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Samir's Critical Corner

I love good writing. Samir's Critical Corner will have reviews on World Literature but you will also find reviews on various subjects like Mathematics or Tai Chi, and on specific niches like Nigerian writers.

Currently reading

South Sea Tales (Oxford World's Classics)
Robert Louis Stevenson
Progress: 122/289 pages

Review: Hopes and Impediments by Chinua Achebe

Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays - Chinua Achebe

Where does one begin with the mesmerizing writings of Achebe?  Perhaps with his magical formula:

Simple English + Intellectual Insight + Close Analysis = Beautiful Writing

I think this sums him up, not only of this essay collection, but of his fiction as well.  The 14 essays that make upHopes and Impediments are primarily from reviews first published in well-known literary magazines or lectures given at universities.  The style is so accessible that even at 170 pages, the book is a quick read.  It would be an added bonus to be interested in African literature or on any of the authors discussed in the reviews, but this is in no way a prerequisite.


On Racism and Colonialism


In ‘An Image of Africa’ Achebe discusses racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, that highly celebrated Western novel which was regarded as a good depiction of Africans – namely savages.  The cliché image imposed by colonialism is ingrained in the white man’s psyche to such an extent by the beginning of the twentieth century that African writers undertook it upon themselves to tell their own stories.  Their voices began to emerge and shine a light on their cultures, with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart published in 1958 starting the impetus for change.  As if four centuries of slavery was not degrading enough, colonialism had to impose the white man’s superiority over the black savage while living on their own land and continuing to exploit their labor and resources.  It is no surprise then that Achebe finds Conrad ‘a bloody racist’ in his depictions of what Africans are.  The essay, only 20 pages long, is enough to draw the reader in and sustain Achebe’s argument’s through close textual analysis on selected passages and, more importantly, commentary from a prominent African writer.


Another two essays ‘Impediments to Dialogue Between North and South’ and ‘Named for Victoria, Queen of England’ also discuss racism in a different, lighter tone.  In the first of these, North and South refers to Western Europe and Africa – an interesting perspective point if your are standing in Nigeria and commenting relative to that point of view – Achebe discusses the factors that impede dialogue, particularly the colonial attitude.  The second essay reads like a charming rebellion.  Achebe was baptized as Albert Chiualumogu but dropped the tribute to Victorian England when he went to university.  One cannot but feel the sense of glee in this small action of his.


The Author’s Responsibility


According to Achebe, an author carries some responsibility in teaching his readers and he achieves this form of teaching about the Igbo culture in many of his novels.  This is not to say that his novels are moral-based social commentaries as in many nineteenth century Victorian novels; his ‘lessons’ are much more subtle and focus on elaborating the effects of different cultures interacting, whether through colonialism (the macroscopic) or with two tribal villages interacting (the microscopic), the reader is privy to understand the culture – often the Igbo – and is placed in the character’s position to see and feel the circumstances, and the necessary action that will result.  Much of the inertia in Achebe’s characters derive from external factors and many of the choices they make are the ‘wrong’ choices for the ‘right’ reasons.


In ‘The Novelist as Teacher’, ‘The Writer and His Community’, ‘Thoughts on the African Novel’, ‘Language and the Destiny of Man’, The Truth of Fiction’ and ‘What has Literature Got to Do with It?’, Achebe reflects, discusses and elaborates on this writing style of his.  These essays show us many facets of his working mind and his curiosities, and factors that bring about motivation to write what he writes.  Also enjoyable here are the kind of commentaries he sometimes reveals about readers who wished certain endings or who thought him brash or abrasive, he offers the readers polite yet stinging dismissals.  Achebe clearly believes in responsibility as a writer and is not ashamed of voicing his opinions on the matter.


On African Criticism


In ‘The Igbo World and Its Art’, Achebe briefly discusses Igbo art and some Igbo mythology on which the art is based.  This short essay renders a taste of what Igbo art and culture is like, and what is profoundly interesting here is the similarities I discovered to Taoism and the principle of Yin and Yang, for in Igbo too ‘No condition is permanent’ even amongst the deities.  Moreover, art is a communal process where the interest is not in the end product, the finished object, but in the process itself.  Achebe could have written a whole book on Igbo art and it would have maintained one’s interest.


