of weeks. I squeezed it into every spare moment. I remember a few times being so engrossed reading it on the bus from school that I missed my usual bus stop and had a longer walk home than usual. I cried when I finished it, as I wanted the fantastical journey to go on forever. My older brother was surprised to find out recently that I had never reread Lord of the Rings, as he says he rereads it every few years.

2. Augustown by Kei Miller

As soon as I finished reading Augustown a few weeks ago, I had an immediate impulse to go to the beginning and start reading it again. As though there was some seamless way in which this story could (should) keep playing out. I can’t remember ever having had that impulse with another book. There is a compelling mix of the historical story of Bedward, the groundedness of people and communities dealing with real life in the 80s and the mythical and fabulous running through it all. Cutting of hair was revived in Jamaican public discourse last year, demonstrating that things past are still present and things fictional are often not fictional at all.

3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the first of Adichie’s books that I read and I felt its impact for a long time after I read it. There is something monumental about the novel, which captures brilliantly that sense of people living their lives into and through a major historical event or period. As the reader, you may know to some degree the outcome of the event or the details of the period, but what you don’t know is what will happen to the fictional characters. When I read this time,  I will already know what happens in this novel about the Nigeria-Biafra war. And I want to see what difference that makes to how I experience this amazing story.


young-warriors4. Young Warriors by V.S. Reid

A childhood favourite. My brothers and I went through multiple copies of this children’s novel. Maroon boys helping to defeat Red Coats was good fun. I have read it to younger siblings and cousins and my own children as well, but I’d like to reread it myself one more time, just for fun.


5. 1984 by George Orwell

Because of Donald Trump.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Also because of Donald Trump. By chance, I was reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower at the time of the US election last November and then read Parable of the Talents soon after, both about people trying to survive in a dystopian America. Which was rather eerie. A time for dystopian novels?

the-middle-passage7. The Middle Passage: The Caribbean revisited by V. S. Naipaul

When I was eighteen I read and enjoyed Naipaul’s The Mystic Masseur and Miguel Street. On a Naipaul streak, I then read The Middle Passage. I disliked the book so intensely that it put me off Naipaul for life. Seriously, I have never read any of Naipaul’s other books, fiction or non-fiction. It is a rather shameful admission to make! I have bought a number of his books since then and have long intended to give him another try, but haven’t. So I intend to reread The Middle Passage to see how (if) decades more of living have changed my reaction. Then, perhaps, more Naipaul….

8. Summer Lightning and Other Stories by Olive Senior

This is one of my favourite collections of short stories; I still remember how much I enjoyed it when I first read it back in the late 80s. I have reread individual stories since, but not the entire volume. One story has  perhaps the most intriguing story title I have encountered – “Do Angels Wear Brassieres?” I will have to buy a new copy of the book , as I can’t find my old copy. (Trying to remember if I lent it to someone….)

There are some books I read and enjoyed decades ago that I wouldn’t attempt to read again, as I know that I wouldn’t enjoy them as much now. But it will be interesting to revisit the books on my list as a different reader and to see how that and the passage of time affects the experience. The two books that I read most recently will both stand rereading – Half of a Yellow Sun ( a few years ago) and Augustown (a few weeks ago) – and I  look forward to going beyond the experience of first reading to something more.

(This also makes me think of looking at the books I have reread in the past and my reasons for doing so. Another blog post.)



Add Kei Miller’s “Augustown” to Your To-Read List

I am currently in that temporary space that I sometimes occupy having just finished a book that has captured my imagination for days or weeks, depending on how long it has taken me to read it. The book is finished but I am still inhabiting its world, unwilling or unable to let its time, its place, its people go. This time the book that I have finished but have not yet left is Kei Miller’s novel “Augustown”.augustown

The novel is set in the fictional community of Augustown, geographically located at 17° 59′ 0″ North, 76° 44′ 0″ West, we are told, “a community that bears an uncanny resemblance to and shares a parallel history with a very real place: August Town, Jamaica.” The novel moves between the 1920s and the 1980s and as the narrator says:

“When the past takes hold of us, it does not let go easily. We find ourselves, miraculously, in two places at once.”

Every character in the novel feels as though s/he has been well-seasoned and simmered long. You learn more about some than others, savour some more than others, which is the way with any book. “Irie Tafari, otherwise known as Ma Taffy” is the blind, old woman who bridges the two places in time, telling the story of Alexander Bedward, the flying preacherman, even as we are shepherded towards the autoclaps that takes place in the 1980s. Because when young Kaia runs home crying and tells Ma Taffy “Is the teacher, Grandma. Is Mr Saint-Josephs who cut off my dreadlocks”, you know it can’t end just so. You know, as Ma Taffy knows before she even knows what was done to Kaia, that it can’t end just so:

Ma Taffy lifts the spliff back to her mouth. She is growing nervous. Another coming autoclaps. ‘Steady your heart, Taffy, ‘she whispers to herself. ‘Steady.’

So you journey through time and place, walking into the lives of the characters – Bongo Moody, Mrs G, Miss G, Mr Saint-Josephs, his wife Mary, Governor Leslie Probyn, Sister Gilzene, Soft-Paw and others – and whether you walk with a character for a mile or only a few fleeting steps, you feel you have glimpsed someone real, or someone who could have been real. (Brief note – the only one that feels undone to me is Richard Azaar, the “brash businessman”, who could have done with a pinch more seasoning and half-an-hour more on the stove.)

The novel is an exercise in story-telling, quite explicitly, and has the feel of a fable, of folklore. The story of Bedward, from one perspective or another, is part of both Jamaican history and Jamaican folklore. The story of Rastas having their locks trimmed is also part of Jamaican history and a legendary image of abuse. Kei Miller easily mixes mythical threads with excerpts from Gleaner archives, as he tells a deeply moving story of individual lives and of divisions – class, colour, race, religion, culture –  and the impact on people and communities. Things that are past but are still present.

If you haven’t already, you might want to read “Augustown”.