Lovemore Ranga Mataire The Reader
Whenever I bumped into Brain Tapatapa at the University of Zimbabwe where he is undertaking a Bachelor of Arts Degree, he always seemed to have something to say. Each time we have met, he always made it a point to engage in a small chat about a book he was working on. I was thus not surprised when late last year he published his inaugural book or rather a booklet (just 44 pages stapled up in the middle) titled “Highway to Success: A Teenagers guide to a successful life”. It’s a non-fiction booklet which, according to its title, is supposed to be an essential survival toolbox for teenagers.
Motivational books are a critical reservoir of information on how to navigate the various facets of life. I am not an avid reader of motivational books, for I have an inherent phobia for anything prescriptive, declaratory, definitive or anything that has the tendency of stifling my imagination or creativity. I draw parallels to the definitiveness of motivational books to those social media posts warning one to forward a post to as many people as one can, failure of which something calamitous is to happen.
I am an avid reader of fiction, for fiction is liberating; it lets your mind go on a whirlwind of possibilities. Was it not Albert Einstein who declared: “If you want your children to be intelligent read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales?” I think Einsten understood the limitlessness of fiction and its effect in inspiring creativity as one is not bound by expectations of always wanting to sound right and not offend anyone’s sensibilities.
But despite my nonchalant attitude towards motivational books, I found myself reading Tapatapa’s booklet, mainly because I knew the author, and also that I knew he had something to say, which for a long time he had been nestled in mind. I admire his enthusiasm to engage and I am sure it is from these rudimentary musings that his perceptive mind would be sharpened.
My knowledge of the author made reading “Highway to Success” less painful. It was different from enduring sermonic narratives that seem to have proliferated in our bookstores . Besides my knowledge of the author, the simple diction and its direct expressions made my whole reading experience worthwhile.
Divided into 19 sections, some of which are slightly more than a page, the booklet reads like someone talking to fellow teenagers about things that they have heard or known but have always taken for granted.
Thus, there is no illumination of any hidden truths revealed out of experience or a life changing moment. It is not like one is reading Douglas Mamvura’s “Marketing as a Calling” or Vincent Pearle’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” (2000), “Enthusiasm Makes the Difference” (1967), “A Guide to Confident Living” (1948) or Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (1936), “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” (1948) or ‘The Leader in You” (1990). Maybe such a comparison is unfair given that this is Tapatapa’s first attempt at writing a sort of coming of age book.
But even with his little experience, Tapatapa must be able to tell a story. I believe anyone who decides to write something inspirational or motivational has a story to tell. This is not a book in which you will find an anecdote of a lived experience that serves to inspire people. No! The basic tenet of motivational writing is that if not an expert in a particular area, one’s personal life experiences must surely serve as an inspirational springboard to others. Basically, one must have something to say beyond regurgitating common place sermons of being disciplined, focused, self-confidence, etc.
I guess it is always a problem when one assumes the role of counsellor, Auntie Rhoda, with very limited experience of life. One’s personal triumphs and adversities must work as inspirational springboards for readers. Tapatapa fails to do that, yet he employs a first person narrative lacerated with an authoritative instructional voice.
Almost every subject or chapter is introduced by some kind of definition or explanation.
It is fuzzy as to whether the definitions are derived from personal experience or an authentic referral source or an expert. A good example is on page 11 under the heading: Develop Self-Confidence where he says: “Self-confidence means believing or trusting your own abilities, and it starts within the heart and overflows to the outside.” Just who is saying this?
Is this the author and if this is the author is, is it not helpful to give examples of how this self-confidence has manifested itself in real life, if not from him, but at least someone that readers could relate to? It would have been helpful if these explanations or definitions were buttressed by a definition from an authentic text or something born out of someone’s credible lived experience as is often the case with other motivational speakers.
While readers may forgive Tapatapa given his young age, it would have been helpful if he had used his own lived experiences to illuminate a number of issues that affect the youth. This would have made a difference to the whole booklet’s rudimentary structure, sterility and lack of liveliness.
However, despite the booklet’s glaring shortcomings as a motivational tool, I have no doubt that a lot of young people will be inspired by the mere fact that one of their own has managed to put pen to paper and poured out his anxieties in what he calls “Highway To Success”.
The realm of motivational writing is also a contested and contentious terrain. Some would not regard it as serious works of art or as literature and yet a lot of people particularly men of cloth, have earned or continue earning a livelihood out of it. There is need to do away with the erroneous assumption that one can simply become an overnight writer by going on the internet, google, find something instructive and appropriate it into a book or booklet. This is very misleading and one aspect that I hope Tapatapa is conscious of. I look forward to his second offering that I am sure will be much livelier than this current dreary offering.