Meagan Reads Fiction: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I picked this book up for black history month and finished it just before February ended.

Image from Goodreads

Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman growing up in Africa with some of the same concerns as most teenagers, and some not so common.

As she navigates her youth and becomes a college student, the constant protests and walk-outs from the schools’ faculties makes it hard for her and her friends to get an education. She decides to go to America, leaving her high school sweetheart Obinze behind.

This novel is not told in chronological order, but that’s the base storyline from which all the other events and moments that take place are founded on. The book takes on the Herculean task of addressing numerous sociopolitical issues, from race to feminism to sexual assault to class to culture and so much more.

While the material sounds heavy and overwhelming, Adichie’s writing is so precise and focused, that it never feels like it’s all over the place. The story itself doesn’t take on a linear structure, but its commentary and social elements are clear and articulate.

Even when the protagonist is working through the issues herself, Adichie’s development of Ifemelu’s feelings and actions in regards to them feels like real life. Sure, the characterization conveys the sense of a messy human being, but the writing itself is never a mess.

The events throughout the novel are broken up by posts that Ifemelu writes for her blog, each one relating to the particular scene happening at the moment. It was interesting to see the character’s introspective moments take place in this format, as it presented her thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a cohesive manner that couldn’t be conveyed by the narration.

One of the salient points that stood out to me is that Ifemelu is often irked by displays of false identities. She doesn’t care for two-faced people, and yet in participating in her blog that sends her into internet fame, she too wears a mask. This hypocrisy might make for an unlikeable character to some, but for me personally, I found it realistic and just plain human.

Of the many issues touched on in this novel, its handling of mental illness and how it is perceived in other cultures stood out. The basic understanding brought to light by the African characters surrounding Ifemelu is that mental illness and conditions are fake diseases made up by white people.

When Ifemelu experiences anxiety and depression, her best friend Ginika recognizes the symptoms and talks to her about it. Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju though, from an older generation, says it’s just another made-up disease created by the quirky American doctors who think everything is a disease.

The split between generations and cultures creates a striking picture of how “Americanized” those who emigrated have become. However, they are still seen as foreigners and outsiders in America, but when they return to Nigeria, they are now foreigners and outsiders to their homeland.

This idea of belonging to two places and no place all at once resonated with me, as I’ve seen it second-hand with my father, and how he’s been living in this country longer than the country he was born in, and whenever we go back to visit Ecuador, he’s an outsider there now. It’s a feeling I’m sure many readers will find rings true.

Adichie’s novel doesn’t necessarily provide answers or easy fixes to the issues discussed or the problems emigrants/immigrants face. Rather, she brings the discussions to light so that those who read the book may take on the conversation, the same way her characters have.

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What to Do About the DNF Guilt

What is it about not finishing a book that gives us so much guilt? Find out in my latest blog post!

I’ve spoken before about that awful feeling with the DNF pile in your reading list. You can check out that post here. Quick definition for those that aren’t familiar, DNF stands for “did not finish.”

I know, it’s hard to imagine not finishing a book when you really consider yourself a reader. When you identify so strongly with the label reader that it’s just a core part of who you are as a person, the sick feeling of not finishing a book feels like a betrayal somehow.

I was listening to my cousin’s podcast recently (Eclectic Readers – check them out!) and they discussed that guilty feeling with the DNF pile. That got me thinking about the association of guilt with leaving a book unread.

The word itself means a sense of remorse for some wrongdoing, like breaking a law or committing a moral offense. Lord knows there’s nothing illegal about leaving a book unfinished. There’s nothing even immoral about it. Seriously, it’s a totally neutral action, of which there are no consequences. So, why do we feel the DNF guilt?

As I began to really think about it, I’ve come to believe the feeling stems from a sense of “cutting your losses.” Sure, it’s not the same as running a business and spending millions of dollars on a project that turned out to be a lost cause. It’s probably at most a $25 + tax loss on a brand new hard cover from Barnes & Noble.

It’s still a loss though. It’s a loss of money spent to purchase the damn thing. It’s a loss of shelf space that could have gone to more worthy contenders. It’s a loss of time and energy, as you’ve already spent both on starting and getting through some portion of the book, so you might as well finish, right?

The guilt we feel from not finishing a book comes from a sense of loss, and in my experience, people sure hate to lose. For me personally, that monetary loss cuts deep. Sure, one book is at most $25, but what if I bought 10 books that I didn’t end up finishing? That’s $250! Maybe that still doesn’t sound like a lot to some people, but for those who prefer to save money wherever they can, that’s a dent in the wallet that makes them wince.

This also reveals another deeper problem: the need to stop buying so many books. It’s so easy to get caught up and swept in by the love at first sight feeling when you see that gorgeous cover on the shelf and just want to take it home. Looks can be deceiving. Even words can lead you astray. That back cover description of fascinating worlds and characters just sucks you right in and entices you with, more often than not, sweet nothings.

That’s why this year, I’m resolved to exercise restraint to reduce the DNF guilt and the feeling of having wasted money and minimize time spent on books I don’t enjoy to avoid that feeling of money, time, and energy lost. That means less trips to Barnes & Noble to browse the aisles. I often go to the cafe to write, and when I’m done with that, I think to myself, “Let me just take a quick peak.” I have to physically force myself out the door, because I know a quick peak will devolve into “just a book or two.”

I’m also going to use my library more to find books I want to read. Granted, that’s a bit harder, because many of the books I want to read are independently or self-published, which means they don’t get picked up by most libraries. My library especially can be a bit lackluster with its selections. Unless it’s The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or whatever iteration of Girl we’re on these days, the chances of finding the book I want from my local library are slim.

I will make every effort to find the books I want to read through the libary first. When that fails, I’ll look into second-hand options to try to find them for much cheaper than retail prices. Heck, I’m even making the effort to borrow books from friends more often. Buying brand new from a big-name chain bookstore is my last resort this year.

Also, I already started making the executive decision to just nix some titles off my TBR altogether. If I can’t find it for a reasonable price anywhere, I take the Marie Kondo approach. If it doesn’t spark joy, I let it go and click delete on my Goodreads “Want to Read” list.

What are your thoughts on the DNF guilt? How do you avoid the guilt altogether? Let me know in the comments!