6 Lessons From Americanah

For writers…

One of the things that has made humans successful as a species is our ability to learn. We learn to walk, talk, run and write. Most of this by watching how others do it. Whatever your thoughts about Americanah might be, it is a book you can learn from; what works, and what doesn’t.
I read the book and these are some of the things I learnt:

1. Stories Are All Around Us.

As a child I thought every great story had to be set in the Land of Oz or in cottage on a hill where it snowed. I was wrong. Americanah showed me that stories are everywhere. They are in your pain when PHCN leaves you in the dark for hours. They are in that lovely chat you had with your online lover. They are in the anecdotes of your high school days. They are everywhere.

Caveat: only the keen, curious writer will see them. And only the smart will take the pains to polish them till they are marketable. Forget writer’s block , there is a gush. Fresh, tales and chronicles waiting to be told.

2. Keep A Journal

A book that encompasses 3 different continents tips the balance for book sales. To do this convincingly, you should have been to these places. The problem with most of us is we trivialise our travels. 3 months later we struggle to remember the little details that would give your writing that sweet spark of honesty. It is all fuzzy. Prevent that.

Keep a journal of all the new places and people you meet. Even if it is a trip to a part of town you have never been to. Open your eyes. Be genuinely interested. It might be the seed of your international best seller. πŸ˜‰

3. Tell Your Story

This might sound clichΓ© but it is true. Ifemelu’s experience with race as a ‘Non-American Black’ was a fairly common one if the reception of the book is anything to go by, but before this, no one really talked about it. There are things about your reality that need to be told. Guess what? No one is going to tell your story. You are the only one that can. And you should, while you still have time.

There’s a growing number of readers hungry for stories with authenticity, honesty and depth. They want to about you. What you call boring and everyday is their fascinating and foreign. Don’t disappoint. Tell your story.

4. Build A Good Beta Reading Team.

There are some simple observations by readers that could easily have been
Fixed if they were pointed out earlier.
Well, I guess that is what second editions are for. The epilogue of Americanah thanks a lot of people for reading the early manuscript. I can’t help feeling most of them were too soft on some issues e.g. the blogposts. A more objective set of beta readers might have noticed that.

There is also the matter of copy editing. 125 words in a sentence is not cool. Neither is overt reliance on a magic suffix. All writers are infected with crutch words and phrases, a good cop edit is the cure.

5. Listen To People.

If all you want to write is a memoir, then I suppose you can just consult your memories. To build worlds and people that readers will love and trust you have to pay attention. You have to ask questions and listen to other people.

Talk to bloggers and ask them how what their blog stats where in their first 3 months.

Speak with asthmatic patiens and ask them if they’ve ever attempted shooting slow intravenous aminophyline solo.

Listen to believers and understand why they are convinced that God exists. Why they would give their entire earnings and go through a waiting patch.

Listen to a lady that is sleeping with men she isn’t married to even though it makes her feel dirty and guilty.

Listen, and learn.

6. Build On Your Strengths

Ms Adichie had already published snippets of Americanah. Never mind that the book took 7 years to write, Ifemelu and Obinze had starred in her short stories before e.g. Ceiling in Best American Short Stories and Miracle in Per Contra.

There are things about your writing that might not be fantastic but there are things that work. Work with what works. Pay attention to your strengths. Take note of the posts/stories/poems that get rave reviews. Sail with the wind. Let your strengths tell you where your diligence should be applied.

Good luck or as we say, God be with you.

Have you read the book? What did you learn from it? πŸ™‚

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Americanah: 7 Questions

It is hard to read a book like Americanah without having an opinion about it. We want to hear yours.

Here, are 7 questions based on the book to help you express those opinions (yes, you have to read it to answer). As a good sport, I’ll answer first.

P/S I can’t wait to read your replies. πŸ™‚

Questions

1. Did you like Americanah?

No? Why?

Yes? Why?

Yes & No? Why?

2. Would you recommend it to a friend?

3. Do you think you will read it again?

4. How does it compare to Half Of A Yellow Sun?

5. Who was your favourite character and why?

6. What was the best part of the book for you?

7. And the worst?

Bonus: Did you notice the -nesses and -ilys?

Me:

1. Yes/No
I liked it because it did show long, hard work and a touch of finesse.

I disliked it because it lacked compassion for most of the characters. The scorn in the narrators voice was heavy and oft times ridiculous.

2. Yes I would.

3. No, not at all.

4. Poorly. Half Of A Yellow Sun is 5X better than Americanah.

5. Blaine; because he strived to do the right thing at all times.

6. The high school romance beween Ifemelu and Obinze.

7 The authorial intrusion; almost every scene had a sermon to preach.

Bonus: What??? They almost blinded me!

