(NOT) Five African novels to read before you die

Readabook-383x325Aaron Bady in The New Inquiry:

University of Leeds professor Brendon Nicholls made a list of the “Five African Novels to Read Before You Die” yesterday, and it’s a fine list, if your best-case scenario is that literate first-world types manage to read a handful of creative works from Africa in their lifetime. And let’s be real, most Westerners are not even going to do that. So his list is fine, albeit extremely predictable:Achebe and Ngugi, of course, and let’s add Ayi Kwei Armah’s most canonical novel—because we need more than one West African male novelist from the 60’s—and, hmm, oh, shoot, we need some women, so, okay, Tsitsi Dangerembga, obviously, and Bessie Head, I guess. But not the really hard Bessie Head novel, let’s try the one that won’t confuse people. DONE.

I’m giving Nicholls some good-natured sass, here (sorry dude), because, as someone who studies, reads, and teaches contemporary African literature, I’m just very bored with this list, which is a fine list, but it’s a bit, I do’t know, “Five White Writers You Should Read Before You Die: Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoyevsky, Austin, Woolf.” Does the world need another suggestion that you read Things Fall Apart? It’s a great novel, but everybody knows that, or if they don’t, there’s no hope for them anyway…

As we peer forward towards 2015, the literatures of the Africas are much more interesting than those five books and the canon-making principles they index. The old canons have become a critical crutch: Nicholls’ list is a good place to start if you want to appreciate what has been going on for the last decade; anyone worth reading will probably have read at least most of these people, and if they haven’t, the people they have read probably will have. Those writers are really helpful for appreciating what African writers are doing right now, and there’s no getting away from that. They’re also great writers…

For this reason, Nicholls list is a perfectly good place to start, as long as you don’t want to read anything written in the last three decades. If you do want to read things that were written in the last thirty years, however—maybe, for example, because you want to read things that were written in your lifetime, and you were born, say, in 1979, like me—you are in luck! I have a list for you.

Read the rest here.