My Summer Reading List: Influenced by Nigeria’s Social Media Political Discourse

For a while the socio-political and ethno-religious use of social media within Nigeria’s contexts have been of immense concerns to me. The power and benefits that social media can offer an every day person like me is unbelievable and could not have been imagined about a decade ago. Unfortunately, in the case of the use of social media by some Nigerians in discussing some of the pressing national issues in the country borders on a person that decides to cut off his nose to spite his face. Particularly, on WhatsApp and Twitter, two major social media platforms that I am very conversant with; the hatred and insults that people – that if one should meet in person would most likely be very nice individuals – spew out at each other is beyond belief, and at times are very toxic to the stability of the larger society.

To me, it seems that some people do not realise that these social media platforms are not entities that exist in abstraction but are actual digital geographies, whose reach and influence go beyond the imagination of any individual in terms of time and space. It is with this major concern of time and space reach that influenced my summer reading list for this year – 2018 – and I have to say I’m a bit ambitious with the list, I have to admit.

As the politics in the country is gradually getting to its tipping point and tension starts rising among the ordinary citizens, who are more likely to bear the brunt of any negative social outcomes of the ongoing toxic politics, I have chosen ten (10) books t o read and I’m sharing the list with all my readers and I hope you’ll have a go at any or all of them. The list is made up of both fiction and non-fiction titles. Some of the titles are memoirs while some are on the moral dilemmas that humans constantly find themselves in. Furthermore, one of them is on understanding how to “read in between the lines” or better still, how to develop critical reading and thinking skills. And one of them is on the importance of writing, particularly in this era in which people are more likely to read a 280 characters sentence than actually watch a video or listen to an audio recording of 2 minutes. Also, one of the books talks about the powers of and in pictures; this is a fundamental knowledge to have, as people get inundated with (gory) images from far and wide.

In most cases, gory images and videos capture people’s attention and go viral within a very short period of time and they usually cease to go away even years after they might have been published for the first time online. In many instances, these videos and images are used to provide different narratives from what they were first published for. So in light of these (digital) challenges I see the need for me and anyone that might be interested in my reading list to remind myself and further educate myself about othering, cohesive societies, humanity, the power of and in images (still or moving) and writing.

This is my summer reading list for 2018:

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place… With us it aint like that. We got a future… because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you.

Is about two friends, the big guy and the small fella. Set in the US with a focus on ranch life. A nice quote from the book is

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

‘Do you really mean that it’s not my business how or why I get killed and that it is Colonel Cathcart’s? Do you really mean that?’
‘Yes I do,’… ‘There are men entrusted with winning the war who are in a much better position than we are to decide what targets have to be bombed.’
‘We are talking about two different things…You are talking about the relationship of the Air Corps to the infantry, and I am talking about the relationships of me to Colonel Cathcart. You are talking about winning the war, and I am talking about winning the war and keeping alive.’

This is a war novel that shows the dilemmas that wars bring to humanity. Do wars represent humanity’s high moral ground or cognitive dissonance.

Weapon of Math Destruction (WMD): how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy by Cathy O’Neil

As a statistician would put it, can it scale? This might sound like the nerdy quibble of a mathematician. But scale is what turns WMDs from local nuisances into tsunami forces, ones that define and delimit our lives.

We are in the era of Big DATA and DATA mean power. In this book, Cathy O’Neilyou can check her blog, mathable.org, out – engages with Big DATA in a very critical and philosophical way, highlighting the perils in relying on Big DATA and how it further entrenches inequalities in the society. This book shows that, after all, data isn’t really neutral but very biased, although soulless.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

‘…This single farm of ours would support a dozen horses, twenty cows, hundreds of sheep -and all of them living in a comfort and a dignity that are now almost beyond our imagining…Man is the only real enemy we have. remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever.
‘Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself…’

Perhaps, the ‘animals’ initially forgot about the food chain and thought ‘Man’ alone was their enemy at the beginning of the novel until events started unfolding. It’s just like when humans show hatred or bias towards each other.

1984 by George Orwell

…Day and night the telescreens bruised your ears with statistics… The party claimed, for example, that today 40 per cent. of adult proles were literates…It was like a single equation with two unknowns. It might very well be that literally every word in the history books, even the things that one accepted without question, was pure fantasy.

In the age of fake news and narcissistic politics, ‘1984’ is more relevant than it has ever been.

Camera Lucida: reflections on photography by Roland Barthes

I observed that a photograph can be the objects of three practices (or of three emotions, or of three intentions): to do, to undergo, to look.

This is an interesting book on the emotive power that photographs convey. An interesting quote from the book is

How to Read a book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

A book comes to you with flesh on its bare bones and clothes over its flesh. It is all dressed up. You do not have to undress it or tear the flesh off its limbs to get at the firm structure that underlies the soft surface. But you must read the book with X-ray eyes, for it is an essential part of your apprehension of any book to grasp its structure.

Argh!!! This book always get my children asking me – how do you read a book on ‘How to read a book’, if you don’t know how to read a book? Well, it’s a book on how to get more out of reading. Although, there are criticisms of the book, I guess this is normal for any good thing.

Pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freire

pedagogy of the oppressed, a pedagogy which must be forged with, not for, the oppressed (whether individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their humanity. This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come the necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation. And in the struggle this pedagogy will be made and remade.

This is a seminal book.

The writing life by Annie Dillard

Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expressions in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be bale to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself…
The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever.

Writing in the era of social media has become a necessary life skills. Ideas and views are constantly engaged in the digital spheres and the more democratic writing becomes, hopefully the better for society as a whole. There’s a need to have more rational voices out there and I believe contents and contexts should be prioritised over grammar.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

This is an important book on the importance of living in the moment and making the best out of every situation in life. Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He was given the sad news of having terminal cancer with few months to live and in between the few months he had to put his affairs in order and deliver “The last lecture”. You can watch the video of “The last lecture” on YouTube.

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