Melanin

Melanin,
Why were you made?
Was it just to shield our skin from the sun’s rays?
Or as a reminder that we are more
Same than different,
More one than thousands,
More closely knit than we think?
Unlike blood
That courses red in every vein
You choose how to
Appear,
Sometimes in a cloak of black
Others like a splash of white
Others like a shade of red
But we know you are brown.
Thank you,
For being so kind,
Leaving our
Palms and nails pink
Our cornea and teeth white.
A reminder if you will
That you
Are only skin deep.

Shipwrecked

Our voyage ended
before we set sail,
Tossed cruelly in the
eye of the gail,
Broken promises
Like debris ashore,
Tear stained faces
Weeping, to weep no more,
A foolish forgotten vow
Resurrected to haunt our Now,
Perhaps it’s for the best
That things end this way
You, knowing I am a fraud
Me, wondering what to say,
The wedding crowd murmuring:
Why today of all days?

Paradise

Last night I fell asleep and woke up in the new earth. The planet wasn’t the way I thought it would be. It wasn’t an endless garden with orchards, lakes and unicorns. It didn’t have angels flying around, plucking heart strings or shooting arrows. It looked like the present earth only there was no scarcity, sickness, serpents or cops.

In the new earth, there were no babies, and no old people. All of us were in our late twenties or so it appeared. We had electricity but it was non lethal. Yeah, marijuana was there but it didn’t have side effects, was just like green tea with a high. No, there was no sex. Not even self service. Our sexes didn’t matter. Reproductive organs shrunk so all that was left was a urethra–a pee hole.

People worked in the new earth. I knew where I would be even before my guide took me there.

“Saint, guess where we are going?” Amanti asked me with a smile dancing on his lips. He wore a lilac shirt and blue jeans, good looking angel.

“The Literature Hub?” I replied, giddy from all the new sights and sounds.

“Of course.” He answered. He held my hand and we disappeared to reappeared at The Dais. The Dais was the planet’s Literature Hub. Every known work of writing had been translated to Humanish, a new language that all the inhabitants of the new earth spoke and understood.
Work was bliss. All we did was read, discuss and write.

Every month we took turns as moderator and students. Every work was seen to have merit. Even doodles were preserved as Springs Of Spontaneity. We edited a lot though. We had to make sure every work achieved its BPS– Best Possible State. We did this while having access to a feast of fruits, alcoholic drinks that didn’t get you drunk but left you pleasantly relaxed and non-fattening milk chocolate.

To be continued.

Americanah: The Rave, The Rant, The Questions

AMERICANAH: The Rave, The Rant, The Questions

Hello,
Welcome to my blog. As you must have heard on Twitter, I read Americanah and I wanted to discuss it with other book lovers. After reading the book I had so much I wanted to discuss. There were things I liked and things I disliked. There were a lot of questions raised. To encourage the discussion across barriers of time and space I decided to write a couple of articles about it. That way we can all share and learn despite being miles apart. I am aiming to provide a place where we can rave, rant or question the book; and become better for it.
While I act as host. πŸ™‚

It is becoming normal popular culture to stifle dissent from consumers especially readers. If you read a book and you don’t like it you are at risk of being labelled ‘envious’ ‘beefing’ and a ‘hater’.

I believe such talk is the work of intellectual assassins. They want to create a mob of mute zombie fans that can not speak up about their feelings even after spending hard earned money to buy their books. Nonsense. It is interesting that the wise words of Pa Achebe where he encouraged everyone to tell their stories are now being used as a shield against critical discourse.

People tell car companies things they don’t like about a car. This leads to improvement, innovation and better vehicles. I have never heard a car maker say “Go and build your own car!” And I think the idea that you must write a novel before you can say what you didn’t like about a book is absurd.

The days of insular writing and continental navel-gazing are gone. Now, any writer regardless on descent will find her or himself on the world stage, This implies constant improvement. So if you really care about your craft, you will appreciate those that take the time to give specific suggestions for improvement. That said, not everything you read is going to be true or helpful. Take the sugar cane juice and spit out the chaff. In any case let’s not lose our curiosity, our right to ask questions and our honest appraisal of literary work. If we do, we will find ourselves relegated to the fringes of the new frontiers of writing. God forbid, I forbid, what do you say?

To make things easier I will post different articles over the next few days. I plan to update the page as new things come up so you might want to follow the blog/ follow us on twitter to keep up. This is not an academic exercise; it is a book lovers hang out.

