Buying as if in times of scarcity

For many years I hardly bought any books while in Ghana, except occasionally at either the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) or University of Ghana (Legon) bookshops. If I was lucky enough to attend the Ghana book fair, which usually was held every couple of years from the mid 1990s, that was another possibility. Somehow I didn’t feel the lack of bookshops so dreadfully because of working in an organisation which not only had libraries as part of its key mission, but also had the funds to stock them reasonably well.

The books scene in Accra is not that great, but at least the options are expanding – slowly. However I realise that my buying habits have been very much formed by scarcity – of money and of goods. For so many years one had to make choices that meant if you didn’t buy something immediately, the chances were that it wouldn’t be there the next time you visited the same shop. And this didn’t just apply to books, though this is what I am writing about now.

Abundance is of course relative. Ghana has yet to have the equivalent of a Waterstones or Barnes and Noble or Borders, and most bookshops continue to aim at the academic market – whether for the younger children, those in secondary school or those in some form of tertiary education. Which leaves those of us interested in fiction or more general reading somewhat in the lurch. Or rather challenges us to read more “out of the box”?

My problem is that I have a lot of books to read – more than 50 at last count – but I find myself increasingly unable to resist buying more to add to my collection. Part of it is that I like the look and feel of new books, but part is also that I am worried that I don’t buy a particular title now, that I won’t be able to get it the next time I come – in say two to three weeks. So the worry about scarcity continues to influence me for a long time after it is really and truly necessary.

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