Taking a look at Ghana Book Review website

I just discovered the Ghana Book Review website which seems to be pretty closely related to the Ghana Nsem site.  Not a whole lot of information as to who or what are behind either of these sites, which I admit is a little frustrating.  Naturally I homed in on the site about books.  At the bottom of the home page, it says that copyright lies with the Africa Information Network, but there is no indication apart from an email and mobile number on the contact us page as to who is responsible for content.  And there isn’t anything about why the site was put together.   One frustrated viewer!

OK, to me it definitely looks like work in progress, and I don’t know really who it is for, and why it exists, though on the home page, I guess there is something fairly close to a mission statement which is:  “Let’s recognize, celebrate and help build the library of work on Ghana, Africa, the world and the imagination.”

I suppose it is a start, but again I wondered “who would be visiting this site?”  A budding author, in which case some of the addresses of Ghanaian publishers or those relevant to Ghana, are pretty inadequate.  Many are incomplete, and may have a postal address, but many are lacking email, phone/mobile numbers and websites.  Yes, I know not all publishers have their own domain names, but at least one or two key people may have email and mobiles are definitely out there.

It also pained me – though it is not surprising – that there was no mention of other key groups in the reading chain.  For instance, what about libraries?  What about bookshops and other booksellers?  What about printers?  What about book clubs? or competitions such as the one being run by JoyFM for children up to 14?

There are also associations or groupings such as the Ghana Library Association, Ghana Publishers Association,  Ghana Booksellers Association, and Ghana Printers Association (though I am not exactly sure of the last).  Naturally I shouldn’t forget the Pan-African Writers Association as well as other informal groupings of writers.

I guess what I am saying to the webmaster and/or whoever is responsible for content on this site:  listen to some of the ideas that interested colleagues may be bandying about.  We are all working towards the same goal.

Are there any Ghanaian librarians blogging out there?

All right, I don’t mind being one of a few, but I do wonder whether there are any Ghanaian librarians blogging out there?  I have looked, but with not a whole lot of success.  That could be my fault – in which case I have some definite issues with my searching skills – but I suspect that there aren’t many of us, or perhaps they are not blogging about libraries, librarians and books?  Is this a reflection of what we are, or maybe aren’t, passionate about?

All right, I am including myself in the group of Ghanaian librarians, which I hope is permitted.  I even posted something on the Ghana Library Association website’s forums, but no response yet, though that doesn’t really surprise me, I guess.

So far I have found the following, whom I proudly publicize:

Christian from Lolobi-Kumasi‘s blog is mostly but not exclusively photos.  I did mention to him, that a little more text would be nice.

Another more recently discovered one is the Interesting information professional blog, which I learned about at a recent workshop.  It seems as if it is tied to work at KNUST in Kumasi, more than anything else.

I guess I firmly believe that we librarians need not only to be aware of Web 2.0 tools such as blogging (among others), but we need to use them, and to promote ourselves and the skills and knowledge many of us have.

If the information I provide to colleagues, faculty or students is relevant,  interesting and/or even just  fun, I think I am performing part of my job.  And it is not so different from asking someone whether they’ve seen the latest copy of this or that magazine, or a particular new work in their field.

iPad or Kindle? Items for a real “wish” list

For the last few weeks there has been a small conversation going on about what some of us would really like as our latest gadget.  The iPad and the Kindle were the ones which came up among this small group of women based here in Accra.  Yet none of us has really interacted with either of these new items, but we still want them.  And two of us are young, and yours truly is not so young.  So I don’t think it is totally a generational thing.

Maybe I should go and look in the Apple store in the Accra Mall, and ask whether they have an iPad – just to look at, and maybe touch?  Of course, realistically it is probably not a good idea to get one here in Ghana just yet, as there are issues about accessing all sorts of stuff from here, but then if iPhones work and their apps work here, why not?  Another key factor to consider is cost, as the iPad is not cheap, and here in Ghana it would be even more expensive.  There is also a matter of dust to be considered, and hard concrete floors. And to be frank, what would I really, really, really do with one?  Apart from showing off, that is?

Now a Kindle is something else:  not so flashy, and pretty discrete looking, and it has been on my wish list for more than a few months.  And I keep going to the Amazon website and seeing the horribly depressing message “We are not able to ship this item to your default shipping address” but then there is another one on the same page – well, with a little following of some links, which says “We are excited to now ship Kindle to Ghana. Customers in Ghana will enjoy:..’  and it goes on.   So what should I believe?

I wish I trusted Ghana Post a bit more, and then I might take the risk and try to buy one and send it to myself. I suspect however that I will take the more precautionary approach, and see if I can buy it in the US, and bring it back with me.   After all, I gather there are oodles of freebies just waiting to be downloaded, even if it is not quite the one-step process it is in the US!

Am I being a bit conservative?  Yes, probably.  But why not?

And after all, I hear there is a project which is testing the use of Kindles in Ghanaian schools, and one of the people involved even came by where I work.

Now, what would be nice is a project using Kindles in higher education in an African setting… but maybe that is too much wishful thinking?

I didn’t celebrate World Book and Copyright Day!

Well, I have to admit that I feel extremely guilty at not doing anything – professionally, or personally –  to commemorate World Book and Copyright Day, apart from changing a heading on a website from “World Book Day” to “World Book and Copyright Day” .

I did think about it, but unfortunately not sufficiently far in advance, to be able to plan anything at work.  So maybe next year?

Of course, I did make up for it by buying a few books, even though it was the day after!

On reflection it is rather sad that the only event worth noting on 23 April related to books was a half-price sale by a local bookseller.

