Sad news in the writer’s world. Binyavanga Wainaina, a deeply influential Kenyan writer and LGBTQ activist, has passed away at age 48, according to NPR. He was the founder of Kwani? a literary magazine and loose collection of Kenyan writers that bounded together to foster creativity, passion, and fostered the work of Kenyan young writers. He also won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002 and became widely known for his written piece, “How To Write About Africa”, cheekily instructing Western writers how to do just that. The full piece is below:
“In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.”
Image Via The Star
It was first published in Granta and became a sensation, often used as a descriptive shorthand to show the laziness Western writers use when approaching Africa in their work. The author came out as gay in 2014 and since then, had been an outspoken for LGBTQ rights. He publicly revealed his sexuality in an essay titled “I Am A Homosexual, Mum” a piece often hailed as extremely brave considering homosexuality is illegal in Wainaina’s country of Kenya. The piece earned him widespread recognition, including a nod from Time, who named him as one of the most influential people in 2014.
Unfortunately, the next few years were not kind to him. Wainaina suffered a stroke in 2015 before he was diagnosed with AIDs in 2016. Wainaina continued to push ahead, announcing he was getting married in 2018 but succumbed to his illness nonetheless on May 21st, 2019. For his part, Wainaina announced he did not fear death and was the happiest he could have been due to finding love.
Image Via BOMB Magazine
Wainaina is truly was one of the most influential writers, not just in Kenya, but to the world. His passing will be very much missed, robbing the world of a great talent far too early. Nonetheless, his work will live on through the community that supported him, carrying on his legacy of love.
It’s getting hotter… and so is our burning desire to run off to some beach and leave our real lives behind! Okay—realistically, most of us have some financial and scheduling limitations when it comes to our plans. But that’s no excuse for missing out on a great book. (Spoiler alert: there actually is no good excuse.) So whether your escape is already on the calendar or purely hypothetical, it’s time to pick a vacation destination. More importantly, it’s time to pick the perfect book for your travels.
Gif Via Real Simple
No matter how fantastic, we love when some elements of the books we read are grounded in reality (though, of course, they still need to be fantastically good). It’s why people actually go to Harry Potter World, even though there’s nothing there for them but B.O. and overpriced Cornish Pasties—trust me on that last one. I still recall going to Blackfriars Bridge after finishing Cassandra Clare‘s The Infernal Devicestrilogy and feeling myself overwhelmed with a specific, nerdy glee. It’s all real! I thought to myself. Well, except for the whole Shadowhunters and evil clockwork creatures part. But that last one probably wouldn’t make for a very good vacation.
So, without further ado, here are some incredible reads set in popular travel destinations around the world! Whether you’re going away or you wish you were, these books are sure to take you on the perfect journey.
Bill Bryson‘s hilarious Americana travelogue opens: “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” After the death of his road-trip-loving father and decades spent living abroad in England, Bryson returns to his former home in search of the perfect American small town that may have just been childhood idealism all along. Readers will be transfixed by the hypnotic pull of the highway AND the frequently baffling people Bryson comes across as he hits every single continental state. Deliriously witty and frequently profound, Bryson leaps from calling out people in Mark Twain’s hometown for never actually reading Mark Twain to dropping truths like this one:
I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored. But then it occurred to me that musing is a pointless waste of anyone’s time, and instead I went off to see if I could find a Baby Ruth candy bar, a far more profitable exercise.
We know, we know! Why didn’t we recommend The Great Gatsby, right? Well, because it’s likely you’ve already read it or seen the movie. F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s less frequently read The Beautiful and the Damnedcaptures a marriage falling prey to alcohol and greed, a darkly atmospheric depiction of a city that never sleeps… but might sleep around. Since nightlife and ruinous ambition appear to be the core motifs of NYC, this is the perfect book to throw in your suitcase. Besides, ‘the beautiful and the damned’ is an excellent caption for you stumbling out of some club with someone who is doomed not to live up to your expectations. Listen, the 1920s are almost upon us, so if you were looking for the right time to drink too much and be confused about your love life… your time is coming.
Let’s get one thing straight—this book isn’t. If you want to go be gay and edgy in Europe (which I generally do), read this book before settling down for a relaxing disco nap to wake up at midnight to head to the club. One of the earliest books to feature lesbian characters, this intense gothic novel is hopefully just as melodramatic as your going out eye-shadow. The groundbreaking novel features characters outside the gender binary well before the time when this was commonplace—since it’s still not commonplace, emphasis on the well before. If you’re interested in the dark and seedy (as I generally also am) read this one before your Parisian fling, your intoxicated misadventures in a repurposed Berlin warehouse, your late-night wandering through Vienna’s former red-light district. Looking for grungy debauchery in interwar Europe? Right here.
Listen, you COULD watch the HBO adaptation… but that’s not gonna fit in your suitcase, and you’ve got a long plane ride ahead of you. This modern masterpiece is a rich story of two friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor yet colorful neighborhood. The bildungsroman depicts the ways in which their fates diverge and how their lives parallel the turmoil of their country. A deeply immersive series, The Neapolitan Quartet addresses the transformation of both the girls and the country they live in with nuance and style. This heady dose cultural context will only improve your Italy trip, and it’s guaranteed to offset the displeasure of airplane food.
