Ikhide the Terrible (Book Critic)

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

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.