“If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em!”
This reminds me of a time when I knew my friendship with a girlfriend I regularly hung out with on the ropes. She said, "I don't read and have no desire to do so." That was the beginning of the end of our friendship.
The hardest thing I had to do when selling my house in Las Vegas with its office with a wall of books, was to give them all away. It was like parting with a litter of puppies.
Equally hard was moving to and living in a country that has NO books...Rwanda. For a country touted for its stance on education I am continually stupefied by the lack of books. There is, I think, one book store in Kigali which I haven't been able to actually locate. Nakumatt (the Walmart wannabe of East Africa) has a few books, mostly religious, not that there's anything wrong with that unless it's televangelist religious people you only hear about late at night when you don't have cable. Oh, and they charge you, on average, $50 to purchase one of these mesmerizing tomes.
Yes, I have heard of Kindles, iPads, iPhones and I can download everything I need in a nicely weighted electronic gadget, but remember, I am 45, old school, I like books, their smell, the feel, writing all over the margins. It is just not the same experience. So gradually over the past 2 1/2 years I have started amassing a library in Rwanda. It's only a small bookshelf but I actually had to get a bookshelf....a start.
Since I don't do resolutions as you know, I will set a goal for 2012 and books. I want to read more, will smuggle more books to Africa and most importantly I will write about the books I read in hopes that they inspire some of you to read more. Also, I want to be more diverse in my reading. When I lived in Las Vegas I was a member of an incredible Reading Group which still thrives. I loved that it made me read books I most likely never would have picked up. The Red Tent, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, South of Broad were all books I read as part of this group. However, I did still boycott the Jane Austen months. Sorry, have always disliked Ms. Austen, nothing personal, just can't do ancient chick lit. Sorry Jane....
So, if anyone has suggestions please feel free to share. I hope to write about a book at least monthly hopefully more.
What do I read now mostly? African history and current events. In the last month I finished two very different books on Zimbabwe, The Fear by Peter Godwin and The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers. I first traveled through Zimbabwe via motorcycle in December 2009. The trip originally was not planned for a jaunt through Zimbabwe, however, a friend, Linda Davidson, who runs the Zimbabwean Cycling Team in Harare said everything was fine as they had just gone onto the US dollar currency. Little at that time did I know the violence that occurred just a year or so prior during the 2008 elections.
I had read another of Peter Godwin's books, When A Crocodile Eats the Sun back in 2007, before the horrific violence of the 2008 elections. Zimbabwe is a sad place under the rule of Robert Mugabe.
The beauty about books is they cause you to think, they challenge. They can be controversial, in your face, emotional shaking to the core. That being said, here are some facts you learn from books that you won't hear on CNN. Zimbabwe was originally Rhodesia. Rhodesia was under white rule and there were issues as there always are when the minority rules the majority. But where the BBC and CNN were reporting that "whites owned seventy per cent of the land in Zimbabwe" and "white farmers had seventy per cent of the fertile land in Zimbabwe." the truth is "Commercial farming makes up only 28% of this country's land. But there's a black farmers' union that represents 6% of that. The Development Trust, which is government, has 3%. There are black tenant farmers with 4% and Forestry has 1%. That leaves whites with about 14% of the country's land...and that 14% produced about 65% of all agricultural produce and 50% of foreign earnings, and employed or supported almost two million people. But all you ever heard about was us greedy white farmers." When the MDC, the opposition party, tried to secure political seats through real democracy they were met by the terror machine of Robert Mugabe who has been in power after changing the constitution and rigging elections for over 30 years. Zimbabwe was once the bread basket of Africa, today they rely on World Food Program.
This is the stuff you don't learn from television or in school. This you learn by reading books such as these.
The Fear, which I read first, was a depressing read. Well written but sadly depressing with graphic descriptions of the reign of terror on any person even suspected of opposing Mugabe. I left that book feeling completely helpless and hopeless for the people of Zimbabwe. Their fate cannot even be compared to the seven levels of Dante's Hell! Peter Godwin depicted a tough contingency of opposition leaders and supporters, but the violence they lived through was mind numbing.
A friend in South Africa told me about The Last Resort. It is a book about living in Zimbabwe as a white family from before independence until the present day. The author's father hadn't left Africa until he was in his 50's. His family had been on the continent for 350 years. He was Zimbabwean. I left this book feeling hopeful and knowing why I love Zimbabweans so much. They are the toughest most resilient people you could ever hope to know...white or black. It is a country that despite being strangled by a power hungry, out of touch, greedy, excuse making leader, they survive and they stay and they fight.
I remember being at Linda's house in December 2009. She lives in this nice house her and her husband built themselves. They have three children and a South African Boerboel who guards them to the death. Buster has to. They hadn't had power for days, it was cold and rainy and when they don't have electricity they don't have water because the pump cannot run. They sleep behind a locked gate inside their house which is surrounded by a barb wired wall and guarded by Buster. Can you imagine locking yourself and your family inside your bedroom with an iron gate? That is their life, yet they stay. They're Zimbabwean. Just like the couple in The Last Resort, they stay because this is their home.
I think I will take a break for now on African history and current events. I need a breather. It is a heart wrenching genre. I'm thinking about reading, Hell on Wheels, by Amy Snyder next. Fits with my 2012 goal of riding 6,000 miles this year and racing in the Race Across America in 2013.
I'll just finish with a quote which sums up my thoughts on books from one of my favorite authors:
“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life