‘LIFT’-A REVIEW

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Sloan’s erstwhile wealthy parents are found guilty of economic fraud, incarcerated and dispossessed of their property. Sloan is condemned to the mortifying fall from penthouse high rise to foster care. When she leaves foster care at eighteen, she discovers that she has become a pariah. Her friends are avoiding her. She has nowhere to go.

When she runs into an old acquaintance Cara, who lets her sleep on her couch and drive her car, but at a fee, she eagerly agrees without demur. Sloan now drives a cab for money. She has to give part of this money to Cara to buy coke. Sure, she knows it’s wrong, but you never bite the hand that feeds you, no? She therefore has to put up with a drug addict and her pervert brother, Lance.

On one of her late night drives, she picks Harry Hill, whom she almost pepper sprayed. Luckily, he diffused that situation and made the most of it. The relationship graduated from strangers who were apprehensive of each other, to friends who shared meals, to lovers who could barely keep their hands of each other!

This book is peppered by the interminable saliently sultry and sensual literary arousing, quintessential of Alexa Riley. As the book cover suggests, it’s the kind of book that invades your imagination and makes it run amok. It’s fast-paced, steamy and undeniably captivating!

REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO

‘DEMOCRACY’- A REVIEW

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Picture this: the descendant of slaves, born in 1954 in the brutally racial state of Birmingham, Alabama, at the apogee of the Jim Crow era, no less! Fewer situations could rival such a bad hand! Yet despite being buffeted with the odds, Dr. Condoleezza Rice rose to not only beat all of them but trail blaze a path for future generations of women.

Thus far she’s beaten the hardscrabble of racism, sexism, patriarchy, and the soft-bigotry of low expectations to become THE WOMAN! She’s holds a PhD in Political Science; is a professor at Stanford University and was the first woman and African American selected as the Provost of Stanford; served as an adviser to both President Bush 41 and Bush 43; she was the first black woman to be appointed as National Security Adviser and as the Secretary of State of the United States. If her appointment as Stanford’s Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution is anything to go by, she’s only beginning!

She used her enviable tapestry in international relations, diplomacy, political science, academia and policy to write this richly informative book on democracy. The word so simple in theory but much more complex in practice.

With more and more people world over demanding for accountability from their leaders and fighting more than ever for their freedom, this book couldn’t be more relevant now! Here, I will share a few lessons I learned from her, and then leave you to find out a lot more in the book.

  1. “Every democracy is flawed at its inception. And indeed, no democracy ever becomes perfect.”
  2. The first president of a country sets the tone for how future presidents will behave.”
  3. “Democracy requires balance in many spheres: between executive, legislative and judicial authority; between centralised government and regional responsibility; between civilian and military leaders; between individual and group rights; and ultimately between state and society. In functioning democracies, institutions are invested with protecting that equilibrium.”
  4. “The work of building a stable democracy is never really done. The institutions are constantly challenged, sometimes in small ways, and often in more fundamental tests.”
  5. “Democracy’s development is never a straight line. Rather, it is a step wise process that will often include steps backwards along the way.”
  6. “The defense of democracy is never finished.”
  7. “Human rights advocates, women in politics, business and social entrepreneurs, and intellectuals are the vanguard of a new energy – bottom up – for change.
  1. “It is useful to think of the process of building democracy as climbing steep stairs – move forward, stop on a landing if you must, consolidate, and move forward again.”
  2. “The fact is that institutions can exist on paper, but they have no power until people come to put faith in them. No one really knows how strong an institution is until it is tested.”
  1. “Human beings have to have the opportunity to develop their potential through education. A country that fails to provide all its people with equal access to education will most assuredly be a place of hardened inequality.”

These lessons and the many more in the book, are as relevant to advanced democracies as they are to developing ones and even those contemplating that journey.

REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO

 

‘A FEMINIST MANIFESTO IN FIFTEEN SUGGESTIONS’- A REVIEW

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What started off as a response to a friend’s request on how to raise her daughter as a feminist, meta-sized into this book. True to its title, this book contains practical, realistic and timely nuggets of wisdom on feminism. That it was written by a remarkably accomplished, fearlessly confident, and unapologetic feminist, ennobles the content herein.

This book spoke to me because I yearn for an equal and equitable world for everyone. It’s something I hope my young nieces (when they come of age), and everyone in general, read. These are the lessons that spoke to me the most. I shall leave them here for two principal reasons. One, for my nieces to read when they come of age. Two, because this is a conversation we must never tire of having.

  1. “Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person.”
  2. “Domestic work and care-giving should be gender-neutral, and we should be asking not whether a woman can ‘do it all’ but how best to support parents in their dual duties at work and at home.”
  3. “The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking – domestic work in general – is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women.”
  4. “Our world is full of men and women who do not like powerful women. We have been so conditioned to think of power as male that a powerful woman is an aberration.”
  5. “Books will help her understand and question the world, help her express herself, and help her in whatever she wants to become – a chef, a scientist, a singer, all benefit from the skills that reading brings. I don’t mean school books. I mean books that have nothing to do with school, autobiographies and novels and histories.”
  6. “Teach her that if you criticize X in women but don’t criticize X in men, then you do not have a problem with X, you have a problem with women. For X please insert words like anger, ambition, loudness, stubbornness, coldness, ruthlessness.”
  7. “Teach her to reject likeability. Her job is not to make herself likeable, her job is to be her full self, a self that is honest and aware of the equal humanity of other people.”
  8. “If another child takes her toy without her permission, ask her to take it back, because her consent is important. Tell her that if anything ever makes her uncomfortable, to speak up, to say it, to shout.”
  9. “Be deliberate also about showing her the enduring beauty and resilience of Africans and of black people. Why? Because of the power dynamics in the world, she will grow up seeing images of white beauty, white ability and white achievement, no matter where she is in the world. She will probably grow up seeing many negative images of blackness and of Africans. Teach her to take pride in the history of Africans, and in the black diaspora. Find black heroes, men and women, in history. They exist.”
  10. “Teach her about privilege and inequality and the importance of giving dignity to everyone who does not mean her harm – teach her that the household help is human just like her, teach her to always greet the driver.”
  11. “Teach her that Biology is an interesting and fascinating subject, but she should never accept it as justification for any social norm. Because social norms are created by human beings, and there is not social norm that can’t be changed.”
  12. “Talk to her about sex, and start early. It will probably be a bit awkward but it is necessary.”
  13. “Teach her to reject the linking of shame and female biology. Why were we raised to speak in low tones about periods? To be filled with shame if our menstrual blood happened to stain our skirt? Periods are nothing to be ashamed of. Periods are normal and natural, and the human species would not be here if periods did not exist.”
  14. “Teach her that to love she must give of herself emotionally but she must also expect to be given to.”

Whereas the book was primarily dedicated to a woman about raising her daughter, the lessons herein are important and relevant to everyone else.

REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO

 

 

‘LETTERS TO A YOUNG NOVELIST’-A REVIEW

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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.”

REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO

‘UNBOWED’-A REVIEW

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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!

REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO

 

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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.

REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO

 

‘VERY GOOD LIVES’-A REVIEW

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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!

REVIEW BY AURA BILLY OSOGO

[1]https://www.forbes.com/profile/jk-rowling/#3cd3941c3aeb