It would be kind of an understatement to call this novel sensual… so we’ll go out on a limb and call it full-on sexual. Full-on actually IS a more accurate description, given that there’s sex on horseback and, uh, a meal prepared with a ‘special’ ingredient. But this isn’t some pornographic romp across Mexico (even if that may be what your Spring Break is destined to become). Believe it or not, this international bestseller (and inspiration for a feature film) is an expansive tale of family life and forbidden love that chronicles the unlikely history of an all-female family in turn-of-the-century Mexico. Each chapter opens with a unique recipe to give the story a sense of place within one family’s legacy… a legacy defined frequently by bad luck and surprising turns of fate.
A book about a twenty-something living under questionable conditions, doing odd jobs, and not so much going broke as charging headlong into it? Relatable. If you’re on the younger side, chances are that even if you are traveling, you aren’t on your way to five-star accommodations. You might’ve worked some double shifts and second jobs to get on that plane, or maybe you’re hustling under the table to afford an extension on that trip. George Orwell feels you: he describes an eighteen-hour workday at a Parisian restaurant and sleeping on a bench to avoid paying rent (something that we do hope will not feature in your vacation). But it’s always a relief to recall that many among the literary greats got their start down in the gutter—especially if that’s where you are right now.
Eddy L. Harris, a black American travel writer, goes on a stunning search for his identity as he backpacks across the continent his ancestors called home. Or, not exactly his identity. He explains:
Because my skin is black you will say I traveled Africa to find the roots of my race. I did not—unless that race is the human race, for except in the color of my skin, I am not African. If I didn’t know it then, I know it now. I am a product of the culture that raised me. And yet Africa was suddenly like a magnet drawing me close, important in ways that I cannot explain, rising in my subconscious and inviting me.
This is not another voyeuristic analysis of a white author whose intent is to lambast the reader with relentless depictions of poverty. There are depictions of poverty, but as stricken as Harris is by the corruption and violence he encounters, he remains always enthralled by the beauty of the continent.
After his sister’s suicide, Andrew X. Pham bikes across Vietnam in search of the family he’s lost and the homeland he left behind. The memoir juxtaposes his travels with the war-torn memories of his childhood, his illegal journey in an open boat and the insincere conversion to Christianity in his new American home. This is more than a journey, although it’s certainly that as well—it’s an attempt to process a difficult past. The conflict between his new land and his native land, embodied in memories of the war, strikingly mirrors the conflict of his dual identity. Catfish and Mandalaoffers a unique look into Vietnam’s language, culture, geography, and history that’s both enormously meaningful and small enough to cram in that suitcase!
What’s the best thing to do at the beach? Swim? Tan? Wrong—it’s obviously to get into unsupervised teen shenanigans. Wealthy brothers Benji and Reggie Cooper are out of prep school for the summer and at their parents’ beach house… which is pretty much the only role their parents will play in their summer of love, hate, and bad new Coca Cola flavors. At school, Benji made the mistake of revealing his passion for horror movies and Dungeons & Dragons. But, if he can master all the right handshakes, he could spend summer as the coolest kid in the Hamptons. Colson Whitehead‘s Sag Harboris a bildungsroman for the African-American elite, for the “black boys with beach houses.” Plus, it’s loaded with 80s nostalgia.
Being an accomplished novelist traveling the world sounds like anyone’s dream—but Arthur Less didn’t dream it would happen like this. On the eve of his ex-boyfriend’s wedding, Less has a mid-life (okay, probably three-quarter-life) crisis. The response to his writing has been tepid. He is, he believes, “the first homosexual ever to grow old… that is, at least, how he feels at times like these.” And he is. Growing old, that is. Approaching his fiftieth birthday and the precipice of literary obscurity, Less accepts an invitation to an insignificant literary award ceremony that will take him around the world and deeper into the lyrical reflection of his own self-improvement. Let it be known that I read this novel on an airplane to another continent, and I can promise a rewarding experience. Warm-hearted and deeply human, this story is bursting with life and an obvious love of language. To quote the author, “just for the record: happiness is not bullshit.”
All In-Text Images Via Amazon.
Featured Image Via RealSimple.
Hakuna matata! Disney fans rejoice, for the studio just dropped the first full trailer for The Lion King which showcases more glorious live action shots of the animated classic. The animation looks beautiful, rendering characters like Simba, Mufasa, Scar, Timone, and Pumba as realistic animals in all their glory. Speaking of Scar, we finally get to hear him speak and he looks glorious, creepy while retaining the slimy menace that made the original such a beloved Disney villain.
