How can I have ONE favourite book????

Tomorrow I have to talk about my “favourite” book, and I am still mulling over what to say!  What an impossibility was my first reaction; after all I have been reading for rather a lot of years – well actually since I was about four or five, I think!  So what do I say?   I could have said “no” I can’t, but didn’t want to disappoint the person making the request.   So I guess I have to spend much of the time given to me explaining just why I can’t choose just ONE!

I realise that some of the possible choices were the same as I put on Facebook, and I still stand by them.  To me a favourite is a book I can re-read, and I think it would be fair to say that I have re-read both Jane Austen’s Pride and prejudice and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre at least five or six times throughout my life – almost once in each decade?   I recently picked up a copy of Pride and prejudice, and enjoyed it just as much as I did the previous times, while appreciating some nuances that I had probably missed earlier.

Others on my possible list would be Lewis Carroll’s Alice in wonderland and Through the looking glass. These I am sure I read or had read to me as a child, but when I came upon them as an adult, it was very different, yet still enjoyable on that totally different level, and I am neither a mathematician nor a chess player, so all those allusions still pass me by.

And lastly – but it isn’t really, really, lastly – I would put the Tintin series.  I first read these graphic novels cum comics in French in Belgium, when I must have been around eight or nine, and that was in the 1950s.   I don’t think I fully understood them, but the pictures were fun and carried the stories.  And I remember having the whole collection – with additions for Christmas presents – at some point in my childhood, and they could be read, and re-read, and re-read, and passed on to others – my sister and brother.

And then rediscovered in all places at the Ashanti Regional Library of the Ghana Library Board in 1980/81 when I first joined them, and was in charge of the children’s library.   I took them home, and everyone loved them, even if they couldn’t understand the stories fully – kids, teens, husband, even husband’s friend! And I myself found myself with new enthusiasm entering the world of Snowy, Captain Haddock and the Thompson/Thomson twins as well as Professor Calculus (though I still prefer his French name, Tournesol).

I saw them somewhere recently in Accra, and it was very, very hard to resist!


Kathy Knowles and community libraries in Ghana

I went to the latest NAWA (North American Women’s Association) meeting a few days ago (feeling slightly guilty that I hadn’t been to the previous month’s gathering) partly because there were going to be traders there, but mainly because I was interested to hear Kathy Knowles speak.

I had originally met her sometime in 2008 at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence at an informal “tea”.  I had heard a little about her, and was really impressed in her work in setting up community libraries in Accra.   Basically she started off in her garden in the early 1990s, but unlike many other expatriates, she continued the commitment, and has continued to support many of these institutions, including the Nima library and the Nima community centre.

Because many people at the NAWA meeting had heard her accounts before, this time Kathy concentrated on her booksKnowles bks, and how she went about producing children’s books with an African setting.   I have mentioned before the gorgeous books which Kathy and colleagues at the Osu Children’s Library Fund have put together.   To me they are so appropriate and I bought some more, to be given to KAC for some of her friends.

I didn’t really talk to Kathy or to her colleague, Deborah Crowley, but I did think that there are issues about libraries and community libraries which I guess they must be confronting fairly regularly.  Because there is no government involvement I suspect it must be a constant battle to sort out official paper work, and get support from key local policy makers or policy implementers, especially if someone said that certain bills might be paid as a contribution.

I guess I was also thinking about sustainability (from communities and/or donors) and even the lack of involvement of professional organisations in our environment.  Certainly one is always hearing politicians and others mentioning the need for such libraries, and certainly at British Council Ghana we were always being approached for support from groups setting up or wanting to set up libraries.  I always tried to say that the long-term issues also needed to be looked at, as books do wear out – and with children, this happens really, really quickly!  I don’t know why but I always felt that community libraries were seen to be a “good thing”, but that they were not really seen as institutions that needed continuous support.   I suppose that is the major reason why the Ghana Library Board hasn’t done very well.   Lip-service is cheap; a regular budget to buy books and/or magazines is not.

I also wonder whether the fact that because many of the librarians who have been active in professional groups such as the Ghana Library Association have come from either the academic or research sector has meant that there hasn’t been that much involvement with public or community libraries.   I do think that is changing as more staff from the Ghana Library Board do attend GLA gatherings, but unfortunately the leadership of that institution (GLB) is not exactly what I would call exciting.  Well, at least now there is an actual Board for the Ghana Library Board, with the Chair being a former MP and former librarian, Kosi Kedem.   Maybe that will mean more attention is paid to the neglected institutions of school, public and community libraries.  I do hope so.

Books from the Ghanaian diaspora – at last!

Diasporan Africans, including Ghanaians, are certainly writing, and getting reviews.   The frustration here in Ghana is actually getting copies of their books to either read or buy.   I mention two specific examples:  one I borrowed a copy from a fellow member of the Accra Book Club, while the other finally landed in EPP where the author said it was supposed to be.  Only this happened about four months later than what the author had said was supposed to happen.   Oh well, the expression “better late than never” definitely comes to mind.

Wife of gods coverSo now I am about to start Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the gods simply because it does not belong to me, and I feel that I should not be “hogging” it, while others might be happy to read it.  I am happy to say that this is another “mystery”, which pleases me, as this is one of my favourite genres.  It will be interesting to see how the Ghanaian setting works.   I won’t say that I would be more critical about this aspect than in other such books, but I would certainly note what seemed to work, and what didn’t.  I also remember someone or some review making a mention of the popularity of the McCall Smith novels based in Botswana contributing in no small way to the popularity of novels with an African setting!   I will report more when I finish the book; starting it will be take place shortly.