Comments found be abusive will be deleted but efforts will be made to air all views.

2a and 3a are ready expect the rest during the week.

1. Articles for those who haven’t read the book.

a. Americanah : Exploring Choice and Identity

b. 6 Things I learnt from Americanah

2. Articles for those who read the book and liked it.

a. 6 Things I Liked About Americanah

b. When You Have The Mic, Shout Your Heart Out.

3. Articles for those who read Americanah But didn’t like it

a. 6 Things I didn’t like about Americanah

b. The Nesses And The Ilies

4. Articles For The Neutral.

a. You Didn’t Know You Were Black? Seriously?: Thoughts On Agenda Writing

b. Authenticity Vs Plausibility, Fiction Or Memoir?

c. Pentecostal Christianity In Adichie’s Single Story

d. Who Likes Soft Wimpy Men?

5. 7 Questions, Tell Us Your Answers.

6 Things I Didn’t Like About Americanah

6 Things I didn’t Like About Americanah

1. The Nesses And Ilys

This deserves a full post. However this list would be in complete without a mention. Words ending with -ness and -ly were all over the book like weeds. When I moaned about it a friend said they were typical of Ms Adichie’s books. This sent me looking for my copy of Half Of A Yellow Sun. There were hardly any of them seen. Was this an oversight of the editor? Does this mean we have better editors at Farafina than Knopf? More on this in a fresh post soon.

2. The Blog’s Name And Many Of It’s Posts

I don’t know if the name: Raceteenth Or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known As Negroes) By A Non-American Black, was meant to be humorous but it gave me instant nausea. If books do out live blogs I hate to imagine my grandchildren thinking we actually called our blogs such ugly names. ( Please emerging African writer, help! Redeem us!)

And then there is the issue of the blog posts. While it might be argued that they lent some credibility to the narrative, many of them sound fake. They also add bulk to the book. I think they ought to have been trimmed and re-edited. One post had a sentence that was 125 words long. Why???

3. The Scorn In The Narrators Voice.

The reviewers at the Wall Street Journal did a micro dissection of this, I’ll just say that it didn’t help the book much. It comes across as boring and self-obsessed. Everywhere the narrator looks she sees black and grey. Everywhere there is something to put someone down for. If it isn’t Brooklyn smelling of sun warmed garbage, it is Michelle Obama being made clamped flattened and tepidly wholesome. An unpleasant world view to say the least.

4. The Cliched Portrayal Of The Pentecostal Nigerian Church.

I have read Ms Adichie’s work, Purple Hibiscus, The Thing Around Your Neck , Half Of A Yellow Sun and even some little known shorts like Time Story and Crazy African Woman. One thing that puzzles me is her persistent stereotype of pentecostal Christianity. It seems she can’t write without devoting a row of boxes to be checked on that issue alone. And always it is the same stories, the same characters, the same cliched portrayal of a one-sided narrative. Pleeeease.

5. The Box Checking.
It might be one of the only subtle thing about this bold book, but the box checking in Americanah is alive and well. On it’s own that would not be a bad thing; it would just serve to broaden the discourse. It becomes worrisome when no scene exists merely to drive the plot or show character but also to check a box. It made me read each scene with a smirk knowing there would be something shoved in for extra depth. Some scenes ended up feeling fake because of this. Who gives lectures to a total stranger about the magnanimity of oil companies? Which office girl dares tell a superior she has a husband resisting spirit? The effects of box checking, writing with an agenda and refusing to let go even when it is obvious that it is uncalled for.

6. The Vague Description Of The Characters.

This is another thing that has drifted over from HOAYS. In HOAYS we are told thepat Kainene is ugly and Olanna beautiful but we have no idea how or why. In Americanah we meet Obinze and Ifemelu but we can’t describe them to save our lunch. Obinze is short. How short? Not short enough to consider the name Ceiling derogatory but then how short is that? Ifemelu is slim, dark, pretty and has a generous bosom. Pretty how? what are her best facial features? We don’t know and we wonder why this wasn’t well developed.

7. The Sense Of The Book Trying Too Hard.

A combination of box checking, a scornful narrator and a thousand -nesses and many ilys give a sense that the writer was trying too hard. It feels like she was forcing greatnesses into the work. It reminds me of David looking ill-dressed in Saul’s armour. It seems like a cook that wants more than anything for his the food to taste good but ends up with an over-spiced dish that burns the palate. One wonders if the book wouldn’t have fared better with a lighter touch in some places. That said Americanah is out and selling. As every businessman knows production should precede perfection. Who knows maybe there will be a new edition. One weeded of -nesses and -ilys and devoid of forced dialogue.