Image Via Buzzfeed
Other tantalizing images include glimpses of a young Simba exploring his kingdom, including chasing a stag beetle around, as well as glimpses of Nala, Rafiki, Zazu, and the iconic duo of everyone’s favorite duo: Timone and Pumba. Iconic shots from the original look to be recreated exactly, including the sequence where Simba grows from cub to adult and the wildebeest stampede. Speaking of, we don’t know if we can relive Mufasa’s death in live action, especially with James Earl Jones returning to once again voice the lion.
Speaking of the cast, this one is very promising, a mix of iconic talent with Donald Glover as Simba (as well as JD McCrary as his younger self), Billy Eichner as Timon, Seth Rogen as Pumba, Beyonce as Nala, John Kani as Rafiki, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and John Oliver as Zazu. The trailer itself is set to the spine tingling score of the original, punctuated by Mufas’s narration and utterly breathtaking cinematography.
This one is a must see for sure. Are you excited? The Lion King roars into theaters July 19th.
Its Alien Abduction Day! It’s a day when the skies are watched carefully by those who wish to find UFOs or be abducted by aliens. Most people celebrate the day by either UFO watching or watching movies featuring extraterrestrials. But you can always read some books featuring our alien friends! Below are five books dealing with alien abductions, both fictional and…er…nonfictional.
Image Via Goodreads
5. ‘Communion’ by Whitley Strieber
Communion by Whitley Strieber is a supposed real life account by Strieber’s potential encounters with aliens. Strieber offers no interpretation of whether these events were real or not, leaving the audience to decide that for themselves. You can decide whether Strieber’s account is real or not but the novel itself is worth the read, if only for Strieber’s terrifying account of the actual abductions. Dream-like and surreal, these accounts are seriously disturbing and will keep you up at night for sure. The novel gets bogged down near the end with Strieber’s philosophical ramblings of what the aliens wanted from him but the book itself is a must read for UFO fans.
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4. ‘Little Green Men’ by Christopher Buckley
Little Green Menis a comedy bent on the alien abduction trope. It centers on a man called John Oliver Banion who is abducted by aliens. Believing the aliens abducted him for a purpose, he concludes that purpose is to force Washington to acknowledge the existence of extraterrestrials! He soon becomes a cult figure to millions who want the truth as well and has to choose between his career, life, family or seeing his new cause through to the end. Funny, satirical, and with great characters, Little Green Men is a hilarious read.
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3. ‘Lagoon’ by Nnedi Okorafor
Lagoon details humanity’s first contact with aliens, as when an alien spaceship crashes into a lagoon off the coast of Lagos, the fifth most populated city in the world, Earth is changed forever. The novel follows a rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier who come together as the city begins to get out of control. As the government considers bombing the city and its own citizens begin to riot, this small group of people must work as one to ensure peaceful first contact. A unique and highly engaging novel that details aliens landing somewhere that isn’t America, Lagoon is a great, fast paced read.
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2. ‘Contact’ by Carl Sagan
The basis for the more famous nineties movie, Contactcenters on a young woman receiving a message from supposed aliens and attempting to decipher their message then somehow heads into space to make contact with the extraterrestrials. Touching on themes on faith, science, and what it means to be human, Contact is intimidating to read, as its very focused on the realistic side of space travel, which means like of high minded scientific concepts/math thrown at the reader. But its a wonderful read nonetheless and the reveal at the end makes the whole journey worth it.
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1. ‘War of the Worlds’ by H.G. Wells
You know it, you’ve watched it, but have you actually read it? War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells started it all. The popularity of aliens, alien invasions, and the human conflicts against them began with this book. The aliens come without warning, attacking London at the end of the nineteenth century. The war against the aliens is still just as hard hitting as it was back then, despite countless other alien invasion stories popping up by the thousand since. Most famous are the giant tripods, the aliens war machines that stomp their way through London, annihilating everything in sight with their death rays. A great and exciting pulpy read, War of the Worlds started it all but holds up very well.
Rafiki, a film by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu that depicts lesbian love, has been recognized at the largest African film festival, Fespaco. The festival has awarded Samantha Mugatsia “best actress” for her portrayal of Kena Mwaura.
According to IMDb, the film tells the tale of Kena and Ziki, two girls who “long for something more. When love blossoms between them, the two girls will be forced to choose between happiness and safety.” It is inspired by the short story “Jambula Tree” by Ugandan writer Monica Arac de Nyeko.
IMAGE VIA HUMANMOVENT
The award is significant because the film is banned in Kenya, the country it was directed in—an extension of the laws against homosexuality in the country.
The laws, though “recent” as far as their imposition in 20th century by British colonial rule, seem to reflect public opinion of much of the country; 90 percent of respondents to a Pew survey conducted in Kenya in 2013 said that “society should not accept homosexuality.” The laws and public aversion to homosexuality fuel each other in a hateful cycle, since “family members and neighbors sometimes report suspected homosexuals to the police.”
IMAGE VIA PINKNEWS
The country’s High Court is set to either uphold or overturn its ruling against gay sex on May 24th, several months after it was originally supposed to decide in February.
In the midst of such conflicting public opinion, the film’s being recognized by Fespaco is an undeniable achievement, and hopefully foreshadows what’s to come for gay rights in Kenya!