The books we read tell something about who we are as individuals. The books we write, say something about who we are as people belonging to a country, to a culture, to a religion.
Books have the power to stir social change, to enlighten, to challenge ideas, ideals, to change the world. Books are made holy, and are burnt as signs of protest or of freedom.
For World Book Day we, at Words in The Bucket, want to take the chance to share something about us. We hand-picked our favorite books – from different countries, different genre, different times – that had made an impact on us and also on the world. Here’s the list, in no particular order:
1. Sozaboy by Ken Saro-Wiwa
Virginia: Ken Saro Wiwa is one of the African heroes of the 20th Century, a man that fought, until death, for the rights of his people. He was an environmental activist from Nigeria and was unjustly imprisoned in the peak of his non-violent campaign to fight against resource exploitation in his country and government corruption in facilitating this. He was accused of murdering two chiefs of his tribe, and hanged nine months later. In Sozaboy, Saro-Wiwa found an original way of accounting the Nigerian civil war from the eyes of a young boy who strives to be a soldier, only to understand the horrors of it. The novel is written in ‘rotten english’ as he called it, a mixture of Nigerian pidgin English, broken English and occasional flashes of good, even idiomatic English, which only aids the reader to really be able to understand the main character of the book. Through this funny, witty and honest account, the reader is forced to face the horrors of war, and its consequences.
“And I was thinking how I was prouding before to go to soza and call myself Sozaboy. But now if anybody say anything about war or even fight, I will just run and run and run and run and run. Believe me yours sincerely”
2. 1984 by George Orwell
Marco: 1984 is and will always be an important reminder that freedom of expression and thought is worth any cost in society.
3. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
Cookee: Who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? Inequality explained, through incredibly winsome cartoon turtles and fun alliteration, makes this book a good human rights 101 for children. Come to think of it, benighted people who question the need for international development or gender justice can have a read as well.
4. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
Roger: It is so difficult to pick just one book that has had profound influence on me and that I would wish everyone to read. So many writers have stirred my passions, challenged my intellect and improved my reason. There are very many that I would recommend and to rate one above all others is an impossible task.
So, with that qualification in my mind, I have chosen a book which addresses systemic inequity and explores how it is that the impoverished and down-trodden so often accept their lot as though deserved of it.
Robert Tressell wrote The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists whilst working among those he wrote about – the working class of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Although a version of the book was first released in 1914, 3 years after his death, the book was not published in full until 1965.
Essentially, the book provides a warts and all view of the hellish life that was the lot of the English working class prior to the First World War (1914). Although a novel, it clearly draws on Tressell’s own working experience and life, and is rich with authentic detail of the time.
The writing is quirky, as though Tressell was trying to invoke the idioms of the workers. The central character, Owen, works among a group of painters and decorators at the turn of the century. He tries to show these workers that they don’t have to accept the oppression and deprivation thrust upon them by a rich elite. He constantly challenges the acceptance of his fellow workers that those with money and titles have “the right to rule”. They cannot conceive that they have an equal right to determine their own lives or a time when wealth and opinion of all are equal.
A working class teenager when I read the book, the class relations theme resonated strongly with me. I readily identified with much of he content for what it described continued to exist even then, in 1965. Indeed, the oppression it describes and the living hell that was the lot of so many at the time, still haunts societies today, particularly in the majority world.
The book would be a fine read of and in itself but given its continued pertinence to the how and why of the lives of so many in our world and the ever increasing divide between rich and poor and the degree to which money (or lack of it) now dictates how we live and what decisions are made – this book is more relevant than ever.
5. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill Mckibben
Cassie: Although McKibben discusses Climate Change eloquently, he mainly addresses how people aware of the coming changes can cope and adapt to a planet that now inevitably will not be a world we once recognized.
6. The Truce by Primo Levi
Francesca: This book is great reminder that the road to freedom doesn’t stop when we annihilate the enemy. We still need to work to prevent these issues to hunt us.
7. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Serena: This book was suggested to me by a Kenyan feminist scholar to understand gender relations in Nigeria and approach African feminism. I think it is not just a great story with amazing characters, but also a good instrument to demystify a lot of common sense about Africa in general and Nigeria in particular from the lens of a thoughtful and passionate storyteller, who generously opens to readers the doors of a complex, multiple and beautiful world. I think this book also represents a way to offer a different perspective on events, in this case the Biafran war, that are often told through Western categories or just silenced in many of their key aspects.
8. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Irina: Short essays, beautifully written, about gender relations in today’s world. About how women are silenced by overconfident men at work, at school, in the media, everywhere. About the pandemic called violence against women that keeps spreading. About why feminists, of all genders, are still so much needed today.
“Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist.”
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Anastasia: In a few words, the story is about the solitude that conflict and war brings. It has become a best seller and has been translated into thirty languages.
10. The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
Recommended by Laura.
E.L. Doctorow fictionalizes an actual social and political drama to create an intensely moving, searching, and illuminating tale of two decades, two generations, and a troubled legacy of passion and purpose, martyrdom and meaning.
We can’t conclude better than with a quote inspired by the Yertle The Turtle, which is a response to the Canadian official who banned Dr. Seuss books from schools because they are “too political”. It is a reminder of why books are so important: they teach us to think.