Every Day is for the Thief

In the last month or so I’ve read both of Teju Cole’s books. They are both wonderful. His writing style is incredibly descriptive, taking me fully into the world his characters inhabit. In addition, they open up my world with the new places and ideas that he introduces me to. I learn not only how to write, but about a new perspective of the world. I highly recommend Every Day is for the Thief.

Below are some passages I especially enjoyed:

(Note: I read the digital kindle version of this book borrowed from my library, so the highlights are connected back to the kindle location rather than a page number.)

But corruption, in the form of piracy or of graft, also means that most people remain on the margins. The systems that could lift the majority out of poverty are undercut at every turn. Precisely because everyone takes a shortcut, nothing works and, for this reason, the only way to get anything done is to take another shortcut. The advantage in these situations goes to the highest bidders, those individuals most willing to pay money or to test the limits of the law. (loc 198)

The doorframe is wide and high enough for a family of acrobats to walk through in formation. And there they suddenly are, in my presence, standing on each other’s shoulders, their limbs in astral shape. They negotiate the opening, thread it. (loc 220)

Lagos is a city of Scheherazades. The stories unfold in ever more fanciful iterations and, as in the myth, those who tell the best stories are richly rewarded. (loc 269)

I know what this is about. It is about keeping the lines of privilege taut. (loc 310)

The trick is to present an outward attitude of alertness, while keeping a calm and observant mood within. And there also has to be the will to be violent, a will that has to be available when it is called for. (loc 351)

That woman, evanescent as an image made with the lens wide open. (loc 386)

As with all things that concern the world, being in the market requires caution. The market—as the essence of the city—is always alive with possibility and danger. (loc 476)

It is an appalling way to conduct a society, yes, but I suddenly feel a vague pity for all those writers who have to ply their trade from sleepy American suburbs, writing divorce scenes symbolized by the very slow washing of dishes. Had John Updike been African, he would have won the Nobel Prize twenty years ago. (loc 549)

The fan resumes its spinning like a broken conversation continued in mid-sentence. Lightbulbs hiss back to brightness in the hallway and living room. (loc 560)

Combined with traffic congestion, which is a serious problem in Lagos, and considering the thousand natural shocks to which the average Nigerian is subject—the police, the armed robbers, the public officials, the government, the total absence of social services, the poor distribution of amenities—the environment is anything but tranquil. I have newfound respect for anyone who accomplishes any kind of creative work in the country. Like the Nigerian photographers I met at an event at the Goethe-Institut: people who, against all odds, keep an artistic struggle alive. I admire them anew. (loc 571)

People are so exhausted after all the hassle of a normal Lagos day that, for the vast majority, mindless entertainment is preferable to any other kind. (loc 579)

It is important for a people to have something that is theirs, something to be proud of, and for such institutions to have a host of supporters. And it is vital, at the same time, to have a meaningful forum for interacting with the world. So that Molière’s work can appear onstage in Lagos, as Soyinka’s appears in London. So that what people in one part of the world think of as uniquely theirs takes its rightful place as a part of universal culture. (loc 757)

I escape family and go out into the city on my own to observe its many moods: the lethargy of the early mornings, the raucous early evenings, the silent, lightless nights cut through with the sounds of generators. It is in this aimless wandering that I find myself truly in the city. The days go by. I do not delve, as I had thought I would, into my childhood, do not visit my former schools or look up other old friends. (loc 1121)

And there is really only one word for what I feel about these new contributions to the Lagosian scene: gratitude. They are emerging, these creatives, in spite of everything; and they are essential because they are the signs of hope in a place that, like all other places on the limited earth, needs hope. (loc 1155)

A phrase I hear often in Nigeria is idea l’a need. It means “all we need is the general idea or concept.” People say this in different situations. It is a way of saying: that’s good enough, there’s no need to get bogged down in details. I hear it time and again. (loc 1210)

Nigerians do not always have the philosophical equipment to deal with the material goods they are so eager to consume. We fly planes but we do not manufacture aircraft, much less engage in aeronautical research. We use cellphones but we do not make them. But, more important, we do not foster the ways of thinking that lead to the development of telephones or jet engines. Part of that philosophical equipment is an attention to details: a rejection of only the broad outlines of a system, a commitment to precision, an engagement with the creative and scientific spirit behind what one uses. (loc 1233)

But it is as yet a borrowed progress and it is happening in the absence of the ideological commitments that can make it real. (loc 1245)

Religion, corruption, happiness. Why, if so religious, so little concern for the ethical life or human rights? Why, if so happy, such weariness and stifled suffering? (loc 1266)

…[I]n Nigeria, there is tremendous cultural pressure to claim that one is happy, even when one is not. Especially when one is not. Unhappy people, such as grieving mothers at a protest march, are swept aside. It is wrong to be unhappy. But it is not necessary to get bogged down in details when all we need is the general idea. (loc 1269)

In Nigeria we experience all the good things that texture a life, but always with a sense of foreboding, a sense of the fragility of things. (loc 1310)

The idea that saying makes it so, that the laws of the imagination matter more than all others. (loc 1408)

Not knowing where I am exposes me to various dangers, and there is always a possibility that I will be accosted by a hostile party. On the other hand, letting go of my moorings makes me connect to the city as pure place, through which I move without prejudging what I will see when I come around a corner. (loc 1433)