The remaining three essays are ‘Work and Play in Tutuola’s The Palm Wine Drinkard’, ‘Don’t Let Him Die: A Tribute to Christopher Okigbo’ and ‘Kofi Awoonor as a Novelist’.  In each of these essays, Achebe discusses the writers and the most prominent aspects around them that inspired their output.  Colonialism or racism is never ignored.  Praise is lavishly handed out, and rightfully so, to these pioneers of African literature.  And, with the exception of Tutuola, their works and the impact they have had are discussed briefly.  With Tutuola, the focus is on The Palm Wine Drinkard and the allegory it represents of Yoruba culture and of contemporary Nigerian life.


Samir Rawas Sarayji

Review: James Joyce, A Short Introduction by Michael Seidel

James Joyce, a Short Introduction (Blackwell Introductions to Literature) - Michael Seidel

The book is part of the Blackwell Introductions to Literature series, which aim to introduce novice readers to various literary authors or periods.  Seidel has written a compelling introductory book to one of modern literature's giants, James Joyce, whose books are anything but simple.  When reading Joyce, I would advise not only knowing sufficiently the context in which his books are placed, but also reading texts like this one parallel to, or just before embarking on the actual books proper.  There is then a richness developed by understanding Joyce's work more fully - the references, recurring characters, unusual word play, narrative techniques and much more.  Joyce was one of those writers whose every word was calculated to deliver a certain effect and to create multiple layers of meaning.  So while his books are challenging, they are also artistically beautiful and mind-bogglingly creative.  Simply put, they are a joy to read and reread.


Seidel's introductory text is particularly useful in that it really is accessible.  Its premise is that the reader is reading this text first and then Joyce's work, but I feel that would be much too challenging.  I would definitely recommend some reading of Joyce, especially the most accessible of the books, Dubliners, before (or simultaneously) reading Seidel's A Short Introduction.  It is helpful to have first hand knowledge of Joyce's style and familiarity with his narrative techniques so that Seidel's explanations then have a greater meaning, even though Seidel uses quotes generously to show his explanations.  What Seidel achieves beautifully here is what the back flap claims:

close attention to Joyce's words, phrases, and sentences is the best route to reading his works with insight and pleasure

The book is divided into 10 chapters beginning with 'Introducing Joyce', which offers background information on Joyce and his published works.  While the book seems like it will offer equal attention to all of his published books, it does not.  Dubliners is given fair attention, no easy feat since the book is itself a collection of 15 short stories that can have a book written on each one of them.  Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is given less critical attention, the information is rather more contextual with how the book came to be and with the links to the other texts, both in terms of theme and character, particularly Stephen Dedalus.  Exiles is given such a compelling critical assessment that I cannot wait to read it. It is, however, the shortest of the assessments.  Then Ulysses, of course, takes up the bulk of the analysis both in its own chapter and throughout other chapters discussing plots, levels of narration, strategic planning and so on.  What surprised me a great deal was the lack of any attempt to do equal justice to Finnegan's Wake, this title is only mentioned or cited in chapters where it is necessary to draw links or to use an example to drive home a point.  There is no detailed explanations, which begs the question, is it too difficult to be included in an introduction?  Perhaps it is, and Seidel feels that what he has equipped his novice with is sufficient to enjoy Joyce, at least on the first round of reading.  For to truly enjoy and appreciate Joyce, one would have to reread him.


One odd aspect in this book is the abrupt ending.  Not only is there no conclusive chapter that brings all the explanations together, to tie up the discussion, but there is not even a conclusive paragraph in the last chapter itself.  This was quite jarring and spoiled what would have otherwise been a terrific text.  I cannot guess what was going through Seidel's mind or that of the editor, but the ending does the book little justice.  After the many winding paths from all the links and associations made in the book, and the dizzying amount of characters discussed, a conclusion would have helped me smoothly digest all of the information.


A recommended read for anyone embarking on reading Joyce, or for those who wish to discover more on the themes and style of Joyce's books.


Samir Rawas Sarayji

Review: The Prostitution of Women and Girls by R. Barri Flowers

The Prostitution of Women and Girls - R. Barri Flowers

This book is a tedious read. I had to read it in chunks with large breaks between each. I am not all that impressed. In fact, I think the author was more impressed than I, the reader, as he tries time and time again to give a shock effect with the data. Mind you, the data is shocking, but the style of writing and the tone of Flowers is flat that I was just blasé sometimes. Or perhaps it is because of the far superior book I had read previous to this one: Sex for Sale (a collection of well researched academic essays), which is more comprehensive and up to date, although not as well focused on the prostitution of minors.