I have been going to  the EPP bookshop just opposite the Ghana Trade Fair at La fairly regularly since I moved to Accra –Tail of the blue bird cover for personal reasons for a lot of the time, and more recently I have actually been buying books from them for work.  A colleague gave me the name of one of the staff, and I can only praise this young man for his customer service.  On more than one occasion we’ve phoned him to ask if EPP has a particular title in stock, and he responds quickly.  When I heard from Nii Ayikwei Parkes that his book, The tail of the blue bird, was supposed to be available through EPP I asked my contact, and after checking he told me it had not yet arrived.   And so I put this away (this was in July 2009 – about four months ago) and was very surprised when we called our contact earlier this week, and he mentioned that the Parkes book had arrived last weekend!  Now I am wishing that I had more time to read!

Photos, or the lack thereof…

I really, really must remember to not only take my camera with me wherever I go, but also to use it, especially when there is anything that relates to books and information!   I always, always, always seem to forget, and then remember when I thinking about what I should write about.

This past weekend was a perfect example of at least two or three instances where I could have taken some photos to supplement talking about books related matters.

Two occurred at the BIGS (British in Ghana Society) annual pre-Christmas bazaar which took place on 7 November.  Among the many stalls was a second hand book stall, which I glanced at, but didn’t seriously consider, as I had planned spending elsewhere.  But still, the mere fact that a bazaar has such a stall is indicative that there is a market for books which have already been read.   What did attract me though was a stall hosted by the Osu Children’s Library which had several of the colourful books on Ghana and West Africa available.   I remembered that KAC had asked for some copies of the books which I gave to B for her boys.   I must remember to buy a few more so that she has enough to give to friends who have kids who are Ghanaian by ancestry, but American by birth and where they live.  I think Kathy Knowles is giving a talk to NAWA this coming week so I really, really must try to attend.

Most of the rest of the day – apart from an hour putting in a brief appearance at the office’s fun and sports day – was spent at ISAG (International Spouses Association of Ghana)’s annual Festival of Nations, which this year had a musical theme and was held at the Alliance Francaise.  And what did I do – apart from eating yummy Russian meat filled pancakes and drinking bessap – I sold books!  Actually when one of ISAG’s members died her personal library was passed on to the organisation.  I was actually surprised at how many were bought – many on the older side, and some I would imagine totally out of print.  Did I take any photos?  Nope… as I thought I had forgotten my camera at home, only to discover later that I hadn’t!   Grrrr…

Ghana International Book Fair 2009

Somehow I thought the Ghana International Book Fair was starting on 2 November, so I braved the traffic and headed for the National Theatre at the beginning of the week, only to discover that this was the setting up day!   Sigh…

I went back again on 3 November, and sad to say I was again slightly disappointed.  Not too many people looking at the stands, but that’s probably because many were at a book launch (which is good).  There did seem to be a fairly well organised programme, which is a plus, but either I have missed something or I don’t listen to the right media or watch the right TV (all possible), but I haven’t seen that much publicity.

Since it does involve reading, somehow I would have thought that newspapers would have been at least one of the means of publicity, but not as far as I have seen.  The Pan African Writers Association (PAWA) on the other hand have had lots of ads in the Daily Graphic for their forthcoming conference.

Back to the Book Fair:  the focus was on Nigeria, and I did see some pretty interesting, well put together books published by BookCraft.   Unfortunately though, no Kachifo, which publishes books by Adichie and other well known contemporary Nigerian authors.  Lots of books for children – which is typical, as the educational market is the major one for most publishers and booksellers in this environment.  Some academic stuff – but not as much as I expected.  And virtually all the books on Ghana I had seen before.

I think that the next time, I must make more of an effort to get onto a mailing list, because I definitely feel out of the “loop” – sigh.

Books read in October 2009

Quite a few more books read in October 2009, not sure why, but I guess they were probably on the lighter side?

1.  Dan Brown’s The lost symbol:  what can I say?  I enjoyed it, but was constantly thinking about the film that would be made based on the book!   I can already see the special tours in DC!

2.  Anne Fadiman’s At large and at small:  a selection of essays which I read as before going to sleep reading.   Interesting but but not attention grabbing.   I like her writing though.

3.  Bill Bryson’s The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid:  I enjoy his books, with his sense of humour in whatever he writes.   His own early life certainly qualified!

4.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The thing around your neck:  I mentioned this earlier.   Some very moving short stories.  Actually for an Accra Book Club gathering later on in November, that is if people show up, and we can manage to set a date!

5.  James Tiptree, Jr’s Her smoke rose up forever:  my first reading of any of this author’s work.   Some of the stories are quite dense, but others less so.  Most have quite an edge to them, although they are not “hard” science fiction.

6.  John Connolly’s The reapers:  fairly light thriller, with background information on several characters who have featured in previous novels.

7.  Dorothy Howell’s Handbags and homicide:  I nearly refused to finish this, which was a cross between a trashy romance and a mystery.  Not sure where my brain was when I bought it!

8.  Louise Welsh’s The bullet trick:  Have been on the lookout for one of this author’s books, as reviews have been consistently good.  And the book was, with a “hero” who really had seen better days…  Very atmospheric I thought.  Will definitely try and read some of her other books.

9.  Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society:  On my “to re read” list for quite some time.  Not sure I found the last part as effective as the beginning, but it was quite a change.

10.  Dambisa Moyo’s Dead aid:  partly for Accra Book Club, but also for myself.   Got controversial reviews, but I still think her point of view is worth a look.   Will probably include it in the Reading Corner of a bulletin to be put out at work.