Book Review: Known and Strange Things

Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole

Known and Strange Things is a collection of 55 short non-fiction pieces from an approximately eight-year travel period of almost constant writing. Many of these have been published on mainstream publications, with some going viral. They span across a wide variety of topics covering books, movies, photography, travel, politics, personal accounts on race, war, and colonialism.

Cole grew up in Nigeria, has travelled extensively, and currently resides in the US. He is well-versed in the arts and politics, and his writings are fiercely intelligent and highly-opinionated. Cole is a person of colour, identifies as internationalist, and has a deep affiliation with Western culture. As such, his essays on politics and travel are a fascinating and reflective read.

There is a section on photography, and interestingly enough, that turned out to be the most outstanding section in his book, as agreed by other readers. Who would know that the beauty of photography could be conveyed in text? In these essays, Cole shares about the history and aesthetics of photography, virtually rendering a crash course on the background of this art form. Social media enthusiasts will no doubt be interested in what he thinks about lnstagram and Snapchat.

But not every essay might be one’s cup of tea. Certain essays and chapters felt particularly technical and may require multiple reads to digest the information. Even then, they may be over-whelming. Some articles may be deeply appreciated by art enthusiasts and historians, but would otherwise be akin to playing piano to the cow. 0n the other hand, I really enjoyed the ones about his personal experiences related in his accounts of his travels and life. Anyone who enjoys travelling or learning about the world through others eyes are likely to concur.

That said, not everyone would enjoy every piece of writing in the book, but finding at least one enjoyable essay should be easy.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.

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