The book is divided into five main parts, each with it's own subsections.

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Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

I'm starting to develop quite a fondness to Bennett's writing. This is another humorous and exceptionally well-written narrative, and this coming from a reader who is not fond of reading humor. 


This novella reads quickly and the story of the Queen of England suddenly developing a taste for reading literature and sneaking around borrowing books and clearing her schedule so that she can read, is not only lighthearted but it is endearing and charming. 

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Review: Flash Forward by Robert J. Sawyer

Flashforward - Robert J. Sawyer

This is entertainment fiction, specifically science fiction. As I read less and less genre fiction, it takes a lot for me to stick with such books. I tend to gravitate towards literary fiction because I love the unsaid contract between author and reader that states: if I (the author) accomplish this properly, you (the reader)  will be wholly invested in my character(s).


Now, having previously read a Sawyer book which I did enjoy tremendously for its ideas (back when I wasn't so picky), namely The Terminal Experiment, I decided to give this book a try since it's been on my shelf for a while. I've recently downsized and reorganized my library, getting rid of some 200 books, mostly genre based or non-fiction that I don't intend to reference anymore. So, I needed to decide whether this stays or goes.

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The Book Fairy Delivers

Look what the book fairy dropped at my doorstep this morning! 22 second hand books I ordered from AwesomeBooks.com with a total price tag of 60 euros ($80)!


Happy times :-)




Samir Rawas Sarayji

PSA: BookLikes Feature Requests Via "BookLikes Official Group"

Reblogged from Themis-Athena's Garden of Books:

Not only have the BookLikes folks given us a group feature today -- they've also introduced a second venue for us to request additional features we would like to see.


If you check out/join the Official BookLikes Group, you'll see that there already is a discussion thread entitled Feature Requests. The rules are essentially the same as associated with the Make Your Wish post: Before you request something, try to find out whether it's already in the works (so circling back to "Make Your Wish" might be advisable, because Dawid and the BookLikes team have already responded to a number of requests directly there) -- give the BookLikes folks a chance to stay organized and on priority.  Other than that ... seems we can just speak up to our hearts' content, just as a lot of us have already been doing in the comments section of "Make Your Wish."


Thank you, Dawid and BookLikes!


P.S. And whoever wants to reblog this, please feel free to do so ...


Reblogged from Themis-Athena's Garden of Books

A Small Voice in the Virtual Ocean

Dear Friends,


I am infuriated like you all with everything that has been happening you-know-where lately... but is it wise for us to carry on with that fury in this sanctuary? Should BookLikes not be our haven, a peaceful place to start over and discuss the one thing that binds us all together - our love of books! What say we don't let the you-know-who overlords bad intentions and negative energy come here as well?


I hardly do anything anymore over 'there' and get depressed each time I log in because I'm reminded of everything that's still going on and only getting worse, and I see all my friends affected and their lovely work as well... it's so depressing. Then I come to BookLikes and I smile, I'm at peace, especially when I see more and more of my friends coming here. I have renewed hope that I'll stay in touch with them and that my experience will expand and so will my horizons through their wonderful reflections and thorough reviews of literature. 


Let's keep the love here and the fury 'there'. An occasional update is fine but if we don't watch out, all we'll be doing is turning this site into an anti-GR campaign. I really want to read your wonderful material on books and engage you in commentary and reflection.



[Updated] Transparency, Amazon and BookLikes

Reblogged from Samir's Critical Corner:

I normally don't post my communications, but in light of the subject matter and the whole fiasco with GR, I think some transparency is well called for. So below is an email I have just sent the BookLikes team and I look forward (as always) to their response, which I will also post here as well [This is now at the bottom of this post] . I hope they will consider the suggestion.



Hi guys,

Seeing as how awful Amazon is treating loyal GoodReads followers lately - I've decided to boycott Amazon and their subsidiaries such as BookDepository.
Sadly, Amazon seems to be the (only?) company you work with, so I wanted to pitch the following two wonderful websites for your consideration, to incorporate into your search system and allow readers to choose for themselves (which you already do), the companies they would like to purchase from.
One of them is www.play.com and the other is www.awesomebooks.com The first I have used for over a decade and they are great and reliable. The other I have just started using and, well, they're awesome. The team behind it made me think of you guys at BookLikes, passionate, idealistic and all about the customer! They may not have reviews on their site (but that's what BL is for, right?), and their database is only 2 million strong, but they're still awesome and they support some amazing literacy projects around the world with their proceeds!
So please, please add these companies to you search engines (and any others you know of) and let me say that BL is truly the ideal home where freedom of speech and freedom of choice exists, a place where competition is encouraged.
And keep up the amazing work, you guys rock!
BookLikes Response:


Thank you so much for warm words :) We'll definitely take a look at book source that you've send us. We're working on bigger book data base all the time so it's worth to stick around :)

And we already have more option than Amazon. Just to do Settings/Search and pick book sources you wish to see in your search box and Save: http://booklikes.com/settings/search They will be immediately added to your book search boxes in the service. To change book source just click on the icon of bookstore in search box and choose another.


Hope it's helpful :)


Please write with any questions or concerns. I'll be happy to help.

All the best,




[Updated] Transparency, Amazon and BookLikes

I normally don't post my communications, but in light of the subject matter and the whole fiasco with GR, I think some transparency is well called for. So below is an email I have just sent the BookLikes team and I look forward (as always) to their response, which I will also post here as well [This is now at the bottom of this post] . I hope they will consider the suggestion.



Hi guys,

Seeing as how awful Amazon is treating loyal GoodReads followers lately - I've decided to boycott Amazon and their subsidiaries such as BookDepository.
read more »

Progress update bars!

Yay! We can now add progress update bars. Just fill in the page numbers when you click on the book you're currently reading.


I find these help me read faster... nothing like competing with oneself.

Just the reviews, and nothing but the reviews (Reblogged from Krazykiwi)

Reblogged from Themis-Athena's Garden of Books:

Some days, you want all the chatter that goes on social media and others you just want the business. So to speak. Or maybe you just finished a book and your TBR is way too long to actually pick a book from and you just want to look at recent reviews and see if something looks tasty.


In the spirit of the obvious tips are obvious being posted lately, and because it took me days to notice it myself; Some of you may not have noticed the button on your right, under your currently reading (and the reading challenge, if you set one). 


It says "All Posts" and the one under it says "Reviews", and they do exactly what you might expect, filter your dashboard.




Source: http://krazykiwi.booklikes.com/post/550497/just-the-reviews-and-nothing-but-the-reviews

What are these changes at GR that affect reviewers negatively? (Reblogged from Petra X)

Reblogged from Themis-Athena's Garden of Books:

A question was asked in the Everything Booklikes group on Goodreads. 


"So Amazon bought Goodreads , site policy changed ? why is this in benefit of authors not readers ? how can this affect my reviews ? as a top Liberian how can this can affect me? "


I answered at length. It isn't just what is happening now, as much as what I think will happen in the near future. I might be wrong, I mightn't have gone far enough!  (That bit is at the end. Search for *** if you want to read only that).

What started it was that Goodreads instead of just hiding negative reviews that were mostly about authors, deleted them without any warning. They also deleted shelves that had names they considered did not fit into their ToS. 21 people were affected. After that they decided they would tell people 2 days before they deleted anything. The only people who know are people who are active members of the Feedback group, although this new policy affects everyone. GR have elected not to tell the entire membership of the site.

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Help please: editing reviews

I'm finding BL to be a navigational nightmare when it comes to editing my reviews... Is there no easy way to just click on my review from a Shelf and the edit it?


I keep having to go to Dashboard and scrolling forever to get to one of my reviews to edit it... I can't do this for 90 something reviews.


Any advice is welcome.


Also, how does one get into contact with BL team?




BookLikes Community Guidelines Supplements & Official Statement

Reblogged from BookLikes:

Since many questions and some incorrect statements made by others occurred, BookLikes would like to clear things up. Here are several points that supplement and explain BookLikes Community Guidelines, which are still valid and in force. 



Each BookLikes member receives personal webpage with Blog, Shelf, Timeline which can be edited and personalized in particular tabs in Settings and Customization tab


Each BookLikes member is administrator and has access to admin mode of his/her webpage and Dashboard once he/she signs up and then logs into service. Public view of webpage is available with individual address yourusername.booklikes.com. You can also use your own domain with no fees. <!

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Estimated time = 0 hours

YES! Book import complete... let the fun begin :)


I'll be working on formatting my reviews over the next couple of weeks since the import function messes those up. In the meantime, for those who do go through some of my reviews, apologies for any unclear layouts (although I'm confident the reviews are quite legible still).