Mamle Kabu and the Caine Prize

I read a couple of posts over the last week concerning the Caine Prize, and am finally responding to these, and more specifically to implications that yet another Ghanaian writer has been shortlisted for an international prize. There isn’t anything on the actual Caine Prize website – yet, but I suspect it should be up fairly soon – at least I hope so.

I did make a post not that long ago on the shortlisting of two writers from this country for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2010.  Actually neither of them won, in their categories, but that doesn’t really matter, in a way.  Being on a shortlist is an achievement, and I wish we made more fuss and honoured our writers.  However, that is another story

This time it is Mamle Kabu, some of whose short stories I have been privileged to both hear first hand (partly because she was involved in the British Council’s Crossing Borders programme), as well as read in books or on the web.  Two of her most well-known stories include “The end of skill” which was actually included in a collection for the 2009 Caine Prize and “Human mathematics” which is included in an anthology entitled Mixed, edited by C Prasad.

This time I mention one of Mamle Kabu’s poems  – “Orange juice” which I came across first on Laban Hill’s blog, but which is also on the American PEN website .  For me, the poem beautifully expresses so many things about Ghana, and what one can miss and wish for.  Personally I do not eat oranges while on visits to the US or Europe; I feel I would be disappointed. In many ways Kabu’s poem reminds me of Grace Nichols’, “Like a beacon” with its call of plantains, saltfish and sweet potatoes.  It touches so many emotional buttons for me.

It’s funny how food can be so evocative.

Books mentioned from “Reading Lolita in Tehran”

At the end of March a few members of the Accra Book Club met to discuss Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi.  We glanced at the book group questions, but didn’t really address them much – we all agreed they were a little esoteric!  But instead we talked about the political situation in Iran and how it impacted on the lives of the author, her family, her students and members of the book group who came to her house to discuss books.

In addition we looked at the list of books for “recommended further reading” at the back of this novel, as well as the books which formed a type of focus for each of the chapters.  We all felt that we were slightly illiterate, even though we might actually be reading quite a lot we hadn’t read some/many of the books mentioned.

So what follows is a personal self-assessment:

Books actually mentioned in the chapter headings of the text:

  • Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita:  yes, I have read it, but it was a long, long time ago – probably in my teens, so I have to admit I don’t remember much about it.
  • F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby:  read it not too long ago, just about the time of the financial crisis, which I thought was entirely appropriate!
  • Henry James:  should I be ashamed to admit that I haven’t read any of his books?  I suspect I may have tried, but never succeeded…
  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice:  this I proudly acknowledge as one of my favourite reads, and I think I have probably read it at least once in each decade of my life… most recently within the last couple of years.  I still appreciate it, and also enjoy the movies/TV adaptations.

What about the “suggested reading” list at the end of the book?

  • Jane Austen, Persuasion:  Definitely a while since I read this, I think I am definitely up for a re-read!
  • Saul Bellow, The Dean’s December, Herzog, More die of heartbreak:  I read Herzog, but again a long, long time ago…
  • Heinrich Bool, The clown:  not read
  • Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights:  read it as an adult, but to be frank, wasn’t that inspired!  Is this heresy?  Probably
  • Mikhail Bugakov, The Master and Margarita:  read as a teen, but don’t really remember it
  • Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler:  not read
  • Lewis Carroll, Alice’s adventures in Wonderland:  read several times, some as a child, some as an adult.  Probably due for another re-read, especially with the new film out
  • Raymond Chandler, The big sleep:  read it, but a long time ago
  • Joseph Conrad, Under western eyes:  not read; I suspect I may have tried to read it, but just couldn’t get into his style.    I just about managed Heart of darkness not so long ago, but not any of the others.  Yet I am amazed that this author was not writing in his native language!
  • Diderot, Jacques Le fataliste:  not read, not even in secondary school French class
  • Henry Fielding,  Tom Jones and Shamela:  read neither, though I suspect I may have watched at least part of a film version of the former, but does that count?
  • Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary:  read it, but a long time ago.   Time for a re-read?
  • Sadeq Hedayat, Buf-e-Kur (The blind owl):  not read, and I haven’t even heard of it
  • Henry James, The ambassadors:  again another not read
  • Franz Kafka, The trial and In the penal colony:  haven’t read either, though I seem to remember attempting to read at least one Kafka novel and not getting very far.
  • Herman Melville, The confidence-man:  a no again, and I never did read Moby Dick either
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin:  not read
  • Iraj Pezeshkzad, My uncle Napoleon:  not read
  • Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea:  did read it, but I suspect that I am such a fan of Jane Eyre that I might not truly appreciate Rhys’  heroine
  • Scheherezade, A thousand and one nights:  I’ve heard about the stories, but I don’t think I have ever read any.
  • Muriel Spark, Loitering with intent and The prime of Miss Jean Brodie:  I have read the latter, and seem to remember feeling rather sad about it
  • Laurence Sterne, The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman:  somehow I never read that many 18th century classics
  • Italo Svevo, Confessions of Zeno:  not read, another one I’ve never heard of
  • Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: not read, and I am ashamed to say that I only read The adventures of Tom Sawyer very recently, so I guess I can be excused.  But of course I had seen some of the film or TV adaptations, even though some of them might have been more than a little sugary.
  • Virgina Woolf, To the lighthouse:  read, though I seem to remember neither liking it nor understanding it.

So by my count, I hit 33% – 10 out of 30.   I don’t think this is too bad, but then it does make me feel I have some catching up to do.  Maybe I should make it a goal to read or reread at least one so-called “classic” every month, along with at least one “Africa” written or themed book?