Ikhide the Terrible (Book Critic)

I get a lot of feedback on my columns, publicly and privately, I always appreciate those. Sometimes people write to hurl abuse at me under an alias; I find that cute because I can usually guess at the source from the literary style if the author is a prolific writer. Literary styles are like fingerprints, each one is unique to the author. I was reminded of my plight when I recently read Philip Hensher’s review of James Thackara’s The Book of Kings. This mother of mean reviews is full of well-crafted put-downs that are sure to end the career of even the most stoic of writers. I also read Amy McKie’s honest and fairly blunt review of Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s new book on the Nigerian civil war, Roses and Bullets. Amy was not happy with the book, which is a mean feat in itself; she is blessed with an even temperament. For her efforts, she heard loudly from Adimora-Ezeigbo’s fans. They were not happy with her and they lectured her on her blog. Interestingly enough, when I had earlier complained about the book in Of Biafra, Roses, Bullets and Valium, I suffered the same fate in the hands of her fans. Professor Adimora-Ezeigbo has a lot of loyal fans.

My detractors scoff at the idea that I am a critic. They are right; I am not a book critic. What I am is a consumer, a consumer of ideas. I do read a lot of books and offer my views as a consumer of the books. If I like the book, I fawn all over the author. If I hate the book, I retch all over the book. It is my right, especially since I buy most of the books I comment on. I am a picky consumer, yes, that is what I am. I have a huge problem with being called a book critic because it assumes that all I do all day is sit around patiently waiting for someone to write a book so I can gleefully pee on the book. First of all, I don’t think in the year 2012 people should be calling themselves “book critics”; that is so yesterday. The book is dying and ideas live everywhere now. We should have ideas critics. Let’s start a new industry of media critics; there is money to be made in ether!

So, I have gotten a lot of not-so positive feedback based on my loud opinions about books and the politics of literature. They have ranged in temperament. Emmanuel Iduma’s 2011 Caine Prize: Ikhide’s Complaint and Mukoma Wa Ngugi’s Wanted dead or alive: Happy African Writers, are polite but firm analyses of my works. However, a few have been fairly abusive. I am a faithful fan of the Nigerian writer Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie, but when I sheepishly suggested that her book The Thing Around Your Neck was not quite ready for prime time (here), her fans literally declared a fatwa on me. I am still in hiding.

A while back I got a request from a friend to review his friend’s book. I thought the book was awful and shared my thoughts with him via private email. He forwarded the email to his friend (sigh!) who responded with thunderous fury. He called me an arrogant   ignoramus. I am not an ignoramus. Another time, the writer Ahmed Maiwada was kind enough to send me his book Musdoki to read; I did not like many things about the book and I said so. That created a ruckus the likes of which I probably will never witness again. His friends threw him a pity party, and the wailing and carrying on was heart-rending. I was called all sorts of hilarious names, my favorite being an ignorant ethnocentrist who cannot stand successful Northern writers. For the record, Southern writers vehemently disagreed with this falsehood; they countered that I am an equal-opportunity jerk who hates ALL African writers.

A while back, the writer Sefi Atta launched an attack on me from an unrelated question during an interview. I remembered reviewing her book several years ago. Apparently she never forgot that review; her comments about my person are unprintable. Well, here is what she said: “I’m only aware of one critic who reviewed Swallow negatively, and that was in Next. Apparently, he is a bit of a joke and his reviews barely qualify as blogs.” I don’t remember her expressing her appreciation when I fawned all over her book Everything Good Will Come. I live in her head rent-free. We should both go to counseling to sort this out.

The latest writer to throw mud at what’s left of my dignity is Professor Tanure Ojaide. I love Ojaide’s poetry, but I do think he should stay away from prose, he is just not good at it and I said as much many years back when I read his novel, The Activist. Since then, it has stayed with him and finally this January, he lashed out at me in the Sun newspaper: “I don’t know whether it was a misadventure. Ikhide Ikheloa, who made that statement is not a serious critic. He also said a similar thing on Akachi Ezeigbo’s latest work, Bullets and Roses, saying he read only four pages and threw it away and that nobody should read the book. Nobody takes him seriously as a critic.”  Hmmm. I don’t know what I am, but one thing I know is this: I am not going away. Enjoy the review that has kept the gentle professor up at night. Here.

