February 2009


Many not-so-pleasant notes have been written about Africans and their lack of literati*, that is people that read.  You and I have probably not come across these unflattering references because, well, we likely aren’t reading.  It is often said that if you want to hide something from an African, put it in a book and they’ll never find it.

This is not true. There are some out there that do read. What needs doing now is to make that some be the absolute majority. A friend was telling me that intense readers overwhelm her. Her family friends fall in that category. Whenever she’d visit, she’d find the entire household in the family room, the television switched off and everyone – mom, dad, and siblings – reading something. If she had to wait for her friend, the Dad would invite her to grab a book to pass the time. It almost freaked her out, having to wait. . .

So,  how do you go about becoming literati?  Open your eyes and look around.  For every topic that interests you – from history,  slavery,  mystery, flowers,  religion,  money,  geology,  travel,  cooking,  DIY tips on home improvement,  gemology,  poetry, short stories,   nature,  space,  medicine, herbs, babies . . . literally name it and I assure you a book exists.  This is why reading cannot be boring, as long as you have an active interest in something.  So,  pick your topic.

You’ve got to love Africa.  The whole mtumba (second-hand) phenomenon has helped a lot of people, and still does as far as books are concerned.  Look around again and you can make an adventure out of finding new and out-of-the way places to shop for books that you may or may not find interesting without denting your pocket too badly.  (read BOOK HUNTING)

Have you ever thought of joining a public library?  It is an excellent way to pass time.   Just think,  you have class on Saturday morning till noon, your date with X is at 4 pm.  It’s too far to go home and come back in time, you don’t really want to sit at a tea house waiting for that many hours and then you’re just sick of school.  All roads lead to the public library.  Go browse the shelves.  Pick out a book or four,  sit at a desk and see what you like. You’d be fascinated.  Knowledge from way back before when,  just waiting for you to discover it.  Imagine the stories you can share with X later on.

Yes,  a book club is for you.  Some of my favourite people in the world are book club buddies.  It doesn’t have to be formal.  The person that made me read one very popular book even before the movie hit (I’m talking about Dan Brown’s ‘DaVinci Code’) was an informal book exchange buddy. Thanks to him, I can say I’ve read Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography – ‘God is Truth’ – which I may never have come across otherwise.  You can have a few people with whom you discuss a book you’re reading every so often,  or you can just have people (who you trust to treat your books well) that you exchange books with.  Either way,  you’re reading.

Maybe,  you aren’t reading because you have no idea what to read?  On that,  I propose you pay attention to book reviews posted on newspapers about current popular books.   Then, there are book shows on the media and even on-line communities that discuss books.   You can query the members of the on-line communities about a book you want to read and they’ll share their experiences with you.

Remember that set book you read once-upon-another-lifetime?  Try reading it again.  Life may have given you fresh insight to the story and it may end up being a surprisingly delightful read.

Whom do you admire?  Have they written books / speeches?  Read them. Were they book lovers?  Read what they’ve read.  Are they bloggers?  Visit their site and read on.

Start young. The best books ever written are children’s literature.  The style is clear, the books are colourful, the language is simple,  there are lots of illustrations and the stories are short.   No matter what your age, you’d do well to read children’s books because they’ll help you get hooked to reading. And children’s books are so fun and fantastic – nothing heavy about the world ending or gloomy economic crises for that matter; there’s plenty of that in adult literature – the newspapers!

Attend booksy functions as part of your research.  At book or publishers’ fairs you’ll get to see the variety of literature available for your consumption and this may motivate you to read some genre you’ve never ventured into.  A book reading may capture your imagination and a story you’d previously dismissed comes alive.

Have no plan. Pick something with no preconceived notions and find out if it catches your fancy. An open mind is the first step on the journey of literati.

Be delighted.  Have fun.  Read whatever you enjoy learning about.  Read only short stories if that’s your preference.  Read about stones that talk,  people from Mars, the saints.  Read only comic books, management magazines or the Bhagavad Gita.  Whatever keeps your eyes glued to the page,  read that.  The more you read,  the more you’ll want to read.

Remember,  the worth of a good read is not determined by: how much a book costs,  how many people have read it,  how many pages it contains, how long ago or how recently it was published,  how many millions of copies it has sold,  how many best-seller lists it’s topped,  who wrote it,  how fast you can read it,  in what language it’s written or any other such criteria. . .

The worth of a good read is ultimately determined by you, the reader.  Did the book speak to you?  Did it make you laugh or even cry?  Have you learned anything from reading it?  Are you looking forward to reading something else because you’ve read that one?

Start. Go on, pick a book and keep at it. Sooner than you know, you may be listed as one of Africa’s literati.

* Literati – educated and intelligent people that enjoy literature.

In my dreams I’m one of a kind.  I shine.  Nothing’s beyond me.   I have every unique man’s talent.  I can sing – I’m a songbird.   I can write – words are me.   I cook like something else – a gourmet no less.   A force to reckon with – the world is mine.

Wake up, this is reality.  Bills to pay.  A job to find.  There is nothing at all remarkable about me.  The world – well to the world, I’m just one more person.  No more out of the ordinary than all the others.  I’ve added nothing to it.  Of what great achievement do I boast?  Travel?  Voyages have been done – so what?  Writing – who doesn’t have a diary, a blog?  A job – nondescript, if you barely make the bills.  What good am I doing for humanity?  What mark am I making on the world?  What difference?

If I shouted my name at the park, who would know me, or care?   I’m faceless, one of the 6 billion plus .  .  .  some that know me would rather forget, many more have.

In my dreams, I shake things up.  In my dreams, I change things.  In my dreams, I’m a force to reckon with, a burst of energy to emulate.  In my dreams,  I’m vital – I matter so much.  In my dreams.  .  .

Only now I have to wake up.  Begin earning the respect I dream about, one deed at a time.  I’ll cook for my brother and me.  I’ll keep the house clean.  I’ll call my mother and visit home.  I’ll read my chapter of French and practice.  I’ll act demure and stop provoking my friends.  I’ll keep a promise.  I’ll write another sentence of my book – my best-seller for real?  I’ll go apply for one more job,  not giving up yet.   I’ll smile through it all.

Someday,  I’ll begin living my dreams.  One more deed bridging life and dream.  Someday I’ll no more ask, whatever for?  I’ll know.