Writers, have you ever wished you could write to your favourite author (s) for advice? Did you act on that wish? Did they reply? If yes, then you are a fortunate being. If not, then you are in good company. Like most of us, Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa wished he could write to famous authors for advice.

He’s gone from wanting to write to famous authors to being one! Advice is the gift he blessed us with in this book. With an enviable sui generis wealth of experience as a novelist and a Nobel Prize in Literature to boot, his advice to writers in this book is priceless!

He tackles relevant literary issues such as authenticity, the power of persuasion, style, and the role of the narrator, among others. This a handy expository companion in exploring the anatomy of the novel.

I will share six lessons that spoke to me the most and allow you to unpack more wisdom from the book.

  1. “I think that only those who come to literature as they might to religion, prepared to dedicate their time, energy, and effort to their vocation, have what it takes to really become writers and transcend themselves in their works.”
  2. “There are no novel-writing prodigies. All the greatest, most revered novelists were first apprentice writers whose budding talent required early application and conviction.”
  3. “All stories are rooted in the lives of those who write them; experience is the source from which fiction flows.”
  4. Read constantly, because it is impossible to acquire a rich, full sense of language without reading plenty good literature, and try as much as you can, though this is not quite so easy, not to imitate the styles of the novelists you most admire and who first taught you to love literature.
  5. “That is why no one can teach anyone to create; at most we may be taught to read and write. The rest we must teach ourselves, stumbling falling, and picking ourselves up over and over again. And the most important lesson for me;
  6. “…Forget everything you’ve read in my letters about the structure of the novel, and just sit down and write.”




Have you ever imagined that something as innocuous as planting trees and caring for your environment would make you lots of enemies? Not just enemies but well-connected, powerful, deep-pocket enemies?

Have you ever imagined that you’d be punished because of your gender and assertiveness?

Have you ever imagined that your State would deploy the full force of its military muscle to silence, intimidate, humiliate and crush your spirit?

Have you ever imagined that a daughter of the hoi polloi, with all manner of conundrums thrown in her way, would not only overcome but also receive one of the highest honours known to mankind?

No? Well, neither did Wangari Muta Maathai –Kenya’s sole Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the first woman in East and Central Africa to receive a doctoral degree.

She tells her life’s story like only she can. She’s seen it all. Colonialism and its ravaging effects, racism, sexism, neo-colonialism, patriarchy, divorce, political harassment, intimidation, gross violation of her rights and death of loved ones. She’s also seen life, happiness, hope, local and international awards. More importantly, she’s experienced fulfilment from doing and fighting for what she loves.  This a story of a woman who not only talked the talk but also walked the walk!

Karura Forest and Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Kenya are symbols of her resolve, tenacity and love for the environment. She must be proud that the government of Kenya finally banned the use of plastic bags!

Prof. Maathai has been brutally beaten, recklessly insulted, unfairly incarcerated, and unjustifiably humiliated by her own government. She’s been disowned by her friends and associates. She’s also been divorced. What did she do, you ask? Well she committed the high crime of being a trailblazing, record-breaking, glass-shattering, unapologetic woman!

Yet every time, she’s found the will to get up more times than she was knocked down. She’s found a way to turn her rage into unstoppable impetus! Of everything she’s been told she couldn’t be or do because she was a woman, she choose to be unbowed!

In the world we now live in, with the harrowing effects of climate change as clear as crystal, her words are even more important now:

“You don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.”

She’s bold, honest, vulnerable and above all, unbowed!




Richard Donkin uses his years of experience and the benefit of hindsight to paint a picture of how the next few years of work would look like. Will the fusion of work, rest and leisure still be a source of tension then as it is now? With the wave of technology only getting stronger and stronger, will people still be going to offices and factories? Will there still be fewer women than men in executive positions? What of the youth? Will there even be jobs or will machines totally have replaced human labour?

Will Donkin’s definition of work; “Something we would rather not be doing,” still hold true?

Needless to say, the power of the internet is an overarching theme in this book. He draws from real-life events such as the role an army of activists organized through web-based social networks played in getting President Obama to the Oval; and how the power of the internet has changed the nature of representative democracy and governance.

How, for example, will the fact that much of the internet’s social and information-sharing structure does not belong to some grand strategy or political power broker, but instead that it relies on sparks of innovation, affect the nature of work as we know it today? What of the influence of collective volunteerism as seen in the case of Wikipedia and so much more.

He is however unequivocal on one thing;

“No matter how successful it (internet) becomes in replicating our everyday existence, the virtual world of the internet will never replace the vital, living, breathing, sensory experience of human interaction.”

This is a thorough and riveting book that inspires as much as it enlightens. Take for example his view on the certificates we get from school. It is these certificates that employers use to make their judgements about one’s suitability for a given job. Yet, the truth is, rarely do those certificates we labour for tell employers about our creativity or problem-solving skills. They instead are mere testaments of one’s ability to remember facts.

This book is about work and the way it is evolving and Richard’s assertion is that we must also evolve to meet the grand challenges of the future.





Very Good Lives was the title of the speech that J.K. Rowling gave to her commencement address delivered at Harvard University, in 2008. Like all her literary works, it proved to not only be enchanting but also timeless. So timeless it was that it was published into book form in 2015. Coming twenty one years after her own graduation, she premised her address on what she wish she had known when she was graduating and the important lessons she has learned since.

She came up with three answers; the benefits of failure, the importance of imagination and the power of friendships.

Having been brought up by parents who came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, they didn’t think her idea of work would ever pay a mortgage or secure a pension. Seven years after her graduation day, she had had an exceptionally short-lived marriage, was jobless, a single-parent and poor. The fears that her parents had for her had come to pass, or at least it seemed so.

However, it’s in this dark cloud that she found her silver lining. In her words, had she really succeeded at anything else, she might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena she truly believed she belonged. Thus, rock bottom became the solid foundation on which she rebuilt her life. Hence her assertion;

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all- in which case you fail by default.”

She is now one of the wealthiest people on the planet and the highest-paid author of 2019 per Forbes.[1]

The premium she places on imagination is founded on her experience in her early twenties at the African research department of Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. She recalls reading hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. She also recalls reading the testimonies of torture victims and seeing pictures of their injuries. Opening handwritten witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rape.

It is these experiences, as well as working with ex-political prisoners, and the exiled that truly revealed to her the power of imagination. The power of empathy. That;

“Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experiences. They can think themselves into other people’s places.”

And because of this;

“One might use such an ability to manipulate or control just as much as to understand or sympathize.”

On friendships, she encouraged the grandaunts to hold dear to their own, as the friends she graduated with, “bound by enormous affection by their shared experience of a time that could never come again”, have remained her friends for life. They are her kids’ godparents and people she can turn to in times trouble.

J.K. Rowling’s advice to Harvard’s class of 2008 was as instrumental to them as it is to anyone who desires a meaningful, fulfilling and very good life!

That, my dear readers, that is how I start this new year, this new decade!

Welcome to another year of reading unapologetically, widely, voraciously and objectively!






What I Know For Sure is the culmination of rereading fourteen years’ worth of columns in a bid to answer Gene Siskel’s question, “What do you know for sure?” It is written by the sole African-American Billionaire on Forbes list of America’s Richest Women, Oprah Winfrey.

In this book, she writes on the things that matter most to her in life. What would matter to a self-made billionaire? The jets? The yachts? Wining and dining with the high and mighty? Nope! The things that matter to her, as per her account, are things like joy, resilience, awe, connection and possibility. Pretty modest for a billionaire, yes?

What I Know For Sure offers riveting insight to the life of Oprah Winfrey. Herein she indulges you in the whole gamut. Her difficult upbringing being raised by a teenage mother, suffering sexual abuse that resulted in pregnancy, self-worth and self-esteem issues, issues with her weight, relationship problems, her early successes that led to her to building the fortune she now enjoys, and everything in between.

She is candid, real, and honest. This book is laden with a few old truths and some hard-earned insights. In her words, it is her “own private book of revelations.”

This is the account of the daughter of a poor, unwed teenage mom, born at the apogee of racism, the victim of child sexual abuse who turned her life around to become the tenth richest woman in America, with a net worth of $2.6 Billion dollars! She has since used her wealth to do good and ensure that women all over the world grow up and have better opportunities in life than she did!

It is a book of hope, lessons, and insights!




Ever wondered why some people who are irrefutably dextrous just seem to be getting by while others who are not as intellectually gifted seem to be comparably successful and happy? Why a high I.Q alone doesn’t result in being an excellent leader, spouse or employee? Well, Jean greaves has just two words for you; Emotional Intelligence!

Emotional intelligence has been around since time immemorial. Remember when King Solomon made his timeless land mark ruling in the dispute of paternity between the two women and the child in the Bible? It wasn’t just his divine wisdom. A lot of it had to do with his level of emotional intelligence.

As Patrick Lencioni, President of the Table Group aptly captured in his foreword of this book, “As a society we continue to focus most of our self-improvement energy in the pursuit of knowledge, experience, intelligence and education.” However, human beings are a complex web of emotions. Owing to this, only those who understand how these emotions fundamentally influence our lives, can be truly successful and happy.

Jean Greaves does an excellent job in demystifying this unnecessarily obscure concept of emotional intelligence. She also equips the reader with four skills essential in emotional intelligence. She further shares practical examples of how having (and also lacking) each affects us as individuals.

Her research spanning over sixteen years and involving millions of people has revealed a connection between top achievers and their levels of emotional intelligence. The inspiring news is that unlike I.Q., emotional intelligence isn’t fixed. With a little work, you can greatly improve it. If this book is anything to go by, an improved emotional intelligence will have a ripple effect in your work, relationships and being generally.

Dig in and find out more!





Joe Khamisi, a Kenyan historian par excellence, delivers his fourth book with this instalment. He once again musters the audacity to take the bull by the horns and addresses Kenya’s open secret-The plunder of public resources and abuse of office by the elite. In his quintessential fashion, this is a thoroughly researched piece of literature that sheds light on Kenya’s greatest undoing.

Joe Khamisi chronicles the genesis of this avarice which began with the British colonialists. He follows its continuation and indeed perfection, by the independence and post-independence governments. He doesn’t mince his words and neither does he skirt around the bush.

He explores everything that has bedevilled this country from; corruption, assassinations, abuse of office, electoral malpractices and everything in between. Indeed, this cancer that has proved inoculate to the chemotherapy of investigative bodies, public demonstrations and furore, and the radiotherapy of radical judicial surgery, has been as deliberate as it has been systemic.

This is THE book for anyone who seeks to better understand the state of our country, her history, how we got here and why we are still talking about slaying the dragon of corruption, FIFTY SIX YEARS after independence.