25 Replies to “Ikhide the Terrible (Book Critic)”

  1. U loved Everything Good Will Come????? U fawned over it????? Na wa.

    Guess pple love love-fest. Anything else, they don’t want. That said, what did u think of what I sent to u?

    1. Like seriously! “Everything good will come” of all books! That book made no sense. Α̲̅πϑ Tђε̲ ending? Oh my God,it was heartbreaking. I’m still waiting for a part 2 tho. This ikhide man sha,*sigh*…..he’s just upside down.

  2. Laughing all the way to Superbowl Sunday! What’s in a label? On the other hand, what should one expect of a culture of coarseness that has no subtlety left? You ask yourself: why bother?
    Great part, of course, is that you’re not writing for anyone, that is, on anyone’s behest You read a book, you make notes and jot down your thoughts about it, and you’re generous enough to share those reflections with others. You’re not expecting a brown envelope or pot of goat head stew in lieu. There’ll be disaffected people, of course. As we used to say in Brklyn back in the day, it’s all good.
    The last time I bothered was also with Ms. Adichie’s book, the debut novel which I praised, describing her back then as the most significant Nigerian novelist since Ben Okri. I then pointed out that her Igbo in the novel was disgraceful, and that if she’d written French as terribly in the novel, her editors would not have left it in uncorrected. I suggested that since she was obviously keen on using Igbo in her writing, she’d do well to do it properly.
    Her fans went into fits on Krazitivity, which was neither here nor there since she did read my review and make necessary improvements in her subsequent work. I decided, though, that it was not worth the effort. That was the first time in nearly a decade that I’d bothered to review a book, though I once made a living reviewing books. It would also be the last time I “reviewed” a book. Why bother?
    But as I said, you owe nothing to nobody. My friend the late Paul Edwards once autographed a copy of his final edition of Equiano’s Narrative for me with the words, “To Olu, Bought with his own money.” You share thoughts about books that you’ve bought with your money, or on occasion, were sent to you unsolicited. Anyone is free to respond however they please about those thoughts, though Nigerians typically avoid the substance of the observations and dish on the critic.
    By the way, media criticism has been around forever, as you know. Even software criticism has been around for more than three decades. But, yes, Nigeria does need media criticism, and badly, too.

  3. Sir, I cannot ‘sympathize’ with you, because there is nothing to sympathize about. Readers read, writers write. And read-writers read-write. Didn’t know you saw my thoughts on your Caine Prize essays. Would like to disagree with you many more times, so that when we finally meet there’d be a warm handshake like an elder shakes a younger person. Keep on! So sad many are myopic.

  4. Well Ikhide, it serves you right. As somebody who has also received some mud for having an opinion, serves you right and my mud served me right. But you know, you once described me as a renegade, which I thought was too generous, you were describing yourself – the number 1 renegade and I think that literature, especially African literature will be poorer without your brand of unserious yet disconcerting reviews. Upward and forward Ikhide the terrible.

  5. Hee hee hee…I read most of those reviews…Disagreed a bit on Ojaide’s book and wrote an essay to that effect but also got a horde of people shouting me down for praising Ojaide’s The Activist…yes, the book had plenty commas, in retrospect.
    Hmm, if the town crier stops crying, what would we do? No matter how much they insult the voice that has grown from then to larger walls and all, the import of the cries would never be underestimated for its importance and greatness…
    Wetin I wan tok again: kai, Pa Ikhide – to tok the parlance of today: you na badt guy…I can imagine that if you do mistake write any book, na just yab and kill go follow am!
    Hee hee hee, let me make way for the several other people to talk jor…After all, now that the review is over, let’s have the fun of reading the comments reviewing the Evil Critic…S’

  6. Egin Ikhide,

    As an admirer of Robert Hughes, the art critic and writer- a man who has low tolerance for mediocre artists and pretenders in the world of Art History and criticism. African writers should be glad that R. Hughes is not reviewing their books.

    Egin Ikhide, you’re very lenient to some of these Africa writers. From my experience as an avid reader of African Lit, most of these writers are not competent to be a writer. They are just pretenders.

    E ku ise o.

    Cheers.

  7. Egin Ikhide,

    As an admirer of Robert Hughes, the art critic and writer- a man who has low tolerance for mediocre artists and pretenders in the world of Art History and criticism. African writers should be glad that R. Hughes is not reviewing their books.

    Egin Ikhide, you’re very lenient to some of these African writers. From my experience as an avid reader of African Lit, most of these so-called writers are not competent to be writers. They are just pretenders.

    E ku ise o.

    Cheers.

  8. Ikhide the incorrigible! Your middle name should be Ojo. In Yoruba folk tales, Ojo is a trouble lover. Pa Ikhide, I do not always agree with you but I like how you say it. Enjoy o jare.

  9. I imagine that no one loves a critic & that will never change. I thoroughly enjoyed ur piece and u have retained something that the authors u critic have lostk the ability to laugh at oneself and not take things too seriously. Have a lovely weekend.

  10. I can boldly say that I am among the first readers to consume Roses and Bullets by Adimora-Ezeigbo. That is one of the most vivid and comprehensive literary account of the Nigerian civil war I have ever encountered. In characterization, the novel achieved credibility and consistency, especially in the portrayal of Ginika, the principal character. the story is very realistic showing both the benign and malign faces of human existence under intense pressure. The ending is acutely unpredictable and quite alarming considering the preceding events. the author sure knows how to tell a story. I sighed and shed some tears but I also smiled and even laughed as I interacted with that novel.

  11. Ha ha ha…that Musdoki one. Damn.They really came out for you on that one. I think the insults there were at their all time high…

    But this latest one, since 2007? daaaaaaaaamn but I no blame the guy sha, after you chop all that good food finish, na im you write that kain thing? Mbanu, its not done now.

  12. A few years back, I got a copy of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (with my own money), and I was utterly disappointed after the first 100 pages. Then two years ago, I read a piece in the UK Guardian on why the book is a mediocre one, totally unworthy of the Booker prize. That review was so bad that I had to look for my copy to have another look, but I ended up enjoying it thoroughly. It turned out to be one of the great books I have ever read – a classic by many standards. The lesson I learnt from that experience was buttressed when Okri himself said that he abandoned literary criticism when, after reading a book in the mid 1990s, he rated it rather so poorly in a review only to discover(after a second reading) many years later, that the book was actually a very good work. He said he regretted his earler review. These have made me wary of hastily running down a work of art. It is quite risky. A lot of caution needs to be exercised. The idea of ‘oh, I could not go pass three pages’ is totally unacceptable if one is to pass a verdict on a book. That said, artists should be more sportsman-like when reviews don’t go their ways. The critic or anyone at all has every right not to like or even hate your work. And you can go to blazes if you feel you are too big to be found wanting. Without criticism, art is like a forge without fire, but care must be taken, so that the fire does not consume that which it is meant to smelt.

  13. Ahhh I’m finally catching up (after being offline way too often in the past months) on blog reading and I see why I was getting so many more essay length responses to my review 😉

    Personally I think anyone can be a book critic, really. I suppose it depends on your view. This debate has been making the rounds in the blogosphere but personally I think that all reviewers, no matter where they review or how, bring their personal experiences to books. As a consumer of books, as you say, you are of course qualified, as a reader and consumer, to share your opinions. Which allows you to be a critic. The more people hate on you, the more they show that they believe your credentials and influence!

    That being said, authors and their fans who attack really are hilarious, no?

  14. I read your inelegant and caustic review of Professor Akachi Ezeigbo Adimora’s latest offering: Roses and Bullets. It was a cocktail of innuendoes; hasty conclusions and weird condemnation. Your review was a patch work of personal vendatta, masquerading as an intellectual exercise. I did a rejoinder in This day on Sunday and Sunday Sun of May 13, respectively, entitled: ‘The Tyranny of a literary Critic’ where I counselled you on the need for circumspection in executing intellectual exercises that are anchored on literary criticism. You must realize that your reviews are meant to be read by well informed readers, and not by simpletons who are disposed to swallowing your illogical pontifications without questioning your intellectual pedigree.

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