Georgette Heyer books in Accra!

Today I am talking about a real link to the past – my daughter had spoken not so long ago about completing her set of Georgette Heyer Regency romances through eBay.   The older meets the new in the third generation!

I think I brought quite a few of them which had belonged to my mother back to Ghana in the late 1980s, and A actually read and enjoyed them during secondary school. When A moved on one trip I was “ordered” to find them, and bring to them to her, which as a dutiful mother I did…

Funny, cos I remember that my mother really enjoyed the Georgette Heyer romances, to the extent that if there was a new one out then we knew what at least one Christmas present for her would be in a given year – that is, until the author died in the early 1970s.

Certainly my sister and I both enjoyed reading them – in our teens – mostly from the home collection, but some borrowed from the local public library in DC.

I realised that relatively recently (well, maybe within the last decade or so), after being out of print for many years, many of the Georgette Heyer novels were reprinted for another generation of female readers! And I suspect that they are still popular – definitely a few steps up from Mills and Boon or Harlequin, but a slight older and more chaste version of “chicklit”.

And last Saturday I was pleasantly surprised to see them in the Silverbird bookshop which has a somewhat interesting mix of fiction and non-fiction.  So how could I resist?  I bought a copy of These old shades which I think was one of the first I read, and I know I re-read it several times.  

So now I will read it again – but thirty-five years later.  I wonder how I will react to it this time?  Is it truly a classic?

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What to read on a long trip?

I have already started thinking about what I should read on my forthcoming holiday.  It is a while since I’ve been on one, but suffice it to say that I don’t go on any trip without a supply of reading material – usually in excess, unless I am sure I will be somewhere where I can borrow or buy.    

Fiction or non-fiction?  Literary or light reading?  Thriller or crime? Science fiction?  Some decisions need to be thought about – though it is still rather early to put choices into a carry-on bag!  

The problem is that I don’t want to finish whatever I chose before the end of the journey.  Otherwise I will really be going crazy.  Of course, there would be some magazines to read – or rather skim through.  But that can be done in half an hour or so, maybe slightly more.  A movie or two to watch?  Sure, but then what else?  A snooze or a doze – sure – though I can’t really sleep when I travel, unlike some lucky people.

So at the moment it looks like fiction, probably on the lightish side, and a thriller…  But then it depends on what is on my “to read” shelves.

African writers

When I look back at my reading over the last few years, I realise that I probably read an average of at least one African writer or book on Africa every month.   Some months it is more; some less, and has very much depended on what was available – initially through the British Council libraries in Kumasi and Accra, and later either what can be obtained at work, or through local sources here in Accra.

I remember going through a phase of reading a lot of African writers – mostly the Heinemann African Writers Series – during the mid 1970s while a student in Ibadan.   I think that was partly because they were available in the UI bookshop, and weren’t too expensive.  Looking back I realise that I tended to read more of the West African writers, and specifically the Nigerian ones  – Chinua Achebe obviously, Cyprian Ekwensi, Elechi Amadi, T M Aluko – as well as some of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s books on Kenya.  I suppose that was partly to do with what was in the UI bookshop, and also these were the writers who had been so prominent in the immediate post-independence period.  And I do remember the excitement at reading Wole Soyinka’s commentary, The man died, which was almost an illicit item in military regime Nigeria of the time.

As more and more of the younger generation of African writers were being published I tried to order their work for the British Council libraries, and as a sort of fringe benefit got to read the new material first.  Having many book launches on site in the BC’s Accra auditorium also helped to keep me abreast with some of the local Ghanaian publications.

Now I am slightly out of the book launch circuit  [I do wish I could access the BC monthly programme online or via email, but no luck], but do pay a few bookshops fairly regular visits, so if there is anything new I do take a look, and sometimes buy.  

Last year, EPP had a special consignment of huge numbers of African Writers Series titles (not all) – being sold at an absurdly low price of about US$3 each.    I did wonder where they came from, as they didn’t look like the usual pirated copies being sold sometimes in Accra traffic!  

Totally irresistible, so I picked up a few which I hadn’t read:  Mine boy, by Peter Abrahams, short story  collections by Mia Couto and Bessie Head, Every man is a race and Tales of tenderness and power.

Recently I finished one of Bessie Head’s novels, When rain clouds gather, partly because it was one of the “reads” for a group on the website Goodreads, which is attempting to read something from every country in Africa – ambitious, interesting, but I doubt I’ll be able to follow completely!  Someone made the comment that Head’s style is not very African, but then I am not sure what that actually means!  She does evoke the arid landscape of Botswana with sensitivity, even in a drought.

Discussion of John Berendt’s “The city of falling angels”

I last wrote briefly about the anticipation of a monthly book club meeting.

I should have written about it much earlier, but was trying to finish the book! So guilty as charged of doing what one is not supposed to do in a book club – ie not read or finish the book. OK, I can use the excuse that I was waiting for a copy to arrive ( someone with bag privileges kindly ordered me a copy). I have done this a couple of times, and felt slightly guilty, but still I did complete the book, which is better than not even attempting the read at all.

Also partly that it was a non-fiction book, John Berendt’s The city of falling angels, with the handle being the fire at the famous Fenice opera house, took me longer than usual to finish.  I was impressed at the range of people discussed – some directly involved with the aftermath of the fire, others less so, but all characters with stories that are told with sensitivity and vividness.   The tales of infighting among expatriates and Italians alike were quite amusing, if they were not rather sad.   

We were all struck at how the author managed to get such a wide range of people not only to talk to him, but to open up to such an extent. Several of the group said they wanted to either visit or revisit Venice. Others mentioned his previous book, Midnight in the garden of good and evil, about Savannah, and how the book increased visits to that southern city. I think I will follow up on this; not sure when I will be able to get a copy, but it will definitely be on my “to read at some point” list.

March we are discussing Water for elephants,  by Sarah Gruen, which I have read, but will look through again.

And we did manage to finalise books to read up till September, though slightly disappointedly not up to the end of the year. I have to admit that this did rather annoy me, especially as some of us had put in some effort